In my previous blog, I told you the story of how Ka Nam escaped the tiger's clutches and came to live forever in Ka Sngi or the Sun's, palace.
If you read the story, you might be wondering if there's more to it. Probably your kids or grandkids asked the same!
Well, there indeed is more to the story.
The Tiger's Bewilderment and Shame
You remember how the tiger had devoted years to fatten Ka Nam so that one day he would feast on her along with his noble elders and friends?
Imagine the bewilderment and shame that plagued the poor tiger's brain all at once when he found no sign of the girl in the cave! So hurt were his friends that they berated him with the choicest of abuses at his stupidity!
They mauled and harangued him so fiercely till it seemed his self-esteem had been stripped of everything but his stripes!
Poor tiger, how his anger raged after that!
Now, with his pride punctured and his face lost, he wasn't about to forget Ka Nam in a hurry. From that time onwards his only desire was revenge. He must find Ka Nam and make her pay for all the misery she'd given him.
Here's how the saga continues:
U Khla, the Tiger in Search of Ka Nam
After his noble elders and friends had left, the tiger sat on his haunches inside his empty cave. He was totally lost, confused, forlorn and angry. Once again the humans have outwitted him, and now his mind busied itself with trying to figure out where to start looking for Ka Nam.
As he brooded, he spotted Ka Khnai, the mouse, in a corner rocking her babies to sleep.
'O Kong Nai', said the tiger, 'You are here most of the time and must surely know where Ka Nam went. Please, can you tell me?'
Ka Khnai replied, 'She went to the heavens'.
The tiger was astounded. 'How on earth did she go to the heavens?', he asked.
'How should I know?' retorted the mouse sarcastically. 'Besides, why should I tell you anything anyway?'
The tiger then understood the mouse knew and pleaded with her to reveal everything, offering her in return for the information one prah (winnowing tray) full of rice.
The offer was too tempting for the mouse. One prah of rice meant plentiful food for months for her and her babies!
So she told the tiger about the rubber tree, the kya and jri, and the magic words he must say if he wanted to reach the heavens.
As soon as the tiger learnt the secret, he rushed immediately to the kya and jri tree without wasting a further moment's time. Upon reaching the foot of the tree, he jumped on one of the branches and chanted the magic words:
'To san ko kong a, to pat ko kong ri,
To san ko kong ri, to pat ko kong a'
At once, the kya and jri tree began to stir and shoot up. The tiger kept repeating the words and the tree rose and rose until the branches reached the heavens.
The Tiger in the Heavens
Once there, the tiger began his search for Ka Nam. For months he roamed about asking everyone, but nobody knew nor would speak about Ka Nam.
Finally, he reached U Lurshai's house, but even he did not divulge Ka Nam's whereabouts. At last, he came to Ka Sngi's palace and knocked at the door. Ka Sngi sent her slave to find out who that was.
The slave reported that it was the tiger asking about Ka Nam. Ka Sngi (who already knew about the tiger from Ka Nam) quietly instructed her slaves to go build a huge funeral pyre at the cremation ground and set it alight. She then came into the parlour to sit with him and asked what brought him to her palace.
The tiger spilt out the entire story, revealing what he intended to do with Ka Nam once he found her. After she listened patiently, Ka Sngi told the tiger that he was too late. Ka Nam had unfortunately died, and only that morning they'd taken her body to the cremation ground for burning. However, if he hurried, he might still be able to see her mortal remains for the last time before it was consigned to the flames.
The tiger dashed out and made his way towards the cremation ground in the countryside. From a distance, he saw a huge pyre with flames already leaping into the skies. A man who appeared to be in charge of maintaining the burning was standing by giving orders to the men around. That man was actually U Lurshai who had conspired with Ka Sngi to trap the tiger and do away with him, but the tiger did not recognise him.
The Tiger at Ka Nam's Funeral
'Is this Ka Nam's funeral pyre?', asked the tiger of U Lurshai.
'Yes, it is. Poor girl! She died alone in a foreign land with neither kith nor kin. How her parents would weep if they knew their child died a lonely death. Alas! We do not even know where she came from or who she was'.
U Lurshai then looked at the tiger quizzically. He asked, 'But who might you be, sir, to come to Ka Nam's funeral?'
The tiger was caught unawares by the question. Initially flustered, he quickly regained his composure and, putting up a pretentious show of sorrow, he replied, 'Eh? Oh, I'm an uncle and father figure to her. You see, since she was a child she grew up in front of me. I've been searching for her since she disappeared from the earth. It pains me so to find her gone forever'.
'Oh, so you are her uncle and father figure?', said U Lurshai, 'In that case, Ka Nam is fortunate that someone from her family is present at her funeral. You have not only the right but the sacred duty to do the honour of offering a petition to the gods for your child and niece before her body burns out'.
With those words, U Lurshai beckoned the tiger to come close to the fire and see for himself the body of Ka Nam from atop the guard wood.
The tiger was caught in a dilemma.
If he went near the fire, it would scare him to death. Tigers were afraid of fires.
If he didn't go, it would reveal that he was just faking sorrow.
In the end, he decided to risk it all rather than expose himself as a fraud, especially as everyone present was watching him.
So he sprang on the guard rail, gingerly perching on it, and stared at the billowing flames. U Lurshai then said,
'Look, look, there's her body. Do you see it?'
It was indeed a body but that of a stray dog that died on the road but the tiger didn't know that. He really thought it was Ka Nam's body consumed to a portion of what it was before. He pretended to be sorrowful, and shed crocodile tears, lamenting at the poor girl's plight!'
U Lurshai then urged him to climb higher up the railing where the heat was less intense but would give him a clearer view of the body.
The tiger sheepishly obeyed, concentrating on keeping his balance as he inched slowly up, one eye on the leaping flames that scared the wits out of him.
Just then, one of Ka Sngi's slaves gave him a mighty push. The tiger lost his footing and went crashing down into the midst of the clamouring flames.
Terror and surprise overwhelmed him as he yowled in pain, but there was no escape from the engulfing fire. A few minutes were all it took to reduce him to cinders.
Thus ended the life of the wicked tiger.
Well, you must be thinking the story ended here and Ka Nam lived happily ever after but no, she went through a lot of adventures.
You know, it was because of her that we have the eclipses of the moon and the Sun. And have you ever wondered why the moon has grey marks on his face?
You guessed it! Ka Nam had something to do with that too, but that's another story for another time.