Old storytellers didn't only tell stories to their generation. They taught values for generations to come.
This Khasi tale of U Klew bad Ka Sngi – the peacock and the Sun – teaches us that pride and greed don't pay in the long run. The story is still as relevant today.
Here's how the delightful tale goes.
Long, long ago, when the Sun and the moon were still young, and the birds and animals still speak the same language as the humans, a huge forest grew on the slopes of the Lum Diengiei, the sacred mountain.
The forest was home to myriads of birds and animals. The birds were especially chirpy, happily flitting from branch to branch.
Because they had U Sim Syiem, the King Bird, who was not only a wise ruler but also a jolly good fellow as well. He always had a kind word for everyone and would help anyone in need. Everywhere he went his coterie of followers came in tow, and everyone was happy in the bird kingdom.
'Shadkyrtoh', The Show-off Peacock Dancer
Among the birds, however, there was one specimen who thought no end of himself. He considered himself the best, cleverest, and most handsome of all, strutting about with his beak in the air and a high crest on his head. He swished his dandy clothes about that none would dare come near him. His conceit knew no bounds, so much so that everyone avoided him.
Birdkind called him 'Shadkyrtoh', meaning the show-off dancer!
Shadkyrtoh was as vain as he was thick-headed, so much so that he never thought all would shun him! He was happy instead, thinking other birds were jealous of him because of his superior good looks and intelligence! It never occurred to him that his fellow birds avoided him because of his chronic vanity.
There were some birds, however, which saw in his extreme pride and conceitedness an opportunity for entertainment. To inflate his ego, they showered so much empty praise and flattery on him only to have fun at his expense.
But the poor, dull peacock was none the wiser about their game plan!
These friends enjoyed the drama they created, making the peacock dance to their tunes, and then laughing behind his back till their sides split. The peacock's head swelled with even more pride, earning him even more disdain. Yet he remained oblivious of the laughing stock he made out of himself!
Conspiracy of the Birds
One day, the birds conspired to play a trick on U Shadkyrtoh. A bird, Ka Shakyllia, went and conveyed to him this message:
'O Rangdajied, Chosen Youth, fortunate son of your mother! The kings and nobles of the thirty kingdoms have decided to send you, O handsome and wise youth, to go on a mission to the court of Ka Sngi, the Sun.'
'Ka Sngi', continued Shakyllia, 'has favoured the kingdoms so highly that it is only right and just for us to give her due homage. You are of noble bearing and high intelligence. The kings and nobles are pleased to choose you from among all to represent the kingdoms before the august presence of Ka Sngi!'
Saying so, Ka Shakyllia flew away immediately.
Peacock on His Sun Mission
The peacock couldn't believe his ears! But, dullard that he was, he had no doubts that he was indeed the chosen one. He pranced about with joy, even as tears fell down his eyes! He immediately ran home and, having attired himself with the finest of finery, jewelled turban and all.
He came out to look to the skies.
Two birds, U sim kyllaidohdit and U sim sohphoh, the thrush and the magpie, masterminds of the drama, were gleefully watching from behind the bushes.
When they saw him strut about in such showy plumes, they laughed their guts out till they both fell and rolled on the ground! The gullible peacock, puffed up with self-importance, was clueless about their schemes. He took to his wings and flew off, up and away, ever climbing towards the Sun!
The birds couldn't contain their mirth. The peacock had taken their bait hook, line and sinker! What merriment they had!
But when in a long time the peacock didn't return, they began to wonder.
U Shadkyrtoh, the vain peacock had really taken the matter seriously and kept climbing till he reached Ka Sngi's palace!
The Peacock Came Face to Face With Ka Sngi or The Sun
As he landed at the Sun's palace, U Shadkyrtoh asked to be taken to her. He bowed low before her and delivered the homage of the kings and nobles of the thirty kingdoms. Ka Sngi was surprised because she never expected such gestures from the humans. But she was pleased that a stranger from a faraway land would come to confer honours upon her. She, therefore, gave orders to her servants and slaves to treat U Shadkyrtoh, the foreign visitor, with due respect and honour.
Thus, the peacock Shadkyrtoh quite unknowingly turned the tables on his bird friends! He got to enjoy the Sun's hospitality to the full and felt very pleased with himself.
As days passed, he began to like the place so much that he begged Ka Sngi to allow him to stay on forever and that she could consider him her brother.
Ka Sngi pondered. She was indeed getting lonely, especially since she banished her brother, U Bnai (on our earlier story), because of his misdemeanour with Ka Nam, the earth maiden. She was also beginning to enjoy his company and agreed to let U Shadkyrtoh stay on.
The Peacock's Tantrums
At last, Ka Sngi thought, with the peacock around, she had someone to talk to. Vain, proud, fussy and touchy though he was, Ka Sngi rather adored him. He was the brother she missed so much and she did everything she could to cater to his whims.
U Shadkyrtoh very often threw tantrums about like a spoilt child, sometimes refusing to speak to her for days. In order to bring back cheer to him, Ka Sngi would spend days cajoling and coaxing him back to a good mood. During such times, she even left her daily duties to attend to the sulking Shadkyrtoh!
The sullenness of U Shadkyrtoh was becoming so frequent that Ka Sngi stopped shining for days and months only to humour him. During those days, the earth remained without the Sun's warmth and light for long stretches of time. The clouds would not disperse and the lack of heat caused gloomy darkness to cover the earth.
With no sunshine, the plants began to wither, and because of such a scenario, Ka Lyer, the wind, got a free hand. She blew and thrashed about as she wished, and created rampant and wanton destruction everywhere.
Suddenly, the climate was no longer the same.
The birds and animals began to worry because, with climate change, food supplies were also becoming scarcer and scarcer. Life was becoming unbearable.
At last, the birds and animals got together to discuss the matter. They also realised their own folly of selecting a complete moron for such a mission, and now it boomeranged on them!
They decided to seek the help of humans.
Humans, Animals and Birds At the Great Durbar
A great dorbar (assembly) ensued. Humans questioned the animals and birds about the possible reasons why the Sun refused to shine.
The rooster strained his neck and said, 'According to the covenant we entered into when I crow three times, the earth would see the light of dawn.' But, he continued, 'why the Sun does not show her face I cannot say. Perhaps U Shadkyrtoh has done something that displeased her.'
Upon hearing the name of Shadkyrtoh and the possible mischief he might have done, alarm hit the birds. Their idea of fun had backfired on them. The hawk then proferred a solution saying, 'There's only one way of bringing back the Sun to shine. That is, bring U Shadkyrtoh back to earth!'
But the big question was: how?
The dorbar dispersed without resolution and the world receded further into deeper misery.
Final Solution to Bring Back the Peacock
Finally, an old woman came forward. This woman had studied the character of U Shadkyrtoh very closely. She knew how proud and vain he was. The woman had stored a 'khra' – earthen pot – full of mustard seeds. 'I know a solution,' she said, 'but it will work only if you do not eat these mustard seeds which I am going to plant in the field that I have prepared. If you promise me that, I will bring Shadkyrtoh back to earth and the Sun will shine again.'
The birds readily promised the woman they will not eat the seeds. They entrusted U pukni (eagle) and U khlieng (falcon) to be guardians of the field so that no one can eat the seeds away.
A few weeks later the field went green with little mustard plants. Pretty soon the plants grew big, and the woman got lots of mustard to eat.
More weeks passed, and at last, the time came for the mustard plants to flower. Within a few days, the green fields turned bright yellow with golden mustard blooms.
Nostalgia Strikes the Peacock
Meanwhile, U Shadkyrtoh the peacock was up to his tricks again, throwing his usual tantrums about, refusing to even speak to Ka Sngi.
One day he sat by himself in a pensive mood, recalling the days when he was on earth, the places he roamed about, and the arenas he danced on. His thoughts made him gaze downwards at the earth. Suddenly saw what seemed like a shining field of gold covering the entire playing grounds he was so familiar with! Nostalgia overcame his senses, and he immediately went and told Ka Sngi he wanted to go back.
His words struck her like a lightning bolt. She had become so fond of her new brother she didn't want him to go. But no amount of coaxing worked this time. U Shadkyrtoh left without as much as a word, flying swiftly down to earth.
The Sun cried after him to turn back but he wouldn't. The profuse tears that welled in her eyes fell on his back as she cried her heart out.
Still, U Shadkyrtoh was unmoved.
Peacock Back to Earth
He descended closer to earth and could see the golden field. His heart pounded with even more unbounded joy. The radiance of gold and the sparkling like diamonds of the bees' wings looked all too real from afar. Faster and faster, he descended as fast as the draft would allow him.
Soon he came within full view of the field and a cruel shock greeted the poor peacock. The field of gold, he realised too late, was nothing but a field of mustard flowers!
Comprehending his folly, he flapped his wings to fly back up but found he couldn't gain height. The tears that Ka Sngi cried had fallen on his back and weighed him down. He would never be able to fly back to the Sun ever again!
The birds and animals were overjoyed to see U Shadkyrtoh back. The Sun began to shine and give warmth, and all's well with the world once again.
How Did the Peacock Got the Rainbow Plumage?
Because he was 'khyllew', that is, vain or proud, U Shadkyrtoh's name changed to 'U Klew' (in Khasi language)till this day.
Do you know how those beautiful rainbow colours and patterns came about on the plumes of his back and wings?
They are those dried-out tears of Ka Sngi, the Sun.
And doesn't the peacock wish to return to the Sun?
You will notice that at every sunrise, the peacock always dances and prances about, testing his wings as if to fly up to the Sun!
Do you like this story? Don't you think it resounds with something similar even today?