October 12, 2006

Wangdrup and Tsho-min

Chorten Kora is situated on the left bank of Kulong Chhu. A mile upstream it forks into two tributaries: Bumdelling Chhu on the left and Wongmonang Chhu on the right. It is on the right bank of Wongmonang Chhu where Zamdung is situated. Myths and mysteries have always surrounded Wongmonang Chhu.

Wangdrup lived in Zamdung. He was an orphan staying with an old couple, Ap Kukpala and Aum Bakumo, who for his services gave him food for his belly and a roof over his head. So, it was not surprising to find him herding the village cattle or ploughing someone’s field day by day.

One day, it so happened that he took two bulls, Norbula and Zangdila, to plough the old couple’s land by the river. Aum Bakumo had packed zzan, a mixture of flour and water rolled into semi-hard lumps and a piece of dried beef.

He ploughed the field and at midday he went under the shade of the cool trees by the riverbank, to eat his zzan and dried beef. After finishing his meal he took out his sole possession, a flute and started playing upon it, while Norbula and Zangdila rested under the shade.

Suddenly he registered a movement by the corner of his eye, and he jerked back. His grips loosened on the flute, which fell into the river with a soft splash. Cursing, he contemplated jumping in but he didn't know how to swim, and the water was deep. Sadly with tears glistering in his eyes he sat looking at the water.

Then something happened. The water churned, and a beautiful girl rose out of the water. He could see that she was like a fish, complete with scales and a fin, from the waist down-wards. She held his flute in her right hand. Silence prevailed. They looked at each other.

What is she? Who is she? Is she a mermaid? He knew that she must be the tsho-min . . .the mermaid, that ancient one used to tell tales about.

Should I throw the flute from here? Or should I offer it to him with my own hands? Taken in by his looks, she ventured to the riverbank and held out the flute.

Is she real? Was he dreaming? Only when their figures made contact that Wangdrup came out of his haze. Yes, she was real.

“Thank you” but she was long gone. Wangdrup couldn't help but wonder what she was doing here. Anyway he played a song on his flute and was about to go back to ploughing the field, when he spied her watching him from the other bank of the river. She looked delighted. Wanting to amuse and thank her he played another round of music on his flute. She was indeed delighted, and she advanced nearer and nearer as he played music after music on his flute.

Like two lost lovers finding each other, each began to feel free and open up.
Wangdrup stopped his playing and smiled at her. “Are you really a mermaid?”
“Yes, I am a real mermaid.”
“Can I touch you to make sure that I am not dreaming?”
“Of course. Here take my hand”.
They started talking. She said that she was alone and lonely in the dark green waters of the Kulong Chhu. The fishes and river creatures were her only friends.
“What is your name?”
“We have no such names that a mortal can say it . . . .What’s yours?”
“Wangdrup . . .Wangdrup . . .what a lovely name. . ..Wangdrup”.

There a great friendship started. Legend says that no man can befriend a mermaid, but it was proven wrong there by Wangdrup and tsho-minSoon it was time for Wangdrup to go home. He had not done any ploughing after midday. He still wanted to meet her the next day, and she promised to be there, waiting for him.

The next day they met one again and he shared his meager meal with her. Thus the strange friendship continued throughout the summer and continued up to fall when Wangdrup had to go to the neighboring village. Now he could visit her only sometimes.

Winter came and with her, snow and ice. Wangdrup couldn't go out of the house due to the cold. Aum Bakumo or Kukpala didn't send him on any errands during the cold spell. With the first day of the warm weather, Wangdrup hastened to his friend and called her. she surfaced immediately. She had been waiting for him in the freezing cold. They embraced, and Wangdrup realized how much he had been missing her. He realized something else. He loved her and couldn't even think of living without her. Then they discussed the possibilities.

“I cannot live on land with this body” she reasoned, “ . . . and you can only stay underwater long enough till the air in your lungs exhaust. Then you will drown.” They thought of a solution to this but they couldn't do so.
Soon it was time once again for him to go back home again but his heart yearned to stay with her and her only.

So the next day he went to Aum Bakumo and Kukpala and asked them what he should do, now that he loved the mermaid and wanted to be with her forever.
“Hush, my Wangdrup! Don’t you know that mermaids are not to be meddled with? Forget her, and I will ask for Aum Pema’s daughter Dechen’s hand for you,” answered Aum Bakumo.

He was not satisfied. So he went to Chorten Kora, some three hours walk away and there asked the teacher who was teaching in the government central school there.
“What? Don’t you dare disturb me with your silly talks? Who says mermaids truly exist? They are the figment of man’s imagination.”

Unsatisfied, Wangdrup went to the Rigsum Gonpa and presented the Lam with this problem. Now the Lam was a wise man. He listened patiently to Wangdrup while he repeated his problem. But the solution offered was no different than the previous ones.
“Son, what you are pursuing and seeking is irrational. Open your eyes and behold where you put your next step.”
“But, I can’t stay without her . . .”
“Son, to love and to be loved in return is the ultimate feeling that one can come across. You love and you are being loved. That itself is enough . . .”

So Wangdrup returned to his beloved at dusk and there she was ...waiting for him by the river.
“I love you and can’t live without you even for a second. My life is meaningless without your presence,” and saying this he jumped into the river. Together they swam all night, visiting the secret places and hideaways offered by the river.

At dawn his strength began to fail him and he could no longer keep his head above water, but he wouldn't let go of his love, and there he died embraced in love, in the light of the rising sun. She carried his body to her favorite hideaway and since she couldn't contain her grief in losing him, she too died, dissolving away, mixing and becoming one with nature – the water fairy, guarding her love’s final nest eternally.