Translated: from the Nepali original, 'Ukaaliko Katha' by Mary Des Chene;
Illustrated: from the Nepali edition by Yuvak Shrestha;
Published: in Sangraula, Khagendra. 2059v.s.. An Uphill Tale. Kathmandu: Vivek Srijanashil Prakashan; the English translation of Sangraula, Khagendra. 2058v.s.. Ukaaliko Katha. Kathmandu: Srijanashil Prakashan.
HTML Markup: For marxists.org in August, 2002.
It was a holiday. The children in the neighbourhood came out to play. The green grassy space was sunny and pleasant. It was time to take turn telling stories. But today it was hard to work out turns. This one said "I'll tell first!", that one said, "I'll tell first!", everybody said "I'll tell first!". Finally Chaturman stepped forward and said, "Listen up friends! Whoever has a new story tells first. How's that ?"
Hearing Chature's words all the friends started looking at each other. Everybody's stories were old ones. Those same stories moms and grandmums had told them; stories heard in the neighbourhood and here and there; stories their teachers had told them; stories read in books. Nita took a look around — nobody was ready to speak up. And then she stepped up herself and said, "Well then, I'll tell first".
Chaturman wisely said, "Alright. Amuse us and make us wiser too. Understand?"
Nita was dumbfounded.
"But look Nita, it's got to be a story you thought up yourself, a good story too."
In the end everybody insisted to Chuturman, "You tell, you tell...". Chaturman was ready to tell a story. Sitting in the middle of the circle of friends he began:
"In some land there was a village. In that village the villagers worked themselves to the bone harvesting the crops, but hedgehogs, monkies, birds and mice kept right on eating up the crops. The girls and boys of that village had neither a single nourishing meal to eat nor a single set of warm clothes to wear. Those children, whose lives famine was stalking, would get together in a big group and head uphill toward the forest. They'd eat berries if they found them, and if they found nothing else, they'd eat those watery round paaniamala that grew on the roots of a certain plant in rocky places. As they went on this way, eating whatever they could find, one year even the paaniamala were all eaten up. And then the hardship over eating created a real uproar — what to do?
A boy named Buddhiman came forward and said, "Listen friends, I've got a plan."
Everybody started to wonder, what could be the plan tucked away in his head? Sweet hopes leapt in everyone's eyes — maybe this plan will give us something to eat...!?
"Look, at the very top of that cliff there's a hive of cliff-bees." Pointing at the cliff with his forefinger he said thoughtfully, "If some smart plan could extract that honey....!"
Everybody raised their heads and craned their necks to look up. Oho, there's a gigantic hive on the cliff! Everyone's mouths watered. But the beehive was up so very high, the idea of digging out that honey to eat seemed to them just like the old saying, 'die while scanning the skies for what you need'.
"Hey boy, even an eagle might not get that high, never mind a person!" said one of them in a defeated voice.
"Huh. If we've got the nerve why can't it be done, hmm?", Buddhiman stuck to his guns.
"Impossible!" said another, squinting up at the cliff.
"We die one way or another", said Buddhiman staring at the beehive. "Without even trying, how can you say we can't?"
"Okay, let's say that we get that honey in our hands after going through a thousand and one sufferings", said Nita after thinking long and hard. "With so many of us, how much could there be for each?"
"Yes, that's right" another weighed in. "It won't amount to anything. A cumin seed in an elephant's mouth."
"If we get even that much to eat maybe we'll survive another few days" said Buddhiman, amusing his friends. And then who's to say somebody might not come up with another plan?"
Whatever he did, Buddhiman couldn't get his friends to come round to the idea. Rather we'll eat the famine food, giththo and bhyaakur, from the vines of the forest, and not go seeking death on the cliff — so said most of them. When none of his tactics worked, Buddhiman squatted down, hand pressed to his forehead. 'We die one way or another. Even so why not try ?' Hurriedly taking up adze and sledge he resolutely started cutting footholds into the cliff. Seeing his actions his friends were surprised. Some said, 'you'll fall and die'. Some said, 'You'll get stuck up there for good'. But on hearing their words Buddhiman just laughed wildly.
Buddhiman went up and singlemindedly started to cut steps in the wall of the cliff. The blazing heat of the month of Jeth. On top of that the work of cutting steps in the wall of the cliff. In a few moments his body was drenched in sweat. His limbs turned to mush. His eyes went foggy. But we die one way or another—he didn't lose his courage a bit. Cutting steps he went along. Up, still up, and yet farther up.... When he'd gone up about as high as the top of one great stand of bamboo, his limbs went rubbery. Cutting a deep wide step he squatted down in it. Looking down at the path he'd climbed he swooned with dizziness.
After resting a moment he started to cut steps again. But forget cutting steps; he could hardly control his own body.
Letting out a wheezing sigh he sat again and raising his head he took a look up toward the beehive. Oho, he thought. Boy, that hive is up near the peak of the sky! Gosh, can I really get up that high all alone? Might be hard! And now, on top of everything Buddhiman got really dizzy. Now, go up—no strength in his arms. Go down—how to show his face? At that moment of distress he stole a glance at his friends down at the foot of the cliff. Shading their eyes with their hands, they're all looking up at him. Buddhiman was embarassed, and then pride filled his heart again.
"What a wonderfuuul wooooorld!!" Facing his friends, Buddhiman called down in a long drawn-out voice.
"Whad'ya see from up there Buddhiman?" asked one from down below.
"Oh, such a world of fun!"
"Tell, tell!" insisted another from down below, bursting with curiosity.
"Way way off, beyond the hills" began Buddhiman from up above, settling into the rhythms of a teller of amusing tales. "There! Brave ones have caught those crop-eating hedgehogs".
"How'd they catch 'em, Buddhiman?" somebody asked from below.
"First they smoked them out of their holes. Then they chased them all over the fields, far and wide they chased 'em. And then they boxed their ears, thrashed them tip to tail. Then they boxed them in and blocked their path. And then what'd they need—they snatched them right up.
"What'd they grab onto, Buddhiman?" one asked breathlessly as he started on up.
"Grabbed 'em by the snout." Delighting in his own tale Buddhiman said, "While I was watching they chased 'em. While I was watching they grabbed 'em. Oho, what fun. Oho, what a show!"
Thinking 'maybe we'll get to see something' five energetic boys and girls climbed up the steps that Buddhiman had cut. When they got near him with one voice they asked, "Well, where is it then Buddhiman? Where's the show you told us about?"
"The show's already hidden" he answered in a kidding voice. And then, after pondering for a moment or two he said, "Those who come in time see the show; how're latecomers to see the show?"
Hearing what Buddhiman said they were all disheartened.
"Wait friends". Using his wits Buddhiman said, "Maybe you'll see it from a bit further up!"
Now, taking turns, all five started to cut steps in the cliff. The hot season. What's more, work like that — in a moment their bodies were soaked in sweat. More and more water blisters popped up on their palms. Their limbs turned to mush. Their eyes fogged over. But they'd come, one way or another. They didn't lose their courage a bit. They went on cutting footholds non-stop. And stepping into those footholds one after another they kept on climbing up. Up, still up, and yet farther up and up. When they'd gone up about as high as the tops of two full stands of bamboo, their limbs went rubbery. So, cutting a deep and wide step for each of them, they squatted down. Looking down at the path they'd climbed they swooned with dizziness. 'Oh, oh! If we fall, we're gonna die!'
After resting a few moments they again steeled themselves to cut footholds. But forget the distant dream of cutting footholds, it was all they could do just to control their own bodies. Letting out a wheezing sigh, they all squatted down again. Buddhiman raised his head and looked toward the beehive. 'Oh! That hive is still way up. Boy, so far up it's near the peak of the sky! Can just a handful of us really get up that high? Might be hard!' On top of everything, once again our little brother Buddhiman got really dizzy.. Now go up, there's no strength in anybody's arms. Go down, how to show our faces? At that moment of distress he remembered the friends down at the foot of the cliff. Turned out they were all still there, hands shading their eyes, looking up. At first Buddhiman felt embarassed. Then he took courage again.
"Oho, what a wonderful world!" sang out Buddhiman in a joyful voice, swinging his legs.
"What've you seen from up there Buddhiman?" one asked from down below.
"What a world of fun!" sang out Buddhiman, using his wits.
"Tell brother, tell!", another one bubbled with curiosity, looking wistfully upwards.
"Way way off, beyond the hills, I've seen wonderful things".
"What'd you see friend?"
"Way way off, beyond the hills" he said from up above, settling once again into the rhythms of a teller of amusing tales. "I saw a man fly."
"Huh. How'd a man fly Buddhiman?"
"He flew using rainbows for wings, he flew with the moon as his cap, he flew by swimming through the blue sky. Oho, how he flew!"
As if they didn't believe Buddhiman's talk, every one of those left below asked the other five up above, "Did you see him too?"
"We saw him, we saw him" said the five in one voice from midway up the cliff. "Wow, how he flew!! Rainbow wings really move! How beautiful his moon cap! Oho, what a wondrous world!"
Thinking 'maybe we'll get to see something', from down below twenty-five or thirty climbed up at great speed. When they got close to Buddhiman, huffing and puffing they asked with one voice, "Well, where is it then, Buddhiman? Where's the show you told us about?"
"The show's hidden away already" said Buddhiman, pondering deeply. "Those who come in time see the show; what do latecomers get to see?"
When they heard Buddhiman's words, they were all disheartened.
"Wait, friends. Using his wits again, he said, "Maybe you'll see it from a bit further up!"
Now, taking turns, they all started to cut footholds in the cliff. A river of their sweat flowed from the cliff. Cutting footholds without pause they climbed steadily upwards. Up-up, further and further up. How amazing! Without even knowing it they'd reached the beehive.
Striking a match Buddhiman lit a rag. Then with the smoke he chased the bees from the hive. And then, with joyful congratulations all around, they extracted honeycombs, their tiny clay holes oveflowing with honey. And then, looking at the blue sky, white mountains, green hills and meandering river, carrying the honey they slowly slowly made their way down the cliff. Those who'd stayed at the foot of the cliff felt very sorrowful. Neither did they get to see that spectacular world, nor would they get to taste the flavour of honey. But Buddhiman was a wonderful person. Wise just like his name, Buddhiman. He split up the honey into equal portions for everybody."
After telling this much Chaturman—whose name also meant 'wise one'—went and sat in his own spot in the circle. Now it was Nita's turn to tell a story. Standing in the middle of the circle of friends, she began, "In some land there was a city....".