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Kafal Pako Mai Ni Chakhyo

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Folk Tales of Kumaon

By Anjali Nauriyal

Presented here is a soulful tale from Kumaon, relating to a wondrous fruit that turns scarlet at the touch of the Sun. The tale has varied versions. The one narrating the story of a mother-daughter duo named Saru and Haruli is amongst the rare ones. It is prevalent in the folk songs of the Kumaon Valley.

Amongst countless heavenly fruits that abound the Himalaya Mountains is the fabled Kafal (Bay-berry) known to breathe new life into humans. The leaves and barks of Kafal tree too are infused with rare medicinal qualities. Folklore has it that Kafal is full of fortifying and reinvigorating qualities that keep the human body young and fit forever.

Traditional Aipen art depicting a Kumaoni woman by Kavita Shukla.

In one of the farflung villages of Kumaon region, where people worship nature as a gift of the divine and its abode, lived a Poor Woman named Saru, along with her little daughter Haruli. They lived a deficient life and depended on a paltry piece of land for their livelihood.

There is a widespread belief in the villages that in the month of Chait, observed as the first month in accordance with traditional Hindu calendar, the hills reverberate with the sound of the soulful songs of birds.

This is the time and season when Kafal tree becomes fully laden with cherry red fruit. Seeing the vibrant, juicy, ruby coloured fruit, a pair of birds begins to sing.

One of the two birds chirps merrily and sings, ‘Kafal Pako Main Ni Chakhyo’, meaning ‘The Kafal is ripe but I have not tasted it.’ At this another bird replies, ‘Purray Putti Purray Pur,’ meaning ‘They are all there daughter, they are all there.’

This passionate, doleful song reflects life in the hills and significance of both flora and fauna in the life of the people of Kumaon. There are birds, there are fruits, there is abundance, and there are deep emotions in life lived in the mountains!

Lore has it that Kafal has always been an important fruit in Uttarakhand. Several families even today gather this fruit from the wilderness and sell it to obtain a living.

Many mellifluous folk songs of Kumaon mention that Kafal has traditionally been considered as the ‘Fruit of Gods’ and the birdsongs that reverberate in the hills have beautiful lyrics that express the sorrow of the birds. The birds express in their stirring sing-song, chantlike manner that the fruit meant for Lord Indra abounds in heaven, but they do not get to taste them as they reside on Earth: “Khanaa Layak Indra Ka, Hum Chhiyan Bhoolok Aain Padan.”

So the story goes that in summers when this wonderful fruit would ripen Saru’s happiness would know no bounds. She would feel elated as she could now collect this fruit and earn some extra money to mitigate her family’s suffering. She would roam the length and breath of the jungles, to collect Kafal in her basket made of dry leaves and sticks.

It so happened in one of the seasons, that the mother and daughter spent an entire day collecting Kafal. Leaving the entire day’s booty in the custody of her daughter Haruli, Saru ventured yet again into the forests to collect some fodder for her cattle. Before leaving she assured Haruli that she would be given her share of Kafal upon her return. But before that she should guard the basket well.

Haruli sat next to the basket, with honest intentions of following her mother’s command. She wished to guard the Kafal basket with all sincerity and so tried her utmost not to fall asleep.

But the vibrant colored, juicy Kafal seemed too alluring for her, and unable to keep her temptation in control, she began relishing the fruit patch by patch.

Hours later Saru returned and was stupefied to see her daughter asleep and the Kafal quantity reduced to almost half. The poor woman went into a terrible rage and her face turned beetroot red. She immediately threw the fodder that she was carrying on the ground and kicked and beat up Haruli on her back. But the force with which she hit her was so strong that Haruli woke up, zoned out, and fell into coma.

Saru tried desperately to bring the child back into consciousness. She shook her with all her might to awaken her, but just then Haruli developed wings, turned into a bird and flew away. She turned around to look at the Kafal basket and realized that the fruit had wilted in the strong Sun and therefore occupying less space. Her daughter infact was innocent. Just then the basket becomes magically full just as she had left it.

Mystified by her daughter’s transformation, she stood like a zombie for a while. Regretting her behavior she wished to apologize to her beloved daughter but Haruli was nowhere to be seen. Only the cry of a bird could be heard.

So intense was Saru’s desire to unite with her daughter that she too transformed into a bird and flew away.

Each Chait season when birds can be heard singing in the forests of Kumaon, people believe the souls of the mother and daughter, Saru and Haruli are in conversation, trying to sort out an issue.

Dr Anjali Nauriyal is Senior Fellow with Ministry of Culture, GOI. Veteran journalist, author and actor, Dr Anjali Nauriyal is currently Senior Fellow with Ministry of Culture, GOI.