This one’s for my fellow lovers of Nepal.
From Ears on Fire: Snapshot Essays in a World of Poets, by Gary Mex Glazner (2002).
Gurkha God Dice
Three young girls peek out from under their shawls. Behind the girls lies the Dhaulagiri mountain range, filling the sky with white. We ask for Mr. Budhe Pun.
The girls’ mother yells in Nepali, “He’s in his cowshed.”
We are in the village of Nangi, in the Annapurna region of the Himalayas. The village is in a valley ringed by 15,000 foot plus mountains. This morning, the sky is cloudless with a sting of cold in the air.
The night before I had read a book of folk tales produced by the village school and one of the teachers has agreed to introduce me to Pun, a storyteller and ex-Gurkha soldier who served in the British army for 30 years. The Gurkhas are legendary fearless fighters, with incredible strength gained as children playing up and down mountain trails.
On the way down to the cowshed, the teacher tells me the school has a website with all the folk tales. We have walked for three days, six to eight hours a day, gained thousands of feet in elevation and now I learn I could have stayed home and read the stories on my computer!
We walk down a cobble path to a small stone house with a black slate roof. The teacher calls out. No answer. He goes around back and returns saying, “Pun is milking his cow and will be right out.” A few minutes later a short, slight man, not the warrior I had imagined, rounds the corner. We shake hands and I ask if he has time to tell us a story. He laughs and rubs his head, he as been drinking raksi, the local rice brew, and doubts if he can remember any. Then a boy brings out a straw mat, and we all sit down. Within minutes, Pun is telling a tale. Surrounded by chickens and cows, sitting on the ground outside the simple house, it feels as if we have slipped back hundreds of years. The story goes like this:
“Many, many years ago there was a poor boy without parents. He lived in an old straw hut. He was very hungry but could not get any food. One day the boy went to the cliff and hanging down on the side of the cliff among some rocks was a plant that the boy could eat. He climbed down the cliff and began to eat. When he was finished eating, he realized the trail was too steep to go back up and too steep to go down.
He didn’t know what to do, and then he found a cave in which he could take shelter. He went into the cave and began to weep. He knew he would die. How could he get out? He cried even louder. As luck would have it, God was passing the cave and heard the boy crying. God asked why the boy was so full of tears and sorrow.
The boy said, “I came here to eat the plant but now I cannot get down or up and have no parents. Surely I will die here.” So God took pity on the boy and helped him down. Then God said, “Would you like to play a game of dice? You can have three rolls and whatever number comes up, you will be granted that amount of things you have wished for.”
The boy rolled a seven and he imagined a palace. Suddenly a great palace appeared with seven floors. He rolled again and the dice came up three. He had imagined riches and there were three piles of gold, silver and jewels. His third roll he wished for love, and six beautiful women appeared. He was as rich and happy as any king.
In the village where the boy lived there was a rich man who had heard of the boy’s new wealth. The rich man went to visit the boy. He asked him how he became so wealthy. He told the man of how he went to the cliff to find food, how God had helped him and of the rolling of the dice. The man wanted to play the dice game. God came down and gave the man the dice. The man went home to his wife and told her about the game and asked her what he should wish for. His wife didn’t believe the man, so she cursed at him and turned away in anger. The rich man was so mad he threw the dice down, cursing back at his wife. He became his curse, turning into a giant penis, covered with hundreds of smaller penises.”
(Mr Pun stops speaking. The four men and women and five children who have gathered roll with laughter. This is not a story told in mixed company. Embarrassed, he begins the tale again).
“The rich man throws the dice and wishes all the penises away. But he forgets about one thing and when he turns back into a man, his own penis is gone. Now he has only one roll left, and he wishes his penis back.”
The moral of the story: beware of gods bearing dice.
Gurkha God Dice
This story took place on a twelve day trek on the Annapurna trail. We had an entourage of porters led by one guide, Mansingh. While talking about our families we told Mansingh the concept of “time-out” in disciplining children. I believe I may be the first person put in “time-out” in the Himalayas.
Story translated by Mansingh Gurung & Gary Mex Glazner.