In the Face of the Moon

Yaseli’s grandmother was running sick for the past few days and this worried him a lot. For Yaseli, his Boju—grandmother—was his whole world. Nothing in life, except his grandmother, held any meaning for him. She was all he had.  

“Boju, don’t worry; I have called Fedangma Bajé. Everyone in the village says he possesses magical power. He will surely heal you. If not, I will take you to the hospital in the city,” said Yaseli. But, his grandmother did not like the idea of going to the city. 

“OK then, don’t worry; we’ll talk about it later. I’ve cooked something special today for you. I’ll get it.” 

Yaseli rushed to the kitchen. Taking a spoonful of rice cooked in milk, he spoke to her like to a child, “Boju, eat this while it’s still warm. Then you have to rest.” He continued, “Fedangma has said, he will come early tomorrow. He needs lalupaté flowers, some rice grains, a piece of white cloth, a few white cotton strands, clean water, and a few other things. But Boju, you don’t worry. I will manage everything, and you will be fine.”

The hut where Yaseli lived with his grandmother was at the top of a hill in Kandeni, an isolated village in the eastern province of Nepal. Far below, they could see Kandeni Bazaar, but getting to their home was more than an hour of uphill trek. So  the neighbors seldom visited them.     

The next morning, Fedangma Bajé arrived from the neighboring village of Henchebung. Fedangma wore a strange head gear with multicolored feathers collected from different birds: golden eagle, vulture, hawk, and the Himalayan bulbul. All those formed a circle around Fedangma’s head. This was a special head gear that the healer wore while he performed specific rituals. Fedangma also had small metal bells stitched onto his sleeves. They jingled as he moved. A couple of stringed beads of rudraksha, sandal beads and silver coins that dangled around his neck gave him a peculiar look.  

Yaseli held back his smile. After all, Fedangma was here to cure his beloved grandmother. He had to show respect, and not offend the healer! 

Fedangma displayed an aura of power—a man accomplished in the art of exorcism. At times, his whole body trembled with unkempt motion. Villagers believed Fedangma could exorcise evil spirits that way.  

“Yaseli,” Fedangma asked, “have you brought everything I told you yesterday?”

“Yes, Bajé,” Yaseli replied cheerfully.

“Good. So now bring a with some rice on it,” Fedangma said, “I will read jokhana of your grandmother and find out which evil spirit is bothering her.”  

Fedangma Bajé started to envisage jokhana by shifting rice grains from one side to another on the plate. Sometimes he took all the rice together and then scattered them in different directions. He repeated this act many times. Yaseli sat beside the healer and observed the acts in grave silence. Fedangma Bajé chanted some strange mantras in a low pitch. 

At the end, Fedangma took a deep breath, and proclaimed, “Yaseli, your grandmother is sick because your dead ancestors are unhappy with your family. To add, your Kuldevata, the family deity, is angry.”  

Yaseli asked, “What does this mean, Fedangma Bajé? And what could be the reason of their being unhappy with us?”   

“You know Bajé, my Boju is sick for the last couple of days. And you say all this has happened because of the anger of our dead ancestors,” Yaseli added. “So how do we appease them? I am ready to perform any ritual to cure Grandma.” He pleaded, “I have heard, you possess divine powers to appease evil spirits; please do something for her.”

Fedangma took a long sigh before replying, and said, “I cannot do much for your grandmother, lad; it is for you to act. You, yourself can help your grandmother from dying. I just can tell the way for you; I will guide you to cure her. It’s a difficult path, but I will tell you only if you are ready. Otherwise . . .” 

“I am ready to do anything for Boju. I can even give my life for her. Just tell me what I have to do. I can’t understand all that you say, Bajé. Can such things be true in these modern scientific times?”  

“Yaseli, little one, you do not understand such things. You trust me or not, I don’t care. There are many things in life that modern science cannot explain. But, my jokhana envisions that all these happened to your Boju because of the wrath of your Kuldevata,” Fedangma replied in a pensive mood.  

Yaseli was quiet. He had to save his grandmother at any cost. After some time, he spoke in a clear voice, “Bajé, please tell me what I have to do to please the deity. I want my Boju to recover soon.”   

“Yaseli, if you want your Boju to be perfectly well, you will have to bring  tiger’s milk. It will be a dangerous task to get it but that’s the only way she can be saved!” 

Yaseli was taken aback. “A tiger’s milk? But the cow’s milk is sacred; wouldn’t that work? You know, every Saturday Boju offers cow’s milk to God. She performs puja every single day, and I wonder why God should be angry with us.” 

“You have to do as the spirits have told me to convey.” Fedangma shrugged, and closed his eyes. Yaseli felt helpless. ‘How can I bring a tiger’s milk? Where can I find one…it’s so annoying!’ He looked at the sky and prayed for courage to endure the situation. Yeseli said to himself,  ‘This is simply blind faith in the name of God.’

However, Yaseli had no other option but to follow Fedangma’s instructions. It would take many days to reach the city. She would not be able to endure the tedious journey to a hospital. He would need a lot of money too. So, he flayed his fate. He was angry at his helplessness. 

His grandmother had looked after Yaseli since his mother had eloped with Paruhang of Sabadin. At the time, Yaseli was ten years old. He had no memories of his father, but Boju told Yaseli about him and about how he had died after falling down from a walnut tree. Yaseli did miss his father a lot. All the happy moments of Yaseli’s childhood were the ones spent with his grandmother. It was she who had looked after him, loved him, fed him, and sent him to school. She worked in the fields to pay for his school fees. These days she talked about how she had become like the sun in the western horizon. This worried Yaseli. He did not like his grandmother saying such things.

In the evenings, Boju told Yaseli stories about gods and goddesses, tales of the golden-haired princess Sunkesari, and about the stories of the villagers who had migrated to Assam and hills of Darjeeling. She told Yaseli about his grandfather and their happy conjugal life. They had loved passionately till the icy hands of death took him away. When she talked about her life with her husband, Yaseli saw her face glow like the full moon. 

For the last three days, grandmother lay in her cot, unable to get up or speak. Her silence was broken only at times by her severe coughing. Her condition grew worse day by day. So Yaseli went to meet Fedangma and asked, “Bajé, can you tell me where I can find a lactating tigress?” 

Fedangma told him that many tigers lived in a dense forest in the valley of Pathibhara, and maybe he could find a tiger’s milk there. Yaseli told Boju that he was going to get a remedy for her, but Boju just shook her head. Her eyes seemed to say, “Don’t go Yaseli; stay with me.” Perhaps she felt, time to accompany Yaseli’s grandfather had come, and she was eager to meet him…   

Yaseli gave a final parting kiss on his grandmother’s wrinkled forehead and whispered, “I will bring a tiger’s milk by tomorrow morning. God, please keep my Boju safe for me till I am back.”  

Yaseli had heard stories of the deep and lovely woodlands high up in the hills of Pathibhra. He arrived at the hills exactly when the sun reached the western firmament. His tender hands were badly scratched by thorns while climbing the thickets. He climbed a big chestnut tree and sat on a branch, eating popcorn and roasted soybean he had carried from home.  

The night slowly waned. A chilly breeze swayed the leaves of the chestnut tree which flapped in a continuous rhythm, producing a strange tone.  

Yaseli had never seen a real tiger. All he had seen was pictures in text books and posters. This time, he saw a tigress approaching the tree where he was lodged. His heart pounded faster. The tigress was a beauty—like a blazing fire. Yaseli pinched himself. He was not dreaming; the tigress was real ! 

The tigress gave a big roar. Yaseli began to sob. He was scared by the fierceness of her roar. The angry tigress could kill him at one go. The tigress, however, seemed oblivious of Yaseli; maybe she had not tasted human flesh yet! 

Yaseli passed the whole night on the tree like a sentry but he was too scared to approach the tigress for a drop of milk. 

The next morning, when the sun came out in full glory, the tigress went away. Then a trembling Yaseli got down from the tree and ran homeward. With each step, his heart pounded faster. He saw his Boju everywhere in nature. 

The following night Fedangma came to visit Yaseli. Yaseli narrated the events of his night in the forest to him.  

“What will happen to my Boju now, Bajé? I could not bring the tiger’s milk to save her.” Torrents of tears poured out of Yaseli’s eyes. 

“Why don’t you speak? Please say something, Bajé ! You have the gift of healing. Please do something to cure Boju.”   

Without uttering a word, Fedangma Bajé started putting some rice on the bronze plate. He chanted some sacred mantras and finally said, “If you give your grandma some shilajit she may get better. You can find the alkaloid in the high mountains, especially in slopes of rocky hills, oozing from the cracks on the rocks. This is not an easy task too.”

Yaseli replied, “It will be less difficult than fetching the milk from a tiger.”  

Fedangma said, “Don’t worry Yaseli; you go to Mahabhir in search of shilajit. In the meantime I will also try to see if someone in the village has a bit of shilajit left over from the Gurupuja.”       

Yaseli was determined to getting shilajit at any cost, this time. He set off for the mountains, without even saying goodbye to his grandmother as she was still sleeping.

After trekking through rough terrain the whole day, Yaseli arrived at Mahabhir, the place where shilajit, as he was told, could be found in plenty. He had never seen shilajit and had forgotten to ask Fedangma what it looked like. He could not identify the paste. All his efforts went in vain!

Wherever he went, luck never favored Yaseli. He was irritated by monkeys playing and hopping on branches, and making silly noises. Yaseli felt that the primates were celebrating his plight. In a fit of rage, he picked up a rock and threw it at the herd of baboons. The next moment he heard crackling sounds, like many branches were being broken from the tree. He turned back. There were monkeys—many of them and angry ones—staring at him. All of a sudden, they started throwing sticks at him.  

Yaseli just managed to flee to safety.

On the way home, he thought about taking his grandmother to the hospital in Thamakhé. He would ask Fedangma to lend him some money for her treatment. 

Yaseli knew, Boju had kept some money in a thaili hidden inside the girdle cloth fastened around her waist. He was not sure whether Boju would be ready to use that money for her treatment as she had saved it for Yalseli’s school fees. But he would convince her, as Yaseli felt that neither education, nor wealth was greater than his grandmother’s life. He would remind her in her own words: “Health is wealth.” 

When Yaseli reached home, he found  Fedangma Bajé there. Granny seemed asleep; her eyes were closed, though wet. Fedangma Bajé came over to him and said, “Yaseli, little one, now this shilajit you have brought has no purpose. Your Boju went away to stay in the moon. In death, she said that she was the happiest person in the world. She was happy because of your effort and love for her. She said to tell you that she would always be with you. If you want to see her face, you will find her on a full-moon night; you will see her in the face of the moon.”

Yaseli wept bitterly, “Now who will care for me, Boju? Who will milk Lalmu in the cowshed? Who will sprinkle milk to the gods in the shrine that you erected? Who will tell me the tales of warriors, of fairies, and of golden-haired princess? You have left me alone in this selfish world, Boju!” 

On the full-moon night that ensured, Yaseli looked at his grandmother’s face in the sky and said, “Boju, I love you!”