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The Idiot And The Hyndet Bread

Source: Folk-tales Of The Khasis

Long, long ago there lived on the Khasi Hills a certain widow with her
only son, a lad possessed of great personal beauty, who was mentally
deficient, and was known in the village as "U Bieit" (the idiot).

The mother, being very poor and having neither kith nor kin to help
her, was obliged to go out to work every day to support herself and
her hapless child, so he was left to his own devices, roaming at
large in the village. In this way he grew up to be very troublesome
to his neighbours, for he often broke into their houses to forage
for something to eat and caused much damage and loss.

Like most people of weak intellect, U Bieit showed wonderful cunning
in some directions, especially in the matter of procuring some good
thing to eat, and the way he succeeded in duping some of his more
sagacious comrades in order to obtain some dainty tit-bits of food
was a matter of much amusement and merriment. But there were so many
unpleasant incidents that people could not safely leave their houses,
and matters at last became so serious that the widow was ordered to
leave the village on his account.

She sought admission into many of the surrounding villages, but the
fame of U Bieit had travelled before him and no one was willing to
let them dwell in their midst. So in great distress she took him down
to the plains, where there was a big river along which many boats
used to sail. Here she mournfully determined to abandon him, hoping
that some of the wealthy merchants who often passed that way might
be attracted by his good looks and take him into their company. She
gave him some rice cakes to eat when he should be hungry, and told
him to be a good boy and stay by the river-side, and she would bring
him more cakes next day.

The boy thoroughly appreciated the promise of more cakes, so was quite
willing to be left by the river, but he felt lonely and uncomfortable
in his strange surroundings after his mother had gone, and whenever
a boat came in sight he ran into the thickets to hide. By and by
a large boat was seen approaching with great white sails, which
frightened him greatly and sent him running into a thicket with all
his might. It happened that a wealthy merchant was returning from
a journey, and landed to take food close to the hiding-place of U
Bieit. The servants were going backward and forward into the boat
while preparing their master's food, and, fearing lest some of them
might tamper with his chest of gold nuggets, he ordered them to carry
it ashore, and buried it in the sands close to where he sat.

Just as he finished his repast a heavy shower came on, and the
merchant hurried to the shelter of his boat; in his haste he forgot
all about the chest of gold buried in the sands, and the boat sailed
away without it.

All this time the idiot boy was watching the proceedings with great
curiosity and a longing to share the tempting meal, but fear of
the boat with white sails kept him from showing himself. However,
as soon as the boat was out of sight, he came out of the thicket and
began to unearth the buried chest. When he saw the gold nuggets he
thought they were some kind of cakes, and, putting one in his mouth,
he tried to eat it. Finding it so hard, he decided that it must have
been unbaked, and his poor marred mind flew at once to his mother,
who always baked food for him at home, and, taking the heavy chest on
his back, he started through the forest to seek her, and his instinct,
like that of a homing pigeon, brought him safely to his mother's door.

It was quite dark when he reached the village, so that nobody saw him,
but his mother was awake crying and lamenting her own hard fate which
had driven her to desert her unfortunate child. As she cried she
kept saying to herself that if only she possessed money she could
have obtained the goodwill of her neighbours and been permitted to
live with her boy in the village. She was surprised to hear sounds of
shuffling at her door resembling the shuffling of her forsaken boy;
she got up hurriedly to see who it was, and was relieved and joyful
to find him come back to her alive.

She marvelled when she saw him carrying a heavy chest on his shoulders,
and she could get but little light from his incoherent speech as to
how he had obtained possession of it, but her eyes glittered with
delight when she saw that it was full of gold nuggets. She allowed the
lad to keep his delusion that they were cakes, and to pacify him she
took some rice and made some savoury cakes for him, pretending that
she was baking the strange cakes from the chest. After eating these,
he went to sleep satisfied and happy.

Now the widow had been longing for gold all her life long, saying that
she wanted it to provide better comforts for the son who could not look
after himself, but the moment the gold came into her possession her
heart was filled with greed. Not only was she not willing to part with
any of the nuggets to obtain the favour of the villagers for her son,
but she was planning to send him abroad again to search for more gold,
regardless of the perils to which he would be exposed. She called
him up before daybreak, and, giving him some rice cakes in a bag,
she told him to go again to the river-side and to bring home more
boxes of cakes for her to bake.

So the boy started out on his fruitless errand, but soon lost his
way in the jungle; he could find the path neither to the river nor
to his mother's house, so he wandered about disconsolate and hungry
in the dense woods, searching for hidden chests and unbaked cakes.

In that forest many fairies had their haunts, but they were invisible
to mankind. They knew all about the idiot boy and his sad history,
and a great pity welled up in their hearts when they saw how the lust
for gold had so corrupted his mother's feelings that she sent him alone
and unprotected into the dangers of that great forest. They determined
to try and induce him to accompany them to the land of the fairies,
where he would be guarded from all harm and where willing hands would
minister to all his wants.

So seven of the fairies transformed themselves into the likeness
of mankind and put on strong wings like the wings of great eagles,
and came to meet U Bieit in the jungle. By this time he had become
exhausted with want of food, and as soon as he saw the fairies he
called out eagerly to ask if they had any food, to which they replied
that they had only some Hyndet bread (kpu Hyndet) which had been
baked by the fairies in heaven; and when they gave him some of it,
he ate it ravenously and held out his hand for more. This was just
what the fairies wanted, for no human being can be taken to fairyland
except of his own free will. So they said that they had no more to
give in that place, but if he liked to come with them to the land of
the fairies beyond the Blue Realm, he could have abundance of choice
food and Hyndet cakes. He expressed his readiness to go at once,
and asked them how he should get there. They told him to take hold of
their wings, to cling firmly, and not to talk on the way; so he took
hold of the wings of the fairies and the ascent to fairyland began.

Now as they flew upwards there were many beautiful sights which gave
the fairies great delight as they passed. They saw the glories of
the highest mountains, and the endless expanse of forest and waters,
and the fleeting shadows of the clouds, and the brilliant colours
of the rainbow, dazzling in their transient beauty. But the idiot
boy saw nothing of these things; his simple mind was absorbed in the
one thought--food. When they had ascended to a great height and the
borders of fairyland came into view, U Bieit could no longer repress
his curiosity, and, forgetting all about the caution not to speak,
he asked the fairies eagerly, "Will the Hyndet cakes be big?" As soon
as he uttered the words he lost his hold on the fairies' wings and,
falling to the earth with great velocity, he died.

The Khasis relate this story mainly as a warning not to impose
responsible duties on persons incapable of performing them, and not
to raise people into high positions which they are not fitted to fill.

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