U Sier Lapalang by Janice Pariat
Shall I tell you the story of Sier Lapalang? As with every folktale, there are many versions. My nanny's would be brief - "the young stag didn't listen to his mother and see what happened to him?" While others are infinitely more detailed.
At the foothills of Ri Khasi lived Sier Lapalang, noblest animal of his race, pride of his mother's heart. He grew up protected, loved, his every whim indulged, until one day he began to grow weary of the plains, and his mother's constant counsel. He wished to explore the hills, and find there his favourite delicacies. Despite all warning, of hunters and fierce warriors, Sier Lapalang left.
At first, all went well. He wandered deep into the strange country, relishing the cool climate, the floral treats, until one day he stood in all his glory on the slope of Shyllong Peak, at the heart of Ri Khasi.
His dallying caught the attention of cowherds grazing their cattle nearby. A stag, a stag! they called. Soon a hunt commenced, and though Sier Lapalang was swift and strong and fled from hill to hill, there were too many hunters in pursuit. He began to tire, and slowed and stopped; then an arrow-or a thousand-pierced his chest. He was strung up, amidst triumphant cries, and taken homewards with much rejoicing.
The story could end here, but it doesn't.
The mother, ill with worry, leaves her home for the land of her enemies, roaming the hills, looking for her son, until she comes upon the hunting party, cheering their kill. She recognises her Sier Lapalang. And begins a lamentation so sorrowful that the world falls silent. Women swoon from the pain, men bow their heads in anguish. Not a hand is raised against her, not an arrow shot in her direction.
The crowd of hunters stare mutely. They'd never heard such protestations of devotion and love. Their own manner of mourning for their dead was now without meaning. It is said, from her, the Khasis learned how to grieve.
A profound and poignant retelling of the Khasi folktale "U Sier Lapalang" from poet and novelist @janicepariat ! Thank you so much Ma'am for your entry and for your interest in the page! 🙏🙏🙏
Janice Pariat is an Indian poet and writer. She was born in Assam and grew up in Shillong, Meghalya. "Boats on Land" (Random House India, 2012) her debut collection of short stories, won the 2013 Sahitya Akademi Young Writer Award for the English language and the 2013 Crossword Book Award for fiction. Pariat is the first writer from Meghalaya to receive an award from the Sahitya Akademi for a work in English.
Picture credit: @brillustrations