Charu & the Witch
Long long ago, across the high snow peaked mountains, was a
Village called Kolur. Kolur was situated at the foot of a small hill. A mountain
stream 'Hapatara' flowed near by. Hapatara had knee-deep water during the
summer months, which would generally freeze at the top during harsh cold
winters. Stones and boulders in the Hapatara, covered with snow during winter,
presented a frightful sight to the village children, who could not play in its
waters like they would, during the Summer. Come rains, and this small stream
would get transformed into a turbulent river, carrying with it, boulders, big
and small, uprooted trees and logs of wood from the upper reaches. Elders in the
Village believed that the flood waters also brought with it, evil spirits.
Kolur village was situated on the left bank of Hapatara, and
most of it would get inundated during rains because of floods. There was no
inhabitation on the other side of the stream. The bank on this side of the
stream was covered with thorny bushes, to provide a security barrier, to both
the villagers and the cattle. Villagers would not venture on this side of the
stream unless it was imperative. This area was a vast stretch of low-lying land,
covered with wild vegetation and stagnant waters. Beyond it, was a very deep
ravine and a high, snow peaked mountain called 'Vismainag'. Vismainag was
densely covered with vegetation consisting of numerous herbs and poisonous
plants. During the winter months, especially on the Amavasya night, people would
hear heart ripping screams emanating from the Vismainag. Villagers would not
dare to venture near this mountain, because many, who did in the past did not
return back. Across Vismainag, they had heard from their forefathers, was a
fort, which was inhabited by a witch. It was said that the witch had two long
horns, and her eyes were flashing. It was believed, the witch would get hold of
anyone coming that way and chant mantras to squeeze their souls out. The souls
were put into a glass jar and the dead bodies tied to the tall trees in her
courtyard. Villagers believed that all these people would be resurrected by an
angel, who would one day descend from the heavens.
There was no proof to support these myths and beliefs, but
for some episodes reported by the villagers. Five years ago, a strange incident
took place. The brown horse of a village elder, Samang, turned violent while
looking at the mountain, and crossed over to that side of Hapatara, never to
return back. Samang said he saw a white robed lady, almost five times the size
of a normal human being, riding on the horse back and waving with her long
outstretched arms, atop the mountain.
Yet, another tragic episode, corroborating the existence of a
witch, took place: One day, in early spring, Charu and his friends Ketak and
Gulu were playing hide and seek on the banks of Hapatara. During the course of
play, Guloo hid himself behind a large boulder in the middle of the stream.
Ketak and Charu, looked for him. Not finding him around on the bank, they
quietly stepped into the waters of Hapatara. A couple of boys, were enjoying the
game while seating by the riverside. To their dismay, dark clouds moving across
the Vismainag engulfed the Sun momentarily. A strong hailstorm followed, giving
the boys no time to come out of the stream. Charu and Ketak held each other's
hand firmly and managed to come out and take shelter under a big cliff. But Gulu
was not to be seen. Charu and Ketak called out to him, at their best but to no
avail. After some time, the sky cleared and it was bright and sunny once again,
but Gulu was not around. Charu and Ketak went into the stream again, looked at
all the possible hideouts, but there was no trace of Gulu.
The two friends, weeping bitterly, decided to return home and
break the tragic news. On their way back they heard strange sounds from across
the stream. They turned around to look and saw the water in the pond under a big
tree, with serpentine like branches, splashing by itself. Terror stricken, they
lied down on the sands and watched the scene. They first saw an out stretched
arm rising out of the waters, then a giant sized body, of a woman in white
robes. She had Gulu tightly clutched in her left hand as she walked towards
Vismainag. Gulu remained motionless, as if under a spell. Soon the woman was out
Charu and Ketak, terrified by the sight, ran homewards. They
related the incident to one another, to make sure they were not daydreaming.
Charu had noticed Gulu looking back while passing over the mountain but Ketak
had not. Charu was sure, he had noticed two horns on the Witch's head and had
also heard Gulu calling him for help.
Days passed by, yet, Charu could not help thinking about Gulu.
What would the witch have done to him? Would she have taken out his soul and
tied him to a tree? Or Would she have eaten him alive? These were some questions
which sent a shiver down his spine. Ketak was not in his senses ever since that
day. Village elders were helpless. No one dared to go to Vismainag and look out
for Gulu. Even Gulu's parents were scared.
It was summer again. Charu was depressed. He went to Gulu's
home to meet his parents. Gulu's parents were glad to see him, for, in him
they saw a glimpse of their beloved son. They gave Charu, an earthen doll that
belonged to Gulu as a token of their love. Charu showered a lot of love on the
doll, as if it were Gulu himself. In a state of emotional turmoil he went near
the stream and called out to his friend repeatedly. His calls echoed back.
Exhausted, he fell asleep with the doll in his arms.
Charu dreamt, he was mounted on a horseback and flying in the
air. He could see the village below. He flew over the jungles, over the snow
capped mountains and rivers and over the dark and rainy clouds. As he looked
below, he saw a number of small children playing in the waters of a lake. Water
in the lake was clear and sky blue in colour. He descended a little and watched
closely. He saw some children dragging a boy. The boy was trying to free himself
from their hold but they would not let him go. They forced him to dive into the
water, but he managed to free himself. He ran and sat under a tree, wailing. The
boy, with his watery eyes looked at the sky. Charu dismounted from his horse
back and came closer to wailing boy. He looked up, murmured something and hung
his head down. Charu asked him why he was wailing? The boy replied, "I have
lost my friend while we were playing in the lake. Will you help me to find him?"
Both of them then mounted the horseback. The horse entered into the waters of
the lake and reached its bottom. They saw a small boy tied to a large shell,
with an iron chain. His eyes were sore. He looked at them and screamed for help.
The shell had to be broken into two to free the boy but they did not have the
means. Before Charu could think, he heard a loud roar, the like of which he had
never heard before. They saw a Rakshasa (Demon), sitting on a huge diamond
throne, at some distance behind the shell. There were more than a dozen of demon
servants serving him. The boys were scared. Rakshasa lifted his long magic wand
and shot it at Charu. It came with a thundering sound, circling and swimming
through the water. Charu bent his head and the wand hit the shell in the middle,
which broke into two. The boy was freed but Charu fell down unconscious, as one
of the pieces had hit him.
Charu woke up, and looked around. Finding himself still on
the bank of Hapatara holding the earthen doll in his arms, he felt baffled. Was
this a signal from the gods that Gulu was alive, and in trouble, needing help.
That very moment Charu vowed that he would not rest till he found his friend and
Charu needed help, but there was nobody who would and he did
not have the flying horse either. Charu kept his calm. He did not reveal his
dream to anyone. Of now his only mission was to rescue Gulu. He collected as
much information as possible about Vismainag, from people in the village. "What
if I don't have the horse! thought Charu, I still have my Tara, whom I can
rely on". He carried his pet white dog, Tara to the banks of Hapatara, where
they always played. He related the episode of Gulu's vanishing, to him. He
repeated it a number of times, presuming that some day, Tara would understand
and help him. On each occasion Tara would bark for a while, and then sit at
Charu's feet and lick them, as if consoling him.
Charu's parents were very much worried about their son's
condition. He would not eat or dress properly. Each time, he enquired about
Vismainag, they would pray him not to think about that place. But they were
sure, he was determined to find Gulu.
One sunny afternoon Charu and Tara were sitting at the bank
of Hapatara. Tara, as usual, was licking Charu's feet. All of a sudden Tara
stood up, looked at the pond across and dived into the Hapatara. He swam across,
and ran towards the pond. He smelt its water, and raised his head high and
barking loudly, disappeared into the bushes. Charu was shocked. Tara, his only
hope was also lost. He wept bitterly.
Charu was fast asleep when he felt someone pulling his leg.
He was overjoyed to see Tara at his feet with an amulet in his mouth. This was
Gulu's amulet. He took it into his hands and kissed it. Tara was looking at
Charu's face. Charu patted him. Tara turned towards Vismainag and barked, as
if telling his master that he had found the amulet there. Charu's joy knew no
bounds, for, Tara had returned alive and that too with Gulu's amulet. Charu
thought, time had come to sneak into the witch's domain.
Next day, Charu met his friend Ketak and told him about his
secret plans to rescue Gulu. Ketak thought, it was suicidal to even think of
going to Vismainag. But he promised not to divulge Charu's plans to anyone.
Charu decided to set out for the expedition on the Poornima, just 3 days away,
for two reasons. One, he would get ample time to make necessary arrangements for
the journey, and secondly, if he were late in reaching witch's fort, moonlight
would help him trace the path.
Charu collected all, he thought was necessary for the
expedition, in an animal-skin sack and hid it in the bushes in the backyard. He
kept awake for the whole night, lest he may miss the opportune time of
departure. Tara stood to accompany him.
It was early dawn. Charu saw the first rays of sunlight,
faintly illuminating the periphery of a big cloud, in the eastern horizon. He
stood up and looked at his parents, who were fast asleep. "They would never
know of me and my plans, if I do not return alive", thought Charu. In the
heart of hearts, he felt sorry for them, prayed for their welfare and left
silently. He collected his bag from the bushes and started towards his
destination. Tara followed him. It was dawn when they crossed the Hapatara. They
moved quickly so as to reach Vismainag as early as possible. Tara led the way.
Much before noon, they reached the deep ravine at the foot of
Vismainag. Width at its banks was not much but, yet, one could not jump it.
Going deep down the ravine and climbing up to the other bank, would take them
most part of the day, as the slopes were very steep and they had no time. Charu
looked around in dismay and to his surprise, there were two huge trees on either
side of the ravine. He had carried a rope along but how would he tie it to the
tree across? Charu looked at Tara. Tara barked softly, as if telling his master
that he was ready to perform any feat. Charu tied one end of the rope to the
tree on this side and threw its other end across. He did not succeed in the
first attempt and repeated the exercise again and again till he succeeded. As he
looked down the ravine he saw Tara running fast, on his way down and then up to
the bank, near the tree. Tara wound the rope around the tree as firmly as he
Charu tied the bag around his back, held the rope with his
hands and began moving across the ravine, while Tara kept a vigil. Slowly and
steadily, Charu moved along the rope and finally reached to the bank across. His
palms were bruised, causing him a lot of pain, but he was glad to have passed
the first test.
After having rested for a while, he looked around to find
out, how far was his destination. He could not see beyond a few trees. Charu had
heard that the witches were capable of transforming creatures into other form.
In order to avoid confusion he tore a piece of cloth from his shirt and tied it
to Tara's limb. Tara then moved ahead, sniffing around, followed by Charu.
Going up the hill was tough and the worry of being traced by the witch made it
all the more tedious.
By midnoon, Charu was half way to the top. He decided to rest
and so climbed on to a tall tree to avoid wild animals. Tara as usual kept
guard. After have rested, Charu decided to continue his journey ahead. He was
about to climb down when he heard Tara barking gently, looking up the tree.
Charu heard some noises. He tried to listen very carefully but nothing was
clearly audible. He kept his breath low and signaled Tara to hide himself in the
bushes near by. In a moment, there was a strong wind blowing. All the trees
started swaying. The wind was so strong that Charu felt he would be thrown off
the brach any moment. He held the branch as firmly as he could. A passing cloud
covered the sun. It was dark yet Charu could see through the tall trees. He
looked in the direction, of the sound and there at some distance behind the
trees, he saw a white cloth swaying. The very next moment, he could see a long
arm rising from behind the bushes, and then emerged a tall figure with
apparently two horns over her head. In one of her hand, she clasped a white dog
his ear and walked away towards the top of mountain. Charu was baffled. Was it
Tara? This very thought drained out all his energy. He was startled when he
heard mild bark below. He looked down and was glad to see Tara coming out of the
bushes with the piece of cloth still tied to his leg. Dark cloud passed it was
bright again. He climbed down and embraced Tara. Tara tugged at Charu's outer
robe as if telling him that there was no time to waste.
Both Charu and Tara walked up the hill quickly. Charu did not
stop on the way to either eat or rest. He was determined to reach the top before
nightfall. He finally reached there by evening. On the other side of the
mountain was a mild descent leading to a vast lush-green plain. But there were
no birds around. Perhaps the wicked witch had eaten them all, thought Charu.
There was no trace of the witch, but Charu could see smoke emanating from a
chimney at the farthest end. He looked carefully, when he saw a cave like
structure, surrounded by trees. Charu was sure, this was the abode of the
witch. He rested a while, ate some fruits after giving Tara his share, and
then set again towards the cave.
Charu did not take the straight path but chose a steep
descent onto a stream below, which he was sure, was Hapatara. He quenched his
thirst first and so did Tara. Then Charu rested on a boulder while planning his
next move. Tara was having fun meanwhile. Charu cautioned him for he feared the
witch locating them. In the moonlight, they started moving in the direction of
the cave, along the row of bushy trees, which had grown all along the right bank
Charu moved forward cautiously, taking stock of the
surroundings after every ten or fifteen steps, and keeping the smoke-emitting
chimney constantly in sight. By and by, he came close to the cave, which he
could see very clearly now. His heart was beating at a faster pace. The cave was
carved out of a big white rock. Its entrance was as big as the witch herself. At
the mouth of the opening, there was a big stone, which was probably kept there
to serve as a door. At the top of cave, there was a stone chimney, emitting gray
smoke. The courtyard was planted with shallow trees all around, but there were
no bodies. There was a channel of water, two or three steps wide, all around the
courtyard. Water was splashing and emitting different colours, and its
reflection on the courtyard trees provided a magical effect. The trees looked
like ghosts, each tree having a different colour at different time. Two stuffed
skeletons, may be of human beings, were kept across the channel to serve as a
bridge. Charu felt as if he had no legs. He was exhausted now and the absence of
bodies in the courtyard, as villagers believed, was a rude shock to him. Where
could have the bodies gone? Had the witch eaten up everybody? Tara was calm. He
was not qualified enough to draw any plans. He watched Charu helplessly. Charu
positioned himself within the wild bushes and so did Tara. Both kept vigil on
the cave, which looked like a ghost's open mouth in the moonlight.
Some time passed. There was movement in the stone at the
entrance. With a hissing sound, the stone moved to a side, and out came the
witch in white robes. She pushed the stone back to original position and came
into the courtyard. She raised her head and looked around as if counting her
trees and then raised her hand high in the air. There was a howl from behind the
chimney and an owl came flying to rest on her hand. This was perhaps a signal
that everything outside was all right. Wicked witch smiled, took a step forward
and released the owl, who flew back to his resting place. Witch took long steps,
but this time, she did not go towards Vismainag. She took another route and in a
few moments, she was out of sight. Charu keenly watched the cave, the courtyard,
the trees and the channel. There were no signs of life and there were no dead
bodies outside the cave. "May be she has kept everything inside the cave",
Charu thought. "What to do next and how to go in", he could not decide. He
noticed, there was a small gap between the stone and the cave opening at the
bottom, wherefrom, he thought, he could easily go in. He had already signalled
Tara not to make any sound, because, he was sure, the owl was keeping watch of
the area in absence of the witch. Charu knew that owls do sleep in the daytime
only, but by that time, the witch would be back. So there was no chance to go
inside. "Shall we have to wait endlessly?" Charu thought.
But they did not have to wait for a long. Wind started
blowing hard, signaling return of the witch. In a moment, she was back with her
frightening face and two long horns. She was holding an old woman by her hair.
The woman was wailing and crying. Before entering the courtyard, the witch tied
the woman to a tree near by. There was a spring near this tree, with crystal
clear water, where the witch had a dip first. The moment, witch stepped into the
water, it turned emerald green and Charu heard musical sounds emanating from the
spring. After some time, the witch came out of water, which turned crystal clear
again. There were no musical sounds now. The witch untied the woman, caught her
again by the hair and dragged her towards her courtyard. Charu was motionless,
watching the scene curiously from his hideout. And what was it? Charu noticed,
the old woman fell down as soon as she stepped on to the skeletons. She was dead
now. The witch lifted her into her hands, passed the courtyard and pushed the
entrance stone to a side. Charu saw her vanishing into the cave and the stone
slipped to its original place.
Charu thought and thought again. "The witch did not have a
dip in the spring when she left. Then why did she have it on her return". He
could not solve the puzzle. He did not know when she would leave again for
another prey. And if she left during daytime, would the owl really be asleep. He
thought he would have to wait a long. But no, it was not to be. The witch came
out immediately, raised her head and looked around at the trees. She then raised
her hand high in the air. For a moment, there was no howling. Her face turned
most frightful. She turned towards the chimney and clapped forcefully. There was
a strange sound in the air and a howl, and the owl came flying from behind the
chimney, onto the witch's hand. For a while, the owl fanned his wings as if
praying to be forgiven for the lapse. The witch smiled, presumably condoning his
lapse, took a step forward and released the owl again, who flew back to his
resting place. The witch left, this time towards Vismainag. Charu was disturbed.
He did not consider the lapse on part of the owl incidental. He was sure, the
owl had some inkling of his presence in the vicinity, but may be, he was not
sure enough to convey it to his mistress. Charu was sure, owl had no permission
to leave the spot where he was placed except flying into his master's raised
hand when she left. Otherwise, he would have definitely searched them out. Charu
had also heard that the soul of all witches was always secured in the heart of a
bird. And to kill a witch, it was necessary to kill the bird. "So, was the owl
also holding witch's soul inside him?", Charu could not decide. This time he
was highly disturbed because he had seen the witch going towards Vismainag and
was sure, someone from his village would fall prey to her tonight.
The wind blew again. Charu knew, the witch was coming back,
and so she did. But this time she did not hold anybody. She was alone. May be
there was nobody, not even an animal on this side of the Hapatara. Charu was
relieved. Then, whatever happened, was the most important event for him. The
witch, before going into her cave, had again a dip in the spring. And Charu
thought, he had got the password to enter witch's domain. He was relaxed. He
got his food and fruits out of the sack and had a good meal along with Tara.
Next morning, as the sun rose, Charu awoke. He had to be more
cautious this time, because it was daytime and everything was so clear and
visible from a long distance. He thought of the owl and looked at the chimney.
There was no owl there. He must have been asleep by now. Charu was waiting for
the witch to go out. He had to wait for a long. At about noon, the witch left
again. And Charu was glad, because he had thought right. There was no howl and
no owl this time. She stopped on the skeletons across channel and looked into
the magical waters. Water stopped splashing and there were no magical colours
now. She observed something in the water and waved her head. Then she left for
her unknown destination. Water started splashing again with magical colours.
Charu thought, this could be the witch's alternative way of ascertaining the
situation outside, in absence of the owl.
Charu gathered his wits. He was fully prepared now. There was
no owl to watch him. He went to the spring and hesitatingly stepped into its
waters. Anything could happen but Charu was ready to face all. And it was a
surprise. The colour of water changed and there were musical sounds. Charu had a
dip and so had Tara. Before Charu could decide the strategy to pass the water
channel, Tara made a fast dive right into the courtyard, and he was all alive.
Nothing happened to him. Charu was joyful. He followed Tara and both of them
reached the entrance of the cave. Charu did not have to move the stone. Instead
he peeped first through the opening at the bottom of the entrance. He could not
see anything because inside, it was complete dark. He pushed himself in and also
dragged in his sack. He asked Tara to be there. Tara understood. He had to keep
guard and inform his master as soon as wind started blowing.
Charu tried to look into the darkness. He saw a staircase
going down. He came down the steps and saw a big area, carved out of the rock,
with massive stone pillars. From one hole in the roof, some light was coming and
Charu had to wide open his eyes to look around. There, all along the periphery,
were bodies of human being, kept in the standing posture. He touched the bodies
one by one. There was no sign of life in them. On one side, were heaps of bones,
which Charu was sure, were of those whom the witch had eaten up. He got panicky
for Gulu. He continued to look for him till he found him in a corner along with
the bodies of some other children. Samang's brown horse was also there,
standing on four legs but motionless. There were precious stones and jewellery
placed on shelf like structures. There were swords and arrows, made out of large
animal bones. There were all varieties of fresh and dry fruits and other
eatables, stored in beautiful gem laden stone containers. Charu's time was
running out. He quickly looked out for the glass jar containing souls, but there
was none. There was a wall at another corner. Charu went behind it and found
another small cave, in which fire was lit. He took a burning wood and searched
each and every corner of the cave, but he could not find any souls. He got
worried. He came out of the cave. Tara was alert, standing near the stone. There
was no trace of a wind and Charu still had time. But he could not decide about
his next move.
Charu noticed, Tara was wet. He had taken another dip at the
spring. Charu was angry. Tara should not have left the spot he was stationed at.
He rebuked Tara and Tara licked his feet, begging pardon. In a flash, Charu
felt, he had had some clue to rescue Gulu. He took out a bowl from his sack and
went to the spring to fill it with water. He did not forget to have another dip
before he entered the courtyard again.
Tara kept the bowl on ground and climbed up a tree. From
there, he looked at the chimney. The owl was fast asleep there. Charu climbed
down immediately, picked his bowl and went inside cave again. He reached near
Gulu and poured the spring water over him. Gulu started moving his eyes and
lifting his hand. Charu shouted with joy. Within moments, Gulu was alive. He
embraced Charu and kissed him. Tara heard their voice and came running inside.
He licked Gulu's feet. Gulu patted him. Charu and Gulu wanted to leave
immediately but Tara would not let them go. He was looking at the brown horse of
Samant. Charu understood what Tara wanted. Charu and Gulu, both came out. Tara
remained there. Charu emptied his sack and filled it with spring water. Both of
them had a dip, and carried the sack inside the cave. With his small bowl, Charu
poured water on Samant's horse. He was also alive. They poured the water on as
many people as they could and all of them were alive. Time was running out and
they could not waste time on getting more water from the spring.
The brown horse and the people who got life back, jointly
slided the entrance stone. All of them were out of the cave. Charu instructed
all to run to safety before the witch came or the owl awoke. And an idea struck
Charu's mind. The owl was sleeping and It was the right time to kill him. He
signalled Tara. Tara ascended to the top of the cave and down brought the owl,
his wings tightly held in his teeth. Owl was half asleep, fluttering his wings.
Tara dropped him near Charu and Charu lifted him in his hands and twisted his
neck. There was a thundering roar all around. Charu continued twisting owl's
neck and the wind started blowing. The witch was somewhere near, roaring with
pain. Wind blew faster and the witch came close to the spring, shouting and
screaming. The owl was still alive and Tara was not able to kill him. He put him
under the foot of the brown horse, and the horse trampled it. There was a loud
scream of both, the owl and the witch. The witch fell near the spring half dead,
screaming and pleading for life but the horse was mad. He did not look at witch
and instead kept the owl pressed under his foot. Tara, jumped over the owl and
tore his neck apart with his sharp teeth. The owl and the witch died instantly.
And a miracle took place. There was no spring now. It vanished. The magical
water channel was calm now. There was no splashing and there were no colours.
The skeleton bridge also vanished.
Charu and Gulu, both were sad. Those, dead inside could not
be given life now, as there was no spring and no magical water. Before they
started leaving for their home, they heard noise inside the cave. And in a few
moments, all those who were still dead inside, came out alive, running and
shouting, to the pleasure of Charu. They had all attained life at the death of
When Charu and Gulu reached top of Vismainag, they saw flocks
of different varieties of birds coming towards plains of the cave. They saw
nightingales and bulbuls and parrots and long necked swans, all chirping and
singing, and retiring at the fruit bearing trees. The whole area looked like a
piece of paradise. But Charu and Gulu and Tara and the horse, did not want to
stay in this paradise. They wanted to be home before it was night. Tara ran fast
and fast so that he could inform the villagers in advance.
Charu and Gulu mounted on Samant's horse. When they reached
foot of the Vismainag, there was no ravine. The banks had joined back. The trees
were there and the rope was lost inside the earth. Beyond this place, the land
had grown with lots of flowery plants. There were no wild bushes and the whole
area looked beautiful.
When Charu and Gulu reached Kolur, all the villagers had
assembled at both the banks of Hapatara. All of them shouted with joy and
embraced both Charu and Gulu. Charu had done a great job at the risk of his life
and was now the hero of the village. Charu's parents were in tears of joy,
having seen their son alive. Tara was carelessly swimming and playing in the
waters of the stream.
Next day, villagers removed the thorny bushes barrier from
right bank of Hapatara and declared that area open to all. They changed the name
of the snow-capped mountain from Vismainag to Charunag, in the name of their