My father in-law has a very endearing caretaker who originates from the Garo Hills. Swing is a short, middle-aged man with a rather muscular stature and a deep, dark chocolate-brown complexion, and has been a part of this family ever since I married into it. Yes, his name is Swing! Given his fondness for the bottle and a very jovial disposition, this name seems pretty apt for him. Sparse teethed yet ever-smiling, Swing has formed a special friendship with my daughter who he last saw as a 2 year-old. My daughter does not speak any Indian regional languages, and Swing has very limited use of the English tongue. Yet the other afternoon, I saw him sitting there trying to tell her a story in colloquial Hindi.
Always keen on hearing some regional-style storytelling myself, I sat down to listen and offered to be the translator between the two. Swing narrated the story of Gangbo Raja, a folktale that has been passed down generations in the Garo Hills.
The Garo community are believed to be of Tibetan descent, and migrated to the lush pastures of Assam many centuries ago. They preoccupy a region called the Garo Hills, and have their very own set of cultural norms and mother tongue. I find the diversity in cultures in this small North Eastern region to be very fascinating indeed, and hope to visit Swing’s native Boro Hills someday. Till then, I will make do with little gems like this clever little folktale, and this is how it goes:
The Legend of Garbo Raja (A Boro Folktale)
Once upon a time, there lived a very shrewd, rich man called Garbo. He was vile and treacherous, and had cheated the simple village folk of a great deal of money. Upset with all his evil ways, the villagers plotted to burn down his house while he slept in it at night.
Garbo was a cunning man, and got to know about this plot from one of his cronies. He quietly escaped with all his possessions, and let the villagers avenge him by burning down his house. The house was reduced to ashes, and the villagers rejoiced.
Their victory was short-lived as they were bewildered to see Garbo return to the village with all his possessions a few days later. Garbo informed them that he had managed to make a fortune selling all the ashes from his burnt down house. There was a big demand in Assam for ash, and he had now returned an even richer man.
The simple village folk were in awe, and decided to burn down their own houses that very week. Garbo had the last laugh.
Realizing how badly they had been cheated, the villagers decided to punish Garbo by putting him through a slow and painful death. They seized the sly trickster, and put him into a large cage to transport him to the nearest river where he will be drowned before all the village folk.
The journey to the river was a long and windy one, and the villagers decided to have a siesta halfway through the journey. Garbo saw this as his chance to escape, and spotted a simpleton in the nearby pasture attending to his crops.
He signaled to the farmer, and fed him a made-up tale. He told him that the villagers had captured him to take him to the nearby village to marry a princess against his will. The poor simpleton agreed to swap places with Garbo, in hopes of winning himself a royal bride, and ended up getting drowned in the river.
As the villagers began to rejoice for a second time, they saw Garbo walking in the distance. They thought he was a ghost, and many turned pale with fear.
Garbo approached them with a big, happy smile. He thanked them for drowning him into the river, because when he reached the river base, he met a very powerful Raja (king) who told him he was waiting to meet the Boro people and share his wealth with them. The Raja had given Garbo pocketfuls of wealth, and he had returned an even richer man. Garbo advised the villagers to carry big wicker baskets with them to carry back the riches, lest their pockets get too full.
Bewildered, the villagers held a conference among themselves and finally agreed to go down to the river surface, armed with large baskets to carry back the gifts from the river Raja. Garbo happily agreed to assist them with their plan, and willingly kicked each villager down into the river bed.
Garbo’s foes were never to be seen alive again. With the villagers gone, Garbo lived happily ever after as the village chief, and took on the title of “Garbo Raja”.