Thursday, November 1, 2018

Woodcutter and the Ghoulish Wife

'Kashmiri Woodcutter' by Abdur Rahman Chughtai
 (Pakistan, 1897–1975) via: bonhams
I like watching zombie movies, more macabre the better. Like many, I find in them a reflection of out times. My mother-in-law does not approve of my taste in cinema, she does not like the "shikas" movies I watch, specially at a time when her daughter is pregnant. Yet, one day while I was watching one such movie, she decided to tell me a folktale. I don't know the origin of the tale, but I have not heard anything like it and I think she told the story just to mess me up. Anyway, in service of literature and lost folklore of Kashmir, here it goes:

There was once a simple woodcutter who used to live in a forest with his wife. The couple used to frequently roam in the jungle looking for fine wood. Husband would cut while the wife would collect. One day, while going about the routine, woodcutter's wife started acting all weird. She called out to her husband and said to him,"I smell someone is roasting some fine meat nearby, I have an incredible urge to have this meat. Please, please, O' husband of mine fetch me the meat whose sweet whiff is making my stomach twitch." Poor woodcutter was all confused, he could barely smell anything. He tried to reason with his wife. "In this forest, who possibly could be cooking a meal of meat. What has gotten into you? I cannot smell anything." Wife persisted, "O' husband of mine fetch me the meat whose sweet whiff is making my stomach twitch." Woodcutter took in a deep one through the nose and could now smell the meat. "Even if someone was cooking, how can I get it for you?" Wife started crying, no rhyme or no reason. "What a useless husband I have? Wish I had married the butcher instead."Seeing the mad fervor in his loving wife's eyes, the woodcutter gave in and promised to fulfil this wish. Wife told him to go and not come empty handed or else he will see her dead face, she will put an axe to her throat.  He asked her to head back hime while he would go looking for the barbeque chops. He followed the smell and after walking some distance, the woodcutter found himself in front of a funeral pyre. Someone had burnt a body in the forest. Woodcutter was saddened by the thought that he had come looking for this meat, this cage of a soul. He even laughed a bit now at her wife's stupid demand. However, since he had promised his mad wife a piece of roasted meat, he used his axe to fetch a piece from the fire. A shoulder, a limb, a heart or a liver, one could not tell, he just wrapped it in a piece of cloth and headed back home. "Surely, she would not eat it, if nothing else, it will be a good joke,"  thought the simple woodcutter. On reaching his hut, he told the wife all that he saw, he hoped that his wife by now would have calmed down. Instead his wife asked, "Where is the meat?" Her eyes fell on the bundle of cloth hung from his shoulder, she lunged at it, dug her hands in and before her husband could do anything, she took a chunk of meat and sunk her teeth into it and then the grind. The woodcutter was repulsed by the scene, in that moment he could see a ghoul chomping on a human prey. A strange mix of anger and fear pulsed though his veins and in that thoughtless moment, instinctively, his hands went for his axe and and the axe went for wife's stomach. As the axe cut though the belly fat, the stomach split open and put popped a baby not yet fully formed, hanging by a slender thread and in it's mouth a piece of meat. Three bodies fell to ground and only then the woodcutter understood his wife's wild demand. All this time, his wife was pregnant and they did not know. He should have known a pregnant woman and her taste buds at such times can make any such demands. A husband has to be patient, caring and fulfil all her demands in the best way he can. Woodcutter could have gone and bought a piece of roast meat and she would have accepted that too happily. The woodcutter now rued his fate and cursed his gods. His wife was dead, his baby was dead, his axe had tasted its own blood.

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