Saturday, 16 August 2014

The Silks of Juanjo

The tale was a staple of the inn. For the innkeepers it was a quotidian thing. They even take you out back to show the path that leads off into the woods from the inn- purportedly to the mythical village of Juanjo. I have never followed that path to its end. At that time I was on a different path and I had merely stopped at the inn for some rest and recuperation. The story of the village- told in all detail over some sushi and miso soup -fascinated me though. I have kept it in my mind all these years and now I am finally putting it down to paper. People who have already travelled through the inn may already know the story but for those who through the fickle nature of chance had to take the road to the left than to the right and have never arrived at the inn I relate this story.

There was a village called Juanjo that lay at the end of a path through the woods. The path was the sole road in and out of the village and the villagers never craved for another path. The village like most villages was filled with houses, roads, shops, wells, bedrooms, lamps, lanterns, dresses, food, water, air windows, wood, tables, chairs, glasses in fact everything that was necessary for civilized human life to inhabit that village. There were people too ofcourse. They inhabited and used all these appliance according to their desires. The village was quiet and well to do and more over famous but they had a secret buried deep in their hearts.
The grief that they had over their secret was muddled with their joy. The village of Juanjo was famous for just one commodity, the silk it exported. The merchants of Juanjo trudged through the narrow path through the woods to the outside world to sell the finest silk in all the lands. This silk was beautiful beyond comparison. It shone in the sunlight; its silver colour led many to believe that it was indeed thinly pressed silver sheets rather than actual silk. It was strong and weathered time. And its softness, once any one felt it even ever so slightly one was enraptured by its feel and would be loathe to let go of it. And for this reason the silk was very popular among the women of the provinces especially among the geishas. They draped it over them and men would be enraptured by the sight of these angels in robes who felt like heaven itself. Rich men brought this silk in abundance for their concubines and geishas were lavished with the silk by their patrons.
But what no one except those from Juanjo knew was that the silks came at a huge price.
Most of the men of the village of Juanjo were silk farmers. Every day they would trudge out to the borders and climb the forest mountain on the north of the village. They would climb up until they saw hanging above them and laced on all the tree trunks and the very path they walked on strands of silk that was their livelihood. The source of this silk had been discovered long ago to be silkworm of gigantic proportions that travelled through the forest lacing it slowly with the silk that it produced unendingly. It’s exact size and features were not known but if asked about it any man, woman or child of Juanjo would make vague gestures in the air stretching their arms apart as far as they could go in all directions to get one to understand the sense of this goliath. The reason why the silkworm’s appearance was vague was because the worm was a man eater. Most of the time it stayed within its cave on the very summit of the mountain,but at times it would be out wandering the forest. Large as it was no one ever saw it until it was right on top of them as both the silkworm and the forest appeared to be the one and the same. And when it found you your chances of getting down the mountain alive to eat a well cooked pork and onion soup for dinner was never very good.
The silkworm had been around for as long as they could remember. The old women of Juanjo told tales of how they lost their husbands to the beast when they were out collecting silk. For in the end every one of the farmers ended up being fodder for the silkworm. The silkworm though never came down from the mountain into the village. It only got so far before it encountered a farmer and having had its fill would march straight on back up to its cave. Thereby due to the diligent sacrifice of a few farmers, most of the people of Juanjo were saved from engorging the beast with the earthly havens of their immortal souls.
All this went on for a long time. Then they noticed an anomaly, for a month or so all the farmer had been coming home to dinner. Naturally this meant that the farmers were not getting eaten by the silkworm. They started to get nervous. The silkworm obviously needed food to survive and since it wasn’t eating any of the farmers how it was getting its daily nutrition was the subject of discussion. None of the farmers had seen the silkworm and they had been going further into the mountain throughout the month to collect silk as those at the periphery had been disappeared with the harvest. The idea that maybe the silkworm had died was put in the open by someone and everyone in the village grew afraid. Even though the silkworm had brought misfortune, it had been the source of their prosperity as well.
So a groupof farmers decided one day to set out in search of the silkworm. They wandered through the silk laden forest until they reached the cave in which the beast was said to reside. The whole mouth of the cave and everything around it was covered by silk of such exquisiteness that the farmers stopped there to admire it for a while. Then they lit their torches and went into the cave to seek the silkworm.
They found no trace of the silkworm but instead what they found was a treasure trove of silk. There was silk stuck to every face of the cave. And there was also a huge mound that was almost as long as the cave and almost as wide and high.
The farmers examined the silken mound and estimated that it would be enough to last them till the sun burned out. Rejoiced they walked out the cave and down the mountain.
Meanwhile people in the village where hoping that the farmers wouldn’t return as that would mean that the silkworm was still alive and seeing how it had abstained from food for over a month it would gladly seize upon the buffet that had wandered into its home. But when they saw that all the farmers were coming down the mountain unharmed they grew delirious with grief. Some even started to cry leaning on others.
But the news that they brought cheered up the villagers. They needn’t have worried. The silkworm was gone but the village would be safe. There would be no more fatalities and moreover there would be more than enough of the silk. Everyone rejoiced, well of course everyone except for one farmers wife who was waiting for her husband’s demise at the hands of the silkworm so that she could marry her secret lover. She cursed as others danced around the campfire that night, drinking and singing raucous songs.
Business went on as usual except for the fatalities. The silk in the forest itself was plenty and the merchants still carried their wares outside to be sold. And so a prosperous year passed with deaths only from cold, old age, jealousy, anger and the rest.
Until that is one fine day. The farmers were out collecting silk from the forest when they heard a commotion further above them. They ran up to the cave to see a giant beast come trudging out of it. For a second they thought the silkworm had returned but after a second or so they realized that whatever the thing was, it wasn’t the silkworm. This beast had large eyes, long protrusions on its head and a large mass on its back.
Screaming in terror they ran from the spot down to the village shouting out the arrival of the new beast.
Just as they reached the village, they heard a large flapping sound and a gust of strong wind whipped past them. Something had taken to the air from the summit of the mountain. A beast with enormous wings in proportion to its body was rising from the mountain. The wings were so large that they blotted out the sun and the village was plunged into an unwelcome night.
The people of the village gazed dumbfounded at the creature. Its wings glowed and sparkled as if there was a fire inside it. The patterns that adorned the wings bombarded the feeble minds of people below and paralyzed them in their intricate and delicate beauty. The people of the village were mesmerized.
The beast suddenly swooped down flapping its huge wings. Huge gusts of wind were created that ripped through Juanjo and raised everything off from the ground. Houses, beds, lanterns, books, towels, clothes, dogs, chickens, fences, chairs, tables, windows, doors, roofs, pillars, trees were all blown up. Many people also succumbed to this reversal of nature’s laws. They literally flew up in the air and landed down with such force that their souls were knocked out from their earthly abode. A larger number perished underneath the ruins of their own homes. The silks that had draped the forest flew up and traipsed its way through the village entangling people who were trying to run away and creating shrouds for those already dead. Huge mounds of sand rose from here and there entombing the village and making it a crypt.
The moth after wreaking all this destruction flew up and to the south, never to be seen again.
There weren’t many survivors from that tragedy. Those that survived ran away from the village swearing never to set foot on that accursed land.
And thus the silks of Juanjo came to an end and so did the village.


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