“The village of Grainhinge had the most fertile lands of the Kingdom. The village generated so much yield that it was enough to feed the rest of the kingdom and the crops provided this bounty all year round. The lands of Grainhinge were fed by the stream originating from a nearby hill in the forest and there was a belief that this stream carried such rich minerals and nutrients to the lands that led to the magical yield all round the year. The villagers did not worry about the monsoon and as if by coordinated destiny, the seasons were always favorable to Grainhinge.
No one knew the source of this stream. The stream gushed out from what looked like the mouth of a hill on one side of the village and was covered by dense forest all around it. The villagers didn’t much care and were thankful for this bounty. They worked together on all the lands and ensured that utmost care was given to each and every crop, and more importantly, they ensured that the water from the stream was not wasted. The villagers genuinely cared about the lands and the noble purpose that they were serving – ‘feeding the kingdom’. Also the water from the stream flowed to the village only for few days in a year. But when well directed, it was enough to make fertile, the entire lands of the village. As this continued for several generations, the wisdom was passed on from one generation to the other and the people of the kingdom were happy”, grandfather Sam (or gran-sam as he was fondly known in the village) tried to take a pause while narrating the story of his village to the wide eyed boys and girls of the community. This has become the routine in the village square, where kids gathered in the evening under the huge peepal tree and listened to the stories from gran-sam. The most famous story was that of the village itself and the kids never got tired of it. Nor did gran-sam! Each time he narrated the story, he deeply wished that his village and his kingdom regained their former glory.
“Then what happened…please don’t stop grandpa”, the children protested his pause. “Did we have a lot of food that we could eat and also share with others? Why don’t we have it now”, questioned little Dan who was always hungry. “Yes, yes, give me a moment to breathe you impatient rascals”, gran-sam fondly replied. “We had heaps of grain and maize and sugarcane and several other vegetables. My great grandfather told me that earlier this village had another name, and the King honored it with the name Grainhinge. We were the basis of food in the kingdom”, gran-sam tried to continue but was interrupted by Peter the elder lad, “…did you actually see this stream? was it magical? why did it dry out?”, he hurled a lot of questions. “As I told you before Peter, I did not have the fortune to see the stream, it dried out several years before I was born and no one bothered so much. May be that’s why we never recovered…“, Sam relapsed into a deep thought. “Stop it Peter! you are breaking the story, grandpa please continue”, Jill shrieked and brought back gran-sam from his reverie.
“Well, yes. Let me continue…from what I remember hearing from my great grand father. As the village and the kingdom continued to flourish, people got lost in the plenty they had and stopped talking about what was the reason for this abundance. The king sent a lot of gifts to the village as the previous kings did, but earlier those gifts were shared, not just in the village but to the neighboring ones too. Many farmers got together to work on these lands foregoing their own, and why shouldn’t they? They worked together as one big family. No one staked a claim saying, ‘this is mine’ and ‘that is yours’. This helped them utilize the stream also well. But then slowly the appreciation and the state of doing-so-well took over their heads. People started claiming the rewards and steered away from what they loved doing – ‘providing food for the kingdom'”, gran-sam took another pause and noticed that the cute johnny started to well up tears in his eyes. “This is the sad part, I don’t like it from here”, he stood up and ran to his mother with a crying face. “Oh Johnny! so dramatic as usual…grandpa please don’t stop”, Jill frowned as she hurled a remark at Johnny.
Gran-sam continued – “No one really knew why did it happen or what caused the stream to stop, but my great grandfather told me and other kids of the village during his last days something on these lines –
“…I think there was an interdependence that the villagers missed. We worked together and for each other, we worked because we loved to do so and the stream drew inspiration from us. We depended on it and it knew that we used it well for a larger good. There were couple of years when the stream was neglected. The elders of the village told the middlemen and they told someone else to water the lands, but no one had the time to do so. There was so much to enjoy. ‘we have so much, it doesn’t matter if we stop agriculture this year, we have enough to survive generations’, they told each other and spent time in festivities…and this continued for 5 years. The supplies started to go down and when the King placed a huge order, the elders of the village realized their mistake! It was too late by then. The younger lads overseeing the lands told the elders that the stream stopped coming through for two years and although the yield was good, the lands lost their fertility and they were not producing enough…’then why didn’t you alert us!’, demanded the elders of the village. ‘We didn’t know that we should, no one told us what happens when, we just assumed this is how it is supposed to be and we did our best to irrigate. When the stream didn’t come through, we used water from the river close by. We are farmers, not some trolls from the forest’, they replied angrily.
What followed was a mad rush to safeguard what was left – control over the lands, over the grain, over the name & rewards and competition between farmers started. The other villagers who used to come together, parted ways. They didn’t want a share of the blame, ‘We offered to help, but it is your problem now, we will get back to tending our lands…’. The King was furious and he punished the elders of the village, but that didn’t solve the problem and the situation deteriorated over time”, gran-sam recollected his great grandfather’s story.
“My great grandfather also told us something more valuable, he said, ‘may be the biggest mistake we did was we stopped telling stories of good times and what made us good. Remembering your roots and good practices that have made you what you are, is so important. We stopped doing that and we forgot deep down our interdependence with the stream’ and that’s why I ensure that you know the story of our village”, gran-sam tried to conclude with a sigh. “But that’s not it! you never tell us about what happened to the stream, to the hill and did no one try to see where the stream went?”, Peter demanded. “Enough!”, boomed George, Peter’s father. “You do not have enough age to hear horror stories yet, get back to your homes, it is time for bed”, he told the disappointed kids. “Don’t be so hard on them George, you did the same when you were a kid, you wanted to know more…”, smiled gran-sam. “And you didn’t tell me, until I came of age! rest now old-sam”, George headed back to his home.
There were only a few in the village that knew the story of the stream. And no one spoke about it for fear of bad consequences that may follow. It was discussed in hushed tones that the place where the stream originated, “the mouth of the hill”, as gran-sam put it, was caved in. It turned out to be a scary dark cave with a labyrinth that led nowhere. Many brave villagers and strong soldiers from the King’s army ventured into the cave and never returned. Only one soldier came back to tell the story, but he died soon after. “It is pitch dark and the torches go out as soon as you enter. It is as if the cave is testing you. It asked me to choose ‘left or right’ and I chose to get out instead. I did not go deep enough so could run back out of the cave, but almost lost my life. There are creepy things on the ground and horrifying noises, no man can make it in and get out alive!”, the soldier seemed to have narrated to his fellowmen. The King ordered a perimeter to be set up around the cave with rocks, fallen trees & other natural obstructions and Grainhinge was moved farther away. In several years, the forest consumed what used to be the old dwelling of Grainhinge and the cave was lost in the forest.
The soldier that made it out and died, went delirious and repeated this song in his death bed –
“…right or left, you make a choice
will kill you now, if I see in you a vice
you will hit a lure or two in my labyrinth
or consumed by fear, will smash you to my plinth…”
The solider hailed from Grainhinge and his story passed down to his son and to the next one. Gran-sam and old joe (grandson of the soldier) that died recently were friends and joe passed on this story to Sam. Joe had a daughter who married a blacksmith of the village and they had a baby girl Cecilia who was born blind. Cecilia however was gifted with a beautiful voice and her mamma told her friends “even when she cries, it feels like a song…”. Little Ceci as she was called in the village was a pretty girl and everyone took care of her. She was the apple of the eye of the village and her songs brought the village together. “you will soon overtake my position at the square and attention from the kids away from my stories, little one”, gran-sam lovingly told little Ceci who was now 7 years old and beginning to sing more than children’s songs and folk songs that she learnt from her mother.
Cecilia was also a courageous girl. “You have your grandfather’s courage”, someone from the village commented when Cecilia accidentally held a snake near the village well. To the utter shock of the onlookers, the snake didn’t seem to mind it too and played in her hands. “But her grandfather was a coward, he flew back from the cave”, someone else shouted. “No he was not! he did not run, he came back to narrate the story you fool! Else no one would know what happened in there”, Cecilia’s mom yelled back. “What cave mamma”, little Ceci asked her mother later in the evening. “Nothing to worry about dear, let me teach you a new song”, her mother distracted little Ceci and the matter trailed off.
The kids of the village constantly played in the forest surrounding the village. There were many fruit bearing trees that were not found anywhere else in the surrounding lands and the kids were simply drawn towards them. “Do not wander deeper into the forest and return before dusk”, the elders and parents of the kids warned them. “Peter, you are the oldest, bring them back home and do not wander”, George warned Peter each time the kids got out. “Sure dad! we will be careful, and I will bring back some delicious fruit for all of us”, replied Peter as he ran away.
Little Ceci joined them sometimes and when the kids got tired of playing, made Ceci sing her songs. “you sing so well, even the squirrels and rabbits come closer to hear you sing…”, cute Johnny remarked. “Don’t you worry that you can’t see?”, the innocent one asked Ceci. “But everybody takes care of me, and I want to sing for all of you, as much as I can, I am happy singing”, Ceci replied. And right she was!
“One thing that united all of us after the good ol’ stream is the little Ceci’s singing, I see folks from neighboring villages visiting us too to listen to her at the village square. And this time they got us some grain from their granaries! Makes me remember old days…”, gran-sam told the villagers. And little Ceci got better and better at singing with each passing day. As she turned 10 that year, her mother permitted her one day to go to the square to listen to gran-sam’s village story. Cecilia listened intently and gran-sam saw for the first time, a sad expression on the child’s face. “Now now, don’t worry child, this is a just a story…Johnny, lead her home will you”, gran-sam said in a kind voice.
Cecilia was drawn into the story and pleaded with her mother to say more. She also made a song of her own from the story and started singing beautifully. “Story of an old village, glory of the people…they lived together, worked together farming was the staple…la la la la la…la la la la laa laa…“. “Oh sweet child! that is so beautiful, you should sing at the square”, encouraged her mama when Cecilia finished her song. This became the new attraction and the fame spread quickly to the neighboring villages. “…they were brothers in the same goal, food for the country…sprightly stream to nourish the land, making food in bounty…“, her song was as magical as the stream and melted the hearts of the villagers. “This is a signal to us, we should come together again, they spoke emotionally”. “And work on what, the lands have long gone barren”, shouted another. “There is no harm trying, we gave up on the stream and it gave up on us, may be the reverse will work too”, George encouraged. “If nothing else, coming together and sharing what we have will not make our situation worse, I never thought I will live to hear and see this day, Old Joe would be proud of Ceci”, gran-sam spoke with tears welling up in his eyes.
It was easier said than done, but the “song of ceci” as it came to be known, kept the folks together. The children continued to play in the forest with more friends joining them from neighboring villages, as their parents started clearing the forgotten lands to start farming again.
And one day, the children went too far. Peter let Johnny take care of Ceci in the forest and they wandered off deep as they were playing hide and seek. “I am sure they can’t find us here Ceci”, said Johnny proudly. “No one knows these rocks but me”, he chuckled. “I don’t see anything, but I trust you”, Cecilia smiled. As they both waited for long, no one came by looking for them and before Johnny realized, it was nearly evening time. “I am scared now Ceci, we should head back home, its getting darker”, Johnny spoke softly as they heard a distant cry that sounded scary. “Ah! don’t you worry Johnny, all animals in the forest are my friends, I am not scared”, Cecilia tried to calm him down. “I will run to the village and get more people to this spot. If we go together I am sure we will not cross the forest by nightfall and we will be stuck. Will you wait here for me to return”, Johnny requested almost restraining a sob. “You are worried for no reason, I will wait for you if that’s what you say. Where will I go, night or day is the same for me…lalalala laa laa”, Cecilia let out a song. Johnny rushed from the place as fast as his legs could carry to find his friends.
“It would have been more than 2 hours that Johnny left me here, I wonder where he lost himself, poor Johnny”, Cecilia smiled to herself. “Oh Mr. Snake, is that you, don’t worry I am fine…”, she felt a soft thick rope like thing crawl on her feet. “Walk towards me…who dares enter my domain in the night!”, boomed a voice which seemed to come from the direction the snake went. “Who is calling out to me? Are you a forest dweller?”, Cecilia shouted back and walked in that direction. As she entered the mouth of the cave which was completely hidden by thick moss, overgrown creepers and roots, she felt a strange smell which she never came across in the forest or in the village. “What is this place, where am I?”, Cecilia asked. “You are in my mouth and I will kill you”, boomed a heavy voice as if the rocks were speaking.
“Okay, you sound angry, do you want me to sing for you?”, Cecilia offered. “I love to sing for others and they take care of me, even the animals of this forest, you know! singing is so beautiful”, Cecilia continued. “Ah! so this is a fearless one”, the cave thought. “I am the Cave that your villagers dread! Are you not scared of the dark and the creatures on the ground? they might kill you any instant!”, the cave tried to scare Cecilia. “No actually, I never saw light in my life Mr. Cave, but I hear everything. I think the creatures on the ground are being nice, they are moving away from me and clearing the path…they have always been nice to me, ever since they heard my song. They want to hear it again perhaps…”, Cecilia replied as the cave resonated with the hissing noises of the snakes on the ground. “Silence crawlers!, you are no good today, I will kill her myself. So why are you here? Who told you of the treasure I hold? If I see vice in you, I will kill you”, the cave demanded. “My treasure is my singing and love towards everyone around me, I don’t want anything else. You called me in, remember? I lost my way and was waiting for my friends”, Cecilia replied walking carefully not to step on anything on the ground and accidentally cause any hurt.
“No fear, no greed, only love for others!”, the cave seemed to moisten a little bit. “Well then –
“right or left, you make a choice
will kill you now, if I see in you a vice“, the cave threw the puzzle at Cecilia.
“right or left is all the same, let’s do it together and play the game“, Cecilia sang sweetly in reply. Even the snakes seem to hiss together in a smile and there was a distant sound of water gushing from within.
“Alright!”, the cave thundered, “take the passage to the right and you will find your eyesight there. I think that is what you want to have, you greedy little one!”, lured the cave and continued –
“you will hit a lure or two in my labyrinth
or consumed by fear, will smash you to my plinth…”
“My sight is my song, which I spread in glee…I will sing along, and it will soon touch thee…lalalala laa laa”, Cecila sang in response.
The cave seemed to soften further as the child embraced choice with togetherness and both fear and lure with kindness.
“Mr. Cave, I have a favorite song which my village seemed to like and they say that this is the best narration of the village story. I will sing it for you and may be you can help us?”, so saying Cecilia started singing the story of the village. As she sang beautifully the story of Grainhinge, how the people went from a state of happiness to a state of utter despair and pain, the walls of the cave started to melt down, the snakes started turning into gentle creepers and the labyrinths collapsed in place.
As Cecilia finished her song, a kind voice that sounded like smooth gushing water that could quench a million thirsts spoke to her “Dear Child! this cave was the result of neglect (that lead to darkness), confusion & blame (that formed the labyrinths) and fear & greed (that created the scary creatures). The village people and this kingdom consumed the magical waters for centuries but showed ingratitude and their attitude created this curse. You brought them together with your gift of singing, even before you entered this cave. You have made them empathize with their past and made them to come together once again. Their regained spirit and your fearlessness overpowered this cave and the caves that they created in their hearts…“, so saying the gushing voice disappeared and Cecilia could feel the cold spray of a gushing steam close by.
A gentle creeper clutched Cecilia’s hand and led her carefully out to the edge of the forest where a big search party was on, looking for Cecilia. As Cecilia gently strolled out of the forest with the stream following along, the villagers jumped with utter jubilation and a pleasant shock which the sight of the stream ensued. Gran-sam hugged Cecilia and bowed to the stream. “From today at the village square there will be a new story and a new song”, he announced to the villagers who cheered in a loud applause.