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Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time, drought sucked a village of its precious commodity. The monsoonís failure dried up all the ponds. While the men folk lay toiling gloomily in their fields under the scorching sun, the women folk walked miles across dusty roads to fill their earthen pots. The crops in the field began to wilt and die and so did the village cattle.

Left free to go in search of non-existent fodder and quench their thirst in such arid terrains, the village cows withered away every ounce of their muscles before dropping down exhausted. Whatever life left of the living skeletons with ribs jutting out of their skin was taken away by the scavengers circling in the sky. The sight of their animalís eye still blinking while the vultures kept tearing into the flesh, reminded the villagers of their own dreadful future without water.

With parched throat, eyes and lips, the villagers turned to their last hopeful resort, the village shaman. Being the most informed and educated of them all, he called for a meeting among the village elders to find a solution to the crisis. The whole village was summoned under the banyan tree that lay in the middle of the village to hear their decision. From crawling toddlers to walking-stick ridden aged ones, everyone came scowling and fighting to occupy a space under the banyanís shade.

Amidst the chaos, the shaman announced- a well that was required to be built to save the village. He also went on to mark the spot in the outskirts of the village where they would commence to dig. 

The next morning before the sun peeked out of its horizon, the men folk set forward with hopeful aspiration, armed with pickaxes and spades. Even the women and children turned up to haul the earth out of the ground, and share the burden of work. Some sang songs of the future prosperity that lay ahead. The chorus lines were joined in by one and all.

As the sun rose, the songs in the air began to fade, but not their undying sprits. They continued to dig. When it started to show its full blown strength, only the sounds of pickaxes hitting the ground was heard. As shadows grew shorter during midday, sprits dwindled. They men folks took turns of rests to fight off the exhaustion while the women folks prepared pots of rice gruel to satisfy the hunger and thirst.

And so it went on. Past noon, the time of the day temperature peaks, energy started to drain; the weak ones started to give up while strong willed ones were on the verge of doing the same.

Slowly one by one, each hauled themselves out of the hole they had dug to no avail, but one man kept digging. Neither had his enthusiasm drained, nor had his energy. Although he looked puny, he possessed the strength of an elephant. The men on the top finally called out to him to give up on the endeavor as it served no purpose, but he shut their voices of discouragement and kept on with his work.

As he dug he felt the ground beneath him become damper and softer. Taking it as a positive omen, he strove harder. He felt like a man reaching for the treasure that lay underneath. All the veins in his body felt he was closer to something that was waiting to be unleashed. The dampness gave away to wetness and out of it sprang water. As the relentless determined diggerís voice cried out in joy, out came a huge slithering snake from the spot that he had struck treasure. Gripping his legs with its tail, it coiled around his body, taking him by complete surprise.

It was only when he felt his ribs cracking did his call of joy turn to cry for help before his face drowned into the snakeís mouth. What the men from outside saw when they peeped into the hole after hearing the distress call, was the remains of his bare foot legs disappearing into the monster. They remained dumbstruck and helpless even as they saw the frame of a man passing through the passage of the snake. Only after the predator returned back into the oblivion it came from with its prey, did the men start refilling the hole. None of them took any rest for this time around.

After a few days, the rains arrived, filling up the ponds and saving the villagers, but none failed to recollect the well they dug and refilled. Years later, the rains failed again. As some villagers contemplated on reopening the well, little children started disappearing from their cradles. Ah well, thatís another story altogether that begins just like this one. Once upon a timeÖ

Contributing Story Teller HARISH PRAKASH I am an aspiring writer who has a Biotechnology degree, a six month stint at journalism and is currently doing research in Bangalore. My passion is to entertain readers with my writing. [email protected]

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