I grew up hearing about this legend every now and then. “Once a Tamil woman drove a tiger away using a winnow.” Of course, as a kid I did not think much of this “story in a nutshell” that was passed down generation to generation and invoked to demonstrate courage or questioning a lack of it. But as I heard it recently, I started having questions. Was a hand woven winnow such a tough weapon or the tiger was more like a cuddly little fellow? Who is she and what really happened? why do we not know her name at the least? Here is a little imagination as an attempt to answer these questions!
Lets travel back in time, a few hundred years from now, to a tiny place in what is now called the state of Tamil Nadu, in the southern part of India. A small mountain rises above the green Earth and kisses the fluffy white clouds. It’s slopes are thickly carpeted with lush green trees, plants and ferns on all sides. The dense forest all around are sacred home to a few hundred life forms. Birds, animals, fishes, butterflies, insects… so much variety, so much color, so much commotion! And still a sense of tranquility transcends them all. A small hut settlement, a total of ten to fifteen houses, is seen a few hundred feet from the foot of this hill. A cool breeze brushes our faces, travels past and gently plucks the fingers of the coconut tree leaves lined up majestically row after row, as if a professionally trained hand is playing harp. The combined orchestra from the songs of the birds caresses our heart. The clouds form groups, stopping and gossiping, breathing in all this beauty down below and then slowly move on.
We reach a house in the middle of this small village, with a mango tree covering the porch. Under the mango tree, there is a woman sitting and winnowing chaff from rice grains. She is holding a hand-woven winnow, widely used for this purpose even to this day. One look at her and we could say she is the daughter of this Mother Nature! She sits there as an embodiment of all this prosperity, elegance and beauty. Inside the house, her six month old baby is blissfully asleep in a hammock made out of her soft cotton wedding sari. Her luscious thick hair coiled with jasmine flowers gently curls up and dozes off over her smooth shoulder. Soaking up all this sweetness surrounding her, she reflexively hums a tune. Her husband is returning home this evening, the very thought of which fills her eyes with dreams. A faint smile spreads on her lips and she quickly buries her blush in the dimples of her cheeks. She forgets herself for a few minutes, and some more.
The gentle breeze turns faster, harder. Mother Nature’s beautiful soft face tightens up in a flash. The songs of the birds are now turned into shrieks. She peels her attention off of the rhythmic movement of the winnow and looks up. She feels a hard ball sinking into her lower abdomen. Her throat dries up and she has to forcefully swallow the saliva. She tries to find the reason for this rapid change. She scans every direction for clues. That moment, the very moment when her mind grasps the object of her quest, her breath freezes. Every strand of her body hair stands up on high alert and her eyes enlarge showing the full glory of her iris. Longingly she turns towards her tiny bundle of joy, sleeping inside, oblivious to all this perplexity.
In the periphery she feels a shadow move and her eyes dart towards that direction. It is right there, standing at the gates. It’s body shining like gold under the mid-morning sun with scars of darkness slapped as stripes all over. It’s strong and powerful legs step one after the other and move towards her, reverberating with arrogance and a strange sense of possession over her. With every passing split-second, her heartbeat races higher and higher until she could hardly feel the air move through her lungs. She is frightened and starts questioning all the protective fences that she trusted till this day. The almighty God that protects her from every trouble big and small, her dearest husband with whom she exchanged vows of safety for life, the disciplined life in an orderly society where everyone looks out for one another. How did she end up all alone? She called to her Savior Goddess, Ellaiamma, the Goddess with red eyes and eighteen hands, whom her entire village worships every new moon day, praying to fight off all evil spirits. “Ellaiamma, how did your heart agree to let me, your beloved daughter, get into this terrifying situation?”, her heart pleaded. “All the neighbors have gone to fields for work. Will they be able to hear me if I shout?”, she thought. But she could rarely find her breath, let alone her voice. “What will happen to my baby?”, she panicked.
Her eyes clouded with confusion and fear, she stood there pitifully in front of the approaching tiger. “If I beg in front of this demon, if I fall at it’s feet, will it leave me?” she started thinking in one last attempt to find a way out. By then the tiger had moved in close enough and began to spring on it’s prey. Trying to run away she moved aside slightly, reflexively bringing the winnow to cover her face. The tiger’s aim slipped and she ended up getting scratched in her arms and legs. She could not bear the assault from a 600 pound tiger and rolled on the ground curling up a few feet away. Her sun-kissed bronze limbs were bathed in blood that trickled on the ground causing Mother Earth’s face to turn red. All this woke the baby up and sensing the tension around, it began to cry hysterically.
Tiger heard and turned towards the house. Sensing this, her body tightened up. Pain and anger fueled her strength and her breath seethed like a volcano. “My house, my child. How dare you step in here?”, her heart erupted with fury. She put her right palm on the ground and in one push leapt to her feet. With a new understanding of herself she picked up the loose end of the sari and wound it up tightly around her waist. She collected her long hair and knotted it into a bun. She looked straight up, a dark strand of hair fell across her face reminding the tiger that she too is no less than a tigress in her own right. “Before you touch my child, you need to walk past me!” This very thought lifted her spirits and positioned her like a mighty mountain between the tiger and her baby. The dust from the scuffle had not settled yet but she was already up. Sensing her challenge, the tiger let out a loud roar. The sound echoed in the mountain and reached the villagers. It sent chills into their bones. They quickly remembered her and her baby and hurried to her defense.
She stood there unperturbed. The roar did not move even the strand of hair that ran across her face, let alone her heart. She turned her red eyes and locked it on the tiger. The tiger got confused. Is this the same woman who looked so pitiful a few moments ago, it wondered. It turned once again towards the crying baby inside her home. “Hey!” she let out a loud cry from the depths of her lower abdomen where life surrenders to take form. Every life form that heard this sound, submitted their obedience. The tiger hesitated for a moment and took it’s front leg half way back. This moment was right for her to launch her first assault. She moved swiftly like an arrow shot from a trained archer’s bow, splitting the dust laden air, picking up the winnow that lay on her left side along the way, collected all her mortal strength and landed on the tiger’s head with one mighty blow. The tiger went dizzy but quickly sprung back to it’s legs. It attacked her once again with rage. She held the tiger’s front paws with her bare hands and stopped it right on it’s tracks. She saw the demon eye to eye, her muscles curdling up on her arms, thighs and abs. She was that Savior Goddess now for her baby. Her body chiseled by years of hard-work is matched in strength by nothing less than the diamond. These fences, she realized, are not to save her, but she is there to maintain these for the order of her society.
The tiger, that was used to display of it’s strength all it’s life, was surprised by this resistance. It could not get a grasp of the situation that is turning out to be. It thought her strength will go only to a certain point and once she got tired, victory will be easy. It still had the picture of that weak woman slumped on the ground on it’s mind. But it had grossly underestimated her will power. Every time it assaulted, she fell. She stood up. She attacked. Again. And again. And again. At one point the tiger got tired and she got the lead. She pushed though her last ounce of strength and hit the tiger with her hands, still holding on to the winnow that was a mere rag now and the tiger started backing down. By now the villagers had reached her home and were stunned by the fierceness of the fight. The tiger seeing itself in clear disadvantage ran back to the jungle saving it’s life. The villagers erupted with cheers and applause and hailed her name. There was celebration of her bravery all around. She panted and cooled down for a quick few minutes and then raised her hand. They became quiet. She tossed the tattered winnow down and began speaking. “No, not my name. Say that a Tamil woman drove a tiger with a mere winnow!” She knew well that if her story was associated with a name, she will be a legend but then her victory will be all her’s. She wanted every mother, sister and daughter to be a part of her story, her victory. Her weakness, her assumptions, her struggles and her strengths are all common to her kind, Womankind and Mankind. She realized that a woman is not a mere person but a society. She sacrificed her name to uplift her society then and for generations to come.
So, go girl… feed thy body, mind and soul. Nourish the tigress within and live a majestic life. For, when you encounter a tiger in your own life someday, be prepared to unleash that tigress in you!