THE BLUE BEAD
ABOUT THE AUTHOR :
Norah Burke’s Jungle Picture is a collection of short stories presenting the vast forest of India along the foothills of the Himalayas. Her stories present not onlyo the vast forests in details but also the life of the people residing there.
Born on August 2, 1907 at Bedford, England she was a popular novelist and a non-fiction writer in English. Her father being a forest officer with the Imperial Forest Service, the family spent many years in India. Norah’s early childhood was spent travelling through various forests of India at the various foothills of the Himalayas. Her short stories reflect her personal experience of the people, the animals, the trees and even the relief of the jungle. Fame came to her with her description of Indian life and her works were widely published in England, France, Denmark, Holland, Australia and America. She died in 1976 at Suffolk in England.
The Blue Bead is a short story from her collection – Jungle Picture. It is a story of poverty and struggle faced by the poor villagers residing in the backward villages which were still untouched by urbanization.
The story is about Sibia, a twelve year old girl. The story begins with the huge mugger-crocodile coming out of the water to bake in the warm sun. The huge `antediluvian saurian’ is said to be twice the length of a tall man.The tepid water where he lived in and the plenty of rotted food he ate is the result of his huge length and the imperishable thick armour-like hide, where even rifle bullets would bounce off. The only soft pierceable parts of his body were his eyes and the underarms. Beside the crocodile where he lay under the sun was a glimmering blue bead. From here the story turns towards the protagonist Sibia, a little girl of twelve years. Sibia, a skinny child with the complexion of the earth is shown coming out of a mud house. She personifies poverty. Her lean figure, her dress of two pieces of earth coloured rag torn to make a skirt and a sari shows the deplorable state of the people living in that backward village. Sibia was eating the last of her meal of “chupatti wrapped round a smear of green chilli and rancid butter;’’ which she divided into small parts to make her food seem more. She was so poor that she had never own anything other than the rags she wrapped herself with. She knew what finery was since she had been to the bazaar in the little town at the rail head along with her parents and her brothers. She had seen the blown glass beads and the glass bangles kept on a stick, but never could buy them. She had also paused before the sweetmeat stall to `gaze at the brilliant honey confections’ with amazement. There were also various other wonderful items in the market, which Sibia could only see with wondering eyes but could never dream of possessing. Her only wish was to make a bead necklace for herself which would rattle rond her neck. She was making a necklace for herself out of `lal-lal-beeges, the shiny scarlet seeds, black one end that grew everywhere in the jungle’. The seeds were very hard and had to be drilled with red hot needles, but their family needle was broken so she had to wait till they buy another one. Sibia was `born to toil’. She husked corn, gathered sticks, put dung to dry, cooked, weeded, carried and fetched water and cut grass for fodder.
On the particular day when this story was set, Sibia was going with her mother and other women of her village to the cliffs above the river to cut paper grass. On their way they passed a Gujar encampment. Gujars were nomadics who lived in grass huts till their animals finish all the grazing within their reach or they could no more sell their white butter and white milk in the district or there were no one to buy their young buffaloes for tiger-bait. The Gujar women wore trousers tight and wrinkled at the ankles, and in their ears tinkled large silver rings made out of melted rupees.
The women after collecting the paper grass came on the stepping-stones. They laughed and quarreled above the gush of the river to frighten the crocodiles, and they safely crossed the river. But Sibia trailed behind that day. She was carrying a heavy load and her muscles stretched and ached. So, she put down her load to rest. Just then she saw a Gujar woman who had come to fill her gurrah from the river was attacked by the big mugger crocodile. Sibia immediately sprang to rescue her. With her hayfork she aimed at the mugger’s eyes. The crocodile crashed back, exploded the water and disappeared in pain. Sibia put her arms around the Gujar woman and with effort dragged her out of the water. She put sand on her wounds to stop the blood and bound them with rag. She then helped her reach the Gujar encampment.
When Sibia bent to take her grass, sickle and fork she saw the bead rocking in the movement of the river water. She reached for it and though missed it at the first time because of refraction she got it in her palm. Her joy knew no bound. On the way back home she met her mother who was worried at her being so late and scolding her. She thought something might have had happened to Sibia. Sibia forgot about the crocodile and the Gujar woman. She burst with her story, “something did! I found a blue bead for my necklace, look!’’ For Sibia her act of bravery was insignificant in comparison to that blue bead.
The Blue Bead portrays the themes of poverty, struggle for survival and the extraordinary power of human will.
One of the most important theme of the story is poverty. The protagonist of the story Sibia, a twelve year old child-woman is poverty personified. She lives in a mud house in a backward village untouched by civilization. She is described as a `thin starveling child dressed in an earth-coloured rag’ which she had torn in two pieces to make a skirt and a sari. She is eating the last of her meal which consisted of a `chupatti’ smeared with green chilli and rancid butter. She divides it into small pieces to make it seem more. She can afford no luxury. She looks at the glass beads and glass bangles and sweetmeats and silks and satins with looking glass embroidery and silver thread works with eyes full of amazement but can not dream of possessing any. She goes along with her mother to cut paper grass to provide for her daily needs. She loves to adorn her neck with a necklace and hear its rattling sound but has to wait till her family buys a new needle to drill the seeds. The ending of the story is very touching. When Sibia’s mother asks her the reason for her being so late and asks if anything has happened, she excitedly tells her mother that she has found a blue bead for her necklace. Killing the huge mugger-crocodile and saving the life of the Gujar woman seems insignificant to her in comparison to the blue bead she had found stuck in the sand.
The struggle for survival is yet the next important theme of the story. It shows how the people residing in the vicinity of the forests face hardships each and every moment. Through the character of Sibia and her family Burke shows the hardships and challenges faced by these people every day. Even the lives of the Gujars in the encampments are continuously threatened by wild animals. Apart from these the scare of epidemics like cholera and influenza are there which break out rather frequently.
The mud houses lack even the basic amenities. The roads are not proper. People use sticks and dungs as fuels which may affect the respiratory organs. The women go to the cliff crossing a river full of crocodiles. There is no proper bridge across the river. They have to jump from one stepping stone to another. The women laugh and quarrel loudly above the gush of the river to frighten away the crocodiles. They have to carry loads of paper grass. Not only the grown-ups but also children like the twelve year old Sibia.
Proper food is not affordable as their earning is very meager. Sibia is shown as a thin, undernourished child who divides her `chupatti’ into small pieces to make it seem more. She hardly gets any proper clothing to wear. She tears an earth coloured rag in two pieces to make a skirt and a sari.
But inspite of all the poverty and hardships the invincible human spirit is not subdued.
However the most important theme of the story is the extraordinary power of human will. The proverb `if there’s a will there’s a way’ is very well depicted in the story. Sibia while returning from the cliff with her load of grass and sickle and hayfork saw a Gujar woman who had come to fill her gurrah from the river was attacked by a mugger-crocodile. Sibia instead of running away from there to save her life, counter attacked the crocodile with her hayfork and pierced its eyes and killed the reptile. She then helped the woman go back to the Gujar encampment. It is her willpower and determination that saved the Gujar woman’s life and made her victorious over the crocodile.