Hanchi

Hanchi is a South Indian (Kannada) tale of young girl who is first desired by her brother leading her mother to banish her fitted with a clay mask (hanchu) over her face and golden hair. An old woman takes care of her and arranges a job for Hanchi as cook in a rich household which eventually leads to her marrying the son who falls in love with her after seeing her take a bath. But here she is the target of a lecherous old holy man, Guruswami, who is the household’s chief counselor. After three of his evil attempts are undone by the clever Hanchi, he succeeds in finally accusing her falsely of adultery and arranges for her to be put in a box. She is again saved by the same old woman, who replaces Hanchi with a mad dog in the box who fatally mauls Guruswami. The old woman then invites Hanchi’s in-laws for dinner of sweet rice that Hanchi is known for and tells the true story behind the old man’s evil designs. (summarized from A.K. Ramanujan’s “Folktales from India”).

I: The mask
That a clot of moulded clay is enough to ward off
The unwanted gaze: let it transpire and the forest
Air will gnaw at the fabric of the ground of all being
Till wrong is righted or till both mother and brother die.

II: The bath
The rules of proportion collide with rapturous dance
Precipitating unveiling as if time had nothing better
To do, nowhere else to go, but to persist in the void
Accumulating evidence of want, of balance of want.

III: The holy man
Antics of brahmanic indolence will get you only so
Far: what remains unrooted remains so; what speaks
Of being unmoored keeps the syllables of discontent
Heavy with unrepentant, unholy dollops of distaste.

IV: The mad dog
It is not the box that can contain the rabidness of
The dog; it is not the box that can reveal the inch
By inch failing of the yardstick of faith; but the seal
Of containment, the slip of tongue, the lost rhythm.

V: The sweet rice
A sugary aftertaste is the reminder of the arsenic
Undercurrent to follow soon; the lull is only as good
As the storm that will ensue; for here is maya, the
Guarantor of false positives, intended misoutcomes.

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