‘The Fear of Tiptipwa’, a folktale about survival in the wild, first appeared in The Greatest Folktales of Bihar, published by Rupa India in October 2019.
Once upon a time, there lived an old woman in a forest. She possessed a horse which she loved like her son. Grazing on the lush green grass in the forest, the horse had become healthy and robust. The woman would tie it to a post under a banyan tree near her hut and massage its back and limbs before going to sleep at night. The horse got sumptuous food and love every day and the woman had a companion in the desolate forest.
One day, a thief saw the horse and decided to steal it. A tiger, too, came to know about the horse living under the woman’s patronage and thought of feeding on it. Though the thief and the tiger had a common cause, they were unknown to each other and were unaware of each other’s plan.
The weather changed abruptly the next day. A stormy blanket of cloud shrouded the forest after sunset. Flashes of lightning ripped through the inky atmosphere. The horse was sitting near the hut where the woman was holed up.
The thief and the tiger found the scary weather appropriate to operate in. They stealthily reached the hut at the same time—although separately. They prepared to strike the horse from two separate corners in opposite directions.
Though the tiger and the thief hadn’t seen each other, the woman had sensed the presence of the enemies around. Having lived in the jungle for years, the old woman had learnt how to deal with inclement weather and predators. Silently resting in her hut, she was cognizant of her horse’s safety and security.
The tiger and the thief were focused on their prey. They were waiting for a brilliant flash of lightning to rip through the dark before they made their move. Suddenly, the old woman chanted in a loud voice, ‘Neither do I fear a tiger nor a thief. What I am actually frightened of is Tiptipwa.’
The tiger and the thief got confused when they heard the woman’s chant. They got distracted from their prey. ‘What is Tiptipwa? The woman fears Tiptipwa more than me. This means that Tiptipwa is either a more dreaded animal than me or a monster or a ghost,’ the tiger mused. The thief, on the other hand, thought that Tiptipwa might be some dangerous species and got frightened.
Just then, lightning forked through the graphite night, enabling the tiger and the thief to see the horse and strike. The tiger jumped on the horse. Simultaneously, the thief threw a strap aiming at the neck of the horse. But instead, the strap fell around the neck of the tiger that had jumped on the horse.
The tiger, full of doubt about Tiptipwa, thought that it was Tiptipwa that had entrapped him. He got scared. The night had gotten inky again and nothing was visible in the darkness. Meanwhile, the thief thought that he had entrapped the horse. Thinking that the tiger was the horse, he mounted it.
When the thief tried to climb it, the tiger thought that it was Tiptipwa that had overpowered him and tried to break free. When lightning struck again, the thief saw that he was sitting on the tiger and dismounted hurriedly. He entered a hole in a tree to save himself.
The tiger ran and kept running till dawn broke. When a jackal saw the tiger running, he asked, ‘O uncle! Why are you so nervous? You are our master. If you get so frightened, what will happen to us?’
The tiger paused, saying, ‘O jackal! Tiptipwa had attacked me. He spared me only a little while ago and is hiding in that tree.’ The jackal quipped, ‘Don’t worry, my master. Let us go together to get Tiptipwa out of the hole. We should kill and feast on him.’
The tiger and the jackal reached the tree in which the thief was holed up. The tiger asked the jackal to put his tail in the tree’s hole to scare Tiptipwa out. But as the jackal moved his tail, the thief caught it and began pulling it with both his hands.
The jackal asked the tiger to shove his paw into the hole to scare Tiptipwa so that he would loosen his grip on the tail. But the tiger who was already scared fled. The thief eventually pulled out the jackal’s tail from his body.
Wounded and stripped of his tail the jackal loitered in the forest pitiably for days. With time, his wounds healed but he was the subject of ridicule in his community. After many days, he was blessed with happiness when a she-jackal fell in love with him and they got married.
They bore five cubs after some time. Having lived together for long, the she-jackal asked her husband to take her to his home. The jackal took his wife and kids to a tunnel in the hills and described it as his home to his family.
As the she-jackal entered the burrow, she encountered an unusual smell. ‘The burrow is filled with the smell of tigers. How can it be your home?’ she asked her husband.
The jackal shot back, ‘Honey, it is the smell of the tigers’ meat. I hunt the tigers and eat their meat.’
Soon after they settled in the burrow, the jackal saw a tiger approaching them. It was the same tiger for whom the jackal had lost his tail. The jackal got scared and revealed the truth to his wife.
But the she-jackal was cleverer. She proposed, ‘I will beat up the children, making them weep loudly. I will say that the kids are weeping for tiger’s flesh. You should then ask the kids to stop making noise so that the tiger does not run away.’
The she-jackal beat up her children, making them cry, and the jackal asked them to keep quiet so that the tiger wouldn’t run away—just like they had planned.
‘The cubs are weeping for my meat! It might be another ploy of Tiptipwa to trap me,’ the tiger thought and fled.
On his way, he encountered another jackal who said, ‘Don’t worry. The jackals who have occupied your home are my family friends. I will get them to vacate your den.’
The scared tiger tied the jackal to his hind legs and went to the burrow dragging him along. As the jackals in the burrow saw the tiger coming with another jackal, the she-jackal suggested to her husband, ‘You should get angry at the jackal and say, “I had paid you to bring five tigers but you have brought only one. I won’t spare you.”’
The jackal did exactly that. The petrified tiger fled again, dragging the jackal with him. On the other hand, the jackal that had been stripped of his tail, lived happily with his family thereafter.
(Being street-smart helps in every situation).