This Kerala folk tale is about one of the Unique Twelve – Uliyannoor Perumthachan or the Master Carpenter of Uliyannoor. Though he was called a carpenter he worked not only with wood but also with stone and other materials. He was so skilled in his work that his fame spread far and wide and people of the day began to ascribe divine qualities to him. Thachan’s eccentric nature just like his brother, The Madman of Naaraanathu gave strength to this feeling among the people. There are many interesting stories centered around this great artist.
Once it so happened that some village elders came to visit Thachan at his house. The purpose of the visit was to request Thachan to build a bridge across a stream because during the monsoon it was becoming increasingly difficult to wade across it. In summer of course the stream posed no problem as the villagers could easily wade through.
The village elders said that the bridge was to be built in wood. Thachan agreed to do his best and promised to start the following week. Relieved, the village elders departed. It was the height of summer but soon the monsoon would arrive and they wanted the bridge to be ready before that.
As promised Thachan arrived at the village, inspected the trees that were to be cut down chose a couple of them and began his worship. Thachan believed that before cutting down a tree one ought to worship it and request the permission of all the other living beings depending on it for survival before finally cutting it down. After finishing the worship, woodcutters began to cut down the tree and work began in earnest.
A few weeks later the bridge was completed. The day the bridge was completed a group of children were the first to cross it. They crossed and re-crossed it in innocent delight laughing as children always do, for the sheer delight of being the first people in the village to use the bridge. Thachan watched them with amusement till they finally had their fill of crossing the bridge again and again and all had gone home talking and laughing.
As soon as the children left an impish mood seized Thachan. Perhaps he had been reminded of his own childhood or perhaps he wanted to amuse the children even more the next morning when they came that way on their way to their lessons. Whatever the reason, Thachan had a very amusing idea and immediately set to work as he wanted the surprise for the children to be ready before sunrise the next day.
By the next morning Thachan had finished the work and was ready and waiting at the foot of the bridge when the children came along.
“There is a surprise for you today,” he announced to the children grinning.
“Tell us what it is, oh do tell us what it is,” clamoured the children and jumped about Thachan in pure joy. Some clung to his arm in entreaty and all the little ones made a great noise and Thachan was happier than he remembered being in a long time as he looked at the laughing upturned faces and shining black eyes.
“Cross the bridge and you will know what the surprise is,” he said joining in the noise and laughter.
The more curious ones were the first on the bridge. They advanced cautiously knowing that Thachan must have done something tricky. As they took the first cautious steps the alert ones detected the whirr of a pulley. Soon a small wooden figure emerged from the water and as the children moved forward it moved higher and higher. When they were almost at the end of the bridge, the figure had risen to the level of the railings and as the first child passed the figure spat a jet of water at him.
The children squealed in joy. Then there was chaos as each child wanted in turn to try out the new contraption and by the time most of them were done, they were all drenched. Thachan too was in the middle of all the noise and commotion laughing heartily. After some time he shooed them away chiding them that they would be late for the paatshala and that their guru would be angry.
As the news of the funny contraption on the bridge spread across the village, the village elders also came down to see what the fuss was all about. While most of them thought it was brilliant craftsmanship on the part of Thachan and complimented him, a few were not happy about being spat on by a wooden figurine designed by a low born carpenter. They felt that Thachan had contrived the contraption as an insult to them, for was it not as though he himself was spitting on them!
The village elders decided to teach Thachan a lesson for his cheek. Knowing that Thachan had an equally brilliant and eccentric son they decided to seek him and ask him to do something about it. They found him in a nearby village where he was working on some wooden sculptures. The village elders persuaded him to come immediately as it was just a small piece of work and he would require no more than a day.
When he heard of his father’s workmanship, he immediately agreed to come as he was highly competitive and used every chance to outdo his father. The village elders brought him back with them and it was night by the time they reached their village. The son immediately went to see the bridge, saw what his father had crafted and set to work at once.
The next morning as usual the children came shouting and running on their way to their paatshala excited about crossing the new bridge. But they were in for a surprise. Somebody had carried tales and Thachan had come to know that his son had been brought by some of the village elders as they did not like his contraption. He too was present at the foot of the bridge as the children ran across eagerly.
It seemed to Thachan that more than three quarters of the villagers had gathered on either side of the bridge to watch the fun. Tale carriers had been working overtime. As the children climbed the bridge they noticed that along with Thachan’s figurine another wooden figure also rose from the waters. There were a few expectant moments as the two figurines rose one slightly below the other. As soon as Thachan’s figurine reached the top, the other figurine turned to face it and before it could spit out the river water it delivered a resounding slap on the other figurine’s face. Thachan’s figurine was turned as a result of the slap and spat out the water harmlessly into the river.
When Thachan saw this he automatically placed a palm on his cheek. It was as though he had received a slap from his son. To add to his distress all the villagers gathered around jeered and made fun of him. The people said that it was high time he retired because his son was more than a match for him. Many say that it was this incident that started the slow poisoning of Thachan’s mind and later led him to kill his own son in a fit of professional jealousy.
For knowing more about The Unique Twelve and other interesting stories please visit the Folk Tales section of this blog.