Ancient Folk Story of the Black Death... Not for weak hearts

This is a fictional story only for the entertainment purpose

My grandmother was a very talented woman. She didn’t go to school and receive formal education but still, she was known as “Mastarinbai” in my language which means “a lady teacher”. She was married to a school inspector and a teacher. Not that my grandfather or we the grandchildren didn’t try to teach her but she used to feel shy to learn from my grandfather. My grandfather had to relocate to different villages in India. Because of his job, my grandmother also could see different places and meet new people. She didn’t know how to write or read that well, but she could tell amazing stories. As children, we didn’t have access to many books like today’s children have. Whatever stories we learned, were mostly from our grandparents. My grandma was an amazing storyteller and had the superpower to take me to different worlds. She used to tell folk stories, stories of -animals, ghosts, supernatural things, human nature- and so many other things. We were never satisfied listening to her stories and she was never bored of telling them again and again. She enjoyed it when we used to pester her for stories and was very proud of her skills to keep us not just engaged but mesmerized. Today, I’m going to share with you one of her stories. Not sure from whom she heard this one but it is definitely almost a hundred years old folk story.

The Black Death/ Bubonic Plague

The story must be from the times of the Third plague pandemic which is famously known as the Black Death. In India, in 1898 the plague killed almost one million people. The hideous dance of death didn’t stop but continued for another thirty years claiming nearly 12.5 million lives. By 1899, the outbreak expanded to rural areas and outskirts. This plague was mainly of bubonic variety in which patients get swollen lymph nodes. They get as big as an egg and grow in armpits and groins. Plague is caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, a zoonotic bacteria usually found in small mammals and their fleas. These infected fleas then transmit the disease from one human to another. It also affects rodents and small mammals. When these infected animals die the fleas along with the disease-causing bacteria jump to their next host and that is how the disease spreads.

So, during the times of the Black Death, noticing the dead rats was an indication of the arrival of the Black Death. People in rural parts were not educated. They thought such diseases are caused because the gods were angry for some reason or the demon had cursed them. They always lived in fear. People were dying not knowing what was happening to them. Most people in villages left their houses to avoid close contact with sick family members and started living in open spaces on their farms. Somehow they felt safer there than at their homes. Ladies used to cook food together on open fires. Married women found comfort talking with the other ladies. Friends relieved some stress and older ladies offered mental support to the young ones.

Ganga was one of them. she was married at a very young age and had a beautiful son. Her son was the entire world to her as she had conceived him after many years and after some heartbreaking abortions. She was terrified of the Black Death and hoping that her son wouldn’t get it. She couldn’t eat or sleep and was always checking on her little one. She thought she would get mad worrying about her precious gem. Everyone was almost in a similar situation either worried, sick or mourning for their loved ones.

On one such scary night, the ladies were giving a head massage to each other with coconut oil. Women in that era always kept their hair in order using oil and coconut oil was the winner in all oils. They used to crush the dried coconut by grinding it in between stones and squeeze out the paste to get oil for hair.

That night, there was one new face in that crowd. The new old lady came and sat in front of Ganga with a coconut in her hand. “Dear girl, please give me a head massage. My scalp is overly itchy today.” Ganga was very kind. She said, “Oh grandma, sure I’ll.” She quickly crushed the coconut and squeezed out the oily juice in the shell of a coconut. The old lady had a head full of thick hair. Ganga gently loosened her hair and started applying oil on the old lady’s head. The old lady pointed to a spot in her hair and asked her to look there. Ganga moved her hair to see what was causing the problem and her fingers felt something bulgy and slimy. She was taken aback. She looked carefully and noticed an eye. Yes, it was an eye on the scalp. She screamed with fear, “Grandma! there is an eye on your scalp.” She couldn’t believe her eyes. But the old lady was very calm. She said, “Oh! is it? That’s alright. Don’t worry. Can you please look on this side now?” While saying this, she pointed to another spot in her grey hair. Ganga was scared but still, she looked in the old lady’s hair and her fear jumped to another level up. There was another eye. For the next several minutes the old lady kept pointing to the different spots in her hair and every spot that Ganga examined, there was an eye. Ganga’s face turned white as if she had seen a ghost.

Ganga started crying and almost fainted. As she was fainting, her eyes were watching her little son who was sleeping peacefully next to her. The old lady grabbed her and comforted her. The old lady introduced herself to Ganga. She said, “Ganga, I’m the Black Death that you are dreaded of. Don’t go on my looks. I’m extremely powerful. You saw my eyes. I can see everything and no one can escape my wrath if I decide. But dear daughter, don’t worry. Nothing would happen to you, your son, and your husband. You will get through this hard time safely. It is my promise to you.” Ganga touched the old lady’s feet and thanked her. She was completely shaken by what just had happened. She turned around to grab her son and held her little baby close to her heart. Even though she was in shock the tension was relieved. She was feeling a little relieved knowing that her family is going to be safe. She must have kissed her son almost a hundred times before she looked up. There was no one there. She was shocked to see no one around. All the other ladies were fast asleep after caring for the sick people and family. Ganga noticed far away the old lady was sitting on a rock. So, she was still there. But seeing her there didn’t scare Ganga now. She knew that the lady, The Black Death was not going to touch her family. After months, she could finally sleep like a child as her baby snuggled deep in her chest.

This is a fictional story. My grandmother told me several stories. I don’t remember all of them but as we entered into the Covid-19 pandemic, this story always comes back to mind. Like many others, I’m also worried about my loved ones. I know no such superpower is going to cut us some slack. The responsibility lies completely on us. We have to maintain proper hygiene, wear a clean mask, maintain social distancing and take vaccines to keep all of us safe. I hope the world gets through this without any further loss.

I’m a gardener for whom gardening is not just a hobby now but has become an integral part of my life. I would like to share with you all the beauty of gardening

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