Folk Tales – Why the Sky is So High

A folktale from Bengal India, retold by Rohini Chowdhury

Long ago, the Sky was quite low. If you stood on a stool and stretched your hands up as high as they would go, you could touch the Sky.

At that time, far on the Horizon, where the Sky was always especially low, there was a village. In that village, in a little mud hut thatched with straw, there lived a bent Old Woman.

This bent Old Woman was the oldest woman in that village, possibly the oldest woman in the world. She was so old she no longer remembered any other way of being. She lived all alone in her little mud hut, for she had neither friend nor family left in this world. She had nowhere to go and no one to talk to. So all day long, she would potter round her hut, first cleaning this corner, now dusting that, now scrubbing this bit of floor, now sweeping that. The bent Old Woman thought of nothing else any more, except more and more ways of sweeping and scrubbing her little mud hut.

One hot summer, the land was dry with thirst. There was dust everywhere – on the trees, on the roofs of huts and houses, in people’s throats and eyes, even in the air. All over the village people were coughing and sneezing and choking with the dust. Even the poor old Sky was not spared – it was so close to the ground that the slightest bit of wind would set it coughing with the dust that rose from the parched land.

The bent Old Woman’s hut too was covered with dust. The old woman swept and swept and swept the little hut with her broom. She swept the inside of her hut, she swept the outside of her hut, she swept the front step and she swept the front yard. But the dust rose all around her in great brown clouds – the more she swept and plied her broom, the more the dust that rose from the earth.

The poor Sky began to choke with all the dust that the bent Old Woman was raising with her broom. The dust got into its throat and tickled its nose and made it sneeze – a great big sneeze that shook the world with its thunder. People covered their heads and ran indoors in fright. But the bent Old Woman barely noticed – she kept on sweeping with her broom.

The Sky sneezed again – the dust was becoming unbearable. It got into its eyes and made them water – so that great heavy drops of rain began falling into the dry dust below. The bent Old Woman barely noticed – till finally a big splodgy raindrop fell right on to the patch she had just swept.

The bent Old Woman glared at the Sky and scrubbed the splodgy raindrop away. But then another raindrop fell, and another, till her swept and scrubbed front step was blotchy with raindrops.

This was more than the bent Old Woman could bear. She stood up as straight as she could with her bent old back and shook her fist at the Sky yelling at it to stop raining on her nice clean front step. She cursed the Sky and threatened it, but the poor old Sky couldn’t stop raining – its eyes were still so full of dust with all her sweeping.

At last, the bent Old Woman was so angry, that she picked up her broom, and thwacked the Sky with it.

The Sky gave another great sneeze and jumped out of her way. But the bent Old Woman kept thwacking it with her broom, again and again and again.

Finally the Sky could take it no more – the dust, the Old Woman’s cursing, and especially her broom, thwacking it again and again and again. Sneezing and coughing, thundering and raining, the Sky flew up, up and away – out of reach of the Old Woman’s broom and swore never to come down again.

So that is why the Sky is so high. Even on the Horizon, where it seems to be touching the earth, it really isn’t any more.

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