(A short story
First written on March 9, 2019)
The superstitions and the legends that are connected with the tribe of hidden valley of Maltava can all be traced to the fate of Mr. Robin Samuels. For the sake of science, one almost wishes that it was not so well known. Because ever since him, at least five different researchers – including three women, a man and a transgender, who had gone to study the tribe have shown a change in behavior that follow the neurotic pattern of Mr. Samuelels’ fate. However, unlike with Mr. Samuels, the effects haven’t lasted for them after they were back in the civilized world – one wonders whether the quick return to the civilized world has cured them before it was too late or they were just imagining the whole thing. Another factor that might have affected them is the presence of Samuels acting as one of the tribe people. And The sight of a civilized person in such a primitive crowd can’t be comforting to one’s mind. A terrible thought catches with one – if Mr. Samuels can forget himself and start acting like them, what are chances it won’t happen to the rest of us?
Nevertheless, the effects on Mr. Samuel have been permanent. The Organisation for Study of Tribes (OTS) had to break the rules and kidnap him – even though he had clearly become a member of the tribe himself. The organization do not normally allow any physical intrusion with the tribes. Except for matter of a difference in the anatomy, he might as well have been born there. The kidnapping had made him angry and miserable and this anguish had increased with time – none of the doctors, psychiatrists etc could cure him or figure anything out. None of the tricks of their trade has worked on him. He seemed to be miserable all the time but those who have been conscious of suffering from prolonged anguish know that such anguish comes in sort seasons – you are never completely without anguish but it’s degree increases or decreases with time. Even Sisphyus probably felt a little relieved when chasing down after the rock as compared to when he would push it up the mountain.
It was either this or Samuels’ was too exhausted to cry and scream having spent all his energy. Either way, there would be times when he would sit silently on his bed and look at his own hands which he held together in his lap.
When I tried to talk to him in those moments, he would look at me from the corner of his eyes. There was something in his look that seemed to suggest a sort of frustration and pity which his wife, Rita Samuels, declared was same as she had seen him have when he was observing a tribe of Nihua celebrate a certain celebrate by beating their own and their children back so much as to bruise the body all over.
If it was a pity, who was pitying? One almost got the sense that it was rest of humanity he was pitying. Perhaps in his mind, he imagined, it was us who were missing the point and were making him miserable too by abducting him like that.
His wife, Rita Samuels, claimed that he now really belonged with the tribe and should be returned to them. The organization had to accept the fact too – and anyway, the case of abduction had generated a lot of protests from human rights activists.
I was one of the people who took him back to the tribe. I remember the way the mere sight of the tribe’s village was enough to calm him down. Now when I see him living with the tribe, talking in their language, laughing with them etc, I can’t see any sign of neurosis. In fact, the four soldiers who abducted him claimed that he was the happiest person they have seen in their lives when they have abducted him and started being miserable only when he realized that he was being taken away. Perhaps neurosis is often just being out of one’s element. But what one wishes to ask is what made Mr. Samuels more at home with the tribe than in the civilized world where he had lived most of his 55 years?
I said ‘most’ of his 55 years since a big amount of these years have been spent studying tribes. He was an expert on the subject and was known to have personally studied the experience of a lot of tribes and write books on their cultures and values. Quality of his research was, of course, a big reason behind his success, but quantity was equally astonishing. He seemed to show very little interest in returning to the cities and universities, giving lectures etc which is normal with the intellectual class and could spend months at a stretch at his work.
But forgive me for giving all this information in such a haphazard manner. If you are not following one of the fields related to his studies, you might not even have heard his name, though in certain intellectual circles he was a sort of celebrity. But from this moment on, I shall try to get organized and share the rest of the details in a more systematic manner.
There is nothing much to tell about his childhood, his family was normal-functioning one engaged in farming. None of your usual daddy or abandonment issues. His parents’ (if their friends’ word on the subject is to be believed) one complaint was his aloofness. He didn’t seem to be able to get particularly attached to anyone or anything. And he was an average student in his school who was indistinguishable in any way whatsoever. Physically he was lean but not too thin, neither handsome not ugly. It was a kind of face that would grow attractive if it had a witty mind behind it, which unfortunately wasn’t the case. He was never witty though sometimes he could grow absentminded. He never talked unless necessary. In fact, everything he did, he did in an uninterested fashion as if he was merely doing because he was supposed to.
The only incident that stands out is a memory that he himself shared with Rita. Rita told me that he came across a picture of Hindu god Lord Shiva once about when he was eleven years of age. He told her how he had kept staring at the third eye of Lord Shiva in this picture (which was half open) and so many things had occurred to his mind. What things? He doesn’t remember. They were so strange, so original that their absurdity has made him forget them. Sometimes in his late teens, he would wish that he had taken a pen and paper and note it all down. Yet, he knew that he won’t know how to express such things. Perhaps it is inexpressible.
A skeptic might be suspicious of such mystic experience. But what is a mystic? Something that happens beyond the limited confines of what we can comprehend within limits of our rationality. And the universe never had to confine itself to our imagination. Only an intellectual coward is scared of a thing just because he or she can’t explain it.
So when Samuels said it was inexpressible, Rita, who was more given to believing in the existence of such super-rational experiences didn’t doubt it. The doubt was in mind of Samuels himself who, despite his genius in his own science, was a sort of intellectual coward in the sense I just mentioned. In fact, he seemed to think that it was something neurotic.
After that first experience as a kid, he had kept taking that image of Shiva out and stare at it several times. “It seemed to suggest that I am forgetting something. But even though I kept trying to remember, I couldn’t.” He somehow lost the image in the next few months.
Samuels, as he grew older and developed the intellectual cowardice, started believing that the experience was either imaginary or neurotic and so didn’t think too much about it, and never tried to get another such image.
But he would repeat this story a lot to his two wives and friends (perhaps ‘colleagues’ or ‘acquaintances’ is a more correct word in case of a person like him). If the preface to the third edition of his bestselling first book is to be believed, he imagined or saw a connection between this only peculiar memory of his childhood and his making study of tribal societies the choice of his career. Another motivation was Samantha, a friend in school, a geek girl who was obsessed with African tribes with a kind of obsession that was more romantic than intellectual.
Robin Samuels was a rather uninteresting person himself and was not easily interested in any ideas, objects or people whatsoever. But when he saw the pictures of African tribes and noticed the symbols in objects the tribe people were wearing or holding (masks, shields etc), he was quickly interested. He listened carefully and with full interest to Samantha’s ignorant and romantic notions of what those symbols were supposed to mean, though she was really wise and said so to her. Samantha not gifted much in looks and not used to be praised smiled. Robin’s attention and interest in her ideas were all she needed to fall in love with him. She showed signs which were subtle at first but over time grew so obvious that even an absentminded boy like Robin couldn’t help noticing.
Robin’s friends wonder whether he was in love too or whether he just pretended to be in love. Like with everything else, he seemed to do these things too half-heartedly. Because in loving or in sex (this is affirmed by Rita as well) he showed no passion but a matter-of-factness. “Except for hardening of his penis and groans he made when ejecting semen,” Rita is said to have told her friends, “I might have wondered if he ever got any pleasure in it. In fact, I am starting to wonder whether men can fake erections.” Though I never liked Mr. Samuels much, I have to add a shadow of a doubt here. Rita is not of the kind to trust anyone easily, not with her personal life. Robin was never popular, and the quoted statements look easily believable because of this very fact. Contrary evidence in this regard is his success with a number of women.
Anyways, whatever the case might be, Samantha fell in love with him and married him. He went off to Kenya with her to study ways of tribes living there. It was here that naivety of Samantha’s romantic notions was discovered to both of them while Robin proved himself to have a great skill in observation and interpretation of ways of tribal society. The student had become the teacher and vice versa. Three years later he published his first book in States and within another year he was a sort of respected celebrity in the field. While Samantha lost her interest in tribes so very quickly, that after the first time, she never accompanied him on his observation-tours.
Speaking of Robin’s books, one can see a bit of humor in them that seems so inspired that it is probably the contribution of an editor to make the dull book comfortable to eyes. Much of the book is dull. However, he does sometimes radiate a clarity of thought that is rather powerful when it comes to discussing the motivations behind the development of traditions among the tribe.
The couple seemed to go through a difficult marriage all these years. Samantha died aged thirty-two (Robin was thirty-five at that time) in a car accident. Over the next three years Robin dated a lot of women (it is said that he cheated on his wife while she was still alive). Most of these were first attracted by his aloofness and intellectual genius but were then put off by this same aloofness and a complete lack of feeling or wit.
Rita entered the picture three years later – gifted both in terms of looks and intelligence, born to rich parents, she radiated an aura of ‘some people have it all’. She too was romantic about lives tribes like Samantha but her romance was born of hard-boiled facts that were uncovered by Robin’s books. Robin was like a hero to her, a sort of God. It is only this kind of obsession that will explain the love of such a gifted and strong women for such a dull person. She is incapable of pretending he had no defects but it never affected her love. The two dated for three years. And he married her when he was 41 and she 26.
His sex life has got a lot of focus in media in the last few years and that is why I feel forced to talk about it in this detail. In nearly two decades for which he is married, he didn’t have any children. Samantha was the kind of person who wants to have the children, so one is tempted to speculate. My own dislike of him comes from seeing him at the funeral of first, his mother and then, his father who died two years later and three years later on the death of Samantha. Three funerals didn’t have one tear from him amongst themselves. He simply seemed unmoved. But then he hadn’t laughed in all these years either. “Sometimes,” Rita told me in one of her weak moments – the only time in the years of our friendship she complained about her married life, “Sometimes I wish he laughed more.”
Eight years after the second wedding, a hidden valley was discovered in the Amazon forests of Brazil. The rays of the sun didn’t reach this valley which was covered by trees, rock formations etc. A lot of animals including some of the newly discovered species were.discovered. Though, strangely, there were only one species of birds. Exclusively found only in the valley, this bird was named in the tribal language with a word that literally means ‘bird’ or a creature that can fly. It is the same word that Robin had uttered so frequently during the time he was kidnapped. The only word he seemed to be capable of saying. This bird is worshiped by the only tribe village that lived there.
And it is this tribe that interests us most. The population is a mere 332, They speak a much simpler language, simple even for tribes as it was devoid of words other than nouns and verbs – and even nouns were common nouns and there were no names for individuals or words for anything abstract. Physically, they are almost a different species. Even biologically speaking, though inwardly having the anatomy of humans, their skin seemed to have developed in a different way from humans. Their general anatomy is much like that of humans – except for somewhat longer head, and much longer and thinner fingers and toes (the limbs offer advantage in capturing fishes as well as make them great swimmers) and their skin is poured like that of some marine animal – perhaps it was due to the time they spend (more than half of the day) in the water of the lake in the valley hunting fishes which are the main content of their food and the shade of skin is albino white showing lack of colouring pigments in skin which protects a creature from sun rays.
Like we said the tribe worships the ‘bird’ a lot. Almost every day …. their day, an observer has noticed is nearly 25 hours long – which is not so strange given no sunlight enters the valley. They sleep on land and upon waking up, start dancing in a sort of frenzy chanting the word for ‘Bird’ in their language repeatedly. This mad dance lasts for two hours and even children seem to enjoy it. Attempts have been made to explain the importance of birds in two reasons – one their ability to fly must be Godlike in a land where only animate creatures are limited to walking, crawling and swimming. Second, their eyes glitter even though there is no sunlight in the region, due to biological reasons which I don’t intend going into details of.
At the end of two hours, they would enter the water to start hunting for fishes. They are capable of eating the fish raw and have no apparatus for cooking animals.
Despite such limitations of the language they seem to have a sense of humor and often laugh. They also seem to be unaffected by the presence of outsiders in the form of scientists like us. “I don’t like interfering with lives of tribes but their indifference is so unnerving.” says a researcher, “it is as if you were trees, a detail in the background, a decorative flower on a wallpaper. One almost feels tempted to slap one of them just to get a reaction.” One is tempted to argue that perhaps the paranoia that is felt on seeing something new is unique to our own civilized world and not a common property of all civilizations as has been often claimed. However one need not go as far as slapping them to hurt them, merely throwing a flash of light into their eyes might cause them a lot of anguish as was discovered in an unfortunate accident by Richard’s team where a young scientist did the sadist act “to see what they do”.
Even when attacked this way, the creature didn’t resort to violence but just wailed in misery. Unless flash is directly pointed toward their eyes they do not care much about the light either. Perhaps we are too alien for them to believe in or perhaps they think of us as just another sort of animals. Though I am inclined to think that our ability to create light might make us as respectable as birds in their eyes. If that is the case, they still haven’t created songs for us. Or perhaps they believe the same songs as those that please the bird will do for us. ….. But that is empty speculation.
Upon discovery of this tribe. Prof. Richards was sent with a team to study it. A year later, they published their findings in form of a book that got popular among layman though to the eye of an expert, their work showed a sort of amateurish quality that one doesn’t expect from a team headed by an expert like Richard.
This book, however, got Robin interested. “He was more impressed by the pictures of the tribes than anything else in the book,” Rita tells us. “He kept saying two words repeatedly ‘Eye! Bird! Eye! Bird!!” It scared her so much that she had to take the book away from him. Here, we might mention that pictures showed the tribe with headwear that was shaped like the picture of the native bird. The eyes of this native bird, which is as tall as a hen but more on the lean side and with a light grey shade of fur, was shaped in curves similar to humans. The Color of the pupil was a shiny a blue (which seemed to glitter in darkness acting as the only source of light)
He was at that point in a States hospital down after surgery to cure a kidney problem. The surgery seemed to have exhausted him physically. So Rita put his behavior down to physical weakness. And anyway, very soon, Robin seemed to have even forgotten that he had used those words. But he continued to show interest in the tribe and demanded, using his influence in the industry, a grant for the study of the tribe. It was only due to his influence that he could get such a grant and the helicopter landed the couple in Maltava nine months later (Samuels had regained the strength of his body by then).
Samuels acted normally the first few hours he was at the place. In his usual arrogant way, he made his wife do physical work of unpacking stuff. He was acting in that same aloof manner for which he is so popular.
He saw the celebrations of the first day too without being much impressed. He attempted conversing with the tribe but like in case of earlier researchers with no success to boost for. The tribe just ignored him even though he was trying to speak their language. This meant that there was not much to do but just to observe Devoid of daylight, they returned to their tend when they felt sleepy. On waking up they started observing again.
One of most quoted arguments in our field comes from a psychologist. “The tribes have beliefs that do not ring true to us. That much might be explained by the claim that we have better knowledge. But we know what we were like when we were children and ignorant and yet we are often at great pains for explaining some of the beliefs of the tribe. Can it be claimed that our rationality which professes us in some fields of knowledge makes us forget the wisdom of others? Do these tribes know unknowingly something which we have forgotten? At least that is how it seems to me. And I seem to be at the verge of remembering these things which we, as a race, have forgotten. Does that happen to you too? It seems to me that chains of rationality are contained in our language and grammar. It seems to me that more undeveloped language of a tribe, the more of these mysteries they are conscious. Development of civilization might be compared moving from darkness to light. We know light so far better now but we have forgotten the mysteries of darkness. I could argue that as the language develops, it starts a becoming a fetter which would allow us to go only so far and we learn to forget or see anything that falls beyond the range allowed to us by the fetters of language and reason.” The quote which has something of Jung in it might be key to mastery of his own legend.
It was only the next day when watching the daily worshipping of birds that a sort of inspiration hit him. I call it ‘inspiration’ since his wife said that he facepalmed the way he often did when he either got an inspiration (a rather rare occurrence) or remembered something he had forgotten in his absent-minded ways.
“What?” his wife asked him, he looked at her and then away toward the tribe and pointing toward them said the same words that had scared his wife before “the bird! the eyes!!” – unlike the case in the hospital, this time he spoke those words in the language of the tribe and in a sort of ecstasy. His wife looked at the eyes of the birds that enjoyed being glorified by the tribe.
Now, the birds sat like that on branches of trees in the valley for hours every day – not making a single sound. And it was so today as well. But when upon her husband’s insistence she looked at their eyes with an attentive gaze, she was scared. “I know it sounds ridiculous. But if you look at a bird from its profile, only one of its eye is visible to you and it seems to look directly at you. If you look too much into it, it seems to suck your soul into it.” Similar statements have been made by the other five researchers who had to be taken back.
Rita needed a few seconds to look away from the eyes of the bird. And ran toward her husband with the intention of taking him away from the place.
But he won’t budge. He stood there motionless but, she realized, had never cared about the birds themselves. He was too keenly observing the tribe and was doing so even now. She looked now at the tribe and with a reawakened interest looked at the bird-shaped headwears of the tribe (which they wore during their dances). When looked face to face, the head mask didn’t impress. But when one looked in profile, one could see a single eye of face wear which seemed a bit intimidating. But only a bit, not at all like the eyes of the actual bird.
Her efforts to make him move to prove useless, she ran toward her satellite phone in the tent in order to call for help. When she came back out of the tent, Robin was stripping himself and, while she ran back toward him, he himself starting running toward the tribe people. She caught with him only to be shoved aside indifferently. He started dancing madly like them – and was able to sync his steps with them. The tribe too seemed to have adopted him naturally and were soon involved him in their moves as if he always had been one of them. This ironically was what put his wife off guard and calm her down. Like she said, “He seemed to have found his color. He never even danced before. He was laughing too. I think that is the first time I saw him truly live as we are meant to live.”
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