Postcard: The Mara

Postcard: "The Mara," by Eliot Weinberger



The Mara, in northeast India, say that ordinary mortals, when they die, go to Athiki, the village of the dead. There it is night when it is day here, and day when it is night. Fish are bamboo leaves there, and bears are hairy caterpillars. The spirit lives for a long time in Athiki, but ultimately dies there and comes back to earth. The spirit of a powerful person turns into a bit of heat mist that rises into the sky. The spirit of a poor person becomes a worm and is eaten by a chicken.

They say that when people dream, their souls wander off at the end of a long invisible string. When they have a bad dream, they tell everyone about it. When they have a good dream, they keep it to themselves.

They say that there is a giant ficus tree growing on the moon, and the marks on the moon’s face that we see are its branches. Living in the tree is a headless monkey.

The greatest hunters go forever to paradise, called Peira. It is close to the one God and occupied by few, for one must have killed a man in battle, an elephant, a tiger, a bear, a small tree bear, a serow, a gural, a mithun, a rhinoceros, a sambhur, a barking deer, a wild boar, a crocodile, a hamadryad, an eagle, one of each of the kinds of hornbill, and a king crow. Government troops now keep the peace, and many of the animals are no longer there, so it is unlikely that any Mara will ever go to paradise again.

 Eliot Weinberger's most recent books are An Elemental Thing (2007) and Oranges & Peanuts for Sale (2009), both published by New Directions.