The Ficus and Falling in Love

Story by Nandini Velho & Ram Sangchoju

Lalee and Chintsey lived in Ladha village, nestled in the Himalayas of Arunachal Pradesh. They resided on opposite sides of the Pachu river, each in houses that were nearly identical. The only noticeable difference was the roofing material; one had tin sheets, while the other had thatch made from the hairy strands of the sago palm.

Despite this difference, their homes shared many similarities. Both were wooden structures raised on stilts, with pigs grunting below. The raised bamboo platforms, known as chaang ghars, provided shelter for their large mithuns (a semi-domesticated wild cattle) and their calves during certain times of the year, such as the monsoons and cold winters. Chintsey was relieved that he no longer had to venture into the forest to search for the mithuns, now that they lived beneath his house. The distinct ‘Moh’ sound of the mithuns, echoing through the bamboo platform of his house in the evenings, served as a reminder for him to descend and feed them salt.

While Chintsey tended to his mithuns, Lalee made numerous trips to the Pachu river to fetch water for her home. However, she often found herself captivated by the river’s beauty, marveling at the fish and their intricate feeding trails. With their companionship, Lalee could momentarily forget the chilling temperature of the river as she filled her bamboo culms with water.

Despite living on opposite sides of the river, Lalee and Chintsey encountered each other daily but could not be together. They would observe the fish feeding trails on moss-laden rocks, each from their respective sides of the river. They dreamt of an adventure to explore the river upstream. Finally, one such occasion arose during the waning days of winter, and they embarked on their exploration, carrying provisions of boiled rice wrapped in leaves, salt, and chilies.

As they journeyed alongside the river, Lalee marveled at the sight of large red crabs, previously unseen near her home. Eventually, their exploration led them to a vast melting lake, where they were united on its shores. In that moment, hunger and worries were forgotten as Chintsey reached out his hand, and Lalee took a step forward, finally able to grasp each other’s hands.

Legend has it that if one ventures to Ladha village and reaches the source of the Pachu river, they may encounter the intertwined forms of Chintsey and Lalee, now transformed into a magnificent Ficus tree. That also might explain why a Ficus or Banyan tree has a complex branching structure and sometimes resembles two people hugging each other.

This story that we wrote is an adaptation of a Miji folk story shared with us by Ram’s father, a forest protector in Pakke Tiger Reserve, and a native of Ladha village. This is a folk story centered on a Ficus tree and two individuals ultimately falling in love. Yet, it also serves as a dedication to Ram, who returned home from physiotherapy rehab in April 2024.