Once there lived a young cowherd, in the rolling lush green hills of the Khasis. As in olden days, and even in today’s village life, every member of a family are allotted certain duties to perform on a daily basis2.
U Bahep (a nickname given to the cowherd by his family and known to everyone in the village) was a very lazy young man. Every day by sunrise, there would be hustle and bustle in the village, as most of the people would be up and about doing their daily chores.
All, except for Bahep; who even after being roused several times by the shrill voices of his mother and sisters; though awake, would still laze in bed. He was always the last person to get out of bed, and also the last one to start his daily chores and this was known to everyone in the village.
It would almost be noon, by the time he took his cattle out to graze in the open pastures. Upon reaching, he would let his cattle loose and climb onto a nearby tree branch to have a bird’s eye view of his cattle grazing.
On more than one occasion, he would have to climb down the tree, to look for a cow that had strayed, and he knew he would be held accountable for any missing cow, which bothered him, as he intended to relax and nap on a tree branch without any disturbance.
He pondered over the same, and came up with a solution that if one did not see a thing happen, then one cannot be held responsible for such incidents. Therefore, to maintain a clear conscience, he devised a way to remove his eyeballs from his eye sockets, which he then wrapped in a leaf, and tied with a length of vine and hung them on a nearby branch. This became a daily habit of his, and at dusk, satisfied with his nap would reach for his eyeballs and put them back in his eye sockets. He would then round up his cattle, and drive them back to their shed. One many occasions, when one or more of the cattle would be missing, and he would be scolded by his father, Bahep would delegate the task of looking for the lost cow(s) to his younger brothers and cousins by bullying and threatening them.
One afternoon, ‘U Khlieng’ a kite, perched upon the tree Bahep was napping on, looking for insects to feed on, and spotted the eyeballs in the leaf hanging by the vines on one of the branches. Thinking it was some sort insect; the kite picked them up and flew away. When the dusk set in, U Bahep started to grope in the dark for the vines in which he had strung his eyeballs in, but alas!! it was all in vain. Bahep, frantic, fell off the tree on the ground below, and desperately kept on groping around in the hope of finding his missing eyeballs.
Days, nights, weeks and months passed, and his search continued amongst the pastures and the trees he used to frequent. In this search he strayed and was lost in the middle of nowhere. As time passed, he shrunk in size little by little, as he had little or no food to sustain him, and this took a heavy toll on his entire being, which to adapt, evolved and metamorphosised into a leech without eyes and only a mouth, which he used, to attach himself to the cows to feed on their blood when they grazed in the pastures.
Moral of the story: Don’t be lazy! The cowherd was a strong, healthy and able bodied young man, but due to his laziness he shunned all his responsibilities and was completely careless. His irresponsible and irrational behavior reduced his whole being from a full-fledged human who once herded cows out to graze on the green pastures, to being a leech, which clings to the grasses and latches onto the same cows to feed himself. According to Khasi Folklore this is how a leech, one of Nature’s Creations, came into being.