As I sat there staring at the mountains glistening like gold under the morning light I recalled my last moments with my father, a drunken man making faces behind the back of his complaining wife and his seven-year-old daughter laughing at the scene from a crack in the door. I observed the valley below and started contemplating what this loss would bring for us, juggling memories in my mind to maybe select one that would counter the fear of losing him to oblivion.
The memories of the night came flooding back in waves, the still body cold and pale as the snow that covered the hilltops in January and our remaining family of five encircling the mortal remain with hands clutched tight hoping for a miracle. No one moved until the piercing cry of my three-month-old brother beckoned attention. A few neighbours came rushing in as soon as the word got out and started to adjust to the scene in front of them, a lone mother, three girls holding each other tight and a sleeping baby boy in a bamboo bassinet, yet no one in the entire house had any idea of what had caused this tragedy. What was even more confusing was what happened in the next few hours. The corpse turned from a pale hue to almost yellow and the dry lips parted to show what was the most horrifying of sights. Appa’s teeth were now all black except at the gums where they imparted a rather ink blue and seemed to be forming cracks, breaking apart.
The screeching sound of a rusty vehicle announced the arrival of the witch doctor whose presence had been most awaited as no one within a kilometre radius could conclude what it was that killed my father. Breaking away from my trance I looked up to the sky and blinked back tears that were threatening to come back like a storm.
The now crowded room sat silent as the shaman started examining Appa’s still body, every inch of it like it was a piece of precious art whose secret he wished to devour. The shaman spent hours next to the body sprinkling water and grains of rice every now and then. He slowly opened his eyes and checked for marks around the corpse’s neck that now had sunk in and blue. He observed the dead hands and looked closely at the fingernails; he slowly looked up and asked my elder sister to bring him the cup that belonged to Appa. A simple bronze glass which had been in my family for generations, a few marks on the exterior gave away the fact that it had been used for more years than one could recall. The man observed the half-filled glass, carefully slipped a piece of gold in the water and observed it as it hit bottom. Befuddled look on the faces in the room, pin drop silence, no one moved until the priest in a voice almost as inaudible as the breeze, breathed the word kapat.
Our very own alleged form of local poison, kapat is a practice believed to be followed in many parts of Sikkim. The origin of kapat is veiled in an aura of mystery and is said to be practiced by the followers of a dark goddess who demands human sacrifice as an offering. Legend has it that a high monk, a preacher of the dark gods was the first to practice kapat and its fabrication and use has since been followed in secrecy. Some stories say it is in the form of an insect or a sort of organism that feeds on human life. Others believe that its effect on the individual has its links tied to ancient sorcery and mythology. The preachers of this goddess believe that by sacrificing humans to the goddess they will acquire all the wealth the oblation had acquired in their lifetime.
The concept of kapat is pretty simple to understand since it has only been passed as oral folklore and not in actual been researched. Its effects on the consumer are known to depend on its dosage and type. It can only be served with cold beverages and is of extensive practice in restaurants and bars. This can be vouched for by anyone who travels to the parts of Sikkim at higher altitudes. The owner of the eatery adds kapat to a single serving of beverage at random. This way they believe that it is left up to the gods to decide which life they want as an offering. Depending upon the degree of poisoning kapat is believed to be of two types: the first one which causes extensive harm and causes immediate death of the individual; the second one that prolongs the suffering of the consumer, which again is believed to increase the gain of wealth and luck of the administrator. The time span required by the poison to kill depends on the dosage of the poison and lies within five minutes to six months.
Poison is often regarded as the weapon of women. Hence as a way of keeping the tradition of kapat alive, followers of the practice are often rumoured to present it to their daughters on their wedding day as an assurance of wealth and luck, but as killing by poison in any form falls a little in the moral grey area, the use of kapat comes with a price. The practice requires a certain number of sacrifices to be made within a given period of time. On failing to do so (following patriarchy among other things) the life of the eldest male member of the family is taken as compensation. As a result, most of the families who harbour kapat do not have a male head of the family.
A well protected and old tradition, any talk about kapat is a hush-hush affair. The practice has not been popularised chiefly because there is no hard proof that holds strong. No evidence firm enough for it to be condemned. And also because the ones in the knowledge of it are either scared to investigate or callously pass it along only as a myth. Now, of course, it’s not a bald wizard with a flat nose and most of us don’t have a scar on the forehead (which would have been cool by the way), but just in case, a word of caution to everyone. Be careful with your cold food. Or better, get a gold tooth stuck like women in earlier times and watch while it turns black with the magic that is kapat.
Disclaimer:- All views on this article are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity whatsoever of which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated.
Special thanks to Pragya Paromita for her wondrous contribution in this article.