The Myth of Panvala

Niran Babalola, June 26, 2019

In the beginning, there was a village on a river. Every aspect of life in the village depended on the river’s flow of water—but in the local language, they called water “pan.” They used pan to grow their crops, and to cook them into meals that were tasty to eat. They used pan to quench their thirst, especially while they played on hot days. They even played with pan itself: they splashed it, poured it, and threw it on each other when they least expected it.

Pan flowed down to the village from the top of a mountain. The mountain was tall: so tall that it was frozen at the top. As the ice melted, it became the start of the river. The river grew and grew as it flowed down the mountain. Downstream, sunlight picked up the pan and brought it back to the mountain. Clouds dropped snow at the top of the mountain, where one day it would melt and flow into the river again.

One day, the weather changed for good. The clouds stopped coming back. Without the clouds, there was no snow at the top of the mountain. Without the snow on the mountain, there was less and less to melt for pan to flow into the river. As the river shrank, so did life in the village. Crops were harder to grow, and there was less tasty food to eat. There was less pan to drink, so on hot days, they had to stay inside. They couldn’t even play very much without pan: since they couldn’t splash it, pour it, or throw it on each other as often as they could before, there were fewer surprises to bring them joy.

The leader of the village was determined to solve this problem. He headed to the top of the mountain day after day to try to figure out what was wrong, but each night he headed back to the village with nothing to show for it except more frustration on his face. The villagers began to feel sorry for him. One day, a group of villagers decided to surprise him on the mountain to cheer him up. It was a hot day, so they brought lots of pan with them for the climb up the mountain.

When they got to the top, the leader of the village didn’t hear them coming. A villager quietly snuck up behind him. Once he got close enough, he poured pan all over his head. Everyone began to laugh as they threw more and more pan at the leader. The pan flowed down his face, soaked his clothes, and dripped to the frozen ground at the top of the mountain. As the pan they poured hit the ground, it began to freeze, too.

That’s when they realized how they could solve their problem. They could be the light. They could bring pan back to the mountain where it would freeze and eventually melt into the river below. If they could bring pan up the mountain as fast as it flowed down, the river would never dry up.

From that day forward, each villager did their part to keep the river flowing. After they grew crops, quenched their thirst, or even just played with pan, they’d collect as much pan as they could and take it back up the mountain, just like the clouds the sunlight used to make. Most people carried as much pan as they could fit in a backpack. The strongest villagers pulled carts loaded with pan to the top of the mountain. But everyone did as much as they could. They knew that if each villager kept going on their panvala—their water journey—joy would never leave the village ever again.