Born in the year 1907, Norah Burke was born during the time of the British Raj in India. Although she was given birth to in Bedfordshire, England, she was brought to India when she was only an infant. She was the daughter of an officer who worked for the Imperial Forest Services. Much of her childhood was spent roaming in the jungles of India. However exciting a life like that could be for a little girl, her basic education was hampered due to this. Hence, Burketaught herself to read more books and she even wrote and edited a children’s magazine, titled The Monthly Dorrit, when she was still young. The author wrote extensively about her family’s adventure trips in the jungles of India and a collection of her stories was published in the year 1960.
The profound novelist and author, Norah Burke wrote the short story, The Blue Bead in the year 1953. It gained a lot of popularity for its brilliant portrayal of what life is like in the absolute remote areas of India where bravery, even among children is a necessary aspect for survival in everyday life.
The Blue Bead Summary: Plot & Setting
The author sets the tone of the story from the very start with a detailed description of a river in the deep jungle where deadly crocodiles hunt for prey. The villagers and people living around this clearing in the wild are exposed to constant danger from the attacking animals. The focus of the plot then shifts to the central character of the story who is a little girl called Sibia. The author describes the twelve-year old child as wilful and ambitious. She was too poor to buy any of the shiny gems and jewellery that other girls wore so she was always attracted towards those objects and wanted to own something like that one day.
The setting of the short story is in the beautiful and scenic foothills of the Himalayas. In this landscape, the fierceness of Nature is hidden by its breath taking charm. The harshness of the terrain reflects in the hard life of the people who live there. The inhabitants of the place are completely accustomed to various kinds of life-threatening situations and the author skilfully explores this side of life in this story.
The Blue Bead Summary
It all begins with Sibia’s yearning for the sparkling beads, beautifully designed Kashmiri clothes and shiny metal trays available in the local village market. The little poor girl had no access to such fancy items as her family always struggled to earn their basic bread and butter. Many of the women from the village collected the glass beads from the jungles and strung them together to make different pieces of jewellery. They would also use their needles to sew them onto their clothes and scarves to make it more attractive. However, Sibia couldn’t even sew or stitch her own glass beads because the only needle her family owned was broken. So she had to wait patiently till they could spare some money to buy a new one.
Sibia and her mother would work with the other village women. On one such day, when they were away collecting paper grass from the jungle, to sell in the Bazaar, Sibia noticed that all of them were wearing bright colourful neckpieces made from the shiny beads, and this made her sad as she realised that she didn’t have even one of those jewelleries. The little fanciful girl kept dreaming about these things and she silently made a pledge to herself that one day she would own these brilliant sparkling jewels to wear around her trim brown body.
After collecting the required materials from the banks of the stream, the women trudged back along the path in the wilderness; this is when they came across the river where the crocodiles rested. Every time they crossed this river or came near it to collect the paper grass, the women would scream and shout to make enough noises to scare away the crocodiles and this trick would generally work. Only Sibia doesn’t follow the women back like she usually did and stayed behind to check whether her clay cups had dried or not. She had laid out a few cups and saucers, shaped out of clay to dry before she could use them, inside a small cave where they could be safe from wind and water.
To peek inside the cave she meanders around the stream, skipping over stones in the water and then she notices a woman from the village who has come to collect water in her clay pot. As the lady bends over to store the flowing water she gets attacked by a sly crocodile that was lurking around waiting for a prey. The animal plunged its rough sharp teeth into the woman’s skin to get a hold of her leg and tried to drag her down into the water. She flails around and attempts to save herself from drowning by holding on to a rock but the wild beast was too strong and savage. Sibia had a hayfork which she was clutched in her right fist and she threw this weapon at the crocodile. The sharp edge of the hayfork hit the crocodile smack in the eye and due to the pain it had to let the woman go.
As the crocodile slunk away into the depths of the river, Sibia rushed to help the injured woman. She pulled her out of the water to lay her down on the banks. The young girl was well used to such dire situations and she knew exactly how to abate the bleeding. Sibia covered the wounded area with sand and then bandaged it with a thin rag. This woman belonged to the Gujjar community, so she helped her walk towards their camp in the jungle which was located nearby. When the men saw Sibia bringing along an injured lady, they rushed out to help her and thanked her for saving the woman’s life. The people residing in the camp then carried the injured person to the nearest hospital for treatment.
After this incident, the brave little girl dauntingly goes back to the edge of the river to collect her sickle and hayfork and also the freshly picked paper grass. As she stooped down to gather her things she saw that her fork was lying next to a rock. Sibia went towards it pick it up and as she did so, he eyes fell on a gleaming blue bead. She rushed to fish it out of the water and when she held it in her hand, her heart was full of glee. Her happiness doubled when she found that the bead was already pierced and could be tied to a string. There was no need even for a needle and the little joyful girl ran back towards her home with great excitement.
Her mother found her on her way back and she gave her a good scolding for lagging behind in the river and for not coming back with them. The loving mother was actually worried about her daughter and was looking for her everywhere. She asked Sibia if she got into any trouble or in any harm had befallen her. The courageous and carefree girl put all her mother’s concerns to rest by narrating the actual events that had happened and the author completes her on that note.