RAVENS FULL MOON : DEEPAK BUDKI (TRANSLATED BY JAWAHAR LAL BHAT)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ravens Full Moon

By Deepak Budki

Translated from Urdu by Jawahar Lal Bhat

 

Kailash Pandit was feeling deeply anguished as a result of recalling an event of his childhood he was eager to relate to his grandson. It is usual with an old man that he desires somebody sits by his side, regards him as an active member of the family and listens to him attentively. Continuous isolation from nears and dears in this age is most sickening to the old. It may turn to be a cause of some ailments of head and heart in them and may also drown them into the abyss of depression.

He called his grandson Sunny.

The repository of experience in him was overflowing with eagerness to bring forth tales of joy and sorrow. More than a hundred tales of human barbarity, moral degradation, and human ruination were stilled in his psyche and hence ready to burst out.

Sunny came running and like a very obedient child sat cross legged before him ready to listen!

Kailash Pandit mentally traveled back into his past trying to dig his roots and recollect his distant childhood. Soon he was lost in the cool romantic ambience of the land of his birth which he had left regrettably about twenty five years ago. Now after a while his oral communication seemed to restore and he commenced the story of his life.

Those were wintry days. I had crossed the fifteenth year of my life. One day I woke up in the morning to find a strange hustle and bustle in our house. Preparations were on for observing a fast on that day. I asked my father if it was any festival on that day. He replied, “Yes son, it is ‘Kaav Punim’, the ‘Raven’s Full Moon’, today.”

I replied in astonishment, “‘Raven’s Full Moon’! What does it signify?”

“It is really interesting. Every year during this period thousands of migratory ravens come to Kashmir valley after flying thousands of miles from Siberia and other polar regions of the north. In order to welcome them we, the Pandits of Kashmir, celebrate ‘Kaav-e-Punim’ or what you may call ‘Raven’s Full Moon’. If you just look out, you can see these jet black birds everywhere in large numbers —- on trees, walls, house tops, almost every where. ”

My curiosity was stirred enormously by father’s revelation. Crows are ordinarily seen in Kashmir in all seasons including winter but their color is grayish black with a white ring around their neck but these ravens are different. They are bigger in size and black as charcoal from beak to tail. The voice of local crows is slightly heavier and hoarser than the ravens. During hot season these migratory ravens make their habitats near and around North Pole but in winters they fly out because of extreme cold and lack of food. They move out in large flocks to temperate areas far away from polar region.

After hearing about this interesting festival of Kashmir Pandits I could understand how the demands of belly compel not only human beings but birds as well to migrate from places of scarcity to places of abundance. These birds fly thousands of miles over hills and deserts, oceans and forests seeking better conditions for their sustenance.

Probably we would not have given heed to them if our ancestors had not seen these black birds flying into our land from distant lands at this particular time of the year. Otherwise crows are crows, whether they are faint black with white rings around their necks or jet black. But our ancestors have succeeded long ago in getting information about these migratory birds that for a few grains of food are forced to travel year after year huge distances on their wings. They probably kept waiting for them eagerly generation after generation till they decided to dedicate this day to these migratory angels. So it is the day that’s celebrated in the joy of the arrival of these ravens in the beautiful valley of Kashmir.  It is just like various other days that are celebrated now globally—-Valentine Day, Father’s Day, Mother’s day, Teacher’s Day and so on!

In spite of severe cold my mother had got up early in the morning and busied herself in cleaning the house thoroughly. All pots and pans in the kitchen were cleaned once more. Looking at my parents, I too decided to observe fast for the first time in my life on this day and as a result my mother was seriously worried about me throughout the day. She fed me frequently with various types of fruit and fresh fried fritters made of waterchestnut floor permitted during such fasts.

Later in the afternoon just before lunch, father ceremoniously spread out food for the ravens with the expectation they will relish it. Two sticks, one long and the other short were placed upon each other at right angles in such a way so as to form a cross-like object and they were tied together with long stalks obtained from straw bundles leftover from paddy which are available in abundance in Kashmir. The straw was woven around the junction of two sticks in such a manner so as to make a platter for placing boiled rice and cooked vegetables over it. After placing cooked food on the platter the long stick was fixed to one of the beams of the roof in such a way that it was visible to the birds hovering in the sky. Then my father, in order to call them out, began singing a song in Kashmiri with the purpose of inviting these migratory ravens to have their favourite dish spread out for them on the cross which now looked like a gnat plane.

“Oh you crow, the Brahmin crow,

Crow that enjoys the medley,

Both of you, the male and the female,

Take a bath in sacred Gangabal Lake,

Put a Tilak of brown clay on thy forehead,

And come to the house, newly built by us,

To partake rice and vegetables cooked in oil”

 

All of us stood watching the father. We also joined him in singing the song aloud. Instantly dozens of black ravens appeared from no where and flew over the platter on which was placed the cooked rice. They hovered over it, sometimes darted straight on it and fought among each other many a time.  Each of them wanted to replace the other in order to consume the food. It was really a treat to watch them and every one of us cherished it.

Time marched on and winter was about to come to an end. In the middle of March, when Shiv-Ratri, the cherished festival of Kashmiri Pandits, was round the corner, the cold was almost over and the spring was beginning to set in the valley of Kashmir. Daffodils and Narcissi had bloomed everywhere. Even willow inflorescences could be seen. But no ravens were seen anywhere. They had returned to their icy abodes covering thousands of miles yet again. I often thought with myself, “The nature has played very cruel on them. They have to travel such long distances every year in search of food and survival. Why do they not stay at a place like other crows? Has migration become their destiny?”

When Kailash Pandit finished his story, the grandson asked him a question, “Dada, why don’t human beings also change their residence like these ravens to escape extremes of heat or cold?”

“Human beings are homeothermic. Warm-blooded animals usually maintain their body temperatures slightly above the environment, so they need not shift places with the change of seasons. However due to lack of fur they take help of other things like warm clothing or heating appliances.”

“Then why do politicians, bureaucrats and the rich shift to Jammu in winters and return to Kashmir in summers?” The grandson poked the question.

“These are aristocratic idiosyncrasies . The British and the Indian Rulers had developed places like Kashmir, Shimla, Mussoorie, Nainital and Darjeeling for their pleasure and enjoyment in the hills. They shifted to these places to save themselves from the heat of the plains and returned to their homes in winter. The poor couldn’t afford such a luxury, so had to remain contented with a single place all the year round.”

“It means the human beings need not migrate from one place to another?” Sunder asked with an air of innocence and curiosity in his tone.

“That’s not the case, my son. He too is compelled to change places for filling his stomach, earning his livelihood, safety of self and family, fear of belonging to a particular race, religion or caste and many more such things. It is in his blood. Thousands of people shift residences to cities and metros from villages to earn a living. Large numbers of poor farmers are seasonal migrants. They go to cities to work and return to their farms only during the seasons of sowing and harvesting. Natural calamities like floods, earthquake, draught and wars also compel people to move out from their places of residence temporarily or permanently. Many a time they settle down at their new places and do not return. Armed conflicts, intrigues, desire to take control of enemy territories, religious extremism and greed for natural resources also become cause for displacement of people from one place to another. At times some people engage themselves in criminal activities never thought of before and those who get effected run away to safety.”

“My dear, twenty five years ago, we too had to leave our home and hearth in Kashmir because some religious fanatics created an atmosphere of hatred and insecurity for us. Many members of our community were killed in cold blood. Since we were a miniscule minority and unable to face brunt of the onslaught so we had no choice but to seek refuge outside the valley in safer areas. In a matter of days almost the total population of Kashmiri Pandits comprising some three to four lakh souls, who were dispersed in the valley, ran away and settled in plains wherever they could find shelter to lay their heads down. It was totally a new world for us. No cold winters here, no snow clad mountains, no mighty chinars and no flocks of ravens to feed on the ‘Raven’s Full Moon’. But we kept our traditions alive. Like other festivals we continued with this festival here too by spreading out cooked rice topped with vegetables in quarter plates on the roofs of our houses.”

In a moment Kailaash Pandit plunged deeply into the reminiscences of his past and continued immersed in a fit of emotion for long but soon continued to deliver his speech.

“I believe firmly that even now those ravens may be coming flying to the Valley during winters with hope and expectation. They may be perching on the roofs of our abandoned houses looking for their hosts. I feel they might be hopping from house to house in search of those traditionally prepared crosses with platters embellished with cooked rice and vegetables on housetops. Who would tell them that we too keep waiting and looking for them on this ‘Raven’s Full Moon’ day, not there but here far away from the valley in our new dwellings? Who knows if those little birds still visit the valley with the same anticipation and enthusiasm or not?

Kailash Pandit, overwhelmed with emotion, filled his eyes with tears of desperation and Sunny, his grandson, looking at him, slowly slipped out of the room knowing well that his grandfather didn’t like anybody’s presence at such occasions and it was always preferable to leave him alone.

For the last few years Kailash Pandit and his family regularly visited Kashmir for a couple of weeks during summers to have respite from scorching heat of Delhi exactly like those ravens who in order to escape the chilling cold of North pole visited Kashmir. While in Srinagar, the local people at airport, Tourist Reception Centre, Dal Lake, different Hotels and other tourist spots received them warmly and showered their affection and love without any hesitation. Sometimes they came across some elderly people who reminisced their past when Kailash Pandit was a part and parcel of their cultural heritage. On both sides, eyes welled up with emotions and tears and said a lot in the language of silence about the days of peace that prevailed in Kashmir before the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits.

Last year, Kailash Pandit, surprisingly, insisted on visiting his ancestral house where he had spent major part of his life before moving out of Kashmir. Perhaps the thought that his days were numbered now teased him and he wanted to have a look at his ancestral house where he was born and had spent almost his whole life before his final journey. It was here he had heard lullabies of his mother in childhood, played gilli-danda and cricket with his friends in youth and cycled the distance from home to office and vice versa after marriage but destiny played its part and he was forced to live his last days in exile far away from his land of birth.

On reaching there he found his house had changed its look altogether though structurally it remained the same. For him the time had freezed the moment he had left his house in early nineties. Possibly he did not remember that time does not wait for anyone and such was the case with his old dwelling too. Twenty five years ago he had left with the hope of an early return to his home but the conditions showed no improvement thereafter. Time passed by, days turned into months and months into years and he lost the count. The house passed into the hands of his neighbour who had made some additions and alterations to suit his requirement.

The new owner welcomed him and his family. After sitting for a while and exchanging pleasantries he got up and examined each and every corner of the house that had buried in it the fond memories of his childhood and youth. The time machine once again seemed to travel back for him and his recollections came alive for a while.

“It was here in this room I studied during school and college days. Sometimes I used to look out from the window and sing my favorite film songs. Instantly, across the lane in the window opposite that of mine, Roopa would show her serene face and respond with a smile. God knows where she may be now! Our kitchen was exactly under this room. The sound of striking of pots and pans came alive early in the morning and soon there used to be a call for morning tea–the salt tea with rice floor bread. Our parent’s room was exactly above that room on the other side. The winter days would pass celebrating festivals one after the other. In the month of Magha by the Hindu calendar, we used to celebrate ‘Raven’s Full Moon’ by welcoming the migratory ravens and used to feed them boiled rice and cooked vegetables. We observed fast for them and called them by singing a song after keeping food under the thatched roof.”

Suddenly Kailash Pandit woke up from his day dream and desired to see that part of the roof where his father used to fix the cross made out of two sticks bound together with straw which took shape of a platter but soon Kailash Pandit realized his mistake and began to laugh on his foolery.

The owner thought that Kailash Pandit was looking for something precious which he now wanted to find. So after a while the owner asked him what was he searching for? Kailash Pandit replied immediately, “I’m searching for my childhood. I lost it  here in these four walls. But I am aware that I can’t find it now.” He had a good feigned laugh after saying these words and his eyes continued to be reeking.

After a while he tried to get up from his seat but could not until his grandson held his hand and helped him to stand and walk up to the car which was parked outside the house.

 

GOD THAT POPPED OUT OF EARTH : DEEPAK BUDKI (TRANSLATED FROM URDU BY JAWAHAR LAL BHAT)

God that Popped out of Earth

By Deepak Budki

Translated from Urdu by Jawahar Lal Bhat

 

After return from morning walk he sat in a cane chair in his garden waiting for the morning tea. Suddenly he caught sight of an object resembling a Shiv-Linga lying under a peepal tree nearby. He was alarmed by this sudden discovery and called out his wife enthusiastically, “Shoba, Shoba, come here, see what’s there under this tree!”

He could not meanwhile make out whence this brass image of God had come from!

Soon an elderly woman, who had almost all her hair turned grey, appeared before him and asked, “What’s it? Why are you shouting? Have you spotted a snake or is it something else?”

“Come on dear, had it been a snake, I’d never have called you. Look what’s there under that tree?”

She curiously approached the tree and gingerly picked up the Shiv-Linga in her hand and began to examine it closely. “Oh Lord, it is truly a brass Shiv-Linga. We are blessed! But it is mysterious, where from did it come there!!”

“Who knows? Someone has thrown it there!”

“What rubbish are you talking? Who would dare to commit such a sin? I suppose, in order to harm us, our daughter in law may have carried out some black magic.”

“Hey, don’t speculate too much? Icons and images of Gods are not used for Black magic. They use bones and skulls of the dead.”

“Then I it has surely sprung up from under the earth but there are no signs of a fissure or cleft anywhere around.”

“It is certainly a mystery, who knows how it has appeared here? Only Almighty God above is the knower of the truth!”

Shoba, with great devotion and love cleaned it of the soil it had contacted with on the ground with the end of her saree and then washed it thoroughly in clean water. She picked some flowers from the garden and had then a formal puja of the Shiv-Linga along with the recitation of some sacred Mantras but the mystery where from it had emerged in their garden remained alive in their minds.

In the meantime the clock struck nine. Revti Lal Aggarwal had a quick bath, changed his clothes, lifted his walking stick and entered the drawing-room.

“Get me my breakfast quick. I’ve to attend the court. It is the hearing of our case today!”Revti Lal addressed his wife,“God knows how many bad deeds of my previous birth still haunt me! I continue to pay the price in this life. I regret the day when Sunder was married. From the very first day our daughter-in-law stepped into this house trouble started. She had in fact come with a plan to snatch our son from us and live separately but she couldn’t succeed. Left with no choice she approached the court with various false allegations against us such as harassment, demand of dowry and domestic violence besides seeking divorce, alimony and maintenance allowance.

“That was the will of God! We had made enough inquiries about the girl at our level and her family before marriage. Unfortunately it spoiled the life of our son, Sunder, who has become a patient of depression and Gastric trouble. Now, at this ripe age of past seventy it is very difficult for me to attend the never ending court proceedings.”

“Leave it dear. No use repeating it over and over again. Be careful on that busy road leading to the court, it is always full of traffic. I pray Lord Shiva for a speedy dismissal of the case in our favor. God always stands with the truth. It is said, “God sees the truth but waits.”

Revti Lal picked up his walking stick and left the house with slow but measured steps.

For whole day Shoba remained fully immersed in the enigma of the appearance of mysterious Shiv-Linga in the garden. Gradually she felt convinced that it must have emerged from the Earth and ground must have leveled later on. She exclaimed with a sigh, “Strange are the ways of God!”

In the afternoon at about 2 PM Revti Lal returned home. His seemed miserable with thirst and hunger, nevertheless, he seemed beaming with joy. No sooner did he enter the house than he called Shoba and delivered her the tidings.

“Shoba, I have a great news for you. Today the court delivered judgment in our favour  and in addition imposed a penalty of twenty thousand rupees on the petitioner for undue harassment and putting us to trouble for no fault of ours. Moreover, if the Petitioner does not deposit the money in the court within two months he is liable to be put behind bars for two months.”

“O God, Your bounties are boundless! I bow before Your illustriousness!” Shoba almost cried, “Didn’t I tell you that something good is certainly going to happen today? The God has Himself appeared in our garden, that too early in the morning, it’s a miracle performed by Him. Let us wish for much more to come!”

“I also feel like that. To tell you the truth I had lost all hope in this case and was really fed up. Didn’t know a way out. Now God has in fact appeared in our home to save us from this trouble.”

“Now listen, we need to acknowledge His blessings and do our duty in return. We must arrange for the formal installation of the image of God at the same place where it had popped up. I suggest we construct a small private temple there. I believe it is the wish of God and we must fulfill it.”

“You are absolutely right! I’ll call a mason tomorrow and order for construction of a small temple. It has actually been a long time requirement in our house. We don’t have any particular place for offering prayers to the Lord in the house.

Next day they looked for an auspicious date in the almanac. An order for construction of a small temple under the peepal tree was also given. It dawned upon Revti Lal that the Shiv-Linga found at the place was too small compared to the size of the proposed temple. So he decided to purchase a large marble image of Lord Shiva from the market and install it along with the little Shiv-Linga. Soon a beautiful white image of God was purchased and kept ready for installation.

The auspicious time for formal installation was fixed at 3 PM on coming Sunday. Meanwhile the temple was also made ready. A couple of Pundits were arranged for formal installation, Homa and recitation of sacred Mantras. Invitations were also sent to near relatives and neighbours to participate in the celebrations and have Prasad on the occasion.

Shoba decided to invite close neighbours in person because she thought it proper to inform them about sudden appearance of the Lord in their house and the subsequent developments in the court case.

Early Sunday morning, Shoba called in at our house to invite us. I was having my breakfast. She came in and addressed my wife, “Daughter dear, it is a matter of great delight that God Himself has appeared in our house in the form of a Shiv-Linga. We’ve planned formal installation of this sacred image of God today at 3 PM in a newly built temple in our garden. Both of you are invited to participate. The function will start with recitation of Mantras and Havana at 1 PM accompanied by Bhajan and Keertan. At the end Prasad will be distributed in the form of a simple meal.

Archana, my wife, was greatly excited to hear this great news and felt like rushing instantly to see the God that had appeared so miraculously in her neighborhood.

“OK, auntie, I’ll come surely but I doubt he won’t be able to come. He has a party in his office. She had to purposely fabricate my party because she knew I didn’t believe in such things and would naturally not attend.”

The program was to start at 1 PM. Archana readied my lunch beforehand at noon, dressed herself in the best of her clothes and went to her neighbor’s house. I laughed from inside for her superstitious actions and as usual took my meals in the dining room at 1.30 PM. Thereafter I went to take rest in my bed room.

Archana returned at about 5 PM. She was very much charged up. It looked she would bash any person whosoever faced her at that moment . As I perceived her agitated temper I thought it better not to confront her. She however didn’t remain calm and almost shouted at me, “Go and see the result of your insane actions!”

“I do not get your intent, what do you want to say?”

“That the Shiv-Linga you had thrown out of the window in your frenzy had fallen near a tree in the garden of Aggarwal’s. They thought it had emerged out of the ground.”

I wanted to deliver a heartfelt laugh at this strange occurrence but Archana was fuming with such an intense anger that I preferred to be calm.

A few days before, I had lost my temper badly on observing Archana’s superstitious attitude. In fact my disbelief in unreasonable religious matters is no less than the extent of her irrational belief in religious superstitions. Her frequent directives regarding her obnoxious beliefs are very irksome to me.

“Today is your birthday, wear the sacred thread and put on vermilion on your forehead. ”

“It is Shiv-Ratri, your presence in night long Puja is essential.”

“I had prayed for your promotion. Now God has fulfilled my wish, we must perform a Havan on the sacred day of Ashtami.”

I don’t know how I could bear with her all these fifteen years of marriage in spite of her mind boggling irrational beliefs. She had been overpowering my thoughts and beliefs to the extent now that living life of my own was becoming impossible for me. My daily routine was so much influenced by her superstitious attitude that making a compromise seemed very hard for me. Her new activity that troubled me most was her visiting some imposter Swamis and false soothsayers and wasting money on them.

I had been facing this trouble for a long time patiently but that day my anger crossed all limits and suddenly I caught hold of the Shiv-Linga in her kitchen almirah and threw it out of the window to a far off unknown location. She was stunned with my action and her face turned red. She didn’t expect me to take such an extreme sacrilegious step. I don’t know what she was saying but she had been vocal for some time in her anger. She was shaken suddenly and a stream of tears rolled down her eyes. She went into her room and continued sobbing for a long time till she consoled herself but the impression of her shock didn’t die away before long.

Later in the evening as we seated at the dining table for dinner, she couldn’t control herself and said, “Do you know what the result of your foolish action was?”

“What was the result? Let me also know!” I replied feigning keenness and deep astonishment.

“Perhaps you know the daughter in law of Aggarwal’s had filed a suit in the court of law falsely accusing them for harassment and dowry and it had been going on for a long time. How these poor old people suffered about it, anybody can imagine. Now on the day you threw the image of God out of the window and it fell in their garden, not only was the case decided in their favor but the litigant was fined Twenty Thousand payable to them.”

“Perhaps you know the daughter-in-law of Aggarwal’s had filed a false suit in the court of law accusing them of harassment and demand for dowry and it had been going on for a long time. How these poor old people suffered, one cannot even imagine. Remember you had thrown the Shiv-Linga out of the window a few days back! It had fallen in their garden. The same day not only was the case decided in their favor but the litigant was fined Twenty Thousand payable to them.”

“Oh, is it so. I was wondering why you were so furious when you returned from their house.”

“You try to turn everything into a funny joke. It is not even in their farthest dreams that the Shiv-Linga was thrown there by my frenzied husband. They firmly believe it has emerged out of earth through the blessing of the Lord.”

“Why didn’t you tell them the truth? They would at least know the fact. Otherwise they will always be in the false impression that God had appeared by breaking open the earth.”

“How do you say that? Their joy knows no bounds. They have purchased a large marble image of the God and installed it in the newly constructed temple along with the little Shiv-Linga. They got a Temple constructed, arranged for a Havan and a Bhoj. The God not only appeared before them but also blessed them with great benefits immediately. Sometimes one is benefited enormously by taking leave from the real world and taking refuge in the world of imagination. Do you think I was out of my mind to snatch their joys from them?”

“I think they have done wrong by confining the God at a place. It has been here in our house for about fifteen years now. It has not benefited us so far. I gave it a jerk and threw it at a little distance and it benefited them by twenty thousand and even more. They should have thrown it further away to some other location so that the people there would have benefited by thirty or forty thousand.” While uttering these words I couldn’t control my laughter.

“You should definitely consult a psychiatrist. I feel your mental capacity has completely spoiled.”

“Okay, fine! Let us go together. I feel you require the doctor’s consultation more than me.”

Nothing happened after that. None of them consulted a doctor. But both of them believed firmly that they were going on the right path.

And here the God neither performed a miracle nor was any such news received.

*****

 

 

 

DUMB CARETAKER : DEEPAK BUDKI (TRANSLATED FROM URDU BY JAWAHAR LAL BHAT)

Dumb Caretaker

 By Deepak Budki

                                      Translated from Urdu by Jawahar Lal  Bhat                                                                                   

He was caretaker of this guest house for a pretty long time since British period. Scrupulously truthful, virtuous, sincere, godly and pure-hearted, he always wore spotless clean clothes. It was for these attributes of character that Ramzan Joo was taken as a caretaker of this guest house by a kind-hearted British officer back in 1930 in spite of his disability that he was dumb — unable of speech.

Those days British had an upper hand in all matters though Maharaja ruled the state.

It had happened once when he was in school that he caught very high fever which resulted into his loss of speech though miraculously his hearing was saved. Now his worry in communicating was his greatest handicap but his sharp intellect had taught him how to express himself through sign language in which he was helped by his wife and later his son.

He took personal interest in the maintenance and cleanliness of all guest house rooms. He knew Brits especially loved neatness and so far none of them had raised even a finger on his spotless work. In commendation of his work many British officers on their departure had given him certificates of merit.

He had been the keeper of this guest house for forty years now. Mostly the guests were senior Government officials on their official tour for the supervision of their subordinate offices. They stayed here for a few days sometimes accompanied by their family and at other times alone.

The things changed drastically after independence. Democracy changed both culture and behaviour of the society.  Foot soldiers became torch bearers. Hooligans and ruffians controlled the reins of government and their men occupied chairs of power. Ramzan Joo sensed it all and felt worrisome especially for his family which comprised his wife, one grown up daughter and a son younger to her. He would occasionally express his worry to his wife in the language of his signs but she was initially unable to understand him properly. Later on, however, she deduced the truth on her own and understood what her husband was trying to convey looking at the behavior of the guests who came and stayed in the guest house.

“Zooni, things have changed altogether now from what it was in the British rule. They were very clean mannered, devout and god fearing. God save us from these ruffians and hooligans who visit here now. They lack in all dignified conduct and have no respect for good culture. They are full of lustful desires and abominable to the core. Never go in front of them in my absence nor send Farzana in any circumstances. Rashid can go, he is a boy.” Ramzan Joo could not speak but he could think well so he expressed himself through body signaling and movement of hands. Zooni could easily read everything from the tearful eyes and pallid face of her husband.

Ramzan Joo received his first shock when the Conservator of Forests, Peerzada Himayun Ashraf came in the guest house.  A party was held till late into the night in the dining hall. The subordinate officers had come with their wives who felt free in entertaining the chief guest. Those who veiled their faces at home carried glasses of lemon immersed gin or frothing beer in their hands and welcomed stealthy glances on to their half bare ivory like bodies. Every one of them wore expensive dazzling clothes, hung Pashmina shawls on their shoulders just to display affluence. With heavily made up faces, deeply painted lips, long dangling earrings, and pretty golden bangles on their arms the women moved around inviting compliments from onlookers. The hall echoed with high pitch laughter and obscene jokes. Wine and dine was made available by subordinate officers from a nearby hotel while the caretaker was asked to make other arrangements in the guest house.

At the time of getting out one of the officers called Ramzan Joo and tried to hand him two bottles of whisky as a tip for his service adding, “Ramzana, these two bottles are for you! You’ll recall for long the officers you came in contact today!! Ramzan Joo gave out a feeble smile and refused to take the bottles with the movement of his hand. He wished he were capable to speak; he would give him a good oral thrashing. He wished to tell him he had seen officers in this guest house of such refinement that people like him would not match even their shoe-shiners. The officer felt embarrassed and went away. Slowly the hall was emptied of all the guests but was left littered with such refuse and garbage that it took Ramzan Joo two days to clean up. For this additional work he was paid twenty-five rupees over and above the actual bill payment as a tip. During clean up he repeatedly remembered the words of the officer — “You’ll recall for long the officers you came in contact today!!”

After this event he faced many more such embarrassing happenings in the guest house that he wished to leave his job instantly but the pressing need of livelihood for himself and family dependent on him made him bear all the insults and humiliations patiently. If alone, he would have since kicked this job under his feet where his honor was at stake. How would he be able to support four members of his family besides himself especially with his physical handicap? His children were studying in a nearby Government School and his moving out would cause a big catastrophe for his family.

 

Many a time some officer guests came in with other women and stayed there. They associated so closely that nobody suspected anything wrong. Ramzaan Joo, the simple-minded as he was, didn’t smell anything suspicious till his wife found it out and warned him of its dangers but he was unable to do anything. He was a humble employee and unable to denounce them for their immoral activities or inform the police. One of them was a top police officer and the other a legislative member! When his wife expressed her concern he had to force himself to keep his silence. Many a time he addressed himself, “Do you imagine people of which kind visit here? They are shameless and lack even the basics of ethics and morality. The women too are a shameless lot free with all strangers. Nothing like that was seen during British rule. They never committed anything regretful. They consumed liquor but shamelessness was not in their blood. I’m fed up now on seeing it all. I want to kick this job and return to my native village but how can I sustain my big family with a little farm land and some shared property there! Now it is only God’s grace that can save us otherwise it is impossible to carry on with these wicked rascals!”

Then shook another earthquake! One day the Excise Commissioner came into the guest house with the probable excuse of an inspection tour. A man of abominable short stature, thin wiry frame and wheatish complexion, who in order to hide his inferiority complex took long steps and talked aloud. He often used words and expressions like bloody, bastard, son of a bitch to give vent to his anger or stamp his authority especially on his subordinates to keep them on tiptoes. When he reached the guest house Ramzan Joo was out to the market to fetch some veggies etc, so Farzana, his daughter, opened the gate for him. She had already reached her seventeenth year and on looking at her Afzal Karim stood awe-stricken and the devil in his heart came wide alive!  Farzana looked around and said pointing at the door of the nearby VIP suite, “Sahab Jee, this suite is reserved for you. You can get fresh, hot water is set in the geyser. In the meantime Dad will be back. He’s in the market to fetch some fresh veggies. If you need anything more you can push the call bell. She had immediately sensed his intention so without staying further she rushed back into her quarter.

Afzal Karim and his orderly went into the suite. The orderly opened his bags, began putting the requisite essentials in order. Meanwhile he took out two bottles of Whiskey and some eatables from the bag and set them on the table. In order to have some glasses the orderly rushed out to the kitchen and called out aloud besides pushing the bell. Farzana came almost running. On being told she took out four glasses, put them on a tray and handed them over to the orderly.

Afzal Karim went into the washroom, got fresh in a few minutes, changed his clothes and sat in the armchair near the table. He wanted to have some drinks to get relieved of the weariness of the journey. The orderly prepared the drink and Afzal Karim took a few sips slowly though intermixed with the thoughts of Farzana. After a few moments, unable to control his lust, he said to his orderly, “The girl is extremely pretty, a fairy, I suggest. God knows who is destined for her!”

The orderly knew his boss well. He immediately sensed his intention. So he replied hastily, “Ah, Sir, what’s her status? Won’t even get an ordinary man! Some third class fellow will marry her for sure!”

“That’s unfortunate of her! She’s in truth exclusively beautiful!”

The orderly got the clue. Karim was emptying pegs one after the other which was showing its effect. Meanwhile Ramzan Joo returned from the market and knocked feebly at the door of the suite.

“Come in!” Afzal Karim called out aloud.

Ramzan Joo came in and said in the language of gestures, “I hope the arrangements are satisfactory!” Looking at the wall clock he asked again, “When will you have dinner, Sir?” Afzal Karim was puzzled why this man was not speaking. His orderly saw through his enigma and said, “Sir, he is Ramzan Joo, the caretaker of this guest house. He is unable to speak but can hear well. He wants to know at what time you’ll have the dinner and if there is any other requirement, he’ll arrange it.” The orderly was already acquainted with Ramzan Joo because he had earlier visited this guest house on several occasions.

A notorious anger with an air of grin spread on the face of Afzal Karim. He said to his orderly “If he can’t speak, someone else should have come. Okay, see if some arrangement can be made.”

The orderly got the cue. He got up and drove out Ramzan Joo along with placing his arm on his shoulder. He whispered into Ramzan’s ear as if he was revealing a secret, “Ramzana, he is my top most boss. My job is subject to his pleasure. It’ll be kind of you if you fulfill his wish.”

Unable to make out his intention Ramzan Joo stared closely into his face. He himself became a question personified.

Cutting across all the limits of shame and bounds of morality, the orderly told him clearly in his ear, “Sahib likes your daughter very much. I should be leaving after dinner. Send her to him late in the night. He’ll reward you to your heart’s content. He is very bounteous.”

Suddenly Ramzan Joo felt the earth shaking under his feet and the sky crashing down on his head. He didn’t have power of speech but now momentarily he seemed to have lost his power of thinking and understanding as well. It was for the first time in his life that he heard such shocking words. His breaking emotion burst a flow of tears but somehow he could control himself. Without uttering a word he walked back to his quarters with legs as heavy as lead.

On seeing Farzana his anger got the better of him. He slapped her face with all force and asked in his language of gestures why she had appeared before the guests in his absence. She was dumbfounded, couldn’t reply but her mother spoke out, “Why do you flare up? You were not here. Neither me nor Rashid! I had taken Rashid to the doctor. And what wrong did she commit, she only opened the door and made them comfortable. She didn’t misbehave. ”

Ramzan Joo was feeling as if someone had undressed her daughter before him.  He could not express anything, only a stream of tears was flowing in his eyes and he was  beating his forehead with his palms repeatedly. Gradually his wife tried to comprehend all that might have happened, so she consoled her innocent husband and begged him to cool down.

“Farzana is not at fault, dear. These people are wicked and greatly sinful. The British were far better than these devils. Forget it now; serve them dinner in the evening, by morning these monsters will vanish.

At nine in the evening Ramzan Joo spread dinner for the guest in the dining hall, knocked his door softly and with a little motion of hand called him to dinner table. Not a word was spoken or a gesture made after that. After dinner Ramzan Joo silently removed the used dishware and went straight into his house. Normally he would go into the room of the guest after serving him dinner and ask him if there was any other requirement. After fulfilling the need of the guest, he would bid good night to him and take his leave.

Tonight it was different. He was not able to have even a wink of sleep the whole night. His inner conscience was poking him. Repeatedly he would get up and bow low in submission before Allah as if he had committed an unpardonable sin. His wife too was much anguished, she witnessed it all but was helpless. She went along in extreme anguish.

In the morning after Afzal Karim left the guest house, Ramzan Joo started packing his bags. He had decided finally to leave his job and go to his native village to spend rest of his life. In the afternoon he met his boss in his office and submitted his resignation. His boss wanted to know the reason for his resignation but Ramzan Joo did not say anything though tears continued to make his eyes moist and were about to burst.

After three days a young man replaced him in the guest house. Ramzan Joo handed him the keys and left the same evening along with his family. While leaving, Ramzan Joo heaved a deep sigh and looked back at the guest house which to him was no less than a place of worship.

*****

 

THE BURDEN OF A SCHOOL BAG : DEEPAK BUDKI (TRANSLATED FROM URDU BY JAWAHAR LAL BHAT)

 

The Burden of a School Bag

By Deepak Budki

Translated from Urdu By Jawahar Lal Bhat

 

 

“Papa, just help me. Carry this bag for a while , it’s too heavy!”

Shayista handed me her school bag while she caught the hand of her mother. That day we had gone to pick her from the school ourselves; otherwise she used to come in school bus which would drop her, as a routine, at our gate. I took her school bag, it was so heavy that it hurt my shoulders and before we reached our car in the parking lot I had many a time to change shoulders to share its burden. Instantly I began to reflect how hard it must be for Shayista to lift such a heavy bag daily to and from her school. I also felt guilty that my busy business schedule  does not allow me to look into other essential aspects of my life!

I suddenly reminisced the time when our country was freed from the British rule and my khadi clad father had felt ecstatic about the better prospects of freedom. He had recently retired as a Headmaster of a Government School and I often heard him say that this country needs new ideals and fresh thinking. He also used to say,“Lord Macaulay forced his own language on this country and encouraged raising an army of white collared English knowing clerks such that the rule of the British is fortified for all times to come in this country and Indians are deprived of their own culture and civilization.” My father was really fortunate not to live long to witness the disaster brought about by evil deeds of post-independence leaders.

Immediately after riding saddles of power, the selfish Indian politicians engaged themselves in the worst ever acts of corruption and nepotism to fill their private coffers. They initiated no major change in our educational system. Everything moved on the same track the British legacy had left. The elite continued to educate their children in Christian missionary and Public schools. They would never like that similar facilities as are enjoyed by their children in these educational institutions should be shared by the common people. The condition of Government Schools, where children of common people were compelled to study, instead of improving continued to deteriorate day by day.

As a consequence, almost all posts of crucial decision making and other key positions in government were held by the alumni of such elite schools and colleges while the products of Government schools were prevented from occupying higher positions and had to be content with lower ranks. These copycats of British governance with elitist education occupied almost all important posts and positions. Number of Education Commissions were instituted after independence and several reports submitted but all of them were willfully shelved and no recommendations were ever implemented. Many conferences and seminars for improvement of Educational system in India were held but no substantial change was seen on the ground and the British Educational system remained almost unchanged.

On reaching home, I opened the school bag of my daughter and was surprised to see that for a ninth class student it contained unusually a huge number of books and note books. On being asked she counted names of about a dozen subjects she was required to study.

“Do you study all these subjects daily? Why two note books for each subject?” I enquired.

“Papa, one is for school work and the other for home work” she replied, “Ma’am has ordered to carry all the books and note books to school daily.”

Shayista could not make out why her father was making so many enquiries and asking such strange questions for the first time. Earlier he wouldn’t even know in which class was his daughter studying .

“Oh God, Have mercy on these children of today!” suddenly a prayer burst out from my heart!  “This generation is buried under the load of books! They’ve no time for sports or games. Even if they find some spare time they spend it in closed rooms on computers or playing video games!”

“The school fees of Shayista is overdue, they’ve written a note on her diary twice.” Naayla, her mother who had taken full educational responsibility of Shayista upon herself , burst out in between, “Write a cheque for thirty-six thousand rupees and I’ll go tomorrow to deposit it in her school.

“Thirty-six thousand …..! ”

“Yes, Thirty-six thousand….!; education is not given for free. You are never bothered about her requirements, how will you know? Admission fees… uniforms… books and so on and so forth!! Did you ever show concern about all these things? At the time of admission they took a huge amount of one lakh and fifty thousand. Besides, they charge a monthly fee of six thousand. Now her fee for next six months is due for payment.”

“Looks like money is worth nothing now. I feel we were better off, got free education in Government schools. In order to spread literacy Maharaja of Kashmir had opened compulsory schools both for boys and girls in our State where children were forcibly educated free of cost. They nicknamed them ‘Jabri Schools’. I remember Indian Red Cross Society had arranged to distribute free milk powder to children once a week. People would use that milk for making salt tea in their homes. The standard of Education was very good. The teachers would teach with great dedication and spirit of sacrifice. Many of my classmates are holding high positions in Government departments and private establishments too. Some are Doctors and Engineers in many foreign countries.”

“You are talking of good old days. The times were quite different then. Things have changed entirely now. Getting children admitted in good schools has turned to be the most difficult job. Sometimes recommendations of Ministers are sought for the purpose,” replied Naayla.

“Papa, people in our schools have actually turned mad. They say learning three languages simultaneously is essential. What’s the fun of leaning so many languages?” Shayista interrupted to vocalize her inner voice!

“There’s no harm in learning more languages, it may benefit you in future!” my inner scholar bust out.

“What dad, you too speak like those sadists! I’m a science student, not a linguist. I’ve nothing to do with these languages. It’s only English language that will help me. Science and technology, Internet, international relations and communication can be reached only through English language.”

“You’ll have to pass in two other languages too besides English, that’s what the order of the Government says,” I counseled.

“I’ll get them through somehow. Where are the teachers to teach all these languages? No where! Whatever language teachers we have in the school, they help students in the examinations. They know their own jobs are dependent on the pass percentage of students ultimately.”

It was really amusing for me that this little girl had laid bare a major truth. A few days ago I had come across a news paper report saying that in UP schools sixty percent posts of language teachers are vacant. How different languages are taught in these schools could be any body’s guess.

Soon Shayista went into her room while Naayla made her way to the kitchen.

I continued sitting in the Drawing room absorbed deeply in the thoughts of our present complicated life. Suddenly I recalled a report of an important educational conference that had been held some time back and reported widely in the press. Renowned educationists and experts from all over the country had expressed their views on the changes that were felt indispensable in the school curriculum due to changed circumstances. Expert environmentalists had stressed that Environment as a subject should invariably be included in the school syllabus given the deteriorating condition of the environment around. Expert biologists had expressed concern over the decreasing number of wild animals, birds, trees, plants and greenery in the world that had an adverse effect on the quality of global ecosystem. Accordingly they emphasized that Biology should be included in the school curriculum. Experts in computer technology had stressed the need for Computer Education as an essential subject in schools as it provides the first and foremost technological support to all modern life and guarantees our future progress.

The most hotly debated issue at the conference was the selection of main language in which education was to be imparted in Indian schools. Those who believed in Gandhian thought had argued that children should be taught only in their mother tongue while the liberal intellectuals were in favour of English as a medium of instruction. The Hindu protagonists had advocated that Hindi is the national language and the natural choice for teaching at all levels. Besides Hindi, Sanskrit should not be ignored so that our traditional Indian culture is adequately transmitted to successive generations. On the contrary the experts in regional languages argued in favour of their respective regional languages. Evidently there was no consensus on this vital issue. It looked like India would be balkanized if all these suggestions are taken care of.

The clock kept on ticking as time went by, nobody noticed how! Shayista completed her Engineering degree and subsequently managed her admission in MS Biotechnology in a German University through Internet. She also arranged for her expenses by qualifying for a scholarship and a loan from Bank. The amazing thing about this whole adventure was that she didn’t at any time seek my assistance anywhere except that I had to stand her guarantor. I asked myself how could an ordinary trader, who remained busy round the clock about the rise and fall in prices at the wholesale market, have helped her in following up an ambitious career like this in today’s busy world. In fact I was quite unaware how swiftly the time had gone ahead and the world of technology progressed with an unimaginable speed leaving us far behind. I felt myself like a frog in the well that imagines itself to be aware of the movement of each rising tide of the ocean. People like me know only to warn and caution their children against any step they want to take independently little knowing that they were themselves ignorant of the world they lived in.

Shayista contacted us daily from Germany through e-mail and informed us about her daily engagements. After her stay there for a few months one of her messages read that the three languages learnt by her were of no use to her. Everything was taught in German language so it was essential for her to learn German. She had somehow learnt German and was doing well in her studies.

In another message she wrote, “The educational system here is quite different. The school bags of children here are not heavy. They do not carry the load of undesirable books daily. The days pass imperceptibly. My life here seems to swing only between my class room and the library.”

She messaged further,” To compensate my finances I serve as a waitress in a restaurant for some hours in the evening as I often get worried about repayment of my bank loan.”

After reading her messages I was put to deep thought many a time. “My daughter serving as a waitress in a restaurant…! It pained me deeply that she had to toil hard day and night to make a successful career for herself.  They say people go to western countries to earn lots of money but they do not know how hard they have to toil for it.

Shayista completed her education and got a job in a German company manufacturing artificial human organs. There she worked with a unit that produced human cardiac valves! The job was challenging but she was assured of a bright future. On the other hand it also meant that her chances to return home were quite bleak now. We gradually began to reconcile with this fact too.

She continued her struggle with her loneliness and financial hardships for some time more till she got associated with one of her colleagues who too likewise had emigrated from Karachi and was struggling there for a successful life. They soon became friends and began living together as live-in partners in a rented accommodation to save money and to ensure better security in an alien country far away from their home. I came to know about it only when both of them visited India in Christmas holidays and asked for our permission to get married. Evidently it was just the fulfillment of a formality because they had already consented to each other. I and Naayla looked at them and had an instant feeling that they were truly made for each other — such a marvelous pair they looked!!

Kaashif stayed in a hotel while Shayista remained with us. In a few days they were formally married at a simple but graceful function which was attended by Kaashif’s parents besides some of his nearest relatives who had come all the way from across the border. There seemed a strange similarity in our customs and ways of treating each other. No traces of any difference were found between us, we from this side of the border and they from the other. Same dress, same attitude, same manners and same food choice — just an artificial border line that separated us from each other.

After being formally married, Kaashif and Shayista soon left for Germany. We went to see them off at the airport and at the time they took leave we both were overwhelmed by a terrible gush of emotions and a stream of tears flowed down from our eyes. It also reckoned Shayista had parted from us forever with no hope of her return to India.

Though our daily contacts with Shayista continued regularly on Internet through E-mails and phone calls but day after day our loneliness was more irritating. Every passing day made her absence more painful than before. With advancing age I and Naayla felt our interest in life diminishing. Occasionally she would gaze at me with vacant eyes as if telling me in a very apprehensive tone, “Listen to me and take my word for it— the days of my life are numbered now and you’ll remain alone. Who’ll look after you after me? How will you live after I’m gone?”

On such occasions I saw through the language of her heart clearly and my silence responded, “Naayla, all your life you  yourself carried the burden of the school bag in the shape of humans like me and Shayista and never gave us an occasion to complain. Now if something happens to me and I respond to a sudden call from above, who’ll carry your burden? Shayista won’t come. She is not alone. She has now shouldered her own burden. She has her husband, her son and two school going daughters. How would she come leaving them alone?”

We never wish for a long life for each other but pray earnestly to the almighty God, “O God, if there’s any good deed at credit in our accounts maintained by You, we wish You very kindly call us both together at the same time!””

*****

DOG HOUSE : DEEPAK BUDKI (TRANSLATED FROM URDU BY JAWAHAR LAL BHAT)

Dog House

By Deepak Budki

Translated from Urdu By Jawahar Lal Bhat

Right from my childhood I had a deep aversion for pet animals. The fact is that in my early school days I had read a story of a pet dog and a wild wolf who were friends. The pet dog lived in his master’s house where he was looked after very well while the wild wolf lived in open forest. One day the dog told his friend about the comforts available to him in his master’s house. He told him that his master loved him much and took great care about him. He slept on a comfortable sofa in an air-conditioned room and was given special delicious foods to eat which included fresh bony mutton almost every day. In the event of falling ill he was given specialized treatment in a dog’s hospital.

The wolf heard him patiently and said after heaving a deep sigh. “You are very lucky to live in such a house with a kind person as your master. My life is very hard. I face all vagaries of nature like rain and snow all year round. To fill my stomach I’ve to put my life at risk daily following my prey and am often compelled to pass many days without food.”

“Ah! Your life is really very hard and risky. I suggest you also learn to be more gentle and docile and also learn obedience to a master as I do.”

While the wolf was talking to his friend, suddenly he caught sight of the collar around the neck of his friend, the dog. He asked, “What is this that you are wearing around your neck, I never noticed it before?”

“Nothing unusual, it’s just a collar. My master puts a chain in it whenever he takes me out for a walk in the morning or when he wants me to stay put at a place. It’s nothing, not of any importance; I’m free to do whatever I wish to —-.”

“Oh, no, my friend! It means you are a slave to the wishes of your master, not free. I spit on such a life which is bound by slavery of someone else. Friend, I am happy at my place. To me a few days of freedom are far better than a hundred years of slavery. I never like to enjoy the comforts of life as you do; I am fine as I am.”

The dog was dumbfounded with the oratory of his friend, the wolf. He had no words in reply to the bare truth of life. He ran instantly to the comforts of his master’s house but absorbed in deep thought.

From that day on I resolved never to put an animal or a bird in captivity for my pleasure or any other purpose whatsoever. It always pained me to see caged animals or birds on sale by the roadside, in malls or in house of my friends. I always wished to see them all free and enjoy their freedom as we wish for ourselves.

But with advancing age lots of compromises have to be made. My children were aware of my preference for freedom of animals and would never think of pampering to their own taste of keeping a pet animal or a bird in their home. Unfortunately this inflexibility of mine came under pressure when I went out on an official tour for about a week.

Taking advantage of my absence, my son, now an employed adult went on a holiday in the hills with his girl friend, now his wife. During the journey, he stopped his car near a wayside eatery to have some tea and get refreshed for further travel. Meanwhile his friend caught sight of a litter of new born puppies surrounding their mother. She got so madly attracted to them that she earnestly suggested to her friend to request the owner to part with one of the puppies and take it home for rearing it.

“Oh no, dad is deadly against keeping pets at home, he would in no circumstances allow it!”

“You see how cute these small creatures are! They seem to be of a good breed. Please manage his displeasure anyway! You’ve a big house; keep this little thing for my sake.”

My son had no option but to succumb to the wishes of his sweet heart and the puppy reached my home the same evening, though in my absence.

Next day morning my son called me on my cell to first ask my welfare and then to deliver the tidings of a new arrival at our home.

“What!!” I cried on the top of my voice, “You know I dislike keeping animals in detention. It is sheer injustice to them. Do one thing at the earliest. Take it back wherefrom you have picked it up, that’s final.”

“Dad, that’s two hundred kilometers from here. How can I travel such a distance again. The pup is so cute; you’ll love to keep it once you see it.”

The wheel of time had turned full circle. I had reached the stage in life where one is obligated to make compromises as one would never think of before; be it a cherished ideal or a belief close to one’s heart.  As such, I suppressed my anger and chose not to argue further with my son.

On reaching home, I showed no resentment and reluctantly took on with the new arrival in my house. The little dog was really cute and seemed to be of a good breed. It was given the name Tiger though it came to light later on that it was a Rottweiler, a breed that is very aggressive and because of its belligerent behavior it is banned for raring at home in many western countries.

Soon Tiger became an important member of our family and it also seemed to grow very fast. Within a year or so Tiger grew into quite a big animal with very fearful countenance, though very docile to every family member especially me. In the case of an outsider it was very aggressive and didn’t bear his or her presence in the house. Lot of care was taken not to expose him to strangers within or without the house, yet in a few years time it had injured not less than half a dozen of them for intrusion into the house or touching me or my son which he thought was an attempt to attack us.

In total contrast to my earlier negative tendency about pets I very soon got much proximity with Tiger and soon it took a very important place of affection both in my home as well as my heart. I now fed him myself very affectionately, took him to a vet clinic whenever need arose. It also responded with great love; often rolled around my legs and sat mostly around me and more often in my lap.

Now, once it came about that we had to attend a wedding ceremony of the son of my nearest relation at Jammu and we were all obliged to urgently attend all their ceremonies. It meant clearly that we had to keep our house locked for at least a week till we returned.

Everything was fine, but where to keep Tiger all these days was a question of which I found no answer. It could neither be kept in the house of a neighbor, a relative nor locked up in own house. Finding no solution myself I asked my son about it. He had a hearty laugh and responded in a very light tone, “That’s no problem Dad, the times have changed, we’ve answer to every problem these days especially in big cities,”

“I’m worried about Tiger, tell me, where to keep him safely all these days?”

“Oh Dad, you get worried over trifles. There’s nothing serious about it. There are many Dog Houses in the city where people can keep their pets whenever they are out of their houses for a long time. They charge some money and keep the pets very nicely. They’ve veterinary doctors and other specialists with them so it is no problem. I’ll look for one near to our locality and talk to them.”

So on the day before we were scheduled to leave for Jammu, my son took Tiger to a nearby Dog House and left him there. I, in my heart of hearts, felt much concerned for Tiger thinking all the time about him. How the people there might be looking after him? Whether they would be taking care of him properly, feeding him well and above all he must be missing us all terribly. These were the questions that teased me all the way to our destination and during our stay there. So I anxiously waited for the day of our return so that Tiger gets back to his home safe and sound. Gradually I began to understand that the bonds of care can sometimes be stronger than the bonds of blood.

After about a week we were back home. Before doing anything else my son rushed to the Dog House to fetch Tiger and in less than an hour Tiger was with us. On meeting us all his joy seemed to know no bounds and the same was with us too. I began to examine Tiger from all sides to see how much weaker he has grown in our absence. It seemed to me he must have skipped many meals while missing us. Instantly I moved out to the butcher to get some bony meat for him. In a couple of days our routine with Tiger was restored and everything was normal with us.

With this experience Tiger had to be kept in the Dog House many a time whenever we moved out for a holiday in the hills or some wedding at some relative in Jammu, Pune or Bangalore.

In this way life moved on. Eight years passed by. Tiger had grown old. It had lost its earlier glow and agility. Its responses and quickness to comprehend things had also reduced and it showed little interest in eating now.

Again, in order to attend a ceremony at Pune, we left Tiger in the Dog House as usual and left for Pune. While we were busy in the affairs there we got a call from the owner of the Dog House informing that Tiger had suddenly taken ill seriously and had to be shifted to the Pet Hospital. All of us feeling very concerned for Tiger cut short our visit and returned immediately to find Tiger in a very serious condition. We were informed it had developed a Tumor in its brain and had to be operated soon for its removal. I was especially moved on seeing the condition of Tiger who had reduced to skeleton and looked very keenly into my eyes seeking my help in his critical condition. Immediately Tiger was moved to the operation theater for surgery. In an hour or so we were informed that Tiger couldn’t survive the surgery and breathed its last on the operation table itself.

It was a real tragedy as we had lost a very important member of our family. The impact of this event remained for a long time with all of us especially me. I missed Tiger very much and occasionally felt his presence here and there in the house which welled tears in my eyes. Whenever I heard some dog bark at a distance I always felt that it was Tiger was calling me.

Many a time my son suggested to me to get another pet dog in the house so that it would compensate the absence of Tiger but I refused entirely because on one hand I was dejected over the death of Tiger and on the other we were living now in a flat where we humans had to live in a cramped condition and keeping a pet was quite an impossibility.

The clock went on ticking and the time passed on unnoticeably!  I had retired from my service for more than fifteen years now and my health conditions had deteriorated considerably. Not only my movements had become difficult, my eye sight and hearing had also got worse. I had become completely dependent and had to seek help in almost everything. Gradually I was becoming a burden on my children and as such I wished to have an early end of my life. But the more I wished to die, the more Death seemed to ignore me.

One evening suddenly I overheard the conversation between my son and his wife in another room.

My daughter-in-law was saying,” The wedding of my sister’s daughter is going to be held in Bangalore next month. We all will have to attend.”

“Okay, what’s the problem? Let us plan our travel as you suggest!” replied my son.

“I want we extend our tour by some days more and visit some important places around Bangalore like Mysore, Ooty, Kodaikanal etc. I’ve already planned our trip for fifteen days as I want to have an elaborate sightseeing with children who would surely enjoy greatly.”

“That’s fantastic, give me details of your plan and accordingly I’ll book air travel and hotel bookings!”

“But there is a problem!” said my daughter-in-law rather hesitatingly.

“What problem, I don’t see any!”

“What to do about Papa, he is so weak and needs help in everything? We can’t take him along nor can we keep him here alone?”

My son stopped a while and said later on, “You are right but I’ve a solution. He can be kept in an old age home during these days. There are some good old homes in the city where old and infirm people are kept for some time or even permanently. They take very good care of such oldies. I’ll soon find out one where we can keep papa for a fortnight or even more.

And before they left for Bangalore I was put in one of the reputed old homes of the city, “Special Care Old Age Home”. It was a painful and melancholic experience. Alone by myself! No one around! Every face around a stranger, every word uttered artificial and every action mechanical!

During the days of my stay in the home, every moment I remembered Tiger. How he would have missed his home and members of the family and how he must have passed his days there away from all of us.

******