edited with the help of- Priyanka Chandak
It was almost the time for harvest in Bhogpur village. Retired Subedar Purshottam was sitting with his Hukkah in the porch of his old house. With each puff of smoke from his pot, he was taking away a second off his life. He didn’t even care about his life anymore because he had no reason to. He had seen enough of it. Enough of his kids who didn’t want to take care of him anymore; who couldn’t even have a small corner in their big bungalows in the city for him. Enough of this brutal world where money is all people run after. He often used to sit and think about the time he was in army and what a gallant life he had there. The hero’s welcome he used to get when he used to come back home from the border. He gave 40 years of his seven decades life to that profession. He liked nothing more than his life in the army. But he always felt that whatever he did there was of no importance to the ‘bloody civilians’. The villagers or any other person just can never understand what sacrifices that a soldier makes for his country. Sure he became grumpy because of all this, because he always felt that he deserved more than what he received, at least a little respect and care from his own kin. But with time he had realized the ugly truth- the road to one’s end is meant to be walked alone. The only soul he cared for his entire life passed away last winter. But the more sad part was that no one from his family showed up for the cremation. Lakshmi was like an integral part of his life. Though he was no different in behavior to her, but she knew all his traits. She was the only one who could bring a little calm to the turmoil inside him. But with her gone, he lost his soul and was now just waiting on his old coir to leave this planet for good.
He had a little farm which he had to look after himself. There weren’t many folks around as almost everyone had shifted to the city, so he had to do almost everything by himself. After a long and rough season the paddy was finally up, smiling bright at the sun. In a week or two, the harvest was due. Sometimes Purshottam used to think that how weird this life was- first we sow and grow something till it becomes fully grown and then we cut it down just like that. He could see the similarity of this peculiar lifestyle with his own- growing into something useful and when he was no good for anyone, he was cut off from this world. Now he could see that why this planet is called as the Land of Mortals. With another puff he took a little sigh. Just then he heard a little rattling sound coming from his fields. He thought the rabbits were back again, so he threw a stone from the pile he had kept beside his chair. But to his surprise it didn’t stop the sound. So he got up to take a better look at the unwanted guest. All he could guess was that it was larger than a rabbit but smaller than an Elephant. It had some reddish hue. Purshottam could hardly see what it really was with his naked eyes. So he went inside to get his spectacles and along with that he brought a long bamboo stick as well. Cutting through the paddy carefully he charged towards the place from where that sound was coming. As he drew closer, he saw a little disturbance in the field. That little creature in the field got a little sense of the incoming human with a long pointed weapon attached to one of the limbs. It got the feeling that its trespassing scheme has been compromised, so it started taking careful steps towards the opposite side of Purshottam’s advances. It moved and moved at similar pace at which Purshottam was cruising in. Few minutes later when it saw Purshottam coming closer to itself, it started running and soon it was out in the open- a calf with reddish hue.
It was more like a fully grown up cow but smaller, yet big enough that it couldn’t be called as a calf. It was more like in its adolescent age. Purshottam was really furious to see that a part of his hard work was devoured by this little red beast. So he ran right towards it, in full rage, to bring an end to it’s life. But the calf wasn’t new to these chases, it kept its safe distance all the time. As soon as Purshottam took a leap, the calf increased it’s own pace. Whenever Purshottam took a little time for taking breath, the calf used to stop and eat the small grass-lings on the ground as if it were mocking at him. It made this chase look like a game. Purshottam after gaining some energy again started shooing the calf away from his fields as far as he could. He knew that in no way he could catch it in this lifetime. It was growing pretty dark outside and dusk was about to take a turn into night. Purshottam thinking that he had shooed the calf far enough, threw some stones at it to make it go little further. And when it was far away from his sight, he retreated back towards his old hut.
It was really hard for a person of his age to do something like that. He wasn’t young enough to do such chases. He was really tired of all the chase he had done that day. But none of the few ones left in the village were going to help him, so it was all his work to do. He reached back to his old house and sat on the old charpoy. He was really tired and didn’t have any strength to prepare a meal for himself. So he ate a few guavas that he had plucked from the tree in his backyard. Few of them were enough to fill his flaccid tummy. And few drops of water from the pitcher at the end finished the dinner part of his day. Turning off the switch of the bulb, he then lay down on the charpoy to call the night off. Nothing on Earth was so soothing than taking rest upon the ropes of that charpoy.
He could still recall the day when he had bought that charpoy in Dilli for 10Rs and how happy his wife and kids were to see him bring that home. He could still recall that day very distinctly. For few days kids just used to jump on it’s little strings and Lakshmi used to shout at that them not to make the strings loose. A tear dropped from his eyes while he thought about it. He would give up everything to see that moment again; but alas, this life doesn’t work that way! Soon those tears collectively formed a wall in front of his eyes. He cleared them of with his gamcha and closed the lids.
Next morning Purshottam woke up later than his normal routine. He had a really good sleep after a long long time. But waking up this late was against his defense time norms. He could see himself getting old. He could feel the change in himself. Nevertheless he got up and did what he used to do everyday. He took a bath, washed his dirty clothes, prepared few chapatis and sabzi which would last enough for the lunch. Everyday he used to make enough for himself to last till lunch. Then he cleaned up his varandah and watered the plants. Everyday the Tulsi tree was the first one he used to serve; it was planted by Lakshmi when she first came to his house after their wedding. Though everyday she used to water it through the holy pitcher of their little temple while chanting mantras… but Purshottam wasn’t such a religious man. He was more of an atheist or rather agnostic, yet in Lakshmi’s presence he never questioned her faith and would politely accompany her in all her religious tasks. But with her being gone now, he would deliberately make efforts to annoy God in the hope that it might cut his life short. Yet, at times he would ponder, that maybe, letting him live was the greatest punishment for him. This fear often provoked him to water the Tulsi plant daily. And after all the other daily chores, Purshottam again filled his Hukkah with new burning coal and then he sat on his coir to gaurd the fields. And with a long sigh he took the first puff of the day.
He had hardly taken few patches of the tobacco when he heard a familiar rustle again from a corner of his paddy field. Looking closely he saw a reddish hue again- the calf was back. Clenching his wrists in rage he got up from his chair and grabbed the bamboo. He started the day’s campaign with large pebbles. The first one he threw hit the calf just at the center of its tummy. The calf didn’t see that coming and with little vibration of surprise in it’s red skin, it started running towards the woods. Purshottam felt little joy with his aimed shot hitting it’s target. He took another aim, throwing the pebble with as much power as he could. Though this time the calf had it’s laugh, the pebble passed between it’s hind legs. This time calf started running towards the upper steep path of the mountain valley. It was pretty young so it was not difficult for it to climb it. Whereas Purshottam on other hand was having a hard time in chasing the calf. It was becoming really hard for him to breath. He was taking frequent stops now. But enough was enough as Purshottam had promised to himself that he would bring an end to this chase today. He started taking smaller breaths. That way he gained some energy and he finally stood up. The calf was still there at top, peeking at him like as if playing hide and seek.
Purshottam started taking small small steps towards it. The calf seeing him advancing, started running again. Few moments later they both reached the top. It was plain there above though covered with Pine trees. Purshottam knew that he was very near to the Thano village. He thought that if he is able to make this calf go towards that village, maybe then it won’t come back again as there were greener fields to feed upon or maybe any villager will end up catching it. So Purshottam kept on trailing the calf as far as he could. After sometime he saw some white fences. He knew it was someone’s ranch or a farm. Purshottam threw few stones at it and made it run as far as he could. The calf passed two broad fields and after few minutes it was really hard to spot it. Purshottam was assured that finally it was the end of his chase. So he headed back to his house. It was a long way back; he took the shortest path he could. On returning back to his house, he drank whole pitcher of water first and then sat on his chair to take some rest. Rest of his long day passed in throwing stones at parrots and rabbits. He ate the chapaties with sabzi which he had prepared for lunch. With a day long chase he didn’t get time to eat them in afternoon. And drinking a full pitcher of water his another day ended. Like everyday he then lay down in his charpoy, remembering another old instance from his past and just like that he slept.
It was a new day and he wanted nothing new like the past two days to occur again. But he was pretty much sure that the calf wasn’t coming back again. Again like everyday he did what he used to do in his routine and finally sat down in his chair to keep a watch over his near to be harvested crop. It was a calm sunny day and not much of rodents or birds were there to make him move his muscle. Just like that a thought came to his mind that what might would have happened to that calf? What would it be doing right now? Was it caught by a villager or is it still feeding someone else’s field? And many other thoughts rolled in his curious mind. Almost whole day passed and he saw no sign of any rabbit or bird or a calf. He just sat there wondering what might would had happened to it. A sudden urge grew inside him to see that calf again. After a long long time he had been busy with something off his daily boring routine. He missed the red beast. For him the calf became like a little companion- a known acquaintance. Chasing it was something of a meaning to him now, it gave him a new reason to live. But alas, he drove it away! That little thought made him sad. He broke his only rope of hope.
He just stared at that little corner if it has come back. As dusk grew up on the day’s end, his watch also came close to an end. Feeling grim about his loss, Purshottam got up and headed back towards his hut to prepare something to eat. Inside his hut he made a dough out of the flour. He lit the chullah and put the tawa over the scintillating flames. He saw the tawa getting heated up. He took a piece of dough and made it like a little dumpling. Then he rolled it plane with a belan and then took it in between his hands to put it over the tawa. Just when he was about to do that, he heard an old familiar rustle coming from his paddy field through his window. A little smile grew in his face and with a breath of satisfaction he put the chapati over the tawa.