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by Kiran Jhamb
(Nagpur, Maharashtra)

However much may we become formally educated, whatever the number of degrees acquired, the bitter funny truth is that our defining, identifying factor is still caste. We cannot cast it away. We realize that ‘caste is a notion; it is a state of the mind’ etc. It establishes the pecking order perhaps. Hindus observe caste because they are deeply religious. Bear with me; I am going to tell you the real life story of two gentlemen, PhDs not to be forgotten, of Mr. V (Vaishya) and Mr. B (Brahmin). They were colleagues of some thirty years standing.

The retirement was making its footsteps heard and quite naturally the fear of mortality joined this march. Mr. V got to think about crossing the river Vaitarni, which according to Hindu beliefs the dead must cross to reach the realm of Yama. This river is said to be filled with all kinds of crocodiles, vultures etc. and it can be crossed with the aid of a cow only. The next logical thought obviously was how he would need a cow to help him cross the holy river safely. So he made up his mind to perform Godaan - an important Hindu ritual. Now, who could be a better recipient than his dear friend Mr. B. But Mr. B.’s reaction was strange. He refused to accept even the idea saying that he was not a practicing Brahmin.

Mr. V. had now got a bee in his bonnet. I know men don’t wear bonnets, only Victorian women did, but you get the idea of what I’m trying to say! And he was famous for following his ideas through. He was brilliant in his chosen field but his eccentricity leaked into the other fields of his life. He was good with numbers and words. He gradually built up a campaign in the staff room for his idea of godaan and most of the colleagues joined him in requesting/ pressurizing Mr. B. to accept the cow. Mr. V. wanted to spare no expense; he wanted to give the best quality of cow. Somehow Mr. B. withstood all the pressure by sticking to his decision of not accepting the cow. The buzz died down. Both of them got retired. It became a standard joke that now Mr. V. must be rigorously learning swimming since there would be no cow to help him swim across Vaitrani.

Years later, I met Mrs. B. and came to know how single-minded Mr. V. was. He had used emotional blackmail. One day he had come to Mr. B.’s house with like-minded retired colleagues saying that he had had a dream in which his family deity had asked him to gift a cow to Mr. B. The soft-hearted Mr. B. sent him away saying that he would consider the idea.

Mr. B., meanwhile, had bought a farm and was busy growing cash crops since his ancestors were farmers and he knew farming very well. Considering the long friendship, he did not want to upset Mr. V. anymore, but he did not want a costly cow also. A farmer, a few fields away had a young cow to sell for six thousand rupees. Mr. B. thought he would keep the cow on his farm as a pet. Though it was against his principles yet to please his friend he accepted this gift.

He named the calf Laaly because it was reddish brown in color. Mr. and Mrs. B. both became much attached to Laaly who came running to meet them whenever she heard their car arrive, her tinkling bells making them feel welcomed.
Mr. B. had a
history with pets. He never forgot that he had been proven unlucky as far as pets were concerned. Once years ago, he had bought a dog. They had named that puppy Brownie. That furry ball had given them lots of pleasure for a year and then caught bronchitis during the winter and bid goodbye to the stunned couple. Though they had not yet become parents, they felt as if they had lost their baby. Next in line was a stray dog they had started feeding. They had named it Tattoo.

Tattoo was black in color, very loyal, very aggressive and very loud. The neighbors couldn’t stand the special bond that Tattoo had with the Bs and the loudness with which he proclaimed it while guarding their gate. So they complained to NMC and the dog catching squad came and took Tattoo away. Mr. B. went berserk. The Mayor of the city was a personal friend. He rang him up and using Mayor’s influence he reached the place where dogs caught that day were being kept. Tattoo danced with joy whimpering and barking when he saw Mr. B., his savior, had come to get him. Tattoo was brought home. A triumphant Tattoo appeared to be squaring off for a fight, he barked now with renewed gusto at the neighbors he shared mutual dislike with. Mr. B. was afraid that one of the enraged victims of Tattoo’s vendetta might poison him. He did not want that paap in his account.

Mr. B. started searching a foster home for Tattoo. One of his ex-students had opened a motel on the outskirts of the city. Tattoo was introduced to his new home and new owner and left with them. The next day this street-smart dog came back running all the way. Again he was taken back via a new route. Gradually Tattoo accepted his new home and the Bs heaved a sigh of relief. They were happy for Tattoo though they missed him.

Coming back to the present Laaly had been with them for the last three years – a young blooming beauty. She got pregnant and the Bs took care of her as they would of their own daughter. They took her to a vet regularly. All was going well but then Laaly started looking sluggish. The caretaker at the farm rang up Bs, who immediately reached with the vet, who pronounced that Laaly’s baby had died inside and a C-section would have to be performed. Arrangements were made and Laaly was brought to Nagpur. She delivered a stillborn baby. Despite all the good care taken at the hospital and later at the farm, Laaly did not recover. During her last days, she accepted a few slices of bread from Mr. B.’s hands only. He sat with her, caressing her and could see the tears in Laaly’s eyes.

The news that Laaly had died spread across the neighboring farms. The local butcher presented himself to get the carcass. Mr. B felt disgusted. Laaly was a member of his family. He stood guarding Laaly. He asked his workers to dig a ditch for her in a corner of his field. He asked his wife and son to go back to Nagpur and bring sixty kilos of salt. With all due respect, Laaly was laid to rest.

The digital world of today enables you to have many graphic tangible memories. Mr. B. is often seen looking at Laaly’s pictures on his phone. He plans to plant red flowers in the ground occupied by Laaly.

The cynic in me wonders now how Mr. V. would cross the Vaitrani.

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