By Aolla Tripathi
The cock would crow in the nearby village almost at the stroke of dawn. The chatter and chirping of the birds wafted in the air, as I would linger on my bed a little longer, listening to it for some time. There is almost a languid laziness about the whole morning scene. I would get up yawning, bleary eyed. The footfalls of the cowherd, approaching, can be clearly heard. It is mingled with the jingle of the tiny bells around the neck of the cattle. The herd is almost always accompanied by a village urchin, the nominal ‘cowboy, just the antithesis of the gun slinging gunfighter of ‘ O.K. CORRAL ‘. All he has on his body is a nicker, a nondescript stick and a flute in his hand. Swarthy, he looks unruffled and happy.
The boy would ride a buffalo or rather recline on its massive back as the herd made its way to the green countryside a little beyond our house. The cattle spread out and settle down on the verdant pasture. The whole scene affords a blissful quiet occasionally broken by the lowing of a cow or the laboured chug of a passing train clambering up a gradient. The tracks are bare and empty with no nocturnal traffic. Where do they vanish at night has always been a mystery to me much as what the ‘cowboy’ eats during his long sojourns with his cattle.
It has rained last night. The trees are still dripping and the sun is trying to break out of a leaden haze. Our good friend ‘Gungadin’ appears once more with his merry band and heads straight to the Watch Tower which has always remained unmanned, why, a riddle as tortuous as the ‘Riddle of the Sphinx”. Though intended for Security it is only poetic justice that the young ‘cowboys’ use it to keep watch over their cattle. Well, this tower serves them during the rains. On a clear sunny day they would be rather on the sleepy meadows without a care in the world. It is not long before the strains of a folk song are audible. The little group is singing. The difficult rhythm of the folk song is soon abandoned; the easier ‘Filmi’ songs are tried out. Mom is up in arms against my slow motion cameo to the morning chores. I remind her it is a holiday. I hurry with my rituals and chores while sneaking a peek at them. This entire rustic scene is soothing and gives a restful continuity to my life. Years back life was not so humdrum. There was so much variety, so much innocent pleasure: Opening the coop and feeding the chickens, fetching water from a nearby spring, stealthily eating berries and oranges from the fenced orchard. Then there would be all the time in the world to laze around near the spring watching the seasonal brook going down in all its eddies and whirls. The water used to be surprisingly warm in the mornings. We wended our way over the ridges and ledges and ere long we were at the water point. The noisy torrent of the stream would add to the din of our impromptu singing. The ‘soprano’ would take up a new piece as suddenly he would discard a new one. Alto, tenor, bass and all would join in the fun. While all this went on someone was sure to filch our meager repast. Oh! It was great fun. All the magic of youth and joy of life was there. I wonder if you have tried filling water in a bamboo stump. It is tricky- especially if you are collecting from a stream. Having apparently filled the thing and congratulated yourself for doing a good days work, you were more likely to find the ‘container’ less than half full on return home.
But it was the small fishing trips with my dad I enjoyed most. We would, for hours by the swimming pool, be waiting for ‘Godot’, as it were. Noise was forbidden. A tongue-lashing was in store if I made the slightest sound. There would be sudden ripple, a gentle tug on the fishing line amidst a flurry of movements up would emerge the silvery. The anglers are a queer lot. I have known some who would spend a whole day waiting for a catch. Catching fresh water prawns is another thrilling corollary, meant for the experts, I believe.
My mother, one of those traditional stay-at-homes would discourage these outings and would rather that I helped her out at home. I used to sneak out on some pretext or the other. Over the hills and dales and down the vale –that is how I used to love it-a far cry from the concrete jungles where I live now.