By : Dr. Mohammad Aleem, Editor-ICN
(A Short Story)
NEW DELHI : He was in his 80s, frail, and of lanky height. Every four or five days, he would visit me in the evening over tea and biscuits whenever I came to my village in north Bihar from my working place, Delhi. Sometimes, I offered him locally made sweets.
I had seen him grow old throughout my life. He was the most trusted servant of my father. Once he came into his service, even before my birth, he remained with him till he died. But when he was gone, he parted his ways. He said he could not feel more comfortable working with my brothers than with my father. But his relationship with my family remained intact. My brothers would help him with money when he was ill. Occasionally, I would also extend such help.
His name was Mohammad Iqrar.
One evening, when he came to meet me and drank tea, I asked, “Tell me any interesting incidents from your past. What did you do when you left my father? “
It startled him and thought for a moment and seemed to rake his brain hard to bring out any story from his memory reservoir, which was full of anecdotes.
After a few minutes, he said, “Listen to a story which is not fiction but real.”
I became happy and alert and looked at him with curiosity and interest.
“I worked till the last breath of your father, Munshi Karamat. But the day he died and helped your brothers and relatives bury him in your family graveyard, right at his grave, while offering my last obeisance to him by putting sacred soil on the mound of his fresh grave, I decided I would not work now with your family to keep our relationship going.”
“Why did you think so?” I asked curiously. In those days, my two brothers were in the village home. They always despised each other. And I used to live and work in Delhi.
“You know what your brothers are! They are miles opposed to your noble and honest father. He was a hard taskmaster, very kind-hearted, honest, loving, and a great disciplinarian. After retiring from his active government service in the postal department, he decided to start his grocery store only when I agreed to work with him. One day, he called me and said, “Iqrar Miyan. I can’t pass my time sitting idle. I don’t like the petty day-to-day politics of the villagers. Where on earth will I pass my time sitting idle? Farming is seasonal work and is mostly done by laborers. So, I want to start a grocery store. And I can sell but not visit markets to buy goods. “
“And you agreed?” I asked.
“I had been working with him right from my youthful days. Then how could I decline his offer?” the old man said humbly.
I looked at him with awe and admiration. I thought. Such a long bond between a hard taskmaster and a helper hardly exists for five to six decades.
“Which type of business did you start when my father died?” I tried to make his storytelling focused and fast because, as an old man, he was prone to forgetting things while narrating or shifting his focus towards other remembrances.
He paused for a few minutes and said, looking at me, “As a butcher, I was good at this work. I learned this work while helping the villagers during the Bakrid days. I used to give voluntary services as a butcher while sacrificing animals on those auspicious three days. “
“So, you started selling meat when you left my father?”
“Yes, but mostly beef. Nobody in those days cared much about who killed the cow and ate her meat. Anyway, in this part of our state, it was never banned,” he said with ease and confidence.
I knew there was no strict enforcement in slaughtering cows in most parts of the state, Bihar, as it was allowed in many other states like West Bengal, Kerala, and Northeastern states.
“Did you ever have any problems purchasing cows, or were you ever caught and punished for your actions by extremist Hindus?” I asked curiously.
“Never. Strangely, most of the time, I bought cows from the Hindu farmers, and they knew I was buying them to sell their meat,” he said confidently.
“Why did the Hindus never object and hesitate while selling their cows to you, despite knowing that you would kill them?” I asked in utter astonishment.
“I think they treat cows as sacred only because of their ancient religious beliefs. But they don’t pay attention to the welfare and health of this sacred animal. You will find them roaming here and there, in farm fields, on the mound of waste, and the street without food and care. Isn’t it? I will tell you about an incident. Perhaps it will be enough to reveal their hypocrisy well,” he said and stopped for a few minutes.
He was an illiterate person, but quite intelligent. He talked like a wise person full of rich experiences in life.
“Please tell me about that incident,” I pleaded.
He had heightened my curiosity.
“I regularly used to buy mustard oil for your father’s shop from a mill of a rich Marwari Hindu in Bairgania Market. His name was Meghraj. We used to call him, respectfully, Meghraj Babu. He was in his early seventies when I started buying oil from him. When he died, his son took control of his business, “he said.
“What happened next?” I asked.
“As I had left your father’s shop after his sad demise, the frequency of my visits to his oil mill went to almost nil. One day, when I went to the Bairgania market, I asked an acquaintance about any cows for sale, as I usually did. That person told me about a cow of Meghraj Babu,” he continued.
“Did you go there to see his cow?”
“Yes, I was in his mill just after a few minutes. He was sitting at his counter behind his desk. When he saw me, he was surprised and became happy. He quickly ordered his servant to bring tea for me. As his servant went to fetch tea, he started asking why I stopped buying oil from him. I told him the reason. He expressed his sympathies toward your father, and after drinking tea, he asked, “Then for what purpose did you visit me?”
He paused again and started his narration with a mischievous smile. “I said, I came to know that you have a barren cow, and you want to sell it. Is it not so? “
“Yes, but I will not sell to any Muslim because they kill them and eat their meat. And we Hindus worship them, “Meghraj Babu said bluntly.
I replied, “I want to buy it for milk.”
“But my cow is barren. That’s why I want to sell it,” he replied.
I insisted many times that he should sell me, but he refused because I could not offer him any convincing explanation.
I had heard about the fabulous health of his cow, so I took leave of him after drinking tea and asked one of his servants to show me the cow clandestinely.
He brought me to his cowshed. It was a handsome cow in her prime age. Her color was white. I guessed right at that place that if I bought it successfully, it would bring me good profits.
After seeing her, I decided I would buy it at any cost.
I came back to my home in the village and went to meet Hariom, my old friend, a person from the scheduled caste community. He knew about my work, but he never objected and detested it. He agreed to help when I offered him some money. I told him to go to Meghraj Babu and request him to sell his cow. I also told him that if he asked about the purpose of the purchase, you tell him I want to gift a cow to my daughter in her marriage. And he will agree.
And it happened almost the same. Hariom was a smart and cunning guy. He played his role well. He went to Meghraj Babu the next day because I did not want to lose that cow at any cost.
Meghraj Babu asked, “Who told you about my cow?”
“A person who knows you,” he replied innocently.
“But do you know my cow is barren? It can’t produce milk,” Meghraj Babu said.
“Yes, I know,” Hariom replied with calm.
“Then why do you want to buy such a barren cow?” Meghraj Babu asked as an inquisitive inquirer.
“Because I took a pledge before the goddess Durga to gift a cow in the marriage of my only daughter a long time back when she was born while taking the life of her lovely mother during her delivery. Since I am a poor man, I can’t buy a milk-producing cow,” Hari Om said confidently.
Meghraj Babu thought for a moment and said, becoming emotional, “Okay, let’s give me what you can. I will give you the cow.”
Hariom quickly took two thousand rupees from his pocket. However, I had given him five thousand because I guessed her cost would not be less than that value.
But Hariom had divided it into three parts and stuffed them in his dhoti to make the bargain as hard as possible.
Meghraj Babu counted the money. They were twenty-hundred-rupee notes. As he counted, he said, “Only two thousand rupees?”
“I am so poor, sir, I even find it difficult to feed my children two meals daily.” Hariom implored smartly, “Kindly sell me the cow at the lower price,” as he was a wretched man.
Meghraj Babu thought for another few minutes and said, “My cow is not worth less than five thousand rupees. But since you are poor and want to give it to your daughter at her wedding, I agree to sell it to you for three thousand rupees.”
Hariom was a hard bargainer. He kept imploring him until Meghraj Babu agreed to sell it for two thousand five hundred rupees.
As soon as he got the money, he ordered his servant to give the cow to Hariom.
I was waiting for him on the other side of the river to avoid any suspicion and reveal the real deal.
It was winter. The river had shallow water. As the cow came near, she drank the water to her belly full.
She was not only utterly beautiful but full of good health and glory, as I told you earlier. I had never seen such a beautiful cow in my life and started calculating my profit. I could only guess the profit vaguely because I was still not aware what the cost it incurred.
I asked Hariom happily, “What money did Meghraj Babu take from you for it?”
He smiled like a seasoned actor and said, “Can you guess? I bet, if you succeed, I will forgo my remuneration for this work.”
I started guessing. But I couldn’t come up with a convincing figure. Finally, I said, “Four thousand rupees. Isn’t it, Hariom? “
“Then give me one thousand five hundred rupees, which I saved on its purchase,” he quickly replied.
He bought it for two thousand five hundred rupees. I happily gave him five hundred rupees, which was in total equal to ten days of his hard labor. I also offered him sweets, samosas, and tea at the nearby shop.
He became happy and utterly grateful for my generosity.
I took the reins of the cow and moved toward the village. Hariom happily trailed me behind.
As we entered the village, the villagers saw me with that cow. And they started inquiring about its meat sale.
It was Friday when I sacrificed her. And she brought me a five-thousand-rupee net profit, which was an all-time high.
“Do you regret you lied to the mill trader who trusted you so much and adopted deceptive methods for your business?” I asked.
He paused for a few seconds and said gravely, “I did wrong. But do they also not do wrong when they leave their holy cows in big or small gaushalas or cow shelters to die without food and care? Why do they sell cows to us despite knowing we are beef eaters? Why do they discard them on the streets and in fields like orphans?”
I had no answer to his questions. But it made me restless and sympathetic towards those innocent animals who perhaps themselves are not aware that they are sacred and holy.