Chapter 14: Seeing the slaves setting free

Often I say, ‘Forget about your past, focus on your present and make the most of it, if you can make your present worth living; obviously, your future will be much brighter.’
In fact, I say that but, it is very difficult to forget the past because it is a part of your life, like a part of your body. I wouldn’t be wrong, if I say that this past of our life cannot be isolated or discarded. After all, it maintains some values of our life.

As I have mentioned earlier about Kabul and his horse Moti, let me express it bit further in details.

The affection between Moti and Kabul was not the one between an owner and his possession; rather it was the one between two friends. Therefore, he could express his sentiments in form of a language. However, Moti was an animal. How could he explain what he felt inside him? But the biggest wonder was that Kabul could understand what Moti had to say. Kabul’s human understanding helped him to understand the thoughts and the feelings of Moti. God knows how Moti could understand the human language of Kabul. When Kabul looked into the eyes of Moti, its eyes expressed many kinds of pleasures and pains, and grouses and grievances.

It was six years since Kabul had purchased the cart and was carrying the luggage. He was comfortably making his two ends meet. In this connection, he used to express gratitude to Moti by saying, ‘My Moti is very kind. May God grant him (it) a long life; it is all due to him.’

He owned a buffalo and a horse, Moti. In his wife’s view, both were just animals. But according to Kabul, there was a great difference between a buffalo and a horse. For him, a buffalo was just a head of cattle, but he never considered Moti to be an animal even though it had the form of an animal; and in fact it is an animal. Bhani had never seen Kabul talking to the buffalo, but he daily talked to the horse. Many a time, he took the green grass cut by Bhani, away from the buffalo and put before Moti.
Seeing this, Bhani would feel annoyed and say, ‘Moti is not going to yield milk that everything should be fed to him.’

‘You go and do your work. Don’t talk nonsense, for nothing. If Moti had not earned, where could you buy this buffalo from?’

After muttering a little, Bhani would be quite and he would start messaging Moti with a hand brush. Every evening, they would return home tired and worn out, but Kabul would always think of Moti before his own wash up. He would first give fodder and grains to Moti and then, he would think about his own food.


One morning, after taking breakfast, when Kabul was about to yoke Moti in front of the cart, Moti started dragging his feet. Kabul looked towards Moti and it bent his neck. Then he raised Moti’s face up a little and looked carefully into its eyes. He found a sort of helplessness in its eyes. He tethered him again to the peg.
‘Why, what has happened?’ Bhani asked in amazement.
‘It seems that Moti is not fully well, ‘Kabul told her.
‘Who has told you this?’ Bhani enquired.
‘You tail of a dog, sometimes at least do try to understand the animals; you can’t understand them, yet, they understand humans better.’ Kabul said in a slight irritation.
‘Sometimes, you too, must understand humans. Yesterday, you forgot to bring children’s books from the city and they have gone to school without books,’ saying this Bhani picked up the sheet and the hoe, and set out from the house.

Kabul held Moti by the bridle and took him to the veterinary doctor. He examined him and injected with some sort of medicine. Kabul was leading Moti and the latter followed him; and the two walked homewards.

Coming home, Kabul started thinking about Bhani. What an innocent lady she is! She considers the animal as if it were an engine made of iron. Being a woman, she should have more of maternal affection and compassion.

Meanwhile, Numberdar, Jarnail Singh approached and asked, ‘How do you do Kabul? How is it that you are at home today?’
‘What should I tell, Jarnail Singh? Moti is not fully well today and I have just got him an injection.’
‘Well, the animal can feel, sometimes, slightly out of sorts. In the evening, do deliver a load of sacks of cane-jaggery (raw sugar).
‘Sir, who am I to refuse! But it is not possible in the evening. Yes, if by the morning Moti recovers and then, I shall take this load tomorrow.’
‘You feel a bit over anxious about animal. That’s why the children of the village keep making jokes about you and ridicule you.’

‘Sir, this poor animal is not going to say ‘no’. If I lead him now, he will be ready for a round. But I remember my own time in Kolkata when I used to pull a hand rickshaw over there. Once I was shivering with fever and willy-nilly, I pulled out rickshaw on the road. I got a passenger, a fat Lala, as weighty as a gunny bag. At the ascent of the railway bridge, almost every gentleman dismounts, but pitcher like fatty kept sitting on. I had to cover the ascending distance barefoot. Under my feet was the road burning like a hot plate and that time, while pulling the rickshaw I felt like breathing my last. But believe me, that lala had paid no heed at all to my condition. Thus, I, being a man, could never dare to tell that Lala to get down, but this is only a horse, merely an animal who can’t speak, you see what I mean,’ Kabul tried to explain.

‘Friend, what you say is correct. We have never ever thought why the animal does not pull ahead. Whether we yoke him to the cart or plough, we always talk through flogging.’
Jarnail Singh got up from the cot taking a sort of yawn and then, he so pulled up his nether cloth as if he wanted to compare his legs with those of the horse.

Kabul remembered the days when he was compelled to pull hand rickshaw to make a living. Those days in Kolkata, he was like an immigrant to bear the brunt of nostalgia, even in his own country. Occasionally, he would think about those people who were immigrating to foreign lands for financial betterments. He was ghostly chased by the memories of his past. He wondered how first and second generations of immigrants face such realistic tragedies; physically living and working somewhere else and mentally and emotionally, somewhere else, far from their families, longing to hear a word from any family member as there were no telephones at that time.

In a town-like city, Kabul used to park his cart near the Balis tea stall, by the side of the bus stand. Just near it, Phattu had his shoe mending and polishing place under a banyan tree. Kabul had only this consideration that Moti can breathe some air in the shade. At the time of his last turn, he got some load of his villagers, and some passengers without any effort. This load included sacks of sugar, oil drums, tins of ghee and bags of cements etc.

Today, it had been very hot throughout the day and close too. Everyone was feeling restless. But now, at the time of sunset, the breeze had started blowing and the weather was bit pleasant. Kabul patted Moti tethered to the cart as if he was saying, ‘Come on my friend; now, let’s return to our village.’

The tempo drivers had picked up the passengers from the last bus and had set out for their destinations. Kabul was without a passenger this evening and only with some luggage, was about to set out for the village.
After offering a bucket of water to Moti, he was just moving towards the main road when Preetu came and greeted him. This Preetu was a counterpart of his elder brother through a recent marital relationship, in other words he was the father-in-law of Kabul’s niece, whom Kabul treated respectfully as a relation. In spite of all refusals by Preetu, Kabul took him to a soft drink shop near the railway station.

Enjoying milk shake, Preetu said, ‘Kabul, I need your cart and horse for a couple of days.’
Hearing this, Kabul felt milk shake embittered in his mouth. He could give his earnings of a fortnight or so, happily to some relative but he could not part with Moti.  
This being a new relationship, he could not say ‘no’ either. First, he thought that he could himself take the cart and this way, Moti will remain under his eyes. Then bashfully, he changed his mind and gulping the unpalatable, he agreed.

Without Moti, Kabul was feeling somewhat desolate, not only he himself but the entire house. He passed these two days with great difficulty. He wasn’t worried about the cart but was anxious about Moti alone. Then he remembered that Moti’s shoes, too, need to be replaced. He murmured as if he was addressing Moti, “my friend, in a way you are still lucky; some other animals never ever have shoes to wear: even steel ones instead of leather like mine. But you are not like me; you are too strong and hence, deserve steel shoes”.

On the third day, Preetu’s son brought back the cart and Moti, though Kabul had been waiting till late last night. Kabul felt like dancing out of mirth. Forgetting everything, he advanced towards Moti and Moti placed its head in his embrace. Kabul started stroking and soothing him and when he raised Moti’s head, he saw the tears flowing out of its eyes.
‘No, Moti don’t do that. I shall never send you anywhere again. Be quite now, please!’ saying this he got his own eyes also tear filled; but Moti continued to weep, putting its head on Kabul’s shoulders as if he was protesting, that the cruel people took no pity on him.

Those days left behind far away. And now on the roads, whenever Kabul sees horse-carts replaced by machines, this gives him a sense of relief and pleasure as if he is seeing the slaves setting free.


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