Son of the Himalayas – Arijith Mukherjee, West Bengal

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The foothills of the Himalayas support a wide range of flora and fauna. Mother Nature with her caring hands nurture and sustain them. Although, the most cursed race of all, the human race is too eager to extract rather destroy nature’s creations for his own benefits.

Not only flora and fauna, mother is too kind to let some not so cursed humans to settle in her territory. These people live in small settlements at the peripheries of dense forests but not very close to the so called ultra-modern civilized world. They rear sheep, hens, goats, cows and yuks; sell them in towns and run their livelihood. They obtain their requirements from nature and also take care of the nature in return; for someone rightly said,” Nature has enough to satisfy one’s need but not for one’s greed.” And surely these people do not know the definition of greed, they are happy with what they have and what they get.

Our story sets its roots in one such villages at the foothills of the Himalayas. The village, Silagaon consisted of seven to eight families. The prime occupation of the people in these region is rearing cattle and some also took interest in cultivation at some comparatively plain land near the village. The village itself is calm and peaceful, the different families of the village were a big family by themselves. Everyone took care of the other, everyone helped another in need; no trace of jealousy, enmity was luckily found.

Ricku lived with his mother, elder sister and a five year old younger brother in Silagaon. Ricku’s father had been missing for three years when there was a massive flood in the hills and he went into the higher forests in search of honey. Since then Ricku, the eighteen years’ old, strongly built boy became the head of the family. His education came to an end after his father’s supposed death and he began working for earning daily bread.

Ricku’s sister, Sita helped their mother in household chores and sometimes in sowing seeds in the patch of land that they used to grow some crops and vegetables. Ricku mainly took animals for grazing near the forest and went in search of fire woods and honey as did many other boys like him.

“Ricku! Next time you visit the town remember to bring a rolling pin, the old one is not of use anymore” said his mother when Ricku gathered his flock of cattle for taking out.

“You need to wait for the next week then!”

Ricku loved his family a lot, specially his little brother who has started writing alphabets recently.

He dreamt of his future, life, village, friends lying on a big rock near the brook while his cattle grazed in the forest silently. It was his daily routine and he quite liked dreaming and spending some time all alone.

His string of thoughts was cut when he heard Raj calling out his name at the edge of the forest. Raj was his friend in the village and both once studied together in school, his call appeared like an alarm so Ricku hurried up to him.

“What happened Raj? What’s so serious?” Ricku asked.

“Recently a leopard has come down from the hills and it’s creating terrible mess in the other villages” said Raj with a high tone, clearly indicating his concern.

“Leopards do not attack humans. Be a man Raj!” Ricku laughed lightly.

“Don’t be too sure. Remember the story of Laxman Singh? There was a leopard attack fifteen years back and that was a man-eater!”

“I was a kid then and now I’m a man. No leopard can win over me. Come join me in wrestling in the stream”, Ricku dragged Raj in to the forest stream. Raj, although afraid a bit, finally overcame his uneasiness partly because Ricku was there with him and partly because he loved wrestling.

Both the young boys hustled in water till dusk creating disturbance for the birds of which they continuously complained by leaving out shrill cries from up the trees. But they didn’t care. In the evening, both of them returned in to the village with the cattle herds. “It was fun!” Raj exclaimed.

“Yes! It had to br.” Ricku said.

Suddenly it started raining, the monsoon has begun; Raj waved Ricku a good bye and ran towards his house. Ricku, getting wet once again gathered his animals and returned home.

In their house too, all of them discussed about the leopard. Even his brother was too excited to explain Ricku about it. Ricku didn’t pay much attention, he was a bit overconfident and relied on his power too much.

“No need to take animals to the jungle for few days. We will feed them hay and dried grass” said Leela, the mother of the three.

“But why? I’m always watching over them! They won’t be in problem.” Ricku shouted loudly enough to make his brother silent who was chanting alphabets.

“Ricku don’t shout at her! Be gentle and listen to her.” Scolded Sita.

“I am worried for you. I have lost your father few years back and I cannot bear another loss’, the last words of Leela was not properly heard as she got choked with tears. She left the place at once.

“See you made her cry!” complained Sita.

Ricku was ashamed of his deed immediately, he came closer to Sita, put his head in her lap and murmured, “I won’t let any of you shed tears again.”

*****    

The morning was fresh from the previous night’s rain. The smell of moist earth, green leaves and clear sky made everyone feel good. Although no one could stop Ricku from taking his cattle in to the grazing lands, but he carried a stout stick with him incase anything happened. The peace In the forest made Ricku a bit dizzy and he took a nap, the cool breeze from the stream acted as catalyst. His sleep was broken from the bleating of one of his sheep. He was alarmed; Ricku immediately ran down in the direction of the cry. Stains of blood, dragging marks were visible on the ground. The herd of sheep clearly indicated a sense of terror. For the first time Ricku was frightened, he could understand what had happened to the sheep and who was responsible for it.

The whole family was sitting round the only table in the house. Ricku was silent, his face was gloomy partially due to the night’s darkness and partially from sorrow and shame. Leela was continuously lecturing on Ricku’s lack of common sense to which neither Ricku nor Sita particularly paid attention.

“How could you disobey me and go into the forest?” complained Leela.

“Mother leave it! Nothing can be done now.” Sita argued.

“So what? God forbid but if anything happened to Ricku, what would we do?”

Sita had no reasoned answer to this.

Soon Becharam, one of Ricku’s neighbour announced that it was a man-eater as a little girl from the next village was found half eaten near the banks of the river!

Leela could do nothing except praying to Lord Shiva for everyone’s wellness.

Ricku tightened his jaws and took a silent oath, the stick in his grip jerked a little. ‘No, I can’t lose to a bloody cat! I am one of the finest wrestlers’ in the village’ he said to himself.

“Becha kaka, where was it last seen?” Asked Ricku with an innocent tone.

Sita could understand his motives. “Why do you need to know of it in detail?”

Becharam ignored Sita, he was too excited to share all he knew of the leopard. “It’s a female and it was last traced near Motijheel this morning. Old men are saying that it will stay there until the water of Motijheel falls down.”

Motijheel is a large lake adjacent to the river, during summers it’s quite shallow but during monsoon water from the stream supplemented it and thus floods were prevented from the excess water of the river.

*****

Ricku didn’t get out that day with his flock. Rather he slept till late morning and came out of the house in the afternoon telling his mom that he would visit Raj for some work.

Secretly he brought his stick with him, at the end of the locality Raj handed him a sharp, strong knife and a fat goat. “Fifteen rupees for all these” Raj smirked. Pushing aside Raj, Ricku hurried towards Motijheel. It was late afternoon when Ricku reached Motijheel; the dense plantation around the lake prevented most of the sunlight to enter. Ricku tightened the loop around the goat making it bleat persistently. Ricku climbed up on the tree with which the goat was tied. The height enabled Ricku to look above the canopy and also down on the ground. He tied the knife at the end of the stick making a hand-made weapon much like a spear.

As the leopard was a man-eater, Ricku knew a human would attract it more than a goat; so he started whistling, creating a scene as if a herder had come with his goats. Ricku was waiting patiently for about one and half hours but nothing happened. Nothing is more cunning than a man-eater. The sun shifted to the west leaving a dark red mark on the sky which gradually changed into violet followed by blackish purple.

Suddenly something unusual took place, Ricku became alert. There was soft sound on the wet forest floor, something was approaching near. Soon, the creature came into vision, a huge leopard with a toned body and long tail which moved to and fro impatiently. It moved stealthily towards the goat. Ricku didn’t waste a single moment, as soon as the leopard came considerably near, he jumped from the top with his spear pointing the leopard.  

The darkness created some problem, Ricku’s spear missed the mortal point of the beast and hit near its shoulder which was enough to injure but not effective to cause death. The leopard growled in anger and pain, sprang back to some distance and prepared for next move. Ricku still lied on the ground, he hurried to get up but the leopard jumped on him; instead of getting up he passed his spear through the cat’s belly piercing it out from the back. The deep dug claws within Ricku’s shoulder felt lifeless. He shoved the carcass aside breathing heavily. Tearing a piece from his dhoti he tied his wound and carrying the untouched goat left for his home.

‘Aah! I saved fifteen rupees!’ he thought and felt happy.

The sky became overcast with clouds and roared angrily indicating a heavy downpour. As soon as he came out of the forest big drops showered from the sky. Ricku paced up through the forest covered path in the direction of his village.

‘Everyone must be worrying for me’ he felt guilt.

While Ricku hurried down, he heard some faint, unclear and weak cries. He couldn’t recognize it in the first go as in the hills some mysterious sounds are created when it rains and for the rain was in full vigour he even couldn’t decide of finding out the matter. As Ricku approached, the sound became clearer; it was some sort of noise made by littler cats. Ricku, curious to find out what the matter was, left the path and went into the bushes to his right.

It didn’t take much time to find out from where the sound originated. After advancing two-three steps, Ricku spotted three little yellowish cat cubs fully drenched in rain! As he went nearer, he made out those were the offspring of the unfortunate mother leopard he killed few minutes ago. The little cubs were hungry and shivering from cold. He stood there for few seconds, cursing himself for his deed. Keeping aside his goat kid he carried the cubs to a denser bush, where the ground was comparatively less wet and the thick thickets provided a shed from rain. Collecting some large leaves Ricku made a poorly-built hut like structure around the cubs. But alas! He had nothing to feed them. Knowing he can’t help anymore, he turned and took his way back, running as fast as he could. The strong, steady cries of the weak cubs haunted him. He ran and ran and ran……

Ricku recalled his memory three years back, his father went missing, he cried along with his mother and sister, felt helpless as those leopard cubs. He could relate himself to the tiny cats.

No one could see his warm tears rolling down his cheeks for they were hidden by the cold, uninviting rain drops and no one should see his tears for he was a man and men never cry.

****

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