Wednesday, March 28, 2012

FEATHERS OF JUNGLE FOWL

FEATHERS OF JUNGLE FOWL

PRADIP KUMAR BISWAS

Budhia loves the nature and moves in the forest. He collects medicinal herbs and sells in the weekly market just to earn his bread. One day while returning he accidentally pulls the cords of a trap laid by someone to catch the Jungle Fowls. Massod, the guest house keeper, negotiates with him and takes the whole lot of Jungle fowls. by just giving him a bottle of whiskey and repayment of the interest of loan that he gave him. Masood is a greedy and clever man and earns money from the people like him by money lending and even compelling their wives to entertain the guests of the guesthouse. That night Massod earned a lot from a guest by providing him roasted jungle fowls in the dinner and arranged Somebari to entertain the guest in his room. Somebari was the proposed bride of Budhia but due to a trick pulled by Masood, the marriage could not take place. In that chilly night, Budhia’s father, an asthma patient, became very sick. Budhia needed firewood to keep his father warm. He ran to guesthouse where Masood stockpiled firewood. He was about to stumble on a red sari near the Sofa just opposite the closed bedroom of a guest and heard the moans of Somebari from the room of a guest. He recognized this red sari which he gifted Somebari just before the marriage. In the back yard of the guesthouse, he found out the firewood and heaps of the peeled feathers of the killed Jungle fowls. He took the firewood and the feathers also. He thought that firewood and the feathers burnt together may keep his father warmer.(Read more for the full story)

In the background of the setting sun, the man standing motionless in the foothill jungle is not a silhouette. He is a local tribal. At the end of the day he was returning to his house, up in the hill. A small white cloth around his loins is the only respect for this late December chilly wind.

The other two people at the watchtower of the hilltop forest rest house are Smith and Arup, one Indian and another, a foreign national. They were trying to capture, through their movie camera, the valley and the far-off hills in the background of setting sun. The mist and the late afternoon fogs were disturbing them frequently and they were about to give up.

Smith whispered, “Look at that silhouette figure we just saw few minutes ago. He is now sitting on the ground and is pulling something.”

Arup hid his smile “This is the time for the birds to return to their nest. He has placed a trap long before. He is now pulling the cord of the trap to catch the birds live.”

Zooming at Budhia, Smith started his video camera and was soon disappointed. “He is now nowhere”

Arup said “Well! He must have gone to those bushes and tall tree, he may be seen soon in this slope of the hill”

Arup was correct. The tele-lense tracked him down the hill slope. Budhia was in his early forties but the power in his muscular body was negotiating at ease against the steep curves of the hill slope. He is now seen carrying a bamboo pole on his shoulder. The baskets tied at the both ends of the pole were swinging vigorously.

Smith was busy in capturing all these in his camera and said, “Oh lovely! His both baskets are loaded with big birds” Arup looked at the monitor of the video and zoomed the birds “These are jungle Fowls.”

Massod, the guesthouse keeper, brought the afternoon tea and laid the table at the Lawn. from the view-point tower, Smith signaled him to bring the tea over there.

Massod frequently gets generous tips from Smith in cash and full liquor bottles in kind.

In this guest house foreigners are very frequent. Masood can speak English by connecting fragments of words but he can understand very quickly. The eyes of this neck less plump man rotate like radar and can read a face quickly. As he was pouring tea, Smith asked

“What is there in Dinner?”

Masood replied, “Fresh Fish roast Sir. Big fish, river. If you no like, then Chicken”.

Smith quipped, “No Chicken, I want Jungle Fowl”

Massod bowed “Sir, tomorrow lunch I try, Evening no available”.

Smith signaled him to see his video monitor, “Have a look. Get this man; he has not gone far off by now.”

He threw a five hundred rupee and signaled him to go. Masood halted suddenly “ he may ask for a bottle along with money”

Smith shouted “O.k. you miser! Give him that also but make it fast.”

Arup was silent he stood up and started for leaving the room “I am leaving for the drilling site, possibly you want to stay back”

Smith nodded affirmative.

Massod was only worried about the bootleggers of evening time who may easily lure Budhia to exchange the whole catch for just few bottles of Mahua (country liquor). Although difficult for his heavy body even walking fast, he did as much as possible. On the turn of the spire road, near the guesthouse, Masood spotted Budhia, along with the catch of the day and he was relieved.

“So you thought you can sneak away from me without paying the interest of loan. You worked for more than two weeks in the mines, got your payment on 1st itself but since then you are evading me.” Masood pretended to be very angry.

Budhia replied, “Ask your collector, Samsul. He caught me at the gate. He made me drunk and ran away with the whole pay packet. I am hounding him but he disappeared.”

Masood told dryly “That is the matter between you and him. But I want my money right now.”

Budhia prayed before him “Give me some time, tomorrow is the market day. I may get some money.”

Massod laughed, “If you are thinking of selling these Jungle Murgahs (Fowls) in the Haat (weekly market) Ranger saheb is also coming tomorrow.”

Budhia was angry now “I sell the Jadi- Buttis (medicinal herbs) not these birds. I am sure only you laid this trap for your guests at the guesthouse. I wanted to release the trap but accidentally I pulled the wrong cord. Right now if I release these birds they shall be the easy prey of the wildcats. Tomorrow morning they shall fly in the sky”

Masood shouted “Wrong or right, you only have pulled the cord and my two guests recorded that in their video camera. But if I serve the roasts of these fowls for their dinner they cannot show your photograph to Ranger Sahib. But if you release these fowls this evening or tomorrow morning they may fly in sky but you shall be in trouble. Ranger saheb after seeing your clippings shall put you behind the bar.”

Budhia put down the bamboo pole and the cages on the ground. He now realized that along with these birds he is also trapped.

Massod looked at him and poured some honey of kindness “ O.K I shall see to it that the guests pay me a good tip and I promise the expected tip may clear a good part of your interest.”

Masood took the two cages and fearfully looked at the Bamboo pole lying near Budhia. He released one big bird, took out a liquor bottle and signaled him.

“Take this bird for your father, good for asthma. And after the whole days hard work you deserve this bottle. This English daru (Liquor) is good for relieving the pain.” Masood left quickly towards the guesthouse.

Masood sat on the walls of the culvert before the portico of the guesthouse. Moping the beads of sweats from his forehead, he touched the feel of Rs. 500 note and the remaining bottle inside his loose dress.

There was one more half filled liquor bottle lying hidden here. He saw Sombari and Manglu waiting for him for the daily wages. Sombari is the cook of the guesthouse and his husband Manglu is the gardener.

He yelled for Manglu, “Manglu, take these birds, Dress one big and one small bird for roast. Sombari shall do the rest. Smith saheb is very happy with you and he has left that bottle and this fifty rupee for your tip.”

Seeing the glistening eyes of Manglu “Keep one bird for you, have a nice evening, Sombari shall stay back.”

Manglu stared at Massod but obediently followed him. Masood calculated fast. He has to keep his promise for the perfume bottle and mirror that Sombari was demanding for long. This investment shall keep her going for the post- dinner entertainment of Smith. Calculating the quick and good return, Masood felt happy.

Draining the last drop of whiskey that Masood gave him Budhia was boiling with anger. He should have checked the bottle. Masood is an usual cheater. This time also he must have mixed either water or Mahua flower wine with this whiskey.

Two years back he took two thousand rupees from Masood for marrying Sombari. But Masood double-crossed him. He gave five hundred rupees more to Manglu, the gardener of the rest house.

Sombari’s father preferred Manglu for obvious reasons. Budhia was invited to attend the marriage. He sent his father along with the red sari and silver bangles that he purchased for his proposed marriage with Sombari. After her marriage he saw her several times wearing that Sari and the Bangles going to guesthouse in the evening. Budhia knew her evening assignments in the guesthouse.

He was about to release the bird still tied by a small rope. It is already dark. This fowl cannot fly. Now It is an easy prey for the wildcats. He has a rare herb in his house. The bird roasted with that herb give a good relief for asthma patients like his father. Remembering his father’s face he decided to keep the fowl and got to his feet.

The herb medicine mixed with fresh honey did excellent job. The hearty meal and clear breathing made his father sleepy and he put him in the cot covering his body with a small blanket.

The room requires mending, the cold wind enters the room through many holes in the walls but he cannot help. The fireplace was empty; Massod’s men took away the firewood making false promises to his father. He could find some, hidden in one corner and an earthen pot. He selected some herb and mixing them with the rest of firewood in the earthen pot made it a fire-pot.

He kept the firepot under the cot but preferred to sleep outside. The smell and the fume of herbs burning slowly with the firewood are not good for him.

He made a small fire over a small heap of dried leaf, took out a good old bottle of “Mahua” from his cellar, and drained the contents in two gulps.

The colorless liquids together with roasted fowl were sufficient not only to keep him sealed from the blowing cold wind but also from the whole day’s episode. However, he found no success in the later one; rather the past started circling like a movie reel.

He knows this forest like the back of his palm and likes moving in the forest than working in the mines. Upon a self-compromise, he works in the mine for that number of days sufficient for the food for his family. In the remaining days, he moves in the forest from dusk to dawn.

The tall trees, shrubs and medicinal herbs growing underneath, birds, jackals are his friends. He picks up the medicinal herbs and the roots and sells them in the weekly market. The locals call him as Vaidyaji (herbal doctor). Budhia enjoys the recognition.

The small hill river meanders around this forest for seven times. These places are the rest shelters for him. He likes the corner near the small waterfall, the birthplace of this river and very often takes the rest for a while. The jungle fruits, arrowroot, occasional huge potatoes are good enough for recharging his stomach.

The recent mining has spoiled this forest. The river is drying up. The tall trees are dying. The birds, beers and the jackals are vanishing one after another. The simple tribals like him are all captives of people like Masood. The thought of Masood made him angry. He threw the empty bottle. The remaining drops of liquid flew to fire and the fire flared up.

He heard a groaning sound of his father and sprang up. The firepot extinguished and the room was very cold. The old man was almost in a state of breathlessness. Budhia fished out two herb roots, made a paste in the earthen mortar quickly, and placed it in the tongue of the old man. The old man was little relieved. All the old man requires now is the fire. Budhia ran towards the guesthouse to get some firewood.

Budhia found Masood in the kitchen snoring heavily but there was not a single heap of firewood. He moved from there towards the backyard store. Possibly the firewood stocks are lying there.

He was about to stumble on something near the Sofa just opposite the closed bedroom of Smith. He recognized the stumbling objects as the same red Sari and bangles that he gifted Somebari on her marriage.

The full moon of the midnight has flooded the backyard. There were two big heaps and a single heap of firewood. Some one as if decorated the single heap with piles of feathers peeled fresh from the flesh of Jungle fowl.

As he approached the heap, he found another tiny feathers heap. It could be red; moonlight has partly obscured the color. He did not stumble on it this time.

The backyard is just opposite the bedrooms of the guests. The sound of moans and another shrill sound were entering his ears. His trained ears of jungle were baffled at first. It appeared as if a Hyena has just de-skinned a big fowl.

He picked up the small heap of firewood adding the last one found just now. Running towards his house he thought, “This heap along with these feathers and skins of Jungle fowls shall burn more, it shall give my father more warmth.”




5 comments:

debajyoti said...

beautifully written. a very engrossing read. but do we have a continuation of the story?

Pradip Biswas said...

Thank you Debjyoti. There was a story in the same name but it became too real and i removed it.

Lazyani said...

Aaah, there you are Pradipda, back again. Now , since you havw whetted my curiosity, please continue:)))

Punit Dubey said...

Awesome composition...spell bound!

Pradip Biswas said...

Thank you for your inspiring comment.Waiting for your new write up. Pls E-mail me as soon as you write and post. Just send me the click and i shall smack your write up.
e-mail pradipjuly@gmail.com