Translated By Dr.G.K.Vankar
Even after an hour's hot debate and exchange of ideas there was no consensus. The acting chairperson, the vulture maharaj , who sat on a babul stump, with a fleeting glance on other members spread his wings, cleared his throat and concluded,
"Silence friends! Silence…! If we will continue like this, it will be morning and yet we will not be able to reach any decision. Hence please stop the discussion and listen to what I say. With all the presentations and arguments we can surely conclude that the prey belongs to all, it is the joint property of all. Hence it becomes our duty to care for it closely. Now it's not far from night. The times are difficult, moreover we cannot rule out outer invasion. Hence using my chairperson's right I have decided that till this prey becomes worth eating, at least tonight, we should keep vigil turn by turn. Tell me, do you agree?"
"Yes, yes, we agree, we agree..!" all those who were present, agreed unanimously.
"Then listen to me carefully!" the vulture maharaj bobbing his neck said," I have myself decided the turns of the vigil. And I am sure no one has any objection to that!" pausing for a moment he continued,
"In the first prahar, it's the turn of hawk! His first half of the night otherwise also is spent in search of a prey. Moreover in the first prahar the risk is maximum, to deal with this he is competent. Isn't it so, Hawk hero?"
"As you order, Sir!!"
Hawk slowly came forward and leaning forward saluted.
"Second prahar it's mouse, third crow and the fourth …"
Before there was announcement of the fourth prahar, taking a circle of flight , going close to babul stump, the cawing craw said,
"Please pardon me, sir! But I don't get sleep the fourth prahar. Hence if you allot me the fourth rather than the third, I will be highly obliged."
The vulture maharaj threw a glance at the craw, blinked his eyes, then as if mediating , finally said,
"O.K. ,Mr.Crow , the fourth prahar is yours, the third would be that of the owl! Are you happy now?"
The craw, gleefully took a small circle of flight, fluttering his wings. As soon as he settled down, authoritative voice of the vulture maharaj was heard,
"That is not the matter of being inflated, friend. Reserve such expertise for the vigil…"
Then he warned the rest of the members.
"Please always keep this in mind. I myself don't join the vigil. I will supervise you all though. Hence while keeping vigil no one should move an inch near the prey, none is supposed to touch the body. If someone dares to be smarter, remember. The prey will remain as it is, and first you will be slaughtered."
"And Sir Mouse, this is for you, Your community has a bad reputation because of your habit of biting. If you dare to apply that hereditary skill here then.."
" O brother, why so much mistrust?" as if he were urging, the mouse said, " I am hungry for three days , Sethiya. But on oath to Gauriputra, I have not even looked at the prey."
"O.K., O.K." The vulture maharaj stopped him. "It was only to mention your abilities. Won't it be better if you don't become so emotional in such trifles?"
Meanwhile the crow had constantly fluttering eye on the prey. As there was slight movement in the prey's body he made din.
"Look, sir, he is still alive saala."
"That is the matter of mourning," The vulture maharaj muttered in disdain. Then got up from his seat and settled on the prey's belly and reassured all.
"It's only a matter of a night. Even if it does not die tomorrow morning, we will strike."
All came closer to the prey. The vulture maharaj had some knowledge of medicine too. He looked carefully at the prey's abdomen and said,
"Still it is alive. But my medical knowledge dictates that things will turn right. If tonight he is devoid of any food and water, in the morning for sure…"
This statement lit a flame of hope as they were now tired of waiting since morning. Stumbling the prey had come to the chowk and collapsed. Since then no one had even winked, eagerly waiting, no sooner it dies, they would pounce.
Looking at the body though, one would not get much. Is this a body or a cage of bones? The skin was glued to the body making it flat. It had several sores on the body. It was doubtful if this body ever had any meat.
"How how how…" A pack of dogs standing on the hill came a bit close and announced their presence. But their arrival made the vulture maharaj fume with anger. With red eyes he roared, "motherfuckers, keep away. How many time have I to say this? Go, come tomorrow evening .."
"But o father, we haven't asked anything from you," an old dog begged.
"We came to tell you that keeping a watch is our duty. The world knows that since time immemorial, it has been our monopoly. Hence please entrust us with one opportunity.."
Kaw kaw kaw. The crow laughed loudly. "See, one with monopoly! When will you get rid of your habit of going anywhere uninvited? Why don't you improve? And saala, how can we trust you? Once you have the prey then you become bullies, we know this well." He said this on basis of some past experience on food chat.
"But father, we do not ask for any share from yours. It will do if we get only the left over. Once you eat your fill then only give us.."
"That is why bloody, I say you just leave now, ." the vulture maharaj angrily said.
"O.K.,O.K., as you please."
The pack of dogs moved towards the hill mumbling. Climbing the slope the old dog could not help looking at the prey. Sight movement in the prey's body and low groans made his heart ache.
He knew the prey for some time.
In the youth, his life was glorious. But with old age, the difficult days dawned. Ten days back his owner abandoned him considering useless. Restless with hunger, he moved from outskirt of village to the farms. Finding nothing to eat, he used to drink water till his belly was full and collapse. Today he had some chance as the owner of the farm was not around. Opening the clearing he entered the farm, took green leaves of castor seed plant and was very happy. But as he came out of the farm, he felt dizzy and moved towards the chowk with unsteady gait.
"Damn, leave it aside giving our share; they do not even answer us properly." One young dog ventilated his burn. " I think we should gather our colleagues and take full charge of the prey .If we do so, what can they do?"
"You are absolutely right, Bhooriya!" Kaliya agreed.
"Now its beyond limits. Begging does not satisfy our hunger. We are like them only, and yet our vas is separate. We are even forced to eat their leftovers only. Is there anything like animalism?" the old dog could not resist, he coughed and said,
"Look, you are the younger ones, puppies. This is the tradition that continues from generation to generation. Our forefathers had suffered, there is nothing new that we suffered and now you are suffering. If you wish to live peacefully, there is no way other than to follow the traditions; do you understand my little ones?"
There was sudden dark.
While climbing the slope of their vas , they looked back. Nothing could be seen. They heard the loud laughter of the vulture maharaj dipped in the dark. That sound mixed with dark became a question in the dark eyes of Bhuriya. Can one not break the tradition?
It was long before dawn and the cawing of the crow rang in the whole region piercing the darkness . Leaving their beds, rubbing their eyes everyone rushed to the chowk. Shaking darkness , as they tried to see, the remnants of sleep also vanished.
The prey was not in the chowk.
The vulture maharaj's eyeballs bulged in anger. He was looked at each and everyone one with piercing eyes..
"You are useless ones, bloody weaklings! You have lost the prey from your hand. Now what will you eat? Your tambooro?"
"It was very much there until my turn was over."
With low neck, everyone tried to defend oneself, but when it was craws turn he began trembling.
"I tell you the truth, o brother, o sir. I had no sleep for three prahars as I had a suspicion that you all would finish the prey. And when I came here at the fourth prahar I had a small nap. Please pardon me, Anndaata, o giver of food!"
There was a flash of light in the vulture maharaj's mind. He walked a bit slowly, he closed his eyes, and rubbing his beak on the earth, he began to smell something. After some effort, as if he had grasped something, yelled,
" I have caught him. I have caught the thief. Come with me."
"Today I will not spare them."
They briskly went to the dog street.
Near the street hill, Bhooriyo and Kaliyo stood obstructing the way.
"Beware, if anyone dares to step forward, we will get your feathers scattered."
The vulture maharaj got a bit scared of the rage in their eyes .
He winked at his colleagues. Then he addressed those two,
"Look friend dog, we are the travelers on the same road. Then why such a split? Show us the prey, then we all together …"
"Now those days are gone, maharaj. The prey is in our possession. And we have exclusive right on it." Kaliyo sharply said.
"This does not befit you, friends. Look, you do all this in puppy-play, hence we would talk to your elders. Where are they?" the vulture maharaj's voice turned syrupy.
Meanwhile old dog also arrived.
"This is very wrong, dog bhagat!" the voice of the vulture maharaj changed.
"You live on the dead, breaking that tradition you kill the living. How can you do that? That too one can understand, but you take away the prey of someone else. Tell me, is that reasonable?"
"Maharaj, disgrace is your life! Have you any trace of being animal or not? You are waiting for someone's death, at the top of it you arrange vigil..! As you say we live on the dead, what do we do with your prey?" honor
"Then where is it?"
"It has gone nowhere. It is with us only. But you will regret to know that it is not dead. And like you we are not waiting for the death either. That much difference of sanskara will always remain. Look there.."
The vulture maharaj rose. Craning his neck, he looked in the distance in a cave like place. He was stunned. The prey was struggling to raise, four sturdy dogs supporting. One was offering water at his mouth, some gave grass to eat. The red, white puppies gleefully moved in circles. The victim, looking at them, falling and rising, struggled to stand up…
The vulture maharaj uttered. Then he turned his back and began walking. The others followed him. With withered faces, pressing their bellies, sighing, they began walking down the slope of the hill.
Chat=Stone slab with a hole scooped to collect refuse of food for dogs or cattle
Bhooriyo and Kaliyo= Common names of dogs, literally white and black, Dogs here represent Dalits, outcastes
Annadata=Giver of food
Gauriputra= Ganesha, mouse is Ganesha's vehicle
Prahar= Measure of time, three hours
Live on dead= Reference of dalits who eat meat of dead animalsChowk=Square