| PHULWEA KI BAKRI (pHULWA'S gOAT )
Retd. Prof. (Mr.) Durgesh Kumar Srivastava, New Delhi, India
Phulwa was almost my age, may be a couple of years younger to me. My earliest memory of him is of a thin dark boy running on the narrow roads of Daraganj with a long twig of a tree trying to catch with it the KATI PATANGs ( kites which fell from the sky after having been cut by the opponent in kite flying matches which were a very popular sport in that semi-urban locality on the banks of river Ganga in Allahabad in north central India.
Phulwa was some sort of an expert in this kite trapping game. A KATI PATANG falls from the sky in a very special, undulating way. Even when the kite is a hundred feet above your head, you cannot accurately predict where it will actually fall on the ground. You run one way to your left, and then are surprised by a last minute change of direction, and the kite falls to your right. In fact the phrase KATI PATANG in Hindi is used to denote someone who has no moorings and whose movements are unpredictable. Many years ago, there was a hit Hindi movie KATI PATANG, in which the heroine, a widow, was as helpless as a kite in the vast sky detached from its long thread.
Phulwa always had one or two KATI PATANGs in his left hand while he ran after another kite trying to entangle it in the twig in his right hand. My parents would not allow me to go out and run after KATI PATANGs on the streets as they considered it both risky as also below the dignity of our family. If I wanted kites, my parents were quite willing to buy these for me. But the joy of these purchased kites could never match the joy of Phulwas snatched kites. I had a very soft corner in my heart for him as he would give me one or two kites from his collection.
Phulwa was the son of a KEVAT (a river boatman) and lived with his father in a low shanty that was visible from the roof top of our three story house. The holy river Ganga provided livelihood to a lot of people of Daraganj KEVATs (boatmen), MACHHUARAs (fishermen), PANDAs (the priests of the holy river), MALIs (flower-sellers) to name just a few. My father, a Vakil (an indigenous lawyer) and a very religious man, had a deep respect for the KEVAT community for a special reason. Hindu mythology has it that eons ago (actually a little more than 7,000 years ago as per historians) it was a KEVAT who had helped Hindu God Bhagwan Ram, his wife Sita and his younger brother, Lakshman, cross the river Ganga in his boat when the trio were on way to their 14 year long Vanvas (exile in the forest) as per the decision of King Dashrath of Ayodhya (Rams father). My fathers respectful attitude was reciprocated by the big number of members of the KEVAT community of Daraganj, who used to address my father as VAKIL SAHEB (lawyer, Sir). He never charged any professional fee from any member of the KEVAT community, if he handled some legal work for them. Whenever we would go to the river, some or the other boatman would invariably come running and take us on a free boat ride on the rivers Ganga and Yamuna, which joined Ganga at Allahabad. Vakil Saheb was thus a sort of Godfather to all members of
the KEVAT community of Daraganj.
It happened more than 50 55 years ago and I am unable to recall the name of Phulwas father. One day, he did not return from the river. His boat was also missing. No one could say what had happened to him. Phulwa, a teenager then, had become an orphan. He was uneducated and the only trade that he could ply was that of a boatman. But he had no boat. He had no near relatives. Babuji (we used to call our father by this popular form of address) took immediate steps to support Phulwa. He engaged him as a personal MALISHWALA ( masseur ). He would come in the morning to give Babuji a half hour massage with Sarson ka Tel (Mustard oil) for the body and Til ka Tel (Sesame oil) for the scalp. He will then warm water on a (CHULHA) wood-fire stove Aand help Babuji with his bath. While giving Phulwa a one rupee coin each morning, Babuji will say to him Beta, zara aaraam kar lo, chay pee ke jaanaa ! (Rest a while, son, and go after you have your tea.) Amma (my mother will then serve Phulwa tea with two or three PARANTHAs (a popular Indian style flat round lightly fried pan cake and ACHAR (pickled mango or lemon). Babuji would often send me to call Phulwa in the evening on one pretext or the other and give him some small errand to do. Babujis idea was to find a way for Amma to serve dinner to Phulwa. Babuji did not say anything but he was concerned and worried that Phulwa had no regular source of income to give him two square meals a day.
When you want to help someone, you will be able to actually help that person if you have the will to help, the capacity to help and get an opportunity to extend that help. Babuji got an opportunity very soon. There was a large temple in the building which was our residence. The deities of Ram, Sita and Lakshman, were offered only the holy Ganga water for their sacred ablutions. The water from the holy river used to be brought by an old priest who died suddenly. Babuji at once got the temple head priest to engage Phulwa for this work. Phulwa will come to the temple in the early morning, collect the brass HANDA (a large water pitcher) and go to the river bank. There he would first take a both to purify himself and then clean the HANDA with Ganga water, fill it, hoist it over his shoulder, and bring it to the temple. In return for this service, the temple provided a small KOTHRI (cubicle) adjoining the temple door and just below our own residence quarters and a salary of Rupees 50 per month. Phulwa was happy and I too was happy as my childhood friend began living almost next door. However, our worlds were different. He was a temple servant and masseur, while I was a post graduate student in the University of Allahabad.
After I had passed my M.Com. examination, I was offered the job of a lecturer in far away city of Imphal in Manipur State in the Eastern corner of India. Babuji, quite an old man now, was very possessive by nature and did not want me to go so far away from home. But around this time, he too had a very dwindling legal practice and a low income. We needed the money as my sister was unmarried and a younger brother was still in school. I had to go out to earn. I had to board the train at the small railway station near my home. Phulwea carried my luggage on his shoulders, and just before the train arrived, he saw the sadness in my eyes and said Bhaiya, ghabrao naheen, hum Babuji aur Amma ka poora dhyan rakhbaiy ! (Have no worry, brother, I shall take full care of your parents).
Life for me was refreshingly different at Imphal, a neat, clean and green small town with verdant hills all around. Frequent letters from Babuji, Amma and Didi (my sister) did not give me a chance to feel homesick. They would write about all the news of Daraganj. Soon enough, Didi gave a happy news in her letter. Phulwa had got married. The bride was a very young girl from a poor KEVAT family from Jhunsi on the other side of the river Ganga. Didi had a habit of w riting very long letters, giving small bits of news. She mentioned a very small but interesting fact. The new bride, a thin, very dark girl, had brought a pair of very young goats as a part of her dowry. Didis mention of this insignificant detail brought a smile on my face. I visualized the two tiny goats tethered outside Phulwas KOTHRI.
I was full of excitement as I got down from the train at the small Daraganj station on my first home visit during the college summer vacations. As my train crossed the Ganga river bridge to enter the platform, I could see Ramji (my younger brother) craning his neck and looking at the slowing train. Standing next to Ramji was Phulwa. I waved to Ramji and they both ran towards the III class coach where I was standing at the door. Phulwa quickly climbed in and brought out my luggage. As he hoisted my luggage on to his shoulder, I noticed a Jhola (a cotton bag) hanging from his other shoulder. He said: Bhaiya, iss main bakrion ke liye ghaas hai! (Brother, this is grass for my goats !) He had pulled out with his bare hands the tufts of grass growing on the grassy embankment of the elevated railway station and stuffed these into his Jhola. I asked him Kya bakrian badi ho gayi hain? (Are the goats grown up now?). he replied :Haan Bhaiya, ek Bakri hai, ek Bakra hai, aur dui tho memna haiyn !(yes brother, we now have a she-goat, a he-goat and two little lambs !). I smiled. I had visualized two little goats tethered outside his little KOTHRI.
There was a small crowd to welcome me home. Two of my elder married sisters were present along with their children. After I had touched the feet of Chhoti Dadi (my fathers aged aunt), Amma, Babuji, and my elder sisters and patted the children on their backs, a thin woman, dressed in a red Dhoti (a traditional dress of women in India), with face fully covered by a Ghooghat (a scarf like part of the Dhoti used as a veil to cover the face and head) came forward to touch my feet. She was obviously heavily pregnant. With a sheepish smile, Phulwa said Eee hamaar dulhin haiyn ! (This is my bride !). In fact, I felt a bit shy and embarrassed. Here was Phulwa, two or three years younger to me, with a bride in a family way, a Bakra and a Bakri, and two MEMNAs really and truly a family man, and here I was, not yet married, even though in a good job and of a marriageable age.
Vacation time passed quickly and I returned to Imphal. My mind is crowded by little and big details of that period of life about fifty years ago. My parents were being flooded with marriage proposals for me. I hd in the mean time quit the job at Imphal and taken up lectureship in a college at Bilaspur, in Central India. This change from the far eastern corner of the country to Central India nearer home was specially welcomed by my aged parents. Train travel time had been reduced from 3 days to 1 day. This ease of commutation facilitated my marriage settlement. I married a girl from an academicians family based in New Delhi. Soon, encouraged by my wife and parents-in-law, I shifted to New Delhi and joined a Delhi University college as a lecturer.
We lived in a rented house at New Delhi and travelled to Allahabad during each of the college vacations. Strange as it may seem, but a friendship developed between my wife and Phulwas wife. One was educated, sophisticated and modern while the other was uneducated, rustic and very old fashioned. Phulwas wife had now two kids and the number of goats was close to ten. One day, Phulwas wife came with a bowl full of goat milk for my wife. She said with a shy smile Bakri ke doodh jaccha-baccha ke liye bahut achha hot haiy ! (Goat milk is very good for an expectant mother and her child !). She had guessed right. My wife was in a family way. My wife did not drink that milk, but her bonding with Phulwas wife became stronger. They talked to each other my wife standing in the balcony and Phulwas wife outside her KOTHRI below. Phulwas wife would often come up with a tiny MEMNA (lamb) for my wife to pet. She gave some of her used Saris (a superior variety of Dhoti) to Phulwas wife. Once or twice, I saw Phulwas wife oiling and grooming my wifes hair.
It was decided that while I would return to my job at New Delhi, my wife would stay on at Allahabad for the birth of our first child, since my mother and elder sisters would take all care of her and the newborn. I felt reassured since I knew that Phulwas wife too would be a strong support around the time of child-birth. There was a strange and happy coincidence. One of Phulwas goats was also expecting and my wifes expected delivery date was near the same date. It was long back from now when all this happened, but I am amused to recall that my wife wrote to me then (telephones were not very common then) : Ab toh Bakri ke bhi baccha ho gaya, aur maiyn abhi bhi phansi hui hoon !. (Even the goat has had its delivery. And here I am, still waiting !)
Our first-born, a son, came into this world on 10th January, 1968. Hearing the good news, I rushed home to Allahabad. I after a quick cup of tea, borrowed Ramjis bi-cycle to rush to Kamla Nehru Memorial Hospital. Phulwa was there at the hospital gate and took the bi-cycle from me to take it to the parking. In my wifes ward, I met Didi, my elder sister, beaming with joy with our little son cradled in her arms Bhaiya ji, Badhai Ho ! (Congrats, brother !). As I took the little one in my hesitating hands and advanced towards my smiling wife, I saw Phulwas wife standing behind her and lovingly combing her hair and gently smiling from inside her half Ghoonghat. She looked every inch a part of our own family.
Friday, 27th April, 2012 ~ I write this blog in joyful celebration of my first-born son, Rajeevs returning to New Delhi, on transfer from his posting in Assam. Happy Home Coming, Raju ! from PAPA