An Unusual Pet
An Unusual Pet22 mins 148 22 mins 148
The riverine estuary was very wide with both banks meeting the horizon at opposite ends. All that could be seen was water and water. Four young friends were enjoying a boat ride in the river which was a part of one of the biggest river delta formation in the world. A little further down was the mighty Indian ocean. Yes, they were holidaying in the Sundarbans. Sandip and his three friends had decided to take a couple of days off from their busy lives and enjoy the pristine beauty of the mysterious Sundarbans. They had a secret wish to observe the enigmatic Royal Bengal tiger in the wild there. From Gosaba the last motorable point, they had hired this motor operated launch to take them to the forest bungalow they had booked from the government tourist department. Before sunset they must reach the bungalow otherwise there could be danger from tigers and crocodiles.
A little while later their boat left the main waterway and took a narrower feeder tributary en route to the tourist lodge. The day had almost come to an end and the sun was setting in the distant west. All of a sudden the motor powering the boat sputtered and then stopped and became silent. The occupants in the boat beside the four city based friends was the boat man holding the wheel and his assistant maneuvering the rudder. As the motor went silent, the boatman and his assistant became busy trying to start the machine again. As time passed the sun had now almost set and it was getting dark all around. The friends were not too perturbed and thought the problem was routine and things would be normal again. But the motor didn't start and both the boatmen started to row the boat with oars manually . They told Sandip and his friends that they would anchor the boat at the nearest bank from where they had to walk a few kilometres to reach the spot on the river bank just opposite to the bungalow. Then they could hire a country boat which are generally available there to reach the opposite shore and the forest bungalow.
Sandip and his friends started to worry a bit but the boatmen assured them that as long as they were in a group there was no danger from any tiger attack. But then as their boat was to hit the shore one of the boatman just vanished in the evening twilight. His friend started screaming, shouting out that they had been attacked by a tiger. Then he himself plunged in the river and started swimming desperately towards the shore. Before diving in the water he shouted out to the friends to take cover as there were more tigers in the river. The boat now started floundering due to not being navigated. Then all of them saw that a tiger who was swimming in the current of the river was dragging a human being in his mouth. Now darkness had fallen. One more tiger could be seen swimming in the current, its sillouhete outlining in the dark. What an irony to see the mighty tigers this way and which they had hardly imagined. Seeing the tigers swim in the waters in so proximity was beyond their wildest dreams.
But they couldn't savour the moment and couldn't click photos out of fright. The way the boatman was dragged away by the tiger sent a chill down their spine. The friends now panicked for the first time. The boat had hit the shore now and was bobbing in the river without being anchored. Out of panic the three friends of Sandip jumped from the the boat and ran away in the dark leaving behind Sandip unintentionally. Sandip, who had just landed on the shore found himself being dragged by someone. He could not see anything in the dark. His friends had run away deserting him. Later when Sandip regained control over himself he found himself in a dimly lit cottage. There was no electricity. Only an oil lamp had lit up the room. He was given some rice and dal to eat and given a cot to sleep. In the darkness he couldn't see anyone clearly. That night Sandip slept badly and had nightmares one after other. He only saw tigers, crocodiles and venomous snakes. Next morning when he woke up he found his body raging with high fever.
A young girl was attending to him and giving him cold compress with a kerchief on his temple. Sandip had lost the feel of time and the count of days. After what felt eternity, he woke up and got up from his bed and stepped outside the cottage into the bright sunshine . Seeing Sandip looking fresh and curious, a middle aged couple came forward towards him. They introduced themselves as Raghab and Shyama, who were owners of the hut where Sandip had spent the past few days. Raghab had a small farm where he grew vegetables and sometimes went into the forest to collect honey. He also used to do fishing to manage his household. His wife Shyama helped him in all the farm activities. Then Sandip spotted a young girl who was almost old enough to be called a woman due to her physique and structure. Raghab introduced her as his niece Chumki. '' It's Chumki, who has nursed you back to life, sir . For three days you were totally unconscious with high fever and Chumki worked hard day and night to put life back in you ,'' explained Shyama.
Sandip was told that when he had landed on the shore there had been a tiger close by and Raghab and his group of honey collectors were returning home. Seeing him in such an unprotected way and with no experience of tiger attack they had pulled him away from harm and kept dragging him till they had reached their cottage and safety. '' Sir, you have been lucky not to go into the tiger's belly. We had reached you just in time, '' Raghab blurted out thoughtfully and Sandip shuddered in horror. Sandip learnt that it was now almost ten days after the tiger attack. Still the boatman being dragged by the tiger in his mouth grip sent a chilling reminder to Sandip. He asked Raghab, had any search for him been made in the intervening period. Sandip now wanted to leave for his home immediately. But Raghab requested him to stay for another day and attend to certain formalities. Sandip looked surprisingly and wanted to know what formalities was left for him to complete.
Next day Shyama came to Sandip and told him the full story of Chumki. She said that they were waiting for Sandip to regain his normal self to listen to the story. They were all the more compelled to tell the story because the devotion they had seen in Chumki helping Sandip getting cured. Raghab and Shyama were maternal uncle and aunt to Chumki. They had no children of their own so they took her under their guardianship after the untimely death of Chumki's parents. Chumki's parents were honey collectors from the forests of Sundarbans and both had died tragically of tiger attacks while collecting honey.
Shyama said Chumki was a very hard working and sincere girl very adept at all household work. She had even been school educated till class ten but could not continue further because she wanted to work and earn a living for her uncle and aunt who had given her a new life after her parents died. So she accompanied other village women to the city in search for work. She got a job in a male dominated tailoring shop. There she had done quite well but due to the disturbing toxic male environment she was feeling uneasy. She had been subjected to abuse but timely intervention had saved her from being outraged. Since then she has been traumatised and not gone to work. Shyama then continued further that then they had thought of giving her in marriage. But even being so good looking no one would want to marry her due to her 'dark' complexion we thought. '' But we were not sure about that, '' Shyama continued. '' We even heard that prospective grooms had doubts about her being violated at work place so they stayed away. But we don't buy that story because her uncle had visited her work place and had confirmed that no one had even touched her, only she was subject to leud comments, '' concluded Shyama. This had made her stay away from the work place. '' Actually, Chumki has a very beautiful chiselled body much beyond her twenty odd years which makes her so attractive looking despite being a bit dark. And she is very conscious of it and doubts all the male gazes on her. '' advocated Shyama. Then she finally spilt out the actual reason for delaying Sandip's departure. '' We wanted to you to fully recover sir, for us to narrate her full story and ask a favour of you, '' Shyama begged.
'' Actually, the devotion which Chumki had shown in serving you and caring for you, we thought you must be the one person who could help her out. Because, sir, you were very sick and we cannot afford the cost of a medical practitioner. Without the devotion and hard work put by Chumki, you probably would not be around now. '' Shyama continued with her narrative. She further contented that they wanted Chumki to be taken proper care and not cheated. Because she was too simple and was not aware of all the wicked ways of this world and could easily be exploited. They wanted that Sandip take the responsibility of the marriage of Chumki with some of his trusted acquaintances. Raghab who was doing some work came after his work was over and said, '' Actually, Chumki has served you like her God and secretly desires you as her husband and is madly in love with you. But for the fear of stigma due to difference in status and social standing we have not asked you to marry her. '' Raghab said without hiding his feelings. Sandip was stunned on hearing this. He had never thought in these terms. Definitely he had been somewhat drawn towards the beauty of Chumki but that was just a temporary aberration. He knew his parents would not allow such a union. Sandip kept his parent's wishes always.
It was then decided that the next morning Sandip would be homeward bound. When the time came for him to leave, Chumki came from nowhere and fell at his feet and sobbing uncontrollably. Shyama then had to say that last night Chumki had confessed to her that she would marry Sandip and no one else. She had considered him her God. Sandip was feeling embarrassed with the way Chumki was lying on his feet and sobbing. He bent over and picked her up. Then he was in for more surprises. As Chumki got up she caught hold of Sandip in a tight embrace and would not let him free her. Feeling even more embarrassed Sandip could hear Chumki's heartbeat in his as she was trembling and sobbing in the tight embrace. The warmth of the young body of Chumki had a certain magical disposition in his mind. Then finally freeing himself from Chumki's embrace Sandip decided to stay one more day and take a calculated decision of his future. He knew for sure that this marriage of his would summararily be rejected at home. When the responsibility of Chumki's marriage was given to him, he then first thought of his driver Manjit who had recently been widowed. But then the world of his fell apart when Chumki wanted to marry no one except him.
Though not given to racial and colour bias, Sandip gave a deep thought of this would be marriage. He lived in a joint family with his two uncles and their wives. Yes it was true that none of his aunts were much more educated than Chumki was and the colour complexion of them was also not much of a significantly different to Chumki's, only a shade lighter probably. But the strata of society from which Chumki belonged was much of a talking point. Though Sandip was not given to much class consciousness but this marriage of his would open up a can of worms of the imaginary divisions of our society that is classified as. A lot of questions would definitely be raised of Chumki's family background. But then Sandip owed his life to Chumki when he gave a deep thought.
Sandip then took a big gamble of his life. He married Chumki in a simple village ceremony attended by all the villagers and the the Panchayat members. The marriage was registered by the sole government registrar of the village.
After extending immense gratefulness for saving his life to Raghab and Shyama and to all the villagers, Sandip and newly wed wife Chumki left after a tearful farewell.
On reaching his house, Sandip knew that there would be high voltage drama, so he was mentally preparing himself for it.
His parents were visibly angry along with his uncles and aunties. But then good sense prevailed and to allow minimum scene creation they were allowed in. Because the neighborhood would be reverberating with scandal if the drama continued indefinitely.
After a close huddle meeting between the elders it was decided that Sandip to keep his wife here, his wife as a condition would do all the household work that a hired maid does and no maid would be employed. Chumki excitedly agreed because she had confidence in her abilities and wanted to give relief to her husband of the dilemma. Sandip mildly protested but was suppressed by an animated Chumki.
Then Chumki started her new life. Sandip contacted all his friends even those that had deserted him in the Sundarbans and invited them to a reception ceremony in the honor of Chumki. All his friends had returned safely home and were feeling terribly ashamed to have left Sandip in such an unprotected way.
Chumki was very happy and jovial in her new life with a God like husband in Sandip. She did all the household work, sweeping and mopping the floor, cleaning all the utensils and also doing the cooking for the big joint family. Then at the fag end of the day when everyone was fast asleep she would retire for the day quietly sneeking into the bed beside Sandip cautious not to awaken her 'God' after his hard day. But Sandip would be wide awake thinking of how to make his new wife's life better. He would drag Chumki close to him and found her to be ever smiling and happy. With glee she would kiss him and cuddle him. Sandip knew that she was overjoyed with her new life. Then they would indulge in a whirlwind romance for fifteen minutes and then go to sleep. But Sandip kept on thinking while his wife slept peacefully with an arm around his body secure and snug and basking in love. He pledged over the body of his sleeping wife that he would give her a better life. No woman had ever given her so much love and respect. In college he had his share of relationships but they had not lasted because Sandip thought he was was not good looking enough and the girls ran away to more handsome boys. So Sandip was not too serious about love and marriage.
But now he realised that if a woman gets security and love then she feels respected and happy. This thought made Sandip determined to give Chumki a better life. He knew taking her opinion was useless because she would never would want to go away from here. His elders were also now very happy with the new bride.
For about six months Sandip let Chumki live her life in the present way in which she was very happy. In his mind he was always thinking of some new idea.
Then he made his momentous decision. He quit his secure high paying corporate job and with all the accumulated financial benefits he moved with Chumki and baggage to her native place. Chumki had objected very much but he didn't give much thought to it. His elders had also protested but Sandip remained ever determined to give a better and 'respectful' life to Chumki. At Chumki's Village they were given a rousing welcome. The first thing Sandip did was restart the education process of Chumki despite her protests. She was more interested in home management and serving her 'God' like husband with whose love she had got such a dignified life. From his wife Sandip had heard how the villagers put their life at deep peril in search of honey and became ready meal for the Royal Bengal tiger . In fact she had herself faced the tragedy of losing her parents. Sandip wanted to do something constructive. He had seen abject poverty all around and so he wanted to explore avenues of employment of the villagers so that they come out of this vicious cycle of poverty. Then while living there Sandip had seen the effect of the natural calamity that regularly inflicts the region. The deadly effect of the rising high tides and flooding a regular feature.
First, Sandip bought vast tracts of non agricultural land and with rubbish and debris concretised it and made a huge shed for pastoral animals. He started small and bought two cows and two buffaloes. He started a small dairy cooperative. Sandip was an agricultural science degree holder and had been working in a seed and fertiliser company before he left his job. So this experience would come good. The villagers who were out of work for most part of the year were made members of the cooperative and learnt the process of dairy farming. Some milk men were employed on commission basis to teach the villagers the art of milking the milch cows and their maintenance. For the honey collectors he made an apiary where bees were cultured for the harvesting of honey. Now the villagers had not to venture in the jungle and risk their lives in search of honey.
With the help of the government agencies raised embankments were built round the village bordering the river to stop high tides and flooding. Sandip had the support of the local people. Some opposition he faced as always good things are opposed. But Sandip was in mission mode and the motivation he got from his beautiful wife egged him on.
Then with the help of Bank loan he built a big school house type building on a raised ground with multiple floors. On the higher floors he made his living quarters along with Chumki's maternal uncle's living rooms. He built guest rooms to accommodate his parents when they choosed to visit him. The lower floors were used as a school and during natural calamity would be used as shelter for the village people whose houses had become waterlogged.
Slowly his dairy business took off. Within a couple of years he earned profit and with it bought more cows and buffaloes. The villagers turned to become milkmen and by selling the milk increased their income many fold.
Chumki had also now graduated and became a teacher and started teaching village children in their school. As the cows and buffaloes numbers were increasing the thought came to Chumki that it was time for her to start a family.
She had raised this point with her husband on many a intimate moment with him but he had always relented asking her to complete her education first. Chumki had through the education knew the importance of educating the girl because the quality of the children depend on the quality of education.
As the years went on the dairy business was flourishing and now there were more than twenty cows, buffaloes and their calves.
Sandip had had satisfied the long standing wish of Chumki who was now pregnant with his child. Before her child bearing, Sandip 's parents came to live with them and assist in the maternity. With the help of the government Sandip had built a primary health and maternity centre so that the villagers did not have to go to far off places for primary health needs. Many doctors and nurses assisted in the hospital. Sandip had made the village Prosperous in a five year period. Though there were cyclones and thunderstorms but the human population had become resilient.
In due time Chumki gave birth to a son in the health centre. Everyone was overjoyed. Sandip named him Soham. Chumki was too happy, to gift her 'God' a son. She became more busy now taking care of her son and her students in the school.
Soham was growing fast and before he was two his mother would be a mother again. She desired to be a mother to a girl so she once told Sandip, '' Please do fulfil my wish to be a mother to your daughter, ''. Sandip had cautioned her of rising costs and the responsibility of educating their offsprings. '' Don't worry due to my education, I know how much it is important that one's children get good schooling. I'll ensure that our children are properly educated like their father, '' smilingly quipped Chumki one night to Sandip. The time came and she gave birth to a bonny girl whom she named Rani.
Sandip was now a happy family man. His parents were very happy staying in the village with their grand children.
Sandip now employed more villagers to look after the ever growing dairy business. But overall control he kept to himself. Every morning early he would rise and visit the shed to take a look at the cows and buffaloes. Now Soham almost two years accompanied him. He had lot of curiosity and with half formed sentences he kept asking his father. Then one day he saw his father see something and collapse in the ground and a strange spotted animal lay at his feet. Soham started running back home shouting out '' mummy, mummy''. He found his mummy breastfeeding his little sister. He became excited because after her sister, her mother breast feeds him also which he enjoys very much. His mother also enjoys feeding her son. Since her daughter was born, her son had been deprived of it. Chumki knew from the health workers that mothers should breast feed her children as long as they desired because it was nature's gift a great tonic for the children which prevented many diseases and built immunity. Her daughter had gone to sleep while suckling the nipples, so Chumki carefully laid her daughter on the bed so that her sleep was not disturbed. Then she picked up Soham and laid him on her lap and put the nipple in his mouth. Soham held his mother's big breast now heavy with milk, in his small hands and pulled away hard at the nipples. Both mother and son enjoyed the experience. Chumki was really enjoying motherhood and for that she always thanked Sandip her 'God'. Thought of Sandip broke her from her reverie.
Where was he? Why was he taking so long? Generally he came back after his daily reconnoiter and had tea with Chumki. What was delaying him? Meanwhile Soham finished sucking from one and took the other breast in his little hands and was about to put the nipple in his mouth when Chumki cajoled him gently saying, '' Honey, not now. Let me look for your Papa now . You can have your share from the other one later on.'' She pulled away the nipple from her son's small mouth and kissed him softly on his head. Then quickly covering her wet breasts she got ready to look for her husband. Thanks to her son, the milk in her breasts was replenishing fast and not getting accumulated and she felt light and good after he finished his share of suckling. In the health centre she knew many had come complaining that due to insufficient emptying of the milk there was lot of pain in and around the breasts.
Then quickly Chumki ran in the direction her son had shown with her son running after her holding the lower part of her saree. She was careful that her son should not trip over with his short legs of two years. Then when she entered the barn what she saw blew away her senses. She hid her son behind her and taking the lower end of the saree to her opened mouth and stopped short of giving a shriek. She saw her husband Sandip lying on the floor amongst the hay unconscious, it seemed and at his feet lay a leopard with his head resting on one of his foot . The leopard also seemed fast asleep. Momentarily, Chumki was in a daze of what to do. She first packed her son away to her maternal aunt Shyama and then again came back to the shed. No one had moved neither Sandip nor the leopard. The day had broken now and the sun had arisen. She knew that it was time for the milk men to come for the daily milking of the cattle. The milk men started strolling in. With a hush word Chumki cautioned them about the leopard and her unconscious husband. Some of them brought lathis and bricks saying they would kill it and get rid of the nuisance. Chumki advised them against it and decided to get the word across to the forest department which had their office in the village. Very soon the Range officer came with his men with tranquilizing darts and net. A caged van was also brought. A doctor was also called to check on Sandip. Very soon the leopard tranquilized and captured in the net was put in the caged van and taken away. Later on the forest department would decide to put him in the zoo or released again to it's natural habitat in the jungle.
Very soon Sandip regained consciousness and luckily he had no sign of injury. Chumki carrying her daughter in her arm and holding her son's hand in the other came close to Sandip much relieved and thankful that he was safe and sound. The forest ranger had taken photographs of the leopard lying with his head on Sandip 's feet and shared it with him. Later on this photograph would adorn his study table in his office. Then the ranger told a story that was very incredible.
A leopard had been sighted for some time though this was not their natural habitat. It's being said that a female leopard had died leaving a pair of cubs near a hermit 's hut deep in the jungle. The cubs were too small then and were still feeding on their mother's milk and had not learnt to catch their own prey. The sadhu or the hermit had taken the custody of the only one cub that survived. He himself being a vegetarian had been feeding the cub on vegetable, fruits and plant foliage. Strangely, the leopard cub survived on vegetarian fare and grew up to be a benevolent, harmless creature. Recently the sadhu had died of old age leaving behind the cub as an orphan. Since then the cub who had now grown to maturity was searching for his master. The cub, which was a male, had accidentally entered the cow shed of Sandip and seeing him may have mistaken him to be his master. So he had meant no harm to him and lay docilely at his feet. Sandip though still being the city boy had not yet become all season hardened rural rustic, couldn't digest the sight of the leopard cub and had immediately collapsed. The Ranger left after narrating the amazing story of the Unusual Pet.