Friday, 13 December 2013

Guest writer - Dilruba Z. Ara. The Voice of a Cow.

Dilruba is originally from Bangladesh but now resides in Lund Sweden. She is an accomplished author whose work has been published in many countries. The following story she is sharing with us is an excerpt from a story published by an international magazine - Asia Writes. Her website is below.



The Voice of a Cow.

At the sound of a curious noise the little boy pulls up the window hatch. Standing there he peers into the darkness, braving the chilled wind against his face. The window is neither glassed nor netted. It’s only a cavity. Open to everything. Like any hole. Airstreams blow past the child’s face into the tiny room making the people within shudder and the fire in the stove shiver. His mother shakes her head in dissatisfaction, but his father smiles, looking at his son from behind. He too has heard the sound and is just as attracted.

 Cocking his head from side to side the boy tries to descry the source of the sound. But it’s difficult as his ears are assaulted with a cacophony of other sounds. Familiar ones. The sound of spitting, sneezing, blowing noses, or simply dry coughs. He hears someone, singing a Hindi song, he hears a couple fighting, he hears another couple giggling.  The boy feels restless; he huddles within himself. He strains his eyes and ears; the curious sound has now transformed into a lament.  The wind blows into his face, crickets hum around his head as his eyes roam through the murky darkness outside the hut. For a while everything is dark and then out of the darkness it emerges. The boy’s eyes are widened instantly.

Moonlight has fallen on it making it look like a mythological creature; standing by the swamp, bending its neck it’s tugging at some grass. A necklace of flowers is hanging around its neck, and its skin is  giving out a vegetal glow.   It is a cow. A beautiful cow. A very beautiful cow. Majestic. Wonderfully White. A Maharani among the bovines. The boy has never seen such an elegant cow. He can hardly take his eyes off it. The cow turns to gaze at him in return -- its munching jaws stop in mid-motion.

Inside the hut the boy’s mother shoves some extra timber in the stove. The other children gather around the fire. The father comes up from behind and wraps the boy with a ragged blanket. The child keeps looking at the cow.  A rich cow without a shelter and without a blanket seems odd in his eyes. He looks at his father.
“It seems sad, Father. Can I bring it in?”
“Where? Here?” the father frowns.                  
“Yes, just to warm her up. She seems to be suffering out there.”
The father lets his hand glide over his clump of beard a couple of times and then nods. The boy goes out and approaches the cow. The cow moves a little, but it is not frightened; just a wee bit surprised. The boy notices the loose end of a rope, hanging from its neck. He tugs at the rope. The cow follows him into the hut, without making a single protest.
“It must have gone astray,” the boy says.
“I’m sure it has. We will provide it with a shelter until we find its master,” says the father.
“It’s cold outside.”
“Tie her to the pole in the backyard. We will put some empty sacks on her to keep her warm.”
“What can we offer it to eat?”
“I’ve some left over starch,” the mother intervenes.
“It’s a rich cow, Mother,” the boy says, “I wonder, if it has ever been fed rice starch.”

Over the years, the father has gained the reputation of being an educated man among his uneducated neighbours. Once in while, people line up in front of his simple dwelling to have him fill in their forms, or ration cards, or to have their letters written, or read.
He is also recognized as an honest man who holds to the Quran, and every Friday faithfully goes to the local mosque to perform his Jummah prayers. During the days he works as a bookbinder, and during the evenings he teaches slum children to read. He doesn't earn much from his work but just enough to feed his wife and offspring. “We will give it what we have,” he says, “tomorrow we will start searching for its master.”

As it happens, the master of the cow is a cattle-merchant in Mirpur who treats his creatures well not because he is an animal-lover, but because he is well aware of his consumers’ demands.  Besides, fat and fit creatures bring in a fat profit. And particularly at Eid ul Adha  market one can make a fortune in the cattle business.  Now the Eid is in the offing, and the cattle-breeder has been over feeding his creatures to fatten them up. He has had them taken to the local vet to have them checked and rechecked. They are given extra vitamin injections; everyday his grooms have been brushing and bathing them, and a village girl has been polishing their horns and hooves. So as one may imagine, the merchant hits the roof when he realizes that his favourite cow is missing. He has been planning to put this nonpareil cow up for auction just to see how much money people were ready to pay for it. But now he is not only going to miss the money, he is also going to miss the fun at the auction. The cow can’t have run off by itself. Someone must have stolen it. Someone, who would like to sell it at a profit at Eid-bazar. Someone who begrudges him his fortune. Oh, the very audacity!

  The agitated merchant sends out troops of his employees in every direction to find the cow.  He sends out his three sons to the centre of the city; he himself goes to the nearest police station to report the theft. But all in vain. There is no sign of the lost cow. The morning passes, afternoon arrives, the evening draws closer. The wind falls. When the night settles in, the merchant walks to and fro on the roof of his three storied building.  He pulls at his long black beard which has a fat stripe of white just in the middle. He pulls at his hair. He squashes mosquitoes on the bare parts of his body. He shouts, curses and swears that he will murder the thief that has stolen his number one cow. The night passes like this. 


In the morning the boy wakes up in the slum. He thinks he has dreamt of the cow, but when he goes out of the hut, he sees the white cow tethered to the pole in the backyard. His mother has removed the sack from its back, and it’s sitting there on the ground with its legs folded under it; its white fur sparkling like silver dust along its flank and the bell on her neck -- which he hadn't seen the night before--glittering like gold.  He can feel the smell of cow dung in his nostrils. He sniffs it in, as he hears his father’s mild voice from behind,
 “The brass bell around the cow’s neck has an address engraved within it. It must be her master’s address. She has to go, son.”
“Can’t we keep her one more day?”
“No. She has to go now. The master must be searching high and low for her.”
The father has to go to his work so he asks the boy to lead the cow to its owner. The boy puts on a pair of clean full pants and a full sleeved shirt. Slips his feet into a pair of rubber sandals and ushers the cow out of their yard. He says goodbye to his parents and siblings and walks slowly towards Mirpur with the cow walking by him. It takes him almost an hour before he reaches the area. He finds the house quite easily. For a few minutes he stands in front of the imposing three storied building, awe stricken. The size of the building frightens him in a peculiar way, and he begins to back away, when from the top of the roof the merchant sees the little boy and the cow walking away with him.

The merchant runs down the stairs, panting. The boy has by then passed the building and is about to walk round the premises. The merchant catches up with him.
 “Where did you get that cow?”
The boy looks into the face of the man, his heart hammering. There is a black spot on the man’s forehead; he is wearing a lungi which is gathered far above his waist on the highest peak of his protruding belly. His long black beard with its sloping white stripe in the middle looks like the devil’s slide.  His pan stained teeth red like a vampire’s. Beady eyes - full of fantastic suspicion. The boy stammers.
“It came to us yesterday.”
“You little thief!” The man raises his voice, “it came to you on a visit. Pah! You have chosen the right person to pull a fast one on. Now I will make you pay for it.”

 ...



You can discover more about Dilruba at www.dilrubazara.com Her book - A List of Offences - is available at Amazon.com. On Decemeber 27th, 4Q interview will be asking her some questions.

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