Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Dusk time stories - 1

Muthassan turned to me and yelled "Mone, run, and tell Bhaskaran to come as soon as possible". He did not even look at me, his eyes were still glued there, up at the stone quarry. But I could almost sense the feeling of dread in his voice, the look of hoppor and hopelessness in his eyes.

It was dusk; no a bit later than dusk. The birds had already nested, and the Sundaran Nair's shop, where half of the village would gather to gossip and buy their provision for the day would have been empty. The last of the drunkards would be heading home, and the prayer lamps were being taken in one by one to be replaced by the dim incandescent ones, and the children reciting their lessons.

I ran through the paddy fields. Dry now, since it was way beyond harvest time. Bhaskaran's house was across the field, about half a kilometer. The touch-me-not hurt, but then this was not the time for that. I realized that I did not have a torch with me, and that I was not wearing slippers either, but then, the house is not too far. I could almost see the house and the silhoutte of Bhaskaran, washing his feet near the house.
"Bhaskaretta!!” I shouted.

The stone quarry was steep, and not very safe. It did pose and imposing picture, rising about 30 feet from the ground, really really steep. We used to go into it and yell, and listen to the echo. Sometimes, just taking in the deafening silence in the structure. We had even tried climbing it, Hari and I, and had got half way when we ran out of crevices to hold on. We'd just managed to come back with some bruises. Of course, no one at home got to know of that. They'd have built a fence around it.

More than to adventurous children, it posed a much greater danger to wandering cattle. We had built a fence around it, the ones you find in our parts, called the "Veli" with bamboo thorns strewn together. But the persistent goats had made quite a lot of leeway into it, a gap there, another one here, and yet, a third one there. Now goats have this fantastic ability to climb cliffs, and somehow stand on almost vertical surfaces. No doubt, inherited from their mountain cousins. And Ammuamma's goats always did wander onto the quarry, though I have never understood why, since there was no grass on it at all. Maybe they too had some sense of an adventure in them...

But now, why did Ammini, the cow wedge in through the fence to get on top of the quarry?

Ammamma, who'd gone out to the work area outside the kitchen had heard it first, a kind of gasping sound and then the cow moaning. She did somehow realize that it must be coming from the stone quarry, and called Muthassan and told him about it. Muthassan always had this hurried and urgent pace to anything on earth, and he immediately took a torch and started for the quarry, about a couple of hundred yards on the hill in front of our house. I was always looking out for some excuse to escape from the textbook, and I joined him too.

Ammini's cries could be heard. And it did not sound good. We reached the bottom of the quarry and looked up. The light was dimming, but we could see that she was dangling on the quarry. She had managed to sneak in though the fence. She had somehow got a foothold (hoof-hold?) on a small crevice, and had her hind hoofs on it, but thet was all. The only thing that was holding her was the rope around her neck, fastened to a tree beyond the fence. I did not dare imagine what it'd be like if she fell. She'd be hung to death. If the rope broke, she'd fall to her death. It was about thirty feet of rocks. Muthassan thought about the most able bodied man who'd not be drunk now.

"Mone, run, and tell Bhaskaran to come as soon as possible!", he shouted.

Bhaskaran had just returned from work. He worked in an electrical shop, re-winding motors with a dextrety i found amazing. I told him about Ammini, panting and in a moment he was on his way, magically procuring a long rope, a torch and dragging me along.

We got back and Ammini was still holding on. Muthassan had climbed to the top of the quarry now, knowing that nothing could be done from the bottom of the steep cliff. We climbed to the top too. By then, Rajan Nair, a neighbor had come too. I really did not know what these guys were up to. It was really dark by then.

Bhaskaran and Rajan Nair fastened the rope that he had brought along to a tree, and made a sort of a loop at the other end. And then in a seemingly impossible way or rescuing her, Bhaskaran started climbing down the cliff. Ammini somehow remained calm, seeing him slip beside her. He asked Rajan Nair to tighten his rope. Then dangling on the rope, he began pushing Ammini. Ammini, sensing what he was up to tried her best too, her animal instincts for survival taking over. We began to tug and pull at her rope, and though we were a bit scared of choking her, we somehow knew that it'd be only for a couple of minutes and that she'd survive the pull. Slowly oh, so slowly, she did make progress, and Rajan Nair took off a minute to pull up Bhaskaran a bit and tighten that rope again. It must have taken just a couple of minutes, but it did indeed feel like a long, long time. Finally, Ammini began to emerge, and once her front hoofs were out of the cliff with just a little bit of a nudge, she jumped on to the flat ground. And Bhaskaran soon followed.

In a way not many of us could have reacted, he smiled and patted Ammini and told her, "Girl, don't do this again, ok?" and gave her a small slap on the stomach. Well, she did seem to understand.

The quarry has been walled since, but well once in a while, a goat does manage to get on it, but then they have a much better sense of balance than poor Ammini did..

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