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How to Teach a Buffalo to Play Flute?
It was an early summer morning and I was awake. I wanted to stay in bed but the Sun hit directly at my face. I put the pillow on top of my head to block the light but it started to feel warm. Finally, I gave up and sat upright. I slept in the yard of our house in the village as the rooms got quite hot and insufferable. The sky was clear and blue indicating another hot day coming. A pair of pigeons were clucking on the patches of grass sprouting from the soil trying to pick up insects. I dropped my feet down the bed and into slippers.
In her shed on one side of the yard, Neema — that is our buffalo — was slapping her tail on her giant rotund body to ward off the flies. I wondered if she had been fed yet. My father’s cot was empty. Sometimes he fed her, sometimes I did. My grandfather was the one who used to feed her always, but he died. As I approached her, she raised her head and regarded me. She had a white triangle shaped patch right between her eyes which was the first thing anybody would notice. I couldn’t say if she liked me much. She considered me an annoyance. When I was little and I saw my grandfather feed her, I would get curious and run along. She would lick his arms and his face with her tongue. He would chide her, ‘Stop licking me you brute’. But when she saw me approach her, she would swing her horns warning me to keep my distance.
Now that my grandfather is not around anymore, somebody has got to feed her, and she understands that. She still doesn’t like me all that much, but at least she doesn’t get aggressive. I craned my neck into her feeding trough. There were streaks of leftovers from yesterday. She looked at me with large expectant eyes so big that I saw my reflection staring back at me. I went into the storage room filled right up to the ceiling with straw, brought out as much as I could carry and shoved it in her feeding trough. Then I ran back to my mother and asked her to fetch some oil-seed cakes. I also got some flour as well. Once I had the whole thing, I mixed the straw with oil seed cakes and sprinkled the flour on top. She likes the hay as much as any buffalo does, but she really digs in once I have got the white powdery flour sprinkled on top. My grandfather taught me that.
I brushed my teeth and decided to have breakfast myself: bread, butter and tea. Then I planned the day which was wide open since school was closed on account of summer. I could go to my friend Ranjan’s house and play board games or go to his father’s grocery shop in the market. I was thinking about it but suddenly I started yawning and felt sleepy. So, I went into my room and closed my eyes. It was cool inside and I started having one of those dreams where I knew I was dreaming. In this dream I was having, I was looking down a well from its edge. It was dark and I could see the shimmering water in its deep hollow. I could almost see my reflection in it. Then suddenly, I had slipped and I was falling into it. The darkness around me swelled as I kept falling. I looked up for someone to see me and help, but all I saw was the mouth of the well above shrinking. I screamed but not a sound escaped my mouth and I kept falling further and deeper into the darkness. Then my eyes popped open. I hate having such dreams. There are a lot of dreams like that.
I hate to feel afraid. The truth is I get scared pretty easily. I don’t know. It’s just that I think I might be a nervous person. I would like to be a person who is brave, somebody who does not get afraid. I really would. But the truth is I fear a lot of things. I fear darkness; anytime I am in a dark room or a dark alleyway, I would start imagining ghosts and demons lurking behind me. I get terrified when my parents fight and my father is screaming and my mother is sobbing. I don’t know what I am supposed to do when it is happening. I freeze when my father gets angry with me over something and beats me. I fear being the last one in class, even though I am not too bad at studies. Once my mother said to me, “Remember God when you are afraid. You will feel stronger.” First, it is a very selfish thing to do to remember somebody only when you need them and then expect help. Second, I tried communing with God, and it felt like talking to air. Anybody could make up anything in their head. I would know. I already do that. If I am taken by the demons (I know they are not real), I would go with them screaming and fighting than hoping for God to listen to my inner prayers and help. I just don’t see such interference happening. Fight imaginary fears and real father with imaginary God? How?
And people lean heavily on this belief in God. My school, if it weren’t closed now on account of Summers, would start the day with an assortment of prayers to appease an assortment of gods. I have decided I am just not invested in praying.
I was just thinking all that when I heard my father’s voice.
“Neema needs a bath. It is too hot.”
“We can wash her here. I shall bring the buckets.”
“I have to leave for some work. You will have to do it yourself. Or you can bring her to that puddle near the blackberry orchard.”
I was not going to ruin this day yanking buckets full of water to bathe a thankless buffalo. It was better to drag her to the puddle where she could roll around as much as she wanted and I would probably roam around the trees. May be try to hit a few blackberries with pebbles.
I ambled over to her shed. She was laying in the soft soil, fluttering her ears to ward off flies, ruminating, thinking about stars and the universe probably. I untethered her iron leash from the wooden block knocked into the ground, and motioned her to get up. Naturally, she didn’t budge.
“Get up.” I patted her smooth dark skin. I was careful to avoid her horns. I moved her back side and nudged her to get up. After a lot more cajoling, she ultimately did pull herself up.
I led her to the exit and down the stone stairs off to the dirt road. It was hot, but we kept to the shade in the street paved with bricks. I had to keep hollering ‘Come over’ and ‘Don’t go over there’ as Neema kept getting distracted by all sorts of things: a dog barking at her, lush grass sprouting in the fields, a bird sitting on her head, a motorbike zooming past us, other buffaloes. As we got nearer to the puddle, Neema sensed the path we had taken and got excited and hurried up. She loved frolicking in that muddy pool. I chased after her as I was afraid that she might strike accidentally somebody in her way. She wouldn’t stop until the water was finally in her sight. She leapt into water and started gliding like a large unseemly duck with horns.
It was not a bad place. Grass covered the area beside the mud pool and around it stood a lot of trees: Bamboo, Banyan, and Blackberry. It was cool and shaded. I just sat there in the grass watching everything around me. It was peaceful.
Neema bobbed her head from under water and looked at me.
“Don’t feel alone,” I said. “I’m here same as you are.”