Unknown | 2/15/2017 |

In hot summer days when the breeze begins to blow southwards and the slow moon climbs up the sky even as the scorching rays of the sun blaze around the sand dunes, all the men and women retire to their tents for supper. The children dust off the grains that had settled on their shirts. Taking a half filled tumbler of water, they wash the sand off their feet and with the same tumbler, they collect clean water from earthen pots and pour it down their throats. Their mothers serve them thick roasted bread with some pieces of onion and chilly pickle. The men lounge on the choir cots and discuss the plan for the next day.

The horses and the camels crowd around the tents. They start snorting and calling each other: Hiya there! How was the day?

On one such evening Teja, the horse was standing very close to Roshan, the camel. He noticed that Roshan stood critically looking at the vast desert that lay beyond the village. He had strained his neck and pricked his ears. Teja looked in the same direction to see if anything was wrong. But all was quiet and only the moonlight played tricks. The clear blue sky had settled into a darker hue for the night. It was not possible to tell how far the horizon was and what might be beyond it.

He asked Roshan,
What is it? What is bothering you?
Nothing Teja. I am just watching out tonight.
Teja looked around. Each tent omitted a different shade of light. There were silhouettes of different shapes in each tent. They cast a variety of shadows. Some tall, some fat. Some tents were dark. These were the ones with only men who lay quietly. The women and children bustled about in the well lighted tents. For them the day was not yet over.
It was the same quiet night of a summer day. The breeze cooled the air. A little sand skirted round his long legs. He stamped his hoofs to no purpose. He flexed his muscles and shook his head. His mane felt laden and dry. He looked backwards from the corner of his eyes and sighed.
Roshan saw that his friend had become restless. He called out loud like a warning for strangers and then folded his legs and sat down. The hot sand under his belly moved away to adjust to his shape and the sand underneath was cool. Then he raised his eyes towards Teja and asked,
Is anything the matter?
I was just feeling sad, remembering my earlier life. I used to be so dauntless.
When was that?
More than 6 years ago. I came here at the age of 3.
I have been here since my birth 7 years ago.
Yeah, you belong to this place.
Where were you before this?
In a green valley. It was a village across these hills and I was able to graze on my own once in a day. Not like over here, eating dry grass from a bag.
That hurts?
Of course it does. This is nothing compared to my green valley.
Poor thing, your master did not want you there. He sold you off.
I am not very sure of that. I used to draw a wagon. I was born there and even at a tender age, I had great strength. When I was two years old I carried a load of goods from the valley to the steep hills above. I never overturned the wagon as my cousin had done once. He had suffered a beating for it.
Poor thing. Here, nobody overturns a wagon. There are more humans on it than goods. I am happy with the dry grass I get from them.
It’s very little compared to my green valley. Your life here has been tough. What with only the blue sky and the yellow desert to look at. I used to romp about in the little flowerbeds. The hillsides showered a myriad of colours: moss, clay, ash, mica, coal, silt, mist, snow, strawberry and plum. I lived with my mother.
Yes, you must be missing your mother now.
Home, Roshan, I miss my home.
Make this your home Teja. That is the only way for us slaves to be happy.
When the humans decide our fate, they think only like themselves. They want to use a strong horse to draw wagons with loads of stuff for themselves. There is nothing for us in it.
But your master sold you off. He did not want you there. What could you have done?
I could have trotted off to another part of the earth. There might be some place on the surface of the earth for a herd of horses to graze by themselves and run about of their free will.
I would have been very lonely without humans. They keep us together, me and my brothers. They give us food at proper intervals. All I have to do in return is pull their caravans. Otherwise, fending for myself in this lonely land would have been quite terrible.
What were you looking at when you stretched your neck and concentrated in that direction?
O that? I was watching out for danger. You know, ever since I was born, my mother told me to watch out for danger. It is likely to come from that direction. Danger always lies in the unknown. It is only through training and exercise that one can learn to anticipate it.
You think there’s danger beyond the horizon? Why? It’s so calm. There can only be the breeze and in case there is a huge storm, it is natural and no one would survive that. Not even our masters. If I were you, I would not sit there quietly watching out. I would have run forward to explore.
Then you think this alertness to danger is illusionistic? Am I not supposed to protect my home?

Yes, there you are. You are at home here. Your master saw in me a thing apart. He wanted a horse; it is different from a camel. He saw me doing things briskly and decided to harness my strengths to his own selfish purpose. That is why he went over to my master in the green valley and bought me. Look at my children. They have never tasted sweet water from the streams. They have never seen a wild fruit.
Roshan became quiet. He looked at his family and uttered a sigh. He wanted to know what exactly Teja was talking about: mossy hues, sweet water, wild flowers. Anything beyond the yellow desert was dangerous, his mother had said. He strained his ears to hear unusual sounds but it was all the same: the cool wind from the north, the swish of the sand, the cries of a human infant from one of the tents.

Dr. ANURADHA BHATTACHARYYA is Assistant Professor of English in the Postgraduate Government College, Sector-11, Chandigarh, INDIA. She is author of two novels, One Word and The Road Taken. She has published three books of poetry from Writers Workshop, Kolkata, INDIA. Her short stories and many poems have been published in journals and anthologies worldwide. She is the Chief Editor of Worldereader, an academic e-journal published by her College. She has recently been felicitated by Kafla Intercontinental as SAHITYA SHREE.



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