I waited at the traffic signal. It had been a long week, and now, the city insisted on stretching it out with a light that was interminably resting on red.
I sighed and looked around me. Concrete apartment blocks stood in somber pose, gray and anonymous. Cars, buses and auto rickshaws squeezed onto the narrow road, cursing the old tree that stubbornly projected onto the tarred space. Horns screamed in angry frustration. The world looked unpleasant.
This is not all there is, I reminded myself. I smiled as memories scampered out of old nooks of a place that I would go to as a child. My ancestral village, Mudgal.
Dust rose as the bullock cart made its way up the narrow dirt path. Hardy shrubs lined the sides, pricking the bullocks every so often as they strode over pebbles and stones. The path curved to end at my grandfather’s home. It was made in the old, stone-built style that I loved so much. Two square pillars flanked the main doorway, standard-issue doormen painted on each side, ever ready to welcome visitors. Each side had a small platform, made from black stone, where I used to sit with my grandfather as he greeted fellow villagers passing by.
The bullocks stood patiently as their load emptied. I jumped off the cart, my 6-year old legs too short to reach the ground. I crossed the threshold, passing through the tall doorway that made me feel grand every time I walked under it. Immediately inside, there were two caverns, built as a waiting place for guests that weren’t intimate enough to enter the inner household. There was no furniture, and you couldn’t even stand upright in them. Farmhands would sit there often, when they needed to come to the main house for something. I used to run from one cavern to another, hopping down and then climbing up again, chasing my cousins during lazy afternoons when there was nothing else to do.
Passing through, the house opened into an open, cobbled courtyard. I ran across and climbed up the uneven stone steps with my stubby legs. Inside the main house, my grandparents waited for me, along with uncles, aunts, cousins, and house help that were like family. After touching everyone’s feet, I settled into my mum’s lap, as the family caught up on news and gossip.
At dusk, the cattle returned from the day’s grazing. Their bells chimed in the air, hooves clicking on the cobblestones as they crossed the threshold. There must have been twenty, thirty of them, sturdy bullocks, matronly buffaloes, small calves. I watched from above as they filed into the open enclosure next to the house. I found it funny how the calves inserted themselves between the adults, trying to move forward with the herd so as not to be left behind. I felt the same sometimes, forgotten by the adults in their world up there, having to run to keep up with their long strides.
During these times, I learned how buffaloes are actually gentle creatures. They look bulky but they wouldn’t hurt a fly. Indeed, the flies in the field pester them and all they do is flick their ears and swing their tails. On some days, when I was bored of people, I went into the field to be with them, touching their flanks, hugging them sometimes. I also formed a bond because that’s where I had to go when I needed a toilet. Exposed and vulnerable to them, they left me alone. I did my thing as they went about their business of chewing cud. Under the open sky, stars shone down on me, like watchful guardians, content to once again do this for a friend that had returned home.
To be continued…