The Other Side Of Farming
The buffalo on a bicycle that yielded home-brewed liquor
In the village, there are some professions so strange that you would not believe they are for real.
- Total Shares
The rubber tube of the rear tractor-tyre could be inflated to a five feet diameter. Now hold on to the fact whilst we deviate a bit.
Thirty minutes by bicycle from our farm was an irrigation dam called Tumariya, a vast expanse of clear blue water with the Kumaon Hills on the far horizon, and somewhere between were the fringes of the Corbett National Park. Very often I rode out to the top of the earthen wall and enjoyed a lunch garnished with beauty. You could see a few boats of fishermen who had bid and won the rights to the bounty therein. A rusty signboard warned ‘No Photography’ for security reasons, making me wonder what would happen if the soft dam made of mud were to collapse one night. Our village and our farm would be swept away within the hour. Such close-cousins beauty and disaster are.
And not far from Tumaria lived a forest in which two very disparate communities co-existed. One was of the nomadic Muslim Gujjars who had decided on settling down with their livestock, and the other, best referred to as ‘The Others’, was quite an undesirable lot known to be thieves. One was of law-abiding peaceful folks and The Others believed in breaking every rule. One produced milk and manure while The Others poached timber and distilled liquor from just about anything perishable. But both communities welcomed you with broad smiles and back-slapping.
The Gujjars bartered their bovine produce for wheat straw meant to feed their cattle. The Others traded their illicit gains and sometimes worked on farms under intense scrutiny because of their history of dishonest pursuits. Some of them built huts in the village, alarming the neighbours considerably. I had a first-hand experience of their ways when a couple of them worked for me one winter.
The very evening that I reported the timber theft, the farm bicycle disappeared as, what appeared to be, a sign of vendetta. (Representative photo: Facebook)
I was taking a walk through the wheat when I stumbled upon a flattened patch. And there lounged an eight-foot log of ripened teak obviously poached from the forest. I asked the men where the wood came from, getting no reply. The Others looked through me with innocent smiles decorating their beards. Being an idealist just out of college, I called the Forest Department and had the truant teak arrested. I was yet not aware how the keepers of trees were also always party to much larger thefts of the ecological kind. That very evening the farm bicycle disappeared as, what appeared to be, a sign of vendetta.
I had forgotten the incident over the course of harvesting wheat and transplanting paddy. The rice crop looked happy to me as I took a stroll on the overgrown road bordering the farm. I saw a man pushing a bicycle with a very heavy load on the carrier. It was Angrez, of The Others. His name, meaning Englishman, was perhaps inspired by a crop of red hair. The greeting was cheerful and respectful. He stopped to wipe his gleaming forehead.
“What’s that you got there?” I pointed to a large bloated tractor-tube weighing down his transport. It sat like a fat black beast behind him.
“Oh that is my buffalo,” he laughed.
“And does it give milk?” I joked.
He parked and barked, “Of course it does.”
From a bag slung on the handlebar, he withdrew a deep steel bowl. I watched his performance as he sat down on his haunches under the belly of the ‘buffalo’ and held the utensil between the knees.
“This is the teat,” he smiled touching the brass valve sticking out of the tube. “Now watch me milk her.” He inserted a bent nail into the yellow nipple and lo! A white stream splattered the receptacle. Soon he was forcing it into my hands.
“Drink it up, Bhai Saab,” he said with a wink.
I was staring at half a litre of home-brewed liquor. This was their method of carrying their ‘milk’ from one farm to the next. I had seen how the spirit came out but I still have no clue how it was pumped into the tube.
By the way, the bicycle belonged to the farm.