The sun was setting down over the paddy fields which were already harvested. Even the short “nora”(ends of the paddy after it was cut) was able to cast a long shadow in the light of the now red evening sun; he was watching it from the dusty road, with paddy fields on either side. It was finally vacation time. Finally he was back in his grandmother’s village. Now there was whole month to being getting pampered by his grandmother, who called him her “little Ganesh”. He could never understood why “Ganesh”. He was terribly thin at that time. The plum red sun was now disappearing into the far end of the paddy fields. The cows were already returning from the fields. Even the last of the hens were inside their cages.
He was amazed by the speed at which darkness enveloped the world around him. There was a chill in the air. There were so less people around. His town was not a crowded one, but here there were even lesser people. The darkness increased and he suddenly felt a tinge of fear. He ran to his other home, in what seemed like to him in another world.
He loved winter evenings. It was time a time when every one of them would gather round a small fire to warm themselves and children like him would be treated to a series of stories, village folk tales. He could already see a pile of wood waiting to be burnt, right in the centre of the courtyard. As usual there was a kettle hanging from a bamboo tripod below which the fire was usually burnt. So there was always a ample supply of hot black tea so that when they were busy listening to the stories the grown-ups would sip tea and carry on their own conversation.
There was to be a moonless night. The stars started appearing one by one and filled the sky by the time the fire was lit. He ran towards the fireplace and sat on one of the low height stool called “pira”, with the palms of his hand facing the fire, feeling the heat falling on his small hands. Slowly there were a few more people around, including his mother and his two uncles. There were also a few children from the neighborhood all awaiting for someone to start astory for them. He was expecting some of the old people to turn up. His grandfather was still not here, he had gone to meet some village meeting. They were the best story tellers. His grandmother had already put up the kettle and water was boiling already. The tea was ready in a few moments and distributed to the adults. Children were strictly prohibited from taking tea he did not know why. But who cared about the tea it was only the stories and “pithas” he cared about right now. But no one was showing up and he was growing restless. He hadn’t had a story filled evening for a long time.
He was poking the fire with a bamboo stick trying to control his restlessness. He was never a patient boy he would realize long time after. He was continually looking towards the front gate for his grandfather to turn up. May be would turn up exactly now. Oh! no he didn’t.
He could hear a booming sound far off. He did not care at first. But then it sounded so familiar. It was continuing and it increased in magnitude. And then he could hear the familiar “Doom, Doom ,Doom” , the sound of Doba (drum) in the village Naamghar(temple). But it was already late. It usually is sounded when the sun is setting. But it was quite late now, already an hour into the sunset. It suddenly seemed the entire village came to a standstill. The small sleepy village now suddenly seemed to be mightily alert. It was then that there was someone suddenly yelling out “Tiger on the loose, Tiger on the loose”.
The effect was more profound than the cause. Suddenly the silence turned to a deafening noise. Everyone at the same time was trying to get into the safety of the house. Many mothers calling for their children. He was dragged along with the other children inside the house by his mother. He was trembling. Something he had never seen live or heard live. Something which he had seen pictures and movies of. That was sending chills to his bone marrow. He didn’t know why. The whole village seemed to be in one big commotion. He suddenly realized that his grandfather was still away. But then he must be in someone’s house. He didn’t know what to do.
His grandma was in the kitchen, and he could hear a lot of clanging going on inside it. The kitchen was separate from the rest of the house as in most houses in the villages. He was afraid and shouted out “Aaita, come inside what are you doing in the kitchen?” She came out with many edible items and utensils. He then realized, if there was really a tiger then there was no chance that food could be cooked in the kitchen, who knows where it might be.
His grandma came in. His uncles however had left to join the group of men outside who were gathering to frighten the tiger away. He could hear so many voices. All for a beast he had never ever seen.
He was however shivering. Shivering badly. And there was only his mother, his grandma and the other children and him alone left in the house. It was supposed to be a story filled evening and there he was stuck inside. He still wanted a story. At least to keep him less afraid.
His grandmother however realized that the children were frightened and started telling a story. And he didn’t have to ask!
She started on a story on a similar situation which they were facing. Except the fact instead that it was during the day and instead of a wild tiger it was a rhino. He and all the others were listening raptly with eyes hardly blinking. The outside noise seemed to shrink. She started on how many years ago there was this rhino which came from the jungles nearby. It was a fairly common thing then. It had come to the fields at about the same time of the year as now and harvesting was going on. People were busy cutting the paddy. It was then that a rhino came slowly walking into their midst. All of them fled all
except one person whose name is not known because of this incident. He was a foolhardy. He was the only one who was hell bent on chasing away the rhino. So he took up a bamboo pole and started hitting the rhino. The rhino was oblivious to this. Their thick skin was so impervious. It continued to eat the paddy while he continued to hit it. Until he of course hit it near the eye. It was then when it took note of him and then charged at him. It is said that even elephants flee before a charging rhino. And poor guy he was a human. He was tossed some twenty feet away. Luckily he was not hurt much. The rhino having disposed of him continued its eating venture. He was however shouting for help. The villagers had heard him but did not dare retrieve him. They waited for the rhino to go away. Only then they went to see whether he was alive or not. Luckily he had a wound only in his thigh where the rhino had hit him. He had a permanent limp for his whole life. But more than that he got a new name – Gorhayhana( pierced by a rhino). And everybody forgot his old name. And he had that name till he died very old.
They had a good laugh. It lightened the mood around. He was no longer trembling at the least. He could hear the sound of approaching drums. Dhol and taal all could be heard at once. The men of the village were taking out a procession beating drums and other instruments to scare the tiger away.
They had some food and they were put to sleep. He could however not sleep with a tiger and a rhino roaming somewhere inside his head, little realizing that he would be telling this story to so many people later. His uncles along with his grandfather were back when he was still awake. They seemed amused, and then he overheard them that it was actually a hoax. There was no tiger. He suddenly felt disappointed and a bit sorry. He really wanted to see the tiger which was, now he came to realize, non-existent.
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