Husbandman

“Didn’t he sell it already?”
“Yeah. Last week only.”
“Yeah. Yeah. I saw it too.”
“Same, same. Like this only.”

They stood watching him park
His tempo-rickshaw with a calf.
A male calf, unwanted at birth.
A male calf sold to Slaughter Slum.
Not castrated for oxen farms,
Nor auctioned off to Shiva temples
Nor left to die on its own.
A male calf who rode in this tempo
Last week for its last adventure.
A male calf who has come back,
Perhaps, from the dead?

“Yeah. It moves not, see?”
“Is it paralysed or what?”
“No, no. Stuffed its skin.”
“Shiva, Shiva.”
“Yeah. A doll calf.”
“Shiva, Shiva.”

He saw them looking wide-eyed,
Calling out to Pashupatinath,
The Lord of beasts and husbandmen
The Lord who likes riding bulls,
Not dolls made for Shivratri.
He showed them his beteled teeth
And raising high the stuffed calf
Showed them the stitches beneath
From chin to tail, running smooth:
A clean work of precision.
Proud of his decision,
He put the calf down again
And brought Mother Cow over.

Mother Cow ran to her son.
Her prodigal son, her beloved son,
Who’d left her, angry with her,
In a modern vehicle
To a modern world,
Like so many sons
Of so many mothers
Waiting at home on this street.
She licked him and caressed him
And licked him and caressed him.
She took a vow to give this son
All the milk her udder could hold,
All the milk her husband could steal,
All the milk her motherhood
Could squeeze through her teats.

For weeks she filled her udder full.
For weeks she tried to cajole her son.
For weeks she let the husband steal.
Still, her son did not take to her.
He returned not her affection.
So cold and stiff to her loving touch.
He touched not her amrit-kumbh.
This son she carried in her womb
Had come back to punish her.

She pined and pined all this while.
He smiled and smiled, the husbandman.
He showed them all the buckets of milk
Oozing from his clever plan.
He laughed when they asked him then
Where he got this wonder done.
Who was the skilled magician?
How do they too find a one?
He laughed and kept moving on,
Laughed and tapped his temple twice.
“Go to your Temple, you ancient lot.
Shiva, Shiva, Haha, Shiva, Shiva, Ha.”

Mother Cow had no such mirth.
Mother Cow wanted back her son.
The son who didn’t talk to her.
The son who…
Her eyes lost their motherly shine.
Her bones lost their fulsome fat.
Her teats lost their ambrosia.
Her feet lost their will to stand.
Veteran vets came and went
Shaking heads from side to side.
Side to side her jaw just moved
Ruminating on a lost child
Found again to be lost again.

They saw his packs of medicine
Dumped in the street’s garbage heap,
Floating in the street’s open drains
And sticking to their cows’ feet.
They saw him offering buckets of betel,
Leaves that the Lord liked to chew,
The Lord of beasts and husbandmen
The Lord who likes riding bulls,
Not dolls made for trickery.