While everyone is paring down
Their fooding, clothing, lifestyles whole,
He’s started bringing contractors,
Upgrading ceilings, floorings, doors.
He wasn’t ever moneyed much,
And never held a moneyed job,
And never sold a lot of milk,
And never walked with shoulders tall.
And now his house is growing big,
And now his wife is wearing gold,
And now his kids are getting gifts
For doing things as they are told.
His cows are same, their milking same,
His customers are buying same,
So what has changed that he now boasts
A larger forehead kumkum flame?
Some say he sneaks into the night,
Returning when the sun is out.
He must be in some smuggling trade,
Something no one knows about.
They ask his wife, they ask his kids,
And all they hear is “gov-ment post.”
With “overtime” and “nightly shifts,”
A “temporary bonus” flows.
He must be smuggling, nothing else.
Which gov-ment post gives bonus pay?
And so the men arrive with drinks
To bribe their way into his trade.
He keeps their bottles, keeps their cash,
And says he’ll talk to higher-ups.
“You know how long the gov-ment takes.
You know their milky chai cups.”
They wait, he only shakes his head.
They wait, he blames the pandemic.
They wait, he says the higher-ups
Are themselves falling Covid sick.
They lose their cash, they lose their calm,
They raid his house in daylight broad,
Demanding show of gov-ment cheques
To prove he’s innocent of fraud.
He wraps his arms around his head
Refusing any show of proof.
He says his business is his own:
His own to make, his own to lose.
They beat him with their cattle sticks.
The wife and children cry in shock.
The mob ignores their pleading sobs,
When someone lifts a lying rock.
The wife no longer thinks of shame.
She wants her kumkum on her head.
“He burns the dead,” she shouts aloud.
“The gov-ment pays to burn the dead.”
“To burn the dead?” the whispers ask.
“To burn the dead?!” the men demand.
“A cowherd of our cowherd caste?!!”
They click their tongues in reprimand.
They shun him for his custom breach,
Deny him water from the well,
Revoke his children’s playing rights,
And steal his dairy clientele.
The second wave of Covid hits,
Their panic builds, their incomes fall.
Into the night the men dissolve,
With drooping heads no longer tall.