I could find a bush at last that could provide us a perfect niche to evade this spine chilling wind. Mustering hard feelings, I dared to have a look at her face. Her blenched face reflected total disagreement jeopardizing my time frame of this setup.
“ Well, do you like to have a cup of hot coffee? ” – broken the ice with my fragile words. She was staring down at a fresh twig just fallen down from the nearby Eucalyptus tree.
“Amma, who are you”, I asked coldly.
“I’m a Toda Woman dwelling over the top of that hill”-her hands pointed out the pinnacle, half covered with the milky mist, where none dare to go.
Having read about Todas from the books, I was more enthusiastic to know more about them. My wife was staring at the embroidery of the woman’s sari. I prepared to ask more questions about Todas.
“We rear up cows and bullocks and they are considered sacred in our part. We sell dairy products and it take care of our income”, She answered gazing at my wife’s chudidhar.
Pausing for a moment, she continued: “We worship Bull’s head”.
Making out the codes of eagerness on my face she asked whether we wanted to accompany her to her settlement. No sooner did she ask, than I started nodding my head to accept her proffer. My lightning decision did not even have consent from my wife. She still was staring at the woman’s sari.
Sipping down the cups of coffee, we pursued the lady with an avid look of enthusiasm. The path was muddy and more slippery that my wife got to take off her strapped heels. The old lady crept up easily, prodding down the climbers with a stick in her hands. I could see my partner clomping down the path, as she was unaccustomed to walk like this. A scent of medicinal flora swept crisply predicating the flourish ness of the hills strongly. The chirps of the unknown but familiar birds, reverberating between my partner and me, got disrupted when we walked in perfect osculation. Scaling the peak of the hill, we were breath taken to view the gargantuan scale of Eucalyptus trees herding the steeps at different altitudes.
The cold weather was more severe over the top and my wife could not help snuggling up my shoulders. We walked towards a gate of a stockade that boasted a board saying, “Visitors are not allowed inside”. We stopped entering the gate with reading the barricade board. A mixed feeling of fear and anger grasped its way through my nerves. The old lady stepping ahead turned back and grinned clumsily.
“Come inside babies; this is our village”, she bleated loudly.
Declinations on this moment appeared to be absurd and far from considerations as we were more than half way to the village. I summoned my wife and we stepped in to the fence. The houses appeared similar to Wigwams in shape but these were different in their roof and wall texture. Bamboo sticks were bent craftily to shield the roof. The doors were at very low attitude that a person entering the house should crawl down. I was tempted to have a look in to their houses but to my dismay most of the doors were shut. But I managed to find a house at last with door opened. With dark shades reining the room I could see only the floor of the room. Half the portion of the floor was dumped up with cow dung and maggots were swarming over that. A stench of half moist dung irritated my nostrils and made me to feel nausea. A quern was left in proximity to the dung with half ground grains in that which were too swarmed with flies. There was a structure, which looked different from the rest of the houses. To our astonishment, there was a seasoned head of the bull hanging in its entrance. The door of the house was closed.
“Amma! What is this place?”
“Oh! This is the temple of Pancha Pandavas. Thambi give adorations; you can succeed in your deeds”, saying that she knelt down like a mantis.
When I stepped forward, my wife grasped my hands tightly and gave a stern look.
“Mohammed! Shall we move from here?”-Her voice sounded with pain.
The old lady stood back and turned towards us.
“Do you want something to eat? ”, she asked looking at my wife. We nodded declining her offers.
A bare bodied man in this bloody weather crawled out of one of their so-called houses was very much puzzling to see us. His squinted eyes bluffed us; whether he was looking at me or at my wife. The old lady dragged me to that guy.
“He is my cousin Ranga. He owns two cows and five bulls. He is one of the richest here”
My wife chuckled behind me. Ranga stared at her briefly. He started bawling at the old lady with his hands pointing at us in a lingo unfamiliar to both of us. The old lady shown great anger on her facet and replied to him at high pitch. A peremptory small girl ran from the mist and conveyed some message to both of them in gasps. The news that was brought by the girl enlightened both of their faces.
“Come with me children. You have brought us good news”
“Mohammed we got to go back to our room. The weather is getting worse” my tenacious wife tightened her grasp.
A sudden uproar of ululation, deafening our ears, echoed in the deep mist of the village. I could feel a knot in my stomach. The old lady once again got hold of my hands and dragged me behind heaps of straw and cow dung. A group of bare bodied men and white sari clad women were dancing there, hopping their feet one after the other. The old lady too joined their ritual dance. We neared them with thumping heart and shaking legs.
A stench of fresh blood wafted through the mist. We craned our head to have the better view of the object around which Todas were gathered. A cow was lying in the bloodshed straddling its legs with a calf near its rear. The slithery looking calf tried hard to stand up and each time ending up in vain. Few of the Todan women poured water over the calf to wash off the smeared blood. The old lady handed us a wooden bowl of yellowish liquid.
“Drink it children; drink”
“I don’t need it Mohammed” my wife trembled.
“Drink it babies or else you will commit a sin of God”, Old lady warning words irritated me.
“Amma can you tell me at least what this is?”
“Foremilk; this cow’s first milk after giving birth. We consider this milk as Ambrosia here. Drink it dears”
The sour taste of the milk sickened my appetite and got to hold my breath to empty the bowl. My wife vomited on having a gulp and chucked away the bowl, holding her stomach. A surge of trauma filled the shaggy crowd and their looks congealed both of us. Ranga emerged from the crowd swiftly and pushed my wife wildly onto the ground. Not giving me a second to realize the situation, he hit me on my face with a wand. I fell on the ground jagging my lips harshly with my teeth. The old lady screamed and plucked the wand from Ranga. She started slapping Ranga repeatedly. The infernal moments did not held me back from lifting my wife from the ground. Ranga’s barbaric attack drove me amok instantly for my eyes searched for any sort of hard things lying on the ground. A broken log piece lured me very easily and came into my hold in no time. I thrashed down Ranga onto the ground without giving a second thought.
“Children, go out of the village; Or else you are going to have tough time now” Old lady’s words brought me pain.
We ran across the muddy alleys that messed up with the recent downpours. My wife could not hold her tears. She struggled to cope up with me on her bare feet; She left her strapped heels back in the village. After undergoing an arduous task of fleeing the village, we managed to come out of the main gate. A forest Officer, happened to drive in his jeep, seen us coming out of the settlement of Todas.
“Trespassers are not allowed inside this settlement Sir; I fear you both have to come to the Station with me!” the mustached Officer signaled us to get onto the jeep. The village at the back started to be disfigured with eclipse of mist. Seated next to my wife, I dared not to peep at her face again.
(The above post is a semi-fiction, published by me in sulekha.com in January, 2006 )