village was within the forest area. There were ancient trees all around
it, and rich luscious undergrowth invaded the village itself. Clearings
of the forest were cultivated with maize and barley. A stream flowed down
through the village and helped the lumbering trade.
was also a rakh or game preserve and no one could enter it without
a permit. A beast straying into the boundaries of the rakh would
at once be impounded; and unless the owner redeemed it early it found itself
with the auctioneer and the proceeds were deposited in the treasury. A
man spotted there had to pay exorbitant fines for trespassing over prohibited
area if he failed to propitiate the watchers. The status of the beasts
in the rakh was higher in comparison with that of an individual
villager, though occasionally they ran the risk of being shot at by people
fond of spiker.
Man in the
village and beast in the rakh were, however, neighbours and all
the enactments on the bluebooks could not prevent the settled facts of
their neighbourliness. Sometimes, while men were away at home, the beasts
came down into their farms and had their fill with maize or any other crop;
or men were led into the rakh in search of strayed domestic animals.
Often parties out on shikar passed through the village, engaged
village boys and loaded them with bakhshish, and sometimes the cops
came from the district headquarters to hold inquiries into the natural death
of a quadruped belonging to the game preserve. On the whole the villagers
regarded the game preserve as a nuisance and would have it done away with.
But they knew that it enjoyed the patronage of the ruler himself who seemed
to be even fonder of a horned beast than of a minister of State and if
ever he took pains personally for anything, it was for the welfare of the
horned beasts in the rakh.
Once it so
happened that a fawn was led astray from the rakh and drifted towards
the village habitation at dusk. Ordinarily the villagers would drive it
again to the rakh and the matter would end there. On this occasion,
however, the little beast was spotted by a young man of uncommonly high
spirits who had an eye for adventure. He sat quietly till the fawn covered
several hundred yards towards a grove of trees near the edge of a fountain.
The man moved quietly and unobtrusively towards the grove, took the animal
unawares and caught it. It was a feat unheard of before within living memory
in the village.
So far so good.
But what was the young man going to do with the prize? He could not keep
it chained at home, convert his home into a museum and let himself be dragged
into prison under the game preservation regulations. Nor was it feasible
to kill the animal secretly and throw a feast to his friends because the
truth was bound to trickle out one day with a tremendous bang. He took
a couple of elderly neighbours in his confidence who, much against his
expectation, did not applaud his skill or commend his velour but painted
a bleak picture of the possible consequences of the act and led him to
the headman of the village.
alerted the whole village and people thronged to the house of the headman
to have a look at the beautiful little fawn or to know how this unique
visitant was to be disposed of. Many were tempted by the prospect of a
community dinner and taste of venison, and urged the headman to bury the
matter along with the horns and skin of the deer.
But he was
firm. "Experience has taught me that the murder of a man or a fawn will
be out, whatever care we take to bury the horns," he said. "For me," he
continued, "there is only one way open and that is to lead the animal back
to the rakh." He added, "there is, however, another alternative,"
and he paused for effect.
shouted a few.
you only if the elders promise to stand by me for the honour of this village,"
"We are with
you," said one.
"Tell us what
you want," added a few more.
He gave them
the plan. He wanted them to go down to the capital city, seek audience
of the ruler and present the prize to him. "He is to reward us," said the
headman with some emotion, "either by remitting the grazing tax, or reducing
the rent on land."
of the plan swept the villagers almost off their heavy feet. The elders
appreciated the wisdom of which the plan was born and the more youthful
ones claimed their representation in the party that was to lead the fawn
to the capital. Preparations were made swiftly and early next morning a
party of eleven—a propitious number—left the village under the leadership
of the headman, escorting the little fawn.
over dry tableland or grassy meadows through villages or dusty roads, but
wherever they went they took the onlookers by surprise; and every one praised
the wisdom of the headman. They never felt choked with the dust or oppressed
with the hot sun. The sun was shining vertically above their heads when
they reached the river. Finishing their lunch by the river bank they embarked
a ferryboat and with high spirits and large expectations took their way
to the capital. The waves were alive with their songs.
morning they reached the outskirts of the city. The boat stopped as usual
at the octroi post and their difficulties began. Every head of animals
was charged a tax. But in the long experience of the clerk a deer had never
been led into the city and he could not say what he was to charge. The
headman claimed tax free entrance of the "royal beast" into the city which
the clerk would not concede in the interests of the State revenue. Ultimately
the headman deposited a sum of money with the clerk in expectation of obtaining
royal commands for its refund and probably of an order of dismissal for
the clerk. This suited the latter as he would seek the advice of his superiors
regarding the exact amount of tax to be charged.
The party directed
their steps towards the palace. They and the little antler felt somewhat
shy of treading over the tarred road, smooth, clean and polished. Sighting
the palace gates they shouted at their loudest: Maharaj ki jai (victory
to the Maharaja), etc. and people from the neighbouring houses came to
stare at them and the little captive quadruped whom they were dragging
along. "Is it a village circus?" they asked. The sentinels on duty at the
gates, not knowing the intentions of the people, alerted themselves and
the procession was stopped a hundred yards away from the palace gate and
the guards asked them what they wanted.
The ruler known
to be an arch-aristocrat in the city passed many times through their village
and talked to the inhabitants in their own language. The headman had often
chatted with him with a degree of informality. He, therefore, told the
guards that they wanted to talk to the ruler. They did not condescend to
let the guards know any more about their mission. But the latter knew the
formalities at the palace and would not let them in. The corporal asked
them what they were going to make of the deer and very reluctantly the
headman gave him to understand that it was to be presented to the ruler.
The corporal conveyed the intelligence to the captain and the captain passed
it on to the private secretary of the ruler.
The small crowd
was waiting at a little distance from the palace gate. Every moment they
expected the ruler to send for them and to receive them in open-hearted
glee. They had seen him extremely fond of these antlers in the rakh and
he had often preferred to go without meals rather than miss the chance
of giving them a chase. They cried themselves hoarse with shouts wishing
victory, health and happiness to their ruler down to his seventh generation.
A quarter of
an hour passed and they were still waiting at the same spot with the palace
gates closed against them and the palace roads untrodden by them. The sentinels
on guard who gradually gathered all details from them told them that the
private secretary was about to bring the matter to the notice of His Highness.
Their faces beamed when an A.D.C. came to the gate and told them that since
His Highness was not feeling well he had asked his prime minister to attend
to them and that they should approach him.
raised shouts of joy though less loudly and disappointment was visible
on the faces of a few of them. However, the headman led them enthusiastically
to the prime minister. The latter was completely taken by surprise, for
His Highness was so ill that he had not informed him. The prime minister
was an experienced and intelligent man who had risen from the ranks. He
had had no time to spare from his duties to attend to sports like hunting.
He shuddered to think that he would ever be led to kill a peace-loving
animal far away in the forest, let apart doing so for pleasure. He was
pleased to look at the comely animal and he remembered quite a few lines
about its kind from Shakuntala he had read long long ago. But apart
from that the matter touched no sympathetic chord in his mind. Forests, rakes, and
villages were in the portfolio of his cabinet colleague the minister for
revenue and he directed the villagers to wait upon him.
was now writ large on every face. The headman was burning with rage in
the heart of his hearts, but did not think it discreet to express it. "I
must make something out of this bad bargain," thought he, "otherwise my
prestige as the headman is washed in the blind alley that we have come
to." He spoke a few cheering words and they met the minister for revenue.
Here was another genius at the files and the decorum of red tape. He never
bothered his head about such petty matters as game laws in the State but
remembered many cases of international law and, of course, his Cuthbertson.
give me the little beastie to ride, papa dear?" shouted a little girl,
Dresumably his grand-daughter, who was watching the village folk from a
first floor window.
He could not
help the villagers in any way as he had never poked his nose into the game
preserves which interested His Highness and his guests. In all such matters
he was guided by the advice of the collector. He referred the processionists
to the collector as a matter of course.
From His Highness
to the collector, what a big fall it was! The headman spat on the ground,
trying to clear his mouth of the bitter viscous saliva. His fellows and
he were hungry and beaten with the callousness they found everywhere.
"My dear men'
by ill luck His Highness is unwell, otherwise each one of these should
have tried to seek your pleasure. We have amongst us probably a sinner
whose presence has led us from bad to worse. But men are born to face odds,
and who amongst men is hardier or more courageous than we who are constantly
at war with nature and her ferocious beasts?"
There was no
response from the throng and the villagers followed in his wake famished,
disheartened and broken, to the collector.
The last mentioned
officer was the only one familiar with local conditions in most parts of
the State and he could at once visualize what it meant for the villagers
to have come to the capital from the distant village bordering on the rakh. He
felt pity for them and gave them a little money to enable them to have
something to eat. Beyond that he was bound by the laws. He consulted the
warden of game preserves who gave him to understand that the villagers
would incur severe punishment if he were to take official notice of the
presence amongst them of the little fawn. He, however, was inclined to
take a lenient view of the matter and disregard the offense.. The generosity
of the collector had won for him well-merited appreciation in the minds
of the villagers and they looked up to him for some more favours. He had
only to explain to them in detail what the warden had communicated to him.
"The best course for you," he said, "is to go home quietly and set the
fawn free in the game preserve."
stepped into the boat that had brought them to the city. They were poorer
by the amount deposited with the clerk at the octroi post who having heard
the story of their ill-fated expedition refused to part with the deposit
which he considered well-earned. The boat pushed of I, was pulled upstream
and the villagers experienced a feeling of relief, their faces away from
the city. The breeze was cool and they felt refreshed as they lost sight
of the far-famed metropolis, and they sang in chorus, unburdening their
hearts of the feelings by no means enviable.
of the song was: "hanglo karyo lola mate lad" (O deer, may I fondle