Monthly Archives: December 2012

Omar – the cowherd


Omar was a smart boy. He was not exactly an orphan, but as his parents were too poor to feed him, they “gave” him away to Muarabu family that had come to their coastal village looking for a workhand. Omar was smart, but illiterate, and so was asked to look after the Muarabu family livestock. That morning, he was called by the head of the house and after much questioning and threats, was also slapped twice or thrice. Omar did not protest and in between sobs, he tried to apologise, but knew that he would not be pardoned. He had been careless.

The Muarabus stayed on a farm estate to the North of the Island and not very far from the white sandy beaches of Nyali. The land was not very fertile, so the family also raised some cattle and goats and chickens. They sold the milk to the local milk creamery and the goats to the city butcher. The eggs from the chicken were sold at the city market on alternate days. Omar’s job was to tend to the cattle as they grazed in the nearby fields and to bring them back home by dusk each day. Though the grassy plains were a distance away and across the highway that ran along the coast, Omar took his cattle to the little visited hillocks by the Nyali beach each day, as it was secluded and yet provided grass for the cattle, while he could relax under the shade of the casuarinas and coconut palms and the gentle sea breeze ensured that he would never feel too hot. On Sunday, he had taken the usual route to the little hillock overlooking the coral reef and chose a little palm grove to settle down while his cattle grazed nearby. And as the sun was going down, he let out his usual cry to the cattle, as he raised his stick to signal them to return to him so that he could herd them back to the Muarabu homestead. He suddenly noticed that the black Zebu was missing, and she was not the mischevious kind. So he was upset and he hollered again and again – the usual evening cattle call, “harrrr harrrr” in his unusual high pitch voice, but there was no response. It was getting dark and the scrubland that he stood on was quite deserted and for a 15 year old, he was not brave enough to stay on longer. He tried staying on as long as he could, but had to return in vain. The head servant of the household yelled at him and even threatened to disallow him his evening supper – a plate of ugali and some fish curry. Omar pleaded with him not to tell the master and that he would look for the cow in the morning, but the news reached the Muarabu house by the morning.

So he set out to look for the missing black zebu and took the other cattle back to the same grazing hillock as the previous day. And as he reached the shore – he could hear a familiar sound. Above the rhythmic rolling hush of the waves, he heard what sounded like a moo. He ran towards the cliff overlooking the sea. He feared the worst, that the cow must have slipped down the limestone cliff and fallen into the cove below. And he knew that this stretch near the sea had no beach but coral outcrops, and could be injurious to it. He peered down the cliff to look north and south and all he saw were gentle waves rolling up the coral and limestone outcrops and the clear waters were a light greenish blue, not cyan – as the tide was still to roll in. But the moo was still to be heard and was coming a nearby source, so he gingerly pushed aside the bushes on the cliff and walked back in the direction of the cow sound. And lo and behold – there was a cavernous opening in the ground that dropped over 30 feet downwards and as he circled the rim of the cave’s open roof, he saw the lost zebu cow in a corner of the cave, not very far from the sea. It was standing atop a wet rocky structure. Omar was relieved to find his zebu, but how would he be able to get the cow out of the hole in the earth?

The D Street Boyz also felt slapped as they got into office on Monday. The men had seemed to have lost their dignity for an evil act that happened at Capital Street and they knew that there would be protests. And while some Boyz joined the protest, and therefore reduced the business on the Street – others were beaten down as sheer protest against Men (though the Boyz could have protested to that as well, as they were still “Boyz”). And as they traced their steps, they looked for their lost ground and chose to climb their personal hills on Wednesday and stay there looking for their lost cause and when they found none, then had to relent and descend on Friday – and so the SENSEX that they always carry with them went from 19350 to a dizzying 19500 (almost) until it lost its steps and fell down to 19242….

Omar could not leave his cattle unattended, but he still needed help to get the trapped black zebu out of the cave. And he ran to the village where the Muarabus lived, but did not venture home. Instead, he chose to seek help from the Muhindi family that ran a small farm outside the village. Kantibhai was walking through the coriander and fenugreek patch when he heard the half panting, half yelling Omar. Initially he feared that some bandits were on his chase, but when he saw that Omar’s face had no fear, he asked the boy to relax and tell him what the anxiety was all about. Kantibhai heard his story and with a few farmhands, he followed the boy to the hillock by the sea. He peered down the roof of the cave and saw that the cow was not budging from its place by the little rock, although there was pool of liquid, milky in colour around its hind feet. It took about an hour for them to create an entrance to the cave from the top, which was precarious and slippery. And they slowly descended into it. The cave was like any other along the coast, but not many people had seen them, as these were carved out by the sea and winds and the rain; with stalactites and stalagmites. The cow was still standing over the stony outcrop and not very far from the sea. And as Kantibhai neared the cow, he saw an unusual sight – the cow’s udder was oozing out milk that was dribbling onto the rock below. The only other place where he had seen such a sight of milk dropping over black stone was at the Hindu Union temple in the city. He could not believe what he saw. The other farmhands also saw Kantibhai stop in his tracks, take off his shoes and bow down with folded hands. They feared blackmagic and almost immediately stopped dead in their tracks. Kantibhai looked back, gave them a reassuring gesture and after bowing to the black zebu, pleaded it to leave and it mooed and slowly walked away towards the open sunlight cave roof opening. Omar chided it up the slippery slope and everyone slowly left this cave. The farmhands and Omar were still shaking in their skins as they wanted to be away from here as fast as they could. Kantibhai turned back one more time, folded his hands and then as he turned just told the others “Mungu iko hapa” (“God is here”).

Have a nice week ahead……

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The Climb through the Pine Forest


Update for week ended 30 Nov 2012

The seven year old huffed and with limp limbs said under her breath, “Appa, I am tired, I cannot walk any further.” I looked back and saw the little figure clad in 2 layers of sweaters with a  half, yellow cardigan draped over her shoulders and felt sorry for her. The thin mountain air and the low temperatures made even adults huff after a few steps up these gradients. She was only a seven year old, so I stopped and endearingly told her, “Ok – let me the bulldozer and give you the push upwards so that you don’t tire, dear”. And that way I cajoled her to continue her 800 foot high climb from the road. Naldehra is a picturesque little clearing along the pine forest trail and has sylvan grasslands which would get heavy snow in winter to make it a little skiing slope for beginners. The place was converted into a golf course and still operates as one, but being surrounded by tall evergreen pines, the light green of the rolling grassy golf greens are perfectly offset by the grayish darker green of the pine. The steep climb to the hill was peppered by horse riders who would hire out the steeds to tourists to go up the hill and then give them a glimpse of the snow clad peaks beyond. We were done with the horse rides and instead chose to take the climb – and avoided the dusty horse trails, to take the winding steps that had been carved out on the slope for climbers. The sun pierced through the thick foliage of the trees and we could see the open green golf course to the right at times. But zig-zagging our way up to the hill top, I kept the seven year old and her older sibling engrossed in conversation to divert their mind away from the tedious, but crisp and perfumed climb. The pines rustled once a while and the sunshine peeped here and there till we got to a clearing in the woods which was not at a gradient, but rather flattish – almost like a summit, before another climb. We chose to rest our limbs for a brief while here; and with some clearing in the forest, there was more sunshine here for us to peel away one layer of the sweaters. The seven year old rested on a fallen pine tree that had withered with age and weary travelers resting on its fallen trunk. The softer inner core of the tree had also disintegrated with time and weather beats and a perfect cylindrical hollow made an excellent hideout for a seven year old. Energies recharged, we picked up a bottle of sweet beverage and walked up a few more feet to see what the horse riders were after. Their trails merged with ours at this clearing and the dust kicked up by the horses was enough disincentive for us to keep away from their path and instead walk on the grassy path upwards towards the pine forest ahead. Some of the horses had their day off, as we saw one graze on the tricky grass slopes and it grunted as we got closer. But the view to the east was a feast for sore eyes, as the snow clad mountains displayed their beauty from left to right.

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D Street had suddenly seen a whiff of cool breeze blow through it as winter set in. The D Boyz were overdressed to keep themselves warm, but quite surprised walked into their offices and with cool weather, a few decided to climb the stairs of their tall office building. But the younger ones among them were less experienced in these climbs and needed a nudge or two from their seniors to keep up the pace of climbing. The cool weather, the climb up the stairs also kept the D Boyz’s spirits in good mood this festive season and their SENSEX also followed step – as it climbed steps. So it climbed  a step on Monday and another large one on Tuesday, and the Boyz needed a rest on Wednesday. And that re-energised them to go on and let the SENSEX climb up even bigger steps on Thursday and further higher on Friday to finally see the pretty sight from atop. They could see the foreigners getting ready to fly into India to set up retail stores and restart the consumer revolution in this popular populous country. The SENSEX climbed the 800 points to end the week at 19340.

Our return was quick and energetic as we easily walked down the steps and the grassy slopes and passed by eager golfers about to start their round of 18 holes that warm afternoon. But we had other plans. We were in search of the hot springs along the shores of the icy Sutlej that zig-zagged its way through narrow valleys between these hills.

Have a great week ahead and share with me some of your travel travails and tales.

Cheers