It was pitch dark Tuesday night of January. The year had started just a week back when Bishan and Jagdu had wished a happy new year to each other. Both were small time cattle thieves and part-time casual workers taking up assignments of all sorts, depending upon their mood and the situation. Both were equally committed to their profession of theft. Some people often commented that these two reminded them of the pair with Jai and Veeru of legendary Hindi hit “Sholay”.
The night was eerie and cold waves were deepening the prevailing ghostly silence in the environment.Amavasya (no moon night) had been just a day before. Their pockets were empty and the month had just begun. This was a very compelling and a perfect situation to go for secret operation “Lift” in the nearby village Pilakhua. A banjara group had been staying there for the last two weeks. These were gadia lohars(गड़िया लोहार) i.e. a nomadic tribe of ironsmiths roaming in groups in the country but never settling permanently anywhere. The group comprised of moustached elders, some grand maa’s, charming damsels, young chhokras, few women of middle age, and many children, of course. The caravan found the place comfortable and halted their carts near a small orchard. Men and women were engaged in iron-smithy, making small tools and implements being used in homes and agro fields. The women with steel tough bodies draped in colorful Rajasthani lehanga cholis with bare backs and wrists laden with lac bangles visited homes of farmers and shopkeepers to sell their products at throw away prices to keep their hearths burning. The group had some milch cattles like goats, buffaloes and cows also. A few guards in the form of mongrels were also accompanying the cattles.
Jagdu had information about a Murra buffalo owned by the group, which had given birth to a calf on the new year night. “It will fetch atleast six thousand rupees in the market“, both concurred on the prospective price. The duo bowed before the village deity and fixed a cock for sacrifice after the operation gets through. Bishan lit a beedi (बीड़ी) and took a few puffs before passing it over to his pal. The strategy was simple – give some jalebies (जलेबी) smeared with dhatura powder (धतूरा) to dogs. Move slowly to calf and put it on the shoulder, just untie the rope of the buffalo and take away the calf, compelling the loving mom to follow the baby.
Jagdu moved first towards the banjaras. He had a strong dog sense. He took out a packet of jalebies and put before the dogs before they started barking to a high decibel level. A few growls of enquiry were made by dogs but the lure of sweets quietened them down. The entangled lot of humans was not at all worried of their worldly possessions at this moment. The children were asleep in the warm bosoms of their mothers. The young couples never bothered about the awake people. The old were on local booze and working persons were too tired to leave their quilts in these unearthly hours.
Bishen carassed the calf with his deft fingers. The hair felt silky. The calf was hairy enough with few patches of white on the neck. He crept among the yawning cattle. ‘Calf is healthy and may fetch a few hundred more!‘ he murmured. He embraced it and tried to lift it in one jerk to reach his strong shoulders. Jagdu had already loosened the knot of the rope tying the buffalo to nearby telephone pole. He signalled by giving a hoot and waited for the reply in return. The delay seemed taxing on Jagdu. “Why Bishen is taking so much time? Shortest delay could be risky.” He knew the value of time management in his profession. Bishen tried to lift the calf again but found it very heavy. He tried again but to his utter surprise, the calf stood on its hind legs and held Bishan in his arms. It his career of 15 years as a thief, he had never seen a calf like that. He tried to get away but the calf clasped him tightly. What sort of calf is this? he shouted. He was feeling asphyxiated now. The calf was clasping more tightly with his every attempt to free himself. Jagdu lit a match stick and shouted, “Abey! Ye to bhaloo ka bachcha hai !” (अबे, ये तो भालू का बच्चा है!) (This is a bear calf !) But it was too late. Bishen shrieked for help as there was no way to escape from the hold of the bear hug. Fear of life had taken over the fear of being caught by banjaras. “Help ! help!!” he shouted with full throaty voice.
Help came of course in the form of showering lathis and kicks from the members of community of thesegadia lohars. With bruises and scratches all over their bodies they sought the pardon from banjara chief and vowed never to indulge in acts of stealing specially in the dark nights of winter.
B-228, Nanakpura, Moti Bagh (S)
New Delhi – 110021