The old man lay motionless on the sagging country cot, enjoying the cool night breeze. The traditional ‘nulaka’ cords lacing the bottom of the cot provided him comfort and ventilation. An old, soiled bedsheet lay by his side. He would use it later in the night if it got cold.
It was Sankranti, the harvest festival, but the old man did not feel the happiness and excitement around him. He did not look forward to the pleasure of the traditional sweets, cock and bull fights, ceremonial rafting, and even the colourful dances, which he loved during his younger days. Nothing interested him anymore. The only thing he liked was spending time with his grandson, but unlike earlier, his grandson rarely spared time for him.
Gazing at the twinkling stars in his mind’s eye, the old man wondered how long it would be before he joined his endearing wife among the stars. Without preamble, his thoughts jumped from his wife to his friend and guide, a burly mongrel, who had religiously followed his wife as a matter of habit within days of her departure. The old man missed both of them very much, and was thinking of his hay days, when he heard footsteps.
Lying still, he focussed his ears on the sound and listened with undivided concentration. It did not take him long to conclude that the footsteps were heading towards him. He thought as fast as his rusted, fearful mind could process, and shut his eyes just before the footsteps reached him.
The intruders, two rugged young men, peered carefully at the old man, maintaining as much silence as they could. Noticing that the old man was sleeping, they turned around and strode purposefully towards the farm house. The young men had a task to accomplish, and did not want the old man to catch wind of their presence. They knew the old man well, and did not want to go through the uncomfortable process of dealing with him if he disturbed their plans.
When the intruders were out of ear shot, the old man opened his eyes and considered his escape options. There were four ropes tied to his cot, which sat in the large yard in front of the farm house. He decided against using the rope to his right, next to his head, simply because it led to the door of the farm house. He made a mental note to not touch that rope as any motion of the rope and the door might alert the intruders.
Next, he considered the rope to the left by his head, which led to the crudely constructed cow-shed. He quickly analysed the option and decided that taking that one would be as dangerous as the first one because anything could go wrong. A cow may moo, the door to the shed may creak, or the intruders may spot him from the window.
The third rope, next to his left leg, led to the well which was strategically placed at the corner of the yard to pump water into the farm. It was a very good escape option. All the old man needed to do was take a few steps to the wall of the well, walk around the wall and hide behind it.
Making up his mind, the old man hoisted himself off the cot, took his stick and held the rope to go, when he remembered the snake that was spotted around the well. He was very scared of snakes and froze at the very thought of the possibility of encountering one. He ruled out that rope as well, and realized that only one possibility was left now. An escape plan formed in his head and he made his move.
Stretching his hand, the old man moved laterally to his right until he found the rope. Holding it lightly, he started walking across its length. A shooting pain quickly descended on his lean, shaky legs, and he made very slow progress. He held the stick in his left hand to support himself as he hobbled ahead.
It took the old man around fifteen minutes to cover the length of the rope, which was around fifty metres. Pausing briefly at the end of the rope, the old man turned to his left towards the tobacco barn, instead of taking the right towards the field, his ‘nature call’ zone.
The barn was not too far, but he was breathless and out of energy. The pain in his legs was unbearable, and he could barely move. Cursing his uncooperative body, he urged himself on. His plan was simple. Get to the wall of the barn, walk by it to the door, slip in quietly and lock the door.
The old man was mid-way to the wall when he heard the footsteps again. His heart started racing, and an overwhelming sense of dread engulfed him. He knew that they had spotted him, and he had to escape to the barn quickly.
At that point, his youngest cow mooed loudly. Hoping that it would distract the pursuer, the old man trudged forward. With every passing moment, the footsteps were growing louder and the old man knew from the thumps behind him that the pursuer would get him soon. In a final desperate move, the old man lunged for the wall, but found himself groping only air. The stick fell off his hand and he lost balance completely.
Two strong arms caught him just before he fell to the ground.
“Are you alright Grand Pa?” the owner of the arms asked.
There is someone in the farmhouse,” the old man managed to say, breathing heavily.
“That is my friend Gopi. He is arranging dinner for us.
We wanted to give you a surprise.”
“Why are you going to the barn at this time Grand Pa?”
“I … I …”
”Did you want fresh tobacco?”
“Yes,” the old man lied.
“OK. I will get some for you now.
Tomorrow, I will fix a rope towards the door of the barn in such a way that it will guide and support you if you want to go by yourself.”
“I don’t need any support,” the old man protested.
“I know. This is for my satisfaction Grand Pa.
Not for you. For me.”