Fiction: Baloo

Abu Siddik

- Abu Siddik

 “A worthless wishy-washy fellow! No work, no family!” muttered the old man, and sat silently beside Baloo under the shade in the mango grove, wearing a reproachful look.
Baloo’s mother died when he was two, and his father fled with a girl of the neighbourhood almost a decade ago. He had no friends, no relations. He lived in his hut fenced with some betel nut trees, and kept some goats and pigeons and bees. 
He didn’t work in the fields. But when he was sought by some landed peasants, he helped. And he took no wages. Instead, a measly meal, a pouch of tobacco, and a pot of haria (a deshi beverage) were his usual call.
And the day when Baloo went to sow or harvest his hut looked empty. The birds forgot their mounting, the goats baaing, and bees ceased buzzing. And when he returned in the evening the birds perched on him, scratched and cooed.  And the goats began bleating louder and louder, and the bees buzzed again.   
“Baloo, you are a happy chap! I envy you!” said the old peasant with an ire in his voice.
Ballo took a sidelong glance at the doleful face of the peasant, and claimed, “Why not? I’ve the key.”
“What’s it?” bluntly the old man queried.
“It’s as easy as an old shoe,” quipped Baloo.
“Say if you like. I’m an aged man, and I don’t like riddle at this age,” woundedly he said.
“Why are you so restless? A hasty man can’t be in cloud nine in life or death!”
The old peasant didn’t speak. And Baloo eyed the luxurious chiaroscuro on the dead leafy bed where they both sat for a fleeting relief from the fiery sun.
“Are you a sage?” asked the old man with a sneer.
“Much wiser, man!” claimed Baloo, and opined, “listen, shun man, and love the trees, the hills, the skies, the birds and the beasts, and be happy. It’s so simple. But you worship gold, and it steals the beauty of your life. You hoard and die! You steal the toil of children and women. You kill beasts and birds. So bliss eludes you!”
Baloo spat, and lit a bidi.  His eyes shone bright, and face flushed.

Silence followed for a while. And then Ballo resumed, “You keep the calves half-fed, unfed, and inject their mothers to fill your pails twice a day.  You are a blood sucking leech found in plenty in our forests!”
Silence followed. The old man wore a quizzical face.Then suddenly he broke into a wild rage. He glared at Baloo and yelled, “I’m not a bird- keeper, and never want to be. Gold I need, and with it honour comes. My family was poor, and in most of the days we went to bed unfed. Brothers were lazy, and they gambled. Father was ill, and mother worked as a domestic hand. One day I left home, and slaved at sweet shops, tea shops, saw mills, fields, forests. Fifty years thus I passed. Then I bought some acres of lands, and built a house. If I didn’t chore in strangers’ shops and homes, if I didn’t kill trees and beasts, what would happen? A poor boy would die poor!” His eyes glittered.
Beyond the mango grove the sun was merciless. Ponds were parched, and fields cracked. 
The old peasant continued, “Baloo, I hate birds, bees, butterflies, trees. What I do with that!? It won’t make me rich. When I see a bird, I weigh its flesh.”
“A leech I know, but a howling fox…Uh….?”
“And you a paltry pigeon keeper?” 
“You’re blind to life’s haloed paths, man!  Born a dog and die a dog! Phoo!”  Baloo spat loudly.
“Haloed paths! Who walks there?” 
“One who worships the nature—the large liquid sun, the ecstatic noon, the rhapsodic twilight, the sparkling night, the silver moon, the singing hills, the rustling trees, the moaning forest, the sea blue sky dotted with languid cloudlets, chattering birds, and the green fields, and the wild lianas coiled on  tall, tall trees.”
“Ugh! …the things you say are at my arm’s distance. I find no bliss in them. They are natural, and so mundane. The sun will rise and die every day. What will I do with that? Does it fill my belly?” The old man smoked, and put a sour face.
“Stop talking of belly…, ” Baloo roared.
The old peasant gaped. He muttered, and made a search for the birds among the leaves.
“I find no birds in the branches.”
“It is. There are no birds in the branches.”
The old man seemed troubled. In old days he hunted in the forests. In monsoon when the rain didn’t cease for days and weeks they would go to the forest, and cut trees, and cleared miles after miles at sepulchral nights.  Such a dreadful life he had led, and Ballo battered him with his haloed paths of goats and gnats, birds and bees!  His head whirled. He heaved a heavy sigh.
Baloo, meantime, hummed for his girl who in a nearby village made a home with a droughty woodman, and had two lovely children. 

1 comment :

  1. Well, this is a very interesting touch and go styled conversation between the old man and Baloo. I love the back and forth gibberish between them. It made me smiled at one point of the conversation. It’s very interesting as to the life they both lived and the life experiences. Baloo, certainly experienced a tough life, with his parents gone at such a young age, thus, he did not receive the proper nurturing. However, he seemed to be had a great life with his girl and children in the end of the story. I really felt sorry for the old man and how Baloo troubled his spirit. Great job. Blessings!

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