The Karna Syndrome
Chandra Kishore Kevat was repairing his boat right by the side of the River Ganges, one fine morning. His little son, Surya Kishore Kevat, was nearby playing in and with the sand. Suddenly they together heard a loud whoosh and then a sharp thud. Which surprised them completely. It was a long feathered arrow crafted beautifully with an iron-tip, which had come out of the blue, and lodged itself quite deeply into the side of their new boat, which they were in the process of building. Even before they could figure-out completely where this arrow had come from, another similar half a dozen arrows suddenly whooshed past, in a volley or shower, towards them and thudded hither and thither. Some off their course, into the sand, and others randomly hit one or the other of a number of other river-faring boats resting on the sand nearby. Devaki, Surya Kishore's mother, was in a small but comfortable hut, near the place next to the river, where father and son were busy with their daily work, one building a new boat, the other, as his age demanded, for he was all of eight years old, just playing and making merry. Devaki, as was her practice, even as she was cleaning some fish for smoking them dry to store them for a period of time, had kept a watchful eye, on the two of them. When she first heard the thuds and the oohs and aahs uttered by the father and son, she emerged from the hut quickly to ascertain what indeed had caused these exclamations. She was the first one to give the alarm.
Devaki, "Good Lord. It is the Agiya Baital and his men going on the rampage again. We must flee at once!"
Although young Surya Kishore only experienced a sense of alarm when he heard his mother Devaki utter such words, his father, all of twenty-seven years of age, trusted his wife's decision, and thus was very quick to select one of his smaller but swiftest of boats, and was quicker in loading the oars into it, just as Devaki bundled some of the dried-fish, edible-grains and potable water, into a country hamper, and they very swiftly caught Suryakishore by his arm, and almost dragged him to the boat. The boat was then jointly pushed from where it was resting on the sandbank, and into the river. Chandrakishore and Devaki took on the paddling on either side, and this small but very swift country-boat slid into the Gangetic Waters very smoothly and at once picked-up the swift December current which led the threesome very quietly and very quickly out of harm's way.
However, even as they were paddling swiftly to move away from their riverside residence, they could already hear the wild hoots and mad calls of the Agiya Baitaal Brigade. For in this part of the Gangetic countryside, where a floating population had resided since kingdom come, social banditry, was most common. Of such social bandits the Agiya Baitaal was the most dreaded and indeed the most famous!
When the threesome, Surya, Chandra and Devaki, were surely out of the hearing-range, of this brigade, then Chandra suddenly picked-up enough courage to say some thing. And this is what he said, as Surya in a distant corner of this Gangetic boat, sat quietly enjoying the flow of the waters and chewing on a piece of smoked fish, which Devaki had quietly slipped to him, even as she herself was perspiring from the huge effort of having to drag the boat and to paddle away madly from the onslaught which Aigya would have unleashed.
Chandra, "Are Ham Kahli Ki U ta aaj banch gail. Ek second aur aur ham okar dharti gardan, aur..."
Devaki, "Aur Kaa? Aur kaa? Are Hum Toke Kahat Hain Ki Aur Kaa?"
Then Surya suddenly stopped chewing upon the piece of smoked fish his mother had very stealthily handed over to him, stopped gazing pointlessly and in a reverie, at the waters flowing past their boat.
"Are mai. etani haala kare ki kaune zaroorat haw? Tanik chupke chupke naw chalaw."
"Are tu deek mat kar, babua, Abahin Ohe Chhor par hum saban pahoonchat haila."
"Aur ojaun pari pahunchle pe ka hoi?"
"Are beta, ojaun pari tohre mama ki ghar haw."
"Matlab ohijuwan khoob badhiya badhiya khana milihen?"
Then the threesome rowed and rowed for a great span of time navigating this current and that one, until, at last, the bank opposite to the one they had left, an hour or two ago, was finally visible.
Chandra, "Are Dekhahin Sabahin. Ohar Diyara Lowkat haw. Mahadeo Ji ki ghar ohjuen haw?"
Devaki, "Hanh. hanh. Oh juen!"
Surya, "Are Bapu. Tanik naw aur tej tej chalawa, aur aur tu tanik batiyawa kamme! Samajhlaa!"
Presently Chandrakishore steers the Gangetic boat to a grinding halt against the jutting edge of a riparian structure. In the calm and silence of this December morning the slither and hiss of the boat coming to a slow halt are the most prominent sounds. These are also the most welcome for the threesome. They alight their boat quickly, collect all their belongings. And soon begin to trundle toward a remote cluster of Gangetic Hutments. To this village called Taldibitta-Kargachi, the home of Suryakishore's maternal uncle Mahadeo Kevat.
"Tab Jab Hum Ooo Mahisasurwa k gardan dhaileen...", were the very first words that wafted into their ears like a very soothing balm and soothed their forlorn minds as they very quietly, like hush-puppies, entered the home village of Mahadeo Kevat. As a matter of fact, and to be very precise, they were quick to surmise that these were words being spoken by Surya's maternal uncle, Mahadeo himself, in what would surely, on the basis of their previous experience, must be a very large and a very talkative and very very drunk assembly of the local citizens of this village Taldibitta-Kargachchi. For that was their daily past-time, since at least the British Period, wherein even the Sahibs, scared of this floating population of the Diaras, and quite unable to understand the tongue they spoke, had never ever ventured to survey these Gangetic Riparian Tracts, to say nothing of thinking of levying agricultural and other taxes upon them. The Diaras are a free-country, within India to this day.
Exhausted already and quite out of their wits, partly the scare of being ousted so suddenly and very aggressively from their abode, as from the relief of having reached safe-cover, no words being spoken at all, the threesome sank to the ground and sat in a cross-legged position breathing heavily and in turn holding their heads in their hands and in turn looking around the safe haven and the stars and the moon on this December night climbed into the night-sky.Gradually they all gradually reclined on the earth and wandered-off into sleep. Such sleep as comes betwixt and following sheer harassment and complete fatigue.
They were all up with the crowing of the cocks, and the chirping of the winter-Gangetic-birds as a thoroughly saffron sky filled their eyes with the type of energy, elation and ultimately life which only such totally saffron coloured Gangetic Sunrises are wont to do to humans. The assembly that had been cackling all night, and in all sorts of wondrous ways were all alike very very fast asleep.
Chandrakishore quickly exchanged a few words with his wife, Devaki, in a hushed tone, so as not to awake young Chandra, and then went to his boat to fish-out the fishing barbs, spears and harpoons made of metal, and barbs of animal bones; some small fishing nets and cleverly woven fish-traps of about five different types,, and his bow and very fine arrows which were tipped with metal, stone, as well as with goat-horn, bamboo-shoots and antler arrow-heads. He proposed to go fishing, as he was wont to do, the very first thing in the morning; such that he may bring-back their day's keep, as well as something special to give away as a gift to his brother-in-law Mahadeo, in turn for the favours that he may have had to ask him for, in the absence of which this journey to Taldibitta-Kargachchi would have been absolutely meaning-less. Chandra Kishore collected this Osteodontokeratic assemblage of fishing tools, traps, nets, and and the harpoons, spears and the fishing nets, and then re-traced his steps to their night-camp where Devaki, in the meanwhile, had a rip-roaring fire going, to fry some smoked fish for their breakfast. From where he settled down near this hearth which Devaki had built very quickly, he could enjoy a panoramic view of the sacred river, enjoy the sweet but chilly December Breeze, and see his little son still snoozing, without a worry in the world,as little children are very sturdy in such matters as recovering very quickly from greatest of crises; and from where and very especially he could hear something of the very loud snores and sleep-talking, of the most bizarre kind, coming from the community-hut, where his brother-in-law Mahadeo, had convened the most bacchanalian of assemblies, of the local village folks and his kinsmen, the previous night. Chandra would wait for young Satyakishore to awake, partake of his breakfast, before that, and just as soon as the young fella was awake, he would ask him, as was usual, to accompany fishing with him. Presently, perhaps a calls of a seagull, which often hover over Indian rivers as well, brought Suryakishore to gradual wakefulness. Listening to his parents chat about the world in general, the weather and the fishing conditions brought him to back from the world of his dreams to a familiar sort of world...of boats, the rivers and actually plenty of fish. But then, that indeed is how not only the Osteodontokerats, but almost, every sort of rural Indian families bring their children to the waking every morning.
And then they were off to fishing, together, and singing their favorite song Dinva Chadhaibe Mahajaliya...O Ki Ganga Ji. As their slim but sturdy Gangetic boat moved almost effortlessly in the midstream Chadrakishore suddenly had a question for his little son. he asked him if he had dreamt at all the previous night, and if so, then what indeed did he dream about.
Surya,"Bhabhua, Bhagauna and Belhar..."
Chandra, "Dear Son. And not Bulandshahar?"
Surya, "What sort of Shahar is Bulandshahar?"
Chandra, "Just like Bhabhua Bhagauna and Belhar."
Surya, " I see, Babu Ji."
Chandra, "Okay, then. Surya. Let's prepare to cast our fishing-net. The fish comes close to the surface at this early hour to feed."
Surya, "And to breed?"
Chandra, "And to breed. May we start our fishing now, Dear Surya?"
This brief but very pithy pedagogic conversation amongst a father and son Ostodentokerat being over they both fall into a reverie of sorts as quite mechanically Surya supplies his father with a very small but very serviceable fishing net and this net is then cast into the water by Chandra.
The waters of the River Ganga, at this time of the year, are quite steady and gentle near its mid-stream. Then Chandra asks Surya for the fish-bait and lopped it into the water near where they have already cast their nets. The water at once began to foam and froth with fish going-after the feed.
Surya, "Babu Ji. catch them now! catch them now!"
Chandra, "Son. Have a little patience. I am sure your maternal uncle would settle for nothing less than some fine Gobhir Jaler Maach."
Surya, "Babu Ji. How do we catch a Gobhir Jaler Maach?"
Chandra, "By diving-deep, my son, that should have been very obvious!"
Surya, "And so it is, Babu Ji. Haven't I seen you doing that sort of deep diving for a few years now?"
Chandra, "You have? Have you? That is really good. And then, Dear Son, you should know what sort of fishing tools I use on such occasions? Can you hand me them?"
Surya, "Yes. Babu Ji. Here they are!"
Thus saying young Surya handed his father Chandra a very sharp and spiked hand-harpoon. It had numerous bone and antler barbs and was meant to thrust and spear fish while diving below the waters of the Ganges. Chandra stared at the water for a bit, collected his breath, and then dived straight into them, holding the harpoon in his left hand. As soon as he was inside the water and the chill of the water had hit his system and then subsided somewhat and then as soon as his eyes had adjusted somewhat to the muddy-waters, in anticipation of the the clearer waters below, and in order to propel himself quickly and better over there, he shifted the harpoon Surya had given to him to his right hand, such that it would help him paddle his way down faster, before his breath gave out. He had to spear a good and a very big fish today, or else, it would be back to his village and to Agiya Baitaal. It had to be a Rehu or Katla fish, as his probable benefactor Mahadeo Kevat himelf favoured only these two varieties as they had very few tricky sort of fish-bones and lots and lots of very juicy and meaty parts.
Both of these types of fish move around in schools, the proverbial Schools or A School of Fish. These migrate upwards from the Farakka near the Gangetic Delta at Sunderbans, along with the more favoured Ilish Maach, and come upriver Ganges to breed. They are here, therefore, necessarily in schools or groups.
A few further seconds of vigorous swimming vertically downwards into the Ganges brought Chandrakishore amidst a sea of Katla and Rehu Maach. Now he paddled furiously with his feet to position himself upright to deliver that jab of his harpoon. As he held his breath and position treading the waters gently a school of Rehu Maach started swimming in his direction.
Chandra quickly unhooked the small fishing net Surya had given him which was hooked to his waist. Opened the mouth of it and a few Rehu fishes swam into it. Then he pulled the cord which sealed the mouth of this fishing net firmly shut.
Now he was ready to start his swim upwards towards the surface. He tied the barbed harpoon to the other side of his waist using a length of twine and then thrust his feet to propelling him towards the surface.
Surya was quick to reel him in by the rope which Chandra had tied himself to the waist and which was in Surya's hands too, from where he had been giving him the slack all this time, and all that he had needed. The downward dive could really have taken Chandra a long way away from the boat as under-river currents got hold of him, and hence, this rope. As Surya surface a hundred or so feet away from this boat, a very delighted Chandra, quietly waved to him, as Surya signalled to Chandra that he should start to pull the rope in.
"Did you catch any fish, Babu Ji?" asked Surya.
"Yes, I did. Will you quit talking and first reel me in!" hollered a very irritated Surya.
Surya got the message that his father was indeed very exhausted and hence with nary a further word or whine he belleyed in the rope and brought Chandra to their boat. And then Chandra with the last vestiges of his energy hoisted up his net full of fish and lifted it high enough for Surya to get a hold of it and pull it into their boat. That done, Chandra was proferred a hand and very slowly and with a lot of effort he was heaved into the boat.
Meanwhile, Devaki was still sitting by the fireside, listening to her brother Mahadeo Kevat's snores reverberating across the Ganga Plains. Presently Mahadeo awoke. Hearing the sounds of his awaking, Devaki rushed-in, into his spacious lodgings, and the spectacle of scores of inebriated bodies sprawled hither-thither, some on Khatias, some on the ground, she approached him.
Mahadeo, "Devaki. Dear Sister, it is you, What brings you here?"
Devaki, "Mahadeo. Dear Brother. Agiya Baitaal and his brigade have attacked us again, and we had to flee, and so have come to your place."
Mahadeo, "What? Suryakishore and Chandrakishore too? Where are they? Fetch me my Battle-Axe, at once!"
His wife Bhagirathi was nearby, listening intently to what was being spoken between brother and sister.
"What axe? You wouldn't be able to walk five steps, you fat fellow! And drunk as you were last night with all these good for nothing friends of yours! get up and freshen up before you make such dramatic declarations! Battle-Axe indeed!"
Saying this, Bhagirathi retreated to the aft part of the largish hut which served at once all the purposes required of a house. She had to prepare breakfast.
Devaki, "Bhai Ji. You see Chandrakishore and Suryakishore are fishing right now. You know how good father and son are at their job. They had said that they would bring you a nice catch. Tell. Please tell Bhagirathi to hold her fire until then. We shall all have a feast, you see!"
Bhagirathi, had in fact retreated by just that much that she would not be out entirely of their ear-shot. She never trusted it when brother and sister were confabulating. These repeated stories of who not had bothered them, they had had a near escape...blah...blah...blah...all narratives of her's however had the same finish..."And Bhai Ji. Therefore we had nowhere else to go for succour but to come to your place." Your place indeed. Why, for instance did she not at least sometimes take her sob-stories to her father Vibhishan Kevat who was just as influential if not more, and in the respects which had brought her here - beating back dacoits and their ilk.
Mahadeo Kevat was still rubbing his eyes and trying to come to full wakefulness. As his eyes slowly focussed but still in a very fuzzy way onto the form of his sister huddled on the floor he felt a sudden chill. The sort of chill which doesn't come from the kind of weather which prevails, but the sort of chill which comes from the amount of huffing and puffing one has to do when trying to go to war against the dacoits. Then very slowly he had begun to listen to what she had been saying and deduced that it was about food, hot food in particular this early in the morning.
"Aha. So Surya and Chandra have gone fishing. I do hope that they will catch some really big fish. Nothing like fish for breakfast. "Bhagirathi, hold your fire! I hear there is some fish on its way here!"
Inside the area of this very large hut called the kitchen where Bhagirathi was squatting by the Chulha ready to light it in her foulest of moods this call from her errant but jolly husband suddenly stemmed the flow of evil thoughts and a sense of peace flooded into her rattled mind.
The very next moment, as she was staring at the pieces of wood put into the Chulha and waiting to be lit, in a flash she had an answer. In fact, she thought quickly, the only answer which could probably work for her sister-in-law, as well as all the Kevats, who had also and repeatedly been bothered thus by the Agiya Baitaal Brigade!
She got up and walked quickly as anyone would do in such a circumstance and went to sit with them.
Then she spoke slowly as soon as she had their attention.
"I do hope that the fish catch shall have some ten or twenty small fish of any kind. Make sure that a small fish is put inside an equal number of rotis which I shall make quickly and have them sent by messengers to reach all the Kevat villages near and far...they shall all assemble here! From here, we shall all proceed by boats to Devaki's village Raghunathpur Kalan...However, Devaki Didi, I shall suggest that we may help you in this manner, only on the condition that you promise me one thing."
Devaki, "Yes. I shall promise anything."
Bhagirathi, "Then, in that case. I ask you to at once stop giving any cash-loans to your Brother."
Devaki, "What loans? I never give him any loans!"
Bhagirathi, "Yes. Didi, indeed you do. And he uses it only to get himself and his good for nothing friends blind drunk every once in awhile. That is what I do not like at all."
Meanwhile, at Raghunathpur Kalan, the Agiya Baitaal and his brigade were very busy. Mostly guffawing and horse-play as they downed enormous quantities of the local liquor which Chandrakishore had stashed-away for merry-making at their annual festival of frolic by the river, and masticated upon about half a ton of dried fish and curried fish prepared at their hut, at Raghunathpur Kalan, soon after the Kevat family of three had fled the spot. Agiya Baitaal was himself in the best of moods today. Not only on account of another 'battle won', as he thought of this sort of brigandage. But also because the protein from the stolen fish had uplifted his spirits. The fermented alcohol had done its part too! And Agiya was suddenly rolling-out one fantastic tale after another.
"These peasants. I tell you they are the curse of this land. Really selfish blighters too. Look at the way this lot had been living here all by themselves..."
Kalua Baitaal, his younger cousin, added fuel to fire, or hot spice to his tale, to enhance its rendering, "Yeah. Selfish blighters, indeed. Living just for themselves, innit? Moan Ganga Maiyya, Ganga Maiyya, all day, if she is in high-tide! Then milk the river of all its fish nevertheless, and eat it up all by themselves, the very same day. No concern for others.", said he, as he sank his canines into a really meaty portion of a rehu or rohu as it was called locally, and his eyes swivelled heavenwards at that moment. Then he reached for a Calabash of Mahua and took a short and a stiff swig from it.
All around it was the ultimate of hunky-dory too.
It was late into the night already, and several hours after their raid, when campfires had been lit by them at Raghunathpur Kalan on the Ganges, one after the other this gang of bandits were falling into sleep, one after the other, and in all sorts of positions.
They never did have half a chance to hear the Kevat boats, some fifty of them glide and dock quite near them.
Mahadeo Keavt was indeed the first of the Kevats to detect this group and to notice that they were all fast asleep, it was very easy work from there on. Some five of the Kevat were assigned to pin-down and to pulverize each one of the Brigade. That work, exciting as it was, on account that it had to be accomplished very much on the quiet, took all of fifteen minutes, in which the Kevat task-groups stalked-up to where the Brigade was lying fast asleep, pounced upon them and had all of them gagged and tied firmly down with fibre ropes of all kinds.
And then, even as some of this brigade were still fast asleep and never even noticed this sudden change in their circumstance, it was now the turn of the Kevats, Bhagirathi, Devaki, Surya and Chandra included, to begin the wake and the feast!
And now as seasonal terror was at an end and Kevat songs began to roll, along with their drums, Devaki and Bhagirathi composed a new song to this occasion:
Bairagia Nala Julum Jor
Nau Kathak Nachawe Tin Chor
Jab Tabla Bole Dheen Dheen
Tab Ek Ek Par Tin Tin