Lahnu looked down into the valley as he rested against the stack of firewood that he had collected for his mother. His little village nestling quietly in the valley was surrounded by hills – almost fortified – so nothing passed through to it. Not even the rain, nor the wind, nor the clouds. Not even the local politician who visited the headmen of all the hamlets in the district every election time so that they’d know what symbol to vote for in order to ensure a resplendent liquor and chicken party for themselves. Lahnu’s village was not graced by these visits. It was not worth the trouble. It was too far a trek by foot through the dense jungle and, with just a handful of huts, of no consequence to the power structures that be. So it was out of reckoning everywhere.
Lahnu, however, knew the hills like the back of his hand. He knew all the trees on this hill, he’d seen a lot of them grow from sapling to their full heights – the ashi, amla, tamarind, ambara and the jambul – the fruit bearing ones; the apta, from the leaves of which he could roll his bidis; the impermeable bamboo grove through which only he could wend his way and he knew the turn in the path beyond which stood the very fragrant bakul tree that announced its presence from a quarter of a furlong away. He recognized the trails of the forest animals, their traces and footprints; the snakes that were poisonous and those that were harmless, the burrows he could safely rest beside and the ones he must avoid. He knew where were the sweetest springs and the juiciest wild berry bushes. He could have, so to speak, maneuvered through the mountains blindfolded for he knew all the secret ways, the ascents that seemed risky but were not and the slopes that looked safe but were treacherous. No one in his hamlet of thirty heads could reach Domkhed, quite on the other side of this mountain range, spend time at the weekly market there and be back before nightfall.
The baskets he had taken to the Domkhed market today sold well and he could even afford to buy two pink ribbons for Lali. Dear Lali! How lovely she’d look with these pink ribbons on either side of her pretty face! But she wouldn’t wear them, she couldn’t, he knew, for then her father would surely notice and he’d know they originated from Lahnu. Lali would have to hide the ribbons till the time when…
But, aah, he despaired! He could buy ribbons for her, but he could never manage a cow. Her father, Babya, wouldn’t budge without a cow. That was the only fitting bride price for his beautiful daughter. Lahnu tried to appease him with fowl, rabbit, a bottle of the finest bootlegged mosambi from Domkhed but to no effect.
With no end to this deadlock in sight, Lali and Lahnu went to the elders with their plaint. The elders summoned her father. They tried to reason with him. But he was adamant. ‘No cow, no wedding!’ he declared.
Nama, the soothsayer, had clout. Even among the elders. “In the name of Ghoru, the great white bird who’ll come again from over yonder,” said the soothsayer, “I implore you, Babya! Let these children wed.”
Not many dared defy the name of Ghoru. Ghoru, the great white bird that had
come thundering from across the skies twelve generations ago and settled their
forefathers in this forgotten land. Fleeing the pestilence and disease that scourged them, Ghoru had carried the surviving ancestors of the tribe on his back and delivered them to the safety of this valley. As the grateful people bowed down in prayer before him, Ghoru had promised to return whenever they might invoke him to show them the way.
“Alright, then,” replied Babya, “Let Lahnu get the cow or then let Ghoru, whom you invoke, appear on the sky and this Babya will give Lali to Lahnu. If neither happens within six full moons, then Lali goes to Sauta who is ready with the cow even today.”
So Lahnu despaired. How many ever times he counted his very meagre ‘fortune‘ that consisted of but a handful of coins in an old metal tin, he saw that it was woefully short of being of any consequence at all. Six full moons rose and then set over the valley. Babya demanded a meeting.
* * *
Now, it so came to pass, quite unbeknownst to this simple tribe, that the
politician from Domkhed, elected even without the help of Lahnu’s clan, had entered the hurly burly of high profile coalition politics. He was an independent MLA and the calculations and machinations to the seats of power were reaching fever pitch. The chips were falling into place. His vote became crucial and Domkhed had produced a Minister of State.
The said Minister could no longer deign to travel over uneven, dusty roads to reach his hometown. And must he not display the power of his exalted status to his own people? So the Public Works Department was dispatched. Trucks carrying supplies rattled up the roads raising dust in their wake and three teams of construction workers and two PWD civil engineers camped out in corrugated tin sheds at the site. Within a fortnight, a neat little helipad was carved out on the highest mountain peak near Domkhed.
Buntings were strung up and tall arches with ‘welcome’ slogans erected along the dusty road from the helipad to Domkhed. Giant cutouts of the smiling minister dotted every street corner. Garlands were laid out for His arrival. The local band that had been summoned from the district headquarters stood by in attendance in red and white golden tasseled uniforms ready with drums and shiny brass trumpets.
* * *
Lahnu waited with trepidation as the elders gathered under the banyan tree. The final decision only awaited announcing since Lahnu, as anyone could have fortold, was empty-handed.
Sauta was smiling. Babya looked triumphant and Lali was downcast.
And then, they all heard the sound! A soft whir initially, but gathering a portentous rumble and then a thunderous roar crashing in from above! They all looked up at the sky … it could be none else but Ghoru…
Everyone in Domkhed as well as in the valley heard the deafening whirr of the Minister’s chopper and saw its silver body glistening in the morning sun when it flew over them and past their deep dark valley towards the marigold bedecked helipad.
The band struck up a happy tune and the Honorable Minister never knew that he had caused Lahnu to get his bride.
(First published in The Four Quarters Magazine – Jan/March 2015)
© anjali purohit 2010