Having lost a little lamb, a sad and lonely goatherd finds empathy in a stray pup who has had a close look at the hard world in its young life.
He looked very ancient, almost as ancient as the peepul tree which I have seen standing stolidly (for centuries, perhaps?) on the rickety road to Kanchan’s house.
Yes, the shepherd who sat on the wall, was. Very ancient looking.
He looked in my direction, with a very sad expression. I smiled at him, but he did not. I wondered what ailed him and he probably wondered, why I smiled. He was sitting there, stooped, looking around with a glassy-eyed despair, absentmindedly fiddling with the crook in his hand, and fingering his long white beard, not bothered about his herd of goats grazing in different spots in the vacant plots behind him.
Julie Andrews burst into song in my memory,
‘High on a hill was a lonely goatherd
Lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo’
I wanted to sing along, but the goatherd’s expression made me sad.
“Aap itney dukhi kyoon hain?” (Why are you so sad?) I ventured to ask, a trifle warily, apprehensive of a rude retort.
“Mera bachra……” (My lamb…..) and his words tapered off into sobs.
“Merey paas hee sota tha, meri godi mein hi baithta tha… woh mar gaya, kissi ney ussey kaat liya raatt ko.” (He died, something bit the poor dear, last night)
His lips moved to some inner rhythm of an overburdened heart. I could not move from there, my mind and heart groping for some words of consolation. My attention was caught by a man heading for office, waiting for his Uber cab, barricaded behind a massive frown, every now and then looking impatiently at the watch in his cell phone. To my horror, he suddenly unleashed a string of the choicest abuses, kicking a pup who came sniffing his feet. What cruelty! I gasped. When he saw my disapproving look, he turned the other way as the pup whimpered away and hobbled to the corner, where the lonely goatherd sat. The lonely goatherd, bent down to stroke the beleaguered pup, glaring at the monster, who had just hopped into the cab.
Why can we not live in an atmosphere of peaceful coexistence – with the plants, animals and humans? Why not? Is it too difficult? Impossible? I sighed, remembering reading about the death of a wild tusker, Maniyan, in Irulam, Kerala just a few days back. Unlike the other tuskers, he was very mild mannered and did not wreak havoc as the other tuskers, and in memory of him, they villagers had taken out a silent procession.
‘Any man’s death diminishes me,’ said John Donne, so did this death. The death of compassion. The death of humanity- which, alas, is dying every day, every second, every moment.
As I walked further, I saw a lamb, disengaging itself from its mother, and the rest of the herd and heading towards the wall, where sat the sad goatherd. I could not go forward before seeing what followed. The lamb, as if intuitively knowing that the goatherd was missing the dead lamb, went up to him and started nuzzling him.
The goatherd, bent down and scooped it up in his arms. The sunrays made a halo around the goatherd and the lamb, and I suddenly felt alive. Vibrant. I am sure the lonely goatherd and the lamb were singing a duet of love and soon it would become a chorus of love as the other goats also joined in.
There was a skip in my walk, as I headed forth, but not before I had cast a look behind. The goatherd was now no longer lonely. He was carrying the pup in one arm, and the lamb in another, and prodding the other goats with loud aaooaaoooo, aaooaaooooo, and I am sure, what hovered on his lips was a tiny smile, and I am also sure, three is definitely not a crowd.
And you must have guessed what kept playing in my mind?
Yes, the last lines of The Lonely Goatherd…
Happy are they layee odllayee-o oh layee odlayee layee-o
Soon their duet will become a trio
Layee odl, layee odl layee-o
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