Jungle mein mor naacha, kisi ne na dekha – sang Mohd Rafi in Madhumati. But in Santosh Bakaya’s world, the lovers of the peacock wait for the many splendoured bird to dance and spread his wealth.
“He is twenty-five years old!”
“Don’t tell me!”
Kanchan was always in a perennial state of flustered confusion. Needless to say, I found it hard to believe the veracity of her information. Also her insistence on addressing me differently every time – ‘Didi’, ‘Aunty’, ‘Madam’, often left me confused about whether she was talking to me or someone else.
She was talking about a peacock back home. Did peacocks have such a long lifespan? I was flummoxed.
I furtively googled and was surprised to know that peacocks can live up to the age of twenty-five!
“He made his first appearance at my mother’s house when I was five years old. I am twenty-five years old now,” Kanchan said, wiping her forehead with her saree pallu and readjusted her mask. The humidity was getting worse with every passing day.
In the pre-covid times, she would come up to me excitedly, leaving her chores midway,
to show me something on her mobile screen. But now she firmly believed in social distancing, and continued talking to me from the kitchen. Her mind on the peacock, an eye on the milk boiling in the pan and her hands simultaneously chopping vegetables, Kanchan was a maverick multi-tasker. I sat many feet away at the dining table, eager to know more about her ‘mor’ (peacock).
She just loved talking while slicing vegetables, and was also known to have inadvertently cut her fingers during her excited chatter.
“You know, we used to play together,” she said, cutting the ladyfinger and mercifully, just the vegetable this time!
“You and the peacock?”
“Yes, we, the kids and the peacock. We would clap while he danced. Then when it rained we also danced away as the peacock squawked and cheered us on. More peacocks came, and there was more fun, more claps, more laughter. But he was our favourite. He still comes daily to our home in our village.”
Kanchan paused for a moment and added in quietly, “I miss my home, Aunty. When my mother kneads the flour, he watches transfixed. When she makes vegetables on the sigri outside, he watches, standing next to her. My mother calls him beta.”
Suddenly a peacock squawked outside and she ran towards the door, and kept standing there, the milk boiling over, the ladyfingers forgotten, her own fingers tapping a tattoo on her face. I raced towards the kitchen and switched off the gas stove.
She cast a sheepish look towards me and ran back to the kitchen to finish the half-finished chores.
“Madam,” she called in the evening, hesitation in her voice.
“May I take leave for a couple of days?”
“But why? You have just resumed your work after three months.”
“But you know, aunty, I have not seen my parents for a year. I miss them so much.”
“Moreover, it is raining in our village. And since the lockdown has been lifted, I would like to go and see my parents. And you know, the rains change our village into a paradise. There are peacocks everywhere, a profusion of swings, ponds overflowing, and a lot of singing and dancing. You know, all my friends are also coming from their Sasural.” She rattled off without a pause, breathless with excitement.
“Go, but come back soon,” I said with a smile, which she couldn’t see of course under my mask.
How could I act as a wet blanket? Moreover, I had managed without her for three months, one more week would make no difference.
“We will go on our motorbike and come back soon,” she reassured me.
The next evening there was another call from her. “Madam, the moment we reached our house, the peacock came to meet us. He swooped down from a nearby tree and perched on our motorbike. He seemed to be very happy to see us. Soon more peacocks joined him, and he started dancing. There were some peahens too. There was a ruckus in my mother’s house! I will WhatsApp the photo!”
And sure enough, a few minutes later the photograph arrived, capturing the much-talked about Mor in all its flamboyant glory – perched on their bike. I looked on, mesmerised. Such a beautiful peacock – elderly according to peacock standards, but still looked so youthful and buoyant. And unlike humans, they need no Lux or Santoor to look young. 😀
A thing of beauty is indeed a joy for ever, I thought and wanted to be a part of this joy – if only vicariously. I immediately called her.
“Play with your childhood buddy for some more time, come after a week. Your mother will be happy to be with you.”
“Really, Aunty ?” Her excited squeal forced me to hold my phone a foot away from my ear. Mercifully, I didn’t drop it in her excitement. I was happy for her and smiled heading towards the kitchen, when I suddenly heard the squawk of a peacock outside our house.
I switched off the gas stove, quickly covered the pan in which I had started brewing tea and raced towards the door, only to stand transfixed to the spot.
A majestic peacock was dancing away on the road fronting our house, in sync with the music of tiny raindrops. I quietly watched the ‘sprightly dance‘ of the peacock, feeling immensely enriched, like William Wordsworth had felt so many years back on glimpsing a host of daffodils dancing a ‘sprightly dance’.
“I gazed – and gazed but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought.”
My eyes refused to leave the beautiful wealth swaying before my eyes.
For a laugh, here’s the Rafi gem from Madhumati. Enjoy!
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