The Big Red Book

Bahikhata

My grandmother’s house was in the hills and like most of the families living there, she used to keep cows. She also had a dog, an apso called Bhuri, a bull named Kalu, Mithu, the parrot, an assortment of fish, rabbits, ducks and hens.

Every summer vacations her house was filled with relatives and grandchildren as we would go to visit her.  A bunch of children in different age groups would always be running up and down the house, climbing up the mango trees or playing with the animals.

My Grandmother’s neighbour was a  retired tehsildar who had two children aged  10 and 12 years and a cow. When all the kids would land up in grandmother’s house and would play together, these two children would merely spectate. Despite several invitations to join in to make mud patties or run down to the river and swim  or collect tadpoles in jam bottles, they would merely stand and stare but not participate. Wearing neat, scrubbed and ironed clothes and shining shoes, they looked spotless, no matter what time of the day.

In contrast, I would look like an urchin most of my summer holidays. Uncombed hair, crinkled clothes and brown nails, I must have looked a mess.

The town had a rule, dating from the British days, any stray cow if found would be tied at the thana in the market place. After paying a certain amount as fine, the owner could later take the cow back. The names of the offenders were written in the Lal Kitaab (red book).

Every summer, my grandmother’s name had the maximum amount against it in the big red book. We children would sometimes take the cows out for grazing and forget about them, having gotten distracted by the juicy mangoes or colourful flowers or pretty bird feathers.

My Grandmother would never scold us. She would tell the adults that this is how kids behave and a little bit of fee was a good income for the panchayat to invest in the town.

Needless to say, the tehsildar’s name never got featured in the big red book!

 

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