I wrote this short story for the Times of India ‘Writeindia’ contest. The following was Chetan Bhagat’s prompt – it could be used anywhere in the story, imaginatively. There were a few rules to be followed, though!
She sat in the Starbucks cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. The blood stained knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her blue silk scarf….
“I don’t like the taste of milk and it’s for the cow’s baby, so my tummy says ‘no’. I will not have it.” This was Tarini at 5.
Her mother had to invariably listen to her and over the years she knew that this girl was different from her elder sister and she has to just let her be. She was fiercely independent, requiring no help from anyone with things which kids of her age were still struggling with. In school she did fairly well, not in the ‘first five’ in her class, but bright in her own ways. Her questions to her teachers were different and not always answered to her satisfaction. She did not mind that because it happened with her all the time.
Today Tarini is an adult with a mind of her own. She’s a girl with dreams and vision but that rebel streak is still very much alive. She loves travelling, travelling alone. For a fiercely independent person like her she always found this the best option. A veterinary science final year student, Tarini is an ardent animal lover. Her choice of profession was her own and though people advised her of more lucrative alternatives, she could visualize her future only here. Tarini kept pursuing her dream in all seriousness hoping to provide solace to all the animals who couldn’t speak but ‘talked’ to her (she was a Dr. Dolittle of sorts!). Her feelings for animals were very strong and genuine and for the betterment of their lot she kept roping in more and more like minded people; be it in her college by starting the ‘Society for the four legged’ or through posts on her blog ‘Be the voice’. She regularly met people in coffee shops on weekends to brain storm on issues that came up from time to time. It was a wonderful way of bringing a solution to any problem (coffee just made it easier!). The active participation of the members of the Society created by her and responses to her blog entries gave her the confidence that change is possible.
It was the last day of her course and most of the students were planning a trip to some ‘happening’ place or the other to spend time on the last weekend before going back home. After some deliberation, Tarini decided to go to a nearby hill station which was at a four hour bus journey away. She just had to arrange her back pack and set off – no need for booking tickets, making lodging arrangements and things like those. She was sure that in the hilly town she would be able to find a place to stay – and she just needed it for the night as she had plans for trekking the entire day. A charged up Tarini couldn’t even sleep properly and was up and about much before dawn, all set for her trip.
She came out of her hostel as soon as the sun rose and decided to walk the 2 km till the bus stand. Walking alone always gave her that adrenaline rush and before she realized she found herself at the bus stand. Since it was very early in the morning there weren’t many souls around. After a few enquiries at the ticket counter she was guided to a bus which was ready to leave in the next 10 minutes and was told that she would be given the ticket in the bus only. After having a good look around Tarini settled in the window seat of the second row. The bus surprisingly started on dot, and her journey began.
The view outside was a photographer’s delight and Tarini was busy clicking pictures almost continuously. She realized after sometime that a young boy of about 15 years had occupied a seat next to her. She began chatting with him and found out that he was a native of the same hill station she was going to. Amongst other things, he told her about an ancient temple and an annual fair coming up there. “Wow! perfect time for my trip”, she thought. Her head resting on the window, the cool breeze put her to sleep. She woke up only when the boy tapped her on the shoulder to say “bye”. Waving him goodbye, Tarini alighted from the bus, stretching and looking around. She thought of first fixing up a place for her to stay at night and planned to explore the hill station later. After a few chit chats at a small eatery, she was guided to a lodge owned by a widow. The room was small but neat and clean – so typical of a hill cottage. This lady had a motherly persona and young and old alike called her ‘aunty’. Aunty loved her hometown so much that nothing and no one could take her away – not even her two children who failed in their attempts to lure her to the cities where they worked. She was self sufficient by whatever she managed to earn from renting out the rooms of this cottage that she and her husband had most lovingly built for the two of them to grow old in. Tarini immediately felt comfortable with the hot masala tea offered by aunty as a ‘welcome drink’ (she would have preferred coffee, though!). It had a rejuvenating, almost magical power and Tarini was energised in no time.
Thanking aunty for the wonder potion, she set off on her trail. The place was much more than she had expected in terms of unadulterated nature spread across the acres. The local people along the way were her ‘GPRS’ and a fairly steep trek of about two hours led her to this temple which her co passenger in the bus spoke of. The path leading to the temple was decorated with hand-made triangular paper buntings. Her camera was overworking again as she didn’t want to miss anything. There were quite a few people on the way, though not a major rush that needed the control of ‘security men’ as is visible in most of the temples of the urban areas (there were a few volunteers, though). The temple was a beautiful stone structure with intricate carving that was reasonably dull due to moss overgrowth. One thing that struck Tarini in this luscious surrounding was herds and herds of mountain goats and lambs. “A perfect abode for the Gods” was the first thought that crossed her mind. She stroked and ‘spoke’ to many of these creatures, but noticed a fear in their eyes. “What could be the reason for this fear?”, she wondered. It was nearly evening and time to call it a day. The main puja in the temple was the next day and she didn’t want to miss it. Tarini was a little uncomfortable while returning as those fearful eyes of the lambs kept haunting her.
On reaching her room, she tossed her shoes and collapsed on the bed.
Waking up fresh, Tarini readied for the visit to the temple. She wore a bright yellow outfit with a blue silk scarf to go with it. Today there were more people going up the cliff. Men, women and children dressed in colourful attire with their puja thalis were walking in groups with a lot of enthusiasm. It was a local holiday as well, so a festive mood was evident.
The temple bells could be heard from a good one kilometre away and the hypnotic tinkle increased everybody’s excitement and steps automatically became faster. Today she took less time than yesterday. The temple was decorated with flowers and it was a perfect celebratory setting. But the lambs frolicking around were nowhere to be seen.
The puja began with loud chanting of the mantras but Tarini wasn’t there completely – there was something in the air that was disturbing her. As soon as the puja was over, the crowd started moving to the rear of the main temple area. Tarini followed them, as if in a spell. She will never ever forget the scene that was before her eyes – all the lambs were lined up, tied with barely a 12” rope to a stump. They all had a flower garland around their necks and tilak on their foreheads. Sacrificial lambs – yes, that immediately explained those fear filled eyes she saw the day before.
Tarini knew at the spur of the moment that she had to stop this – she was their voice. She cannot be a mute spectator to the ritual. No religion, no God beckons a sacrifice of its innocent creatures to please Him. She feared that she might be the only one there with this thought, but was confident of stopping what was not right. Tarini was an intelligent girl who was aware of her inner strength. As soon as the announcement of the sacrifice was made over the public address system, Tarini ran in that direction, and snatched the mike from the person making the announcements, asking everybody to stop and listen to her. The crowd was in silence, stunned by this unexpected turn of events. She reasoned with everyone present, refuting whatever they had to say with her logical approach. She told them about the laws, animal rights and that how she was an aspiring veterinarian whose job would be to help and protect animals in pain and trouble. The people were silent, but the temple authorities were not ready to listen as they felt that by not following this ritual their village will have to face the curse. She promised to adopt their village, pressurise the government to improve its condition with schools, healthcare and sanitation only if they stop this cruelty forever, right there – today. She grabbed the knife lying nearby meant for the sacrifice and made a gash on her finger to prove to them that she meant what she said. The crowd was spell bound – by love, passion and commitment of this young girl. Her grit was enough to earn their faith and support. Slowly she moved from there and opened the rope with which the lambs were tied. They ran helter skelter……braying and jumping, searching for their parents. Their eyes were bright and shining now and the air was filled with countless ‘thank yous’ from the lambs and their parents which Tarini could clearly hear. Her eyes were moist and heart overflowing.
Tarini took the blood stained knife, covered it with her blue scarf, put it in her bag and started walking away. She had to catch the first available bus back, connect with people on social media, approach the government for a ban on animal sacrifice and give this village all that she had promised, not the villagers but herself.
Her return journey was her planning session. She sent messages to members of ‘Society for the four legged”, fixing up a meeting at the Starbucks. Tarini also penned her latest entry “Voice of the lambs” about her recent experience on her blog. She expected a lot many suggestions for further action from the rest of the members at the next meeting. By the end of her journey, her purpose lay crystal clear before her – she knew whom to meet and how to move ahead.
The next day, waiting for the members of the group to arrive, she sat in the Starbucks cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. The blood stained knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her blue silk scarf…. She clicked it, made it the cover picture of her Facebook page, wallpaper of her phone and background of her blog – it was to be her propeller henceforth.