Baldev was tired. He sat resting his back on the cool clay that formed a wall of his dream. The week went by so fast that he did not even remember that the end of happiness was so near. Puja had kept him alive. His mother’s last wish came true. She had seen Maa Bhavaani’s kind face, before she passed away two days back. Puja came to an end. It had been quite an affair with the entire village coming together. It was rare. Baldev thought of the differences in each of them. Division in them. All that would be back now. Dreams, never lasted for long! And now it was time for him to think about his life. About his family. His three children and his wife- Lakshmi.
Had it not been for Swarnmati’s dying- he would still dare to hope. She was a parting gift. Given to him by his father. He had thought that she would take care of his life, his family. But he had never thought that she would die so early. She was strong. One of a kind. An object of jealousy. Had it not been for the damned flu that struck her!
He took up his father’s profession. There was a time when his family flourished. He could always try living, thinking of the past. The entire village got their milk from his family. Everyone respected his father and him. But since the flu, nothing remained the same! Swarnmati was the last remaining goat that his father had. He gave her to Baldev, before he passed away. Baldev cared more for her than for his sons and wife! He never thought that the cursed flu will strike again! Maa Bhavaani’s Puja had veiled his eyes, though, for a brief while.
Lakshmi was trying her best to keep the children happy. But the youngest, Sukkhu would never listen. Stubborn kid, he was. He wanted to go to the municipal school like the other kids. He would not listen even to his parents. There were times when he’d run away from home and be sitting outside the school, listening to what was being taught. If only they could afford…
Baldev took his time. During the Puja, Maa Bhavaani had shown him a way. He arranged flowers for Maa Bhavaani’s idols from the nearby town. During this time, he came to know from Jogidas, the flower merchant- that goats of Dainikpur were the best. They were strong and never caught flu easily. Goats from Dainikpur, was all that he could think- to put an end to his family’s misfortunes. A smile would come home then. Now all that he needed was money to buy the goats.
Lakshmi had a golden bangle. Even after selling that, Baldev did not have enough money to buy the goat. All his past savings were spent in the funeral rituals of his mother. Funerals are such costly affairs. And he had had two of them in the past year! Death, costlier than life! Lakshmi suggested that his eldest son should also help them now, to run the family. He was now 14 years old. Old enough to be a man in those lands- where men grew old, not by their age, but by their experience. And it was decided that both Baldev and Raghu, his eldest would work for the temple.
Raghu was a boy, ready to be a man. He knew his family’s plight. He’d seen the good times in it too. But he dared not dream of them. A happiness that would be- thinking of the days of smiles. But that happiness is like celebrating the clouds before the rains. He believed that he should not think of such happiness- for then, he would cease to get used to reality. However harsh it may be- he had the courage to face it. His mother was his strength. She helped him, always- to be a man!
Everyday, Baldev and Raghu would bring water from the well for Maa Bhavaani’s Arti. Baldev would bring flowers from the town and Raghu would clean the temple. This they would do, until Baldev saves enough to buy goats from Dainikpur. Baldev could not think of anything else, apart from the future. He dreamed of goats and more goats, each day, henceforth.
But the days went by, without yielding them anything. All that they got out of this was a day’s meal. Baldev was very worried and he decided that he needed to do something to change his luck. Maa Bhavaani had shown him a way, once. She would do so, again. Every night, he would wander around her temple, talking to her- like a mad man. Goats were all he ever managed to pray. She would listen to him- through the silence of the darkness around him. He would be blessed, someday! One night, he was wandering near Maa Bhavaani’s temple where he worked, as usual, praying. He noticed that the
Baldev was in Dainikpur. He wanted to get the best goat, for he could afford just one goat. That goat would yield him money to buy more goats. More smiles and happiness. Maa Bhavaani had indeed listened to his prayers! He searched and searched for the best goat, and got himself Jamuna. She was fine and strong. As white as milk. As soon as he saw her, he started to believe that his sad days were gone. He felt the hope in him- something which he was beginning to forget. He got the bus to his village from Dainikpur. Baldev was now a happy man, who had his goat- his life, with him.
When he reached his village, he sensed that something was not alright. It felt eerie. All his happiness turned into fear. He did not want to guess on things. His happiness kept his strength and he headed straight towards his home. He saw Lakshmi sitting near the door. She looked as though she had not slept for long time. Her tears were washing her face. As soon as she saw Baldev, broke into more tears and rushed towards him. Baldev could not understand why she was crying. He tried to console her. He showed her Jamuna. But as soon as she saw Jamuna, she stopped crying, and looked him in a strange way. It was fear. Also, it was distrust and helplessness! Baldev was not prepared for this.
Lakshmi told him, sobbing, that Maa Bhavaani’s jewels were stolen the previous day. And that morning, the priest told everyone that Baldev was the one who stole the jewels! Baldev had not told even to his wife, that he was going away to Dainikpur. And since Baldev was not to be found, the priest’s words were confirmed to be the truth. Everyone in the village thought that he had stolen the jewels to be sold in the town. And instead of Baldev, the angry and disgusted villagers took Raghu to have him punished with hundred lashes!
Baldev rushed to the spot where the people of the village were punishing Raghu. As soon he went, he was caught by the villagers and was beaten black and blue. Men are angry all the time. No one had ever known the reason for their anger! Men just want to take out their anger all the time, on someone. May it be their women- or other men. They would not listen to one word of what Baldev said. Finally, when he was asked about the jewels, he replied to them that knew of no jewels. They asked then how come he got the money to get the goat, from Dainikpur. His obsession with the “Goats from Dainikpur” was a well-known fact. He replied that it was Maa Bhavaani who gave him the money. It angered the crowd, even more.
The villagers would not believe him and started abusing and beating him. Baldev told everyone- amidst all the hue and cry- that the previous day the temple door was not locked. So he was just about to enter into the temple to see what happened, he saw a few people coming in a bullock cart, from the next village. They seemed to be rich people and they were taking a pregnant lady, who was about to deliver, to the town nearby. May be Maa Bhavaani had hidden one’s happiness in others' suffering! Gods always worked in a strange manner. Suddenly, their wheel got stuck and he helped them to get the wheel out of the pit. The good man in the cart gave him a golden chain as a token of gratitude. And that was how he had got money to buy the goat.
Truth, to them, the villagers- indeed, was stranger than fiction! They kept beating him and Raghu. Suddenly, a group of people arrived catching hold of the temple priest. The priest had a bundle, which turned out to be the missing jewels from the temple. And he was caught when he tried to leave the village with the jewels. The priest, who had seen Baldev lurking near the temple, confessed in front of the villagers, that he felt it was a perfect plot to put the blame on him- which would give him enough time to escape from the village. Finally, Baldev and Raghu were released. They would bear forever now, the pain of innocence, punished.
Raghu who had suffered maximum due to the lashing, could not bear this pain. His pain grew each day. He was bed-ridden and Baldev had no money to save his son. The man, though he may be, but Raghu- was still, a child!
Baldev performed the funeral rights of Raghu, five days after that day. The goat from Dainikpur, was hanging on display at the Bismil Butcher’s butchery.