The Tiger the Crocodile and the Sacred Crow

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Halum Tiger Trapped in the Train

Kaga the sacred White Crow was impatient as dusk fell in the small station Muri. The train from mega Howrah station was late.

Kaga had a heavy task. He had to report to Pechu, the holy owl, how many rats, pilgrims and tourists got off the train. Separate the tourists from pilgrims? To Kaga, all humans looked alike, but when Pechu pointed out the differences, he nodded.

Both birds were favourites of the Divine Mother but in Her different forms. Pechu was with Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, while Kaga was with Dhumavati – the goddess in the form of an old widow who had told Kaga never to forget that Sri Ramachandra had given Kaga’s ancestor Jayanta, great powers.

Suddenly the train from the metro city rolled in. Kaga quickly noted all who got off; two cats were not expected but the tabbies followed the rats chasing rich and loaded tourists on to another train waiting on platform 2; the pilgrims, however, walked off into the darkness. The train rolled off to Ranchi.

With the hustle and bustle over, silence descended. There was now only one train looking as tired as the old station master who dragged himself out of his office to check if everything was in order, for this train was to soon return to Howrah. He had nearly reached the last bogie when suddenly the silence was broken by a growl – fierce and spine chilling. The monkeys broke into hysterical chattering. Another growl pierced the gloom. The old man nearly fell trying to reach the safety of the ticket office.

It was Halum the tiger. He was tired and did not feel like chasing stupid pigs again. In a playful inquisitive mood, Halum peered into the open door of the vendor coach of the train that the frightened station master had failed to pull shut. The tiger looked in and saw the compartment lined with inviting bundles of straw. The cold was getting worse outside and so without delay Halum jumped into the bogie.

Kaga could not bear the suspense anymore. What was the tiger up to? Kaga too flew into the coach behind Halum. Suddenly with a whistle and screech, the train began to move; the jerk pulled shut the rolling door and with a steady rhythmic movement the train chugged on. Halum liked it. It was like a cradle to him and brought back memories of Mama’s swinging tail. He began to doze after winking at the crow. Kaga soon realized that there was nothing to be done but to remain boxed in with Halum. The rocking of the moving train put to sleep both bird and beast.

Kaga was the first to see the light pouring in through the chinks of the wagon. He fluttered his wings warily eyeing Halum. The train jerked and halted. The door slid back. And then all Bedlam was let loose at Howrah Station.

Bagh! Sher! To the tiger the noise of the hysterical crowd, the lights and screaming spelt fear. It was overwhelming –  this smell of fear. Halum became afraid – what sort of a hydra-headed creature was this? Kaga quickly took in the situation and swiftly perched on the head of the trembling but now dangerous beast.

“Don’t be afraid Halum. It’s a big railway station, much bigger than our Muri. Just hold your head up high and walk towards that gate – that opening. Good! You see the path is being cleared for you. You are royalty.”

Halum moved on spellbound by the soothing words of the sacred crow. By the time the guards came with guns, both of them had moved on to the nearby river. The sight of the flowing majestic Ganga calmed Halum’s nerves tempting him to turn around and face the human-rats chasing him from a safe distance. But Kaga warned him not to be foolish.

“Do as I say. See there is a boat out there. Jump on it. The boatman is sleeping. Give a gentle growl and …”

Halum did not have to be told twice. The noise of the hysterical station worsened. Guns began to boom. One shot whistled past his ears and fell plonk into the water. Halum jumped as the boatman hastily dived into the safety of the waves. The rush of the ebb tide pushed forward the boat as Kaga perched on the top of the mast cawed his story to the birds sitting atop the trees crowding the river’s banks.

So far the going was good – flowing with the ebb tide towards the great mangrove forests far far away from the big city. The boat was loaded with fish. Halum and Kaga had their fill. But when the river began to widen and the shore could no longer be seen, Kaga decided to foray forth and get their bearings. Ahead was a bend, beyond which was a canal.

“Look fella,” Kaga said to Halum, “I think you had better get off here and strike out towards the canal. The river is getting wider and wider. It will not be wise…”

Halum took the hint and jumped into the rushing waters with Kaga flying ahead giving directions.

Landing on the dry bank Halum shook himself dry. Kaga perched on a mangrove branch started thinking..  He had left behind unfinished tasks galore. Pechu the owl would be hopping mad.  But how was he to get back? There were no runaway boats on the horizon.

Kidnapped Kumir Crocodile

Suddenly the bird spied a crocodile – a juvenile making the best of the rushing waters bringing in new schools of fish. Kaga quickly flew off and landed on the monster’s back,  keeping a safe distance from the lashing tail and the snapping jaws.

For Kaga it was a return journey but not without hiccups. Dawn was breaking. He saw a V-formation of storks flying across the clear sky. One of the chirpy juveniles greeted Kaga with a warning.

“Get off that monster. Jump on to the back of the dolphin Sushun coming behind you. ”

Kaga did not delay. He flew off the rough, scaly back of the monster and got a claw-hold on the shining back of the gambolling riverine beauty. Sushun too was anxious to tell the Kaga something.

“Oh Sacred Crow! You must help the crocodile.”

“What’s happened?”

“The foolish fellow – Kumir the crocodile, has just got sucked in by a strong current and gone into a canal.”

“He will come out.”

“He might not. The canal flows through a dark pipe that falls into an artificial lake made by Man. There is a gate at the mouth of the pipe that is sometimes pulled down to trap fools like the croc. Hurry! Perhaps it is too late. If he enters the Lakes he will never be able to come out and Man …”

Kaga was precariously keeping a hold on the cavorting dolphin as it sometimes dived below the water. Should he or should he not help the crocodile, Kumir? The thought of passing underwater through a murky tunnel put him off. Yet an inner voice urged the Sacred Crow to try to save the reptile. Sushun understood his hesitancy.

“Don’t follow the crocodile taking the water-route to the Lake, but let the storks flying in V formation above us show the way across the open sky. They nest in that Lake. See they are making a beeline for their favourite haunt. You fly across land guided by the birds and soon you will be inside the Lakes. There the diving cormorants will help you trace silly Kumir.”

Meanwhile, Kaga despaired to see that the flock had gone too far ahead for him to follow. But a cry made him look back. A straggler stork was trailing behind. Kaga hailed the bird and took to the air trying to catch the air currents swirling upwards.

The Lake was a vast expanse of water dotted with islands. There were fish, cormorants, ducks and storks. It was a breathtaking sight with the train tracks skirting one end marking the end of the sprawling city of Calcutta. Kaga rested on top of a giant banyan and began to scan the horizon for the crocodile.

Just then a car drove in. The driver got out. Leaving the doors open he started to take a stroll. Kaga suddenly saw Kumir crawl up the soft incline of the banks and make straight for the car. The reptile heaved onto the floor of the back seat and blended in with the dark interior.

Kaga cawed and fluttered his wings to no avail. Just then he noticed a fat rat scampering in the front seat of the car. The rat was a saucy fellow.

“Kaga! My respects to you! Great news – the white-man, owner of this car, will feast on crocodile meat tonight!”

Ignoring the rodent’s insolence, Kaga began to caw in full-throated earnest. In no time crows by the dozen began to gather.  The crows, like a well-trained army, were ready when the driver returned and without looking at the bottom of the rear seat whizzed off. The flock of crows followed the car with the kidnapped crocodile Kumir, with Kaga perched on the top of the running vehicle.

The car entered a huge gate and crunched across a pebbled driveway stopping before a sprawling bungalow. Kaga quickly surveyed the surroundings. One side was bordered by the high walls of the city prison and on the other was a bridge across a canal flowing into the Ganga. Meanwhile, all hell was let loose when the door of the car opened and a grinning crocodile slithered out.

Kaga scolded the reptile: “Take that smirk off your face. Soon guns will arrive; not even your thick hide will be able to save you. As fast as you can make a dash on your small legs toward the gate that is still open.”

The thick-headed reptile somehow realized the danger. But the going was not easy. A pair of huge dogs came barking forward throwing their own lives at risk to prove loyalty to their master. It turned out to be a blessing because the gun-man rushing out of the house could not target the crocodile – the dogs were trying to nip it from two sides; there was the danger that the pets would get killed. Kaga now perched himself on the head of the frightened croc and began to coax him on.

“Ignore the dogs. One snap of your jaws can finish them but that will be a waste of precious time. Keep cool. Slither out of the gate. Quick! The gate is about to close.”

The reptile wiggled out and reached the road. Now where? Pecked on by the cawing crow in the falling dusk, Kumir found himself on top of stairs going down to a temple courtyard that led onto a bridge across a canal. It meant two flights of stairs.

It was evening – puja-time at the temple. Many had gathered. The sudden appearance of the reptile set up a ruckus. There were hysterical screams. Kumir was more frightened than the humans. The lights and the din made him lash his tail. But suddenly somebody began to ring the bell. It brought about some semblance of order. Then a miracle happened. Flowers began to be showered on Kumir’s scaly back. Others threw coins. Many interpreted the appearance of Kumir to be a good omen. – an incarnation of god Vishnu.

Kaga egged him on: “Ignore everything. I know you are mighty pleased being a god with people bowing to you. But don’t try to smile. This will frighten them again. The gun-men are not far behind. They don’t care about such superstitious nonsense”.

But now Kumir was not aware of the jabber-jabber of Kaga. He smelt the water. The cool holy Ganga enveloped him as he slipped down the slope to catch the flow of the tide.

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- Total nr. of readings: 2,335 Copyright © The author [2020] All Rights Reserved. This story may not be reproduced without the express written permission of the author except for personal use.

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