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The Skin of a Goat

Jaisamand, Rana Pratap, Chawand, Sahib, Hokum, Goat, Tiger, Hills, Money, Food

I shifted my camp from Chawand to Jaisamand in Rajasthan. Work around Chawand was almost over; only the correlation part with the rock types around Jaisamand was left. Chawand was the last capital of Rana Pratap Singh who never submitted to Akbar, the Mughal Bad shah of Delhi. The area was remote and was inhabited by the tribal people. Rana Pratap had a stronghold and was popular among the local tribes. He utilized his popularity as a hide out from his archenemy Akbar and established his last kingdom at Chawand and he had his last breadth only there.

The architectural monuments were still preserved around Chawand; I used to be emotionally thrilled in finding those relics and statues! Older metamorphic rocks were abundant in and around Chawand. Quartz veins were plenty within some of which presence of pyrite used to amuse in presence of curious villagers. The golden color of the pyrites was deceptive as gold for them! From Chawand to Jaisamand the terrain was plain and hummocky. Agricultural lands and barren lands were in equal proportion. Among green trees, mahua was the major one. In fact, the tribal women used to assemble under the mahua trees early in the morning to collect the flowers. They used to prepare strong liquor out of those flowers. It would be difficult to find out anybody who would not be addicted to such liquor.

Jaisamand was about fifty kilometer from Chawand. Hill ranges occupied the area around Jaisamand. The rock types around that area was mainly granite. A huge lake was within these granitic hills. High dam was erected to lock the water mass at a higher level in the mountain. Palatial buildings were also constructed during the reign of Rana Jai Singh of Udaipur. Udaipur city was about sixty kilometer away from Jaisamand. With the passage of time those palatial buildings ultimately became the tourist lodge under the state department; but the change over was very slow and as a result the arrangement for accommodation remained very poor. The rooms were very big with beautiful marble floors and long glass windows but without any cot or cozy bedding! There was neither provision for regular meals in the lodge nor any electricity! Only one caretaker was managing the entire show! He was to be ordered for meals before hand and subsequently he would be the major helping hand. However, for the people like us that type of resort was simply a heaven that too at the end of March, the ensuing period of summer! Other Government officials or the tourists obviously would not rush to such type of resort or would like to make halts for long!

The resort building was a double storied building just adjacent to one part of the lake. From the plane, one has to follow a zing sag metal road rising to the top part of the mountain range where in one corner that palatial building was situated. In olden days, the kings and their kin used to come for hunting wild boars and would make halts there for leisure and amusement! Two more similar buildings were also constructed for a change for the queens and the princes. Days passed and the old kingly system was abolished. Democratic set up replaced the older autocratic administration. All those older palatial buildings went under the Government control. The lake was handed over on lease to some private owners for promoting fishery culture. In the morning, the fishermen from down the villages used to come to catch the fishes with long nets and boats. Fish merchants used to assemble daily in the morning from Udaipur city to buy the truckloads of fishes for commercial purposes. With proper preservative the merchants would then send those fishes to different cities in India. The dam sight used to be life full in the morning and when such activities were over, the place would become a deserted and solitary one. The care taker used to clean the verandah, the corridor and the court yard during the whole noon and after noon and then finally would leave in the evening. Our cook and the night watchman would take over the charge and would start cooking in a small open verandah in the first floor adjacent to where we got our accommodation. Mr.Arora and myself had put up in one room, the cook, and the watchman in another. Our room was too big; there were four long glass windows in it. All the windows normally used to be kept open through which cool breeze would enter from the lakeside. Sometimes the breeze would become stronger for which the windowpanes would bang and create a musical sound!

The sound would further become noise when the wind speed would increase more; a helpless situation would arise we would then be forced to shut all the windows! There was no electricity in the building; we used to work under the light of petromax and the ordinary lanterns in the night. In the moon lit night, however, the scenario would completely change; reflection of the moon light from the lake’s water would peep through the glass window and would remove the darkness inside! The surrounding hill tops covered with green trees would then become the shelters of foxes, hyenas and even the leopards! The peacocks would sit above the trees or would return to the high concrete walls of the barrage and would start calling back others!

Myself and Mr.Arora, after a day long survey around the lakes returned our destination and relaxed on the camp chair and were waiting for a cup of tea. The sun was already set, the moonlight was just appearing and our field guide Ratta came with a lit petormax (hassock lantern) and placed over the floor. Some one’s footsteps were heard behind the verandah near the end point of the stairs. He was an unknown man; he approached very politely with a red covered registrar in his hand.

Mr. Arora enquired, “ Yes, what do you want?”
He replied “ Hokum (Sir), I have come here for a signature from you”
-- “ Signature! Signature, for what?”

“ Hokum. If you please give your signature as an eye witness to the skin of a goat killed by a tiger.”

We were puzzled. Initially we could not understand him. The reason or motive of his coming to us was not really clear. He was staring with his two big eyes; there was a long and deep scar on his on his cheek. He was half bald and was wearing the dresses of a forest guard. His look was peculiar; in fact, his eyes were like that of a dead fish!
Mr. Arora further enquired “ But we have not seen any tiger nor the skin of the goat! How can I give my signature then?”

--- “ Hokum, I have brought the full skin of the goat, if you want I can show it to you, sahib. Sahib, if you don’t sign, I don’t get money. Please have sympathy with this poor man.”

--- “ Where the goat was killed? How could you recover it?”

--- “ Hokum, near the fort in the jungle, where a living goat is offered for the tiger! Hokum, I arranged the offering yesterday. The tiger came and killed and ate it’s flesh; I got back the skin, sahib; that is how I carry out my duty sahib.”

--- “ Oh, now I understand. Do you carry out this offering daily? Then who signs for your payment?”

--- “ No, Hokum, I don’t do this daily. I arrange goats twice in a week; every Tuesday and Saturday. Respectable visitors like you, sahib, sign me! They give consent only on Government officer’s signature!”

Mr. Arora thought for a while and asked me, “ Asim have you ever seen a tiger enjoying it’s prey?”
I replied “ No, I have not seen any! It will be a thrilling event, if possible to watch from very near!”

Mr. Arora nodded and said, “ Yes, that’s what I was thinking……” then he turned back again to the man and asked “ You are a forest guard, is not it? Are you going to arrange the offering this Saturday?”

The man replied “ Yes, hokum, I have to do that this Saturday again”.

---- “ Then we also want to go and watch. How far the place will be from here?”

---- “ From here the site will be about two miles, sahib…”. Then the man started giving the details of the place, how to go and in which direction and about the danger from unexpected herd of wild boars etc, etc. He did not also forget to caution us to maintain complete silence and remain alert during our watch from the watchtower.

The area adjacent to Jaisamand Lake was declared as reserve forest. Hunting was banned, thus the wild boars increased their numbers; deer, foxes, hyenas used to live openly although seven tigers were reigning over them! The reserve forest was quite large occupying a major part in the plains and the adjacent hills and hillocks. The jungle was dense with thick bushes and large trees of deodar, teak, peepal, mango, banyan and mahua.

We were eagerly waiting for the Saturday to come. By that time I gathered many information about the tiger and many other animals from the local people; they told me in confidence that although the hunting of the wild boars was prohibited, many people around still continued their age-old tradition of hunting secretly in the dark of the night! I heard many stories about the same forest guard also. He did not have anybody in this whole world! He was alone and survived on caring the tigers in the jungle! He used to take care of the tiger like his own son! It was because of him that the villagers did not do any harm to the tiger; otherwise who would tolerate their torture on the wild boars and even on the domestic cows! The man was so fanatic that he did not mind when the tiger snatched the chained goat from his hand on his way to the fort for offering him only! He did not get any lesson even when he was hurt and got the scar marks on his face and on his back. Did the Government reward him for this?

The fort was about four kilometer away from the Jaisamand rest house. The road was not a metal road but was jeep able. We started at around five thirty in the after noon from the rest house. The sun was yet to set in, we were going to the castle by the jeep through the deep jungle on either side. In the midway we found the forest guard walking down with a black goat chained with a rope. He was holding a harpoon like long bamboo stick on his right hand perhaps to protect from any sudden attack by the tiger. We took him and his goat and reached fort above a hill. It was a castle like, quite high and properly walled fort with a watchtower at the top. Behind the fort there was a small plane in one corner of which a small-cemented water reservoir was situated. The plane ground was semi circular and was fenced with thick bushes and small trees. Beyond the bush the hill had steep slope and met the low-lying ground covered with trees. The surrounding area was distinctly visible from the watchtower in the dim light of the sun; even the Jaisamand rest house appeared distinct in the faded light. The jumping monkeys from one tree to the other and the sitting peacocks over the branches could also be sighted. In the watchtower, a high power battery operated searchlight was kept fitted to observe and guard the animals in the night.

We were talking ourselves at low voice and the time passed; slowly the daylight was put off and the tops of the trees appeared ghostly all around! The chirping of the birds and the sound of the peacocks were making us silent and we were waiting for the unknowns! We were keeping our eyesights fixed at the back yard of the fort. The water in the reservoir was still sight able. The goat was tied near the small pool of the water reservoir; a few tree leaves were kept near the mouth of the goat, but it was not eating anything; his long years were often getting straightened and erected! The goat was frightened, perhaps was realizing the nearby death!

Time passed but the tiger did not turn up; I asked the guard at the lowest possible voice “ What happened? Why so late? Will the tiger ultimately turn up?”

He replied “ No, sahib, he will definitely turn up, but today is unusually late; may be he is taking time for safety for sure, because he must have heard the sound of your jeep!”
Mr. Arora said “ Then you find out some way out! Should then the jeep go back and after some time return to pick us up? The tiger might be thinking safe then! What you say?”

---- “ No sahib, there is no need for that, rather he may be disturbed further and may leave the place.”

I was restless, mosquitoes started chasing us but was not able to sit over us; we already applied thick ointment of ‘odomos’! But their flying sound was terribly irritating. The forest guard requested us further to maintain complete silence and therefore we stopped talking. By that time the chirping of birds were also stopped and suddenly we heard the loud call of a goat! It was the sound of a helpless goat, a lonely and frightened motherless goat as if a bewildered lost goat in the jungle and calling for it’s mother! The sound was stopped and again a dead silence but that was for a moment! The loud, trembled sound of the goat again heightened to it’s top and encircled every corners of the forest. It reached to the far off hills, to the branches, leaves of the trees, to the darkness within the bushes, and was echoing the horizons! Mr. Arora pushed me with his elbows and whispered “ It is the forest guard and not the real goat! He is simply doing mimicry!”

I just tried to glance the forest guard; yes, I saw him making the sound of a goat with his two palms covering and opening his lips like ‘Tarzan’.

After a few minutes break, we heard the loud jumping of monkeys from one tree to the other, an indication of the presence of a tiger! We were waiting the inevitable to come and suddenly we heard a thudding sound of a heavy fall in the back yard of the fort. Yes, we saw the giant one grabbing the neck of the goat and sat over it for about five minutes. By that time the goat was dead, the tiger left the goat and started drinking water in the adjacent reservoir. After a while the tiger made several rounds around the corpse and finally sat over it and started tearing and eating the flesh. The forest guard now, switched on the searchlight and focused over the tiger and said “ Now sahib, you can watch him in the light and can talk in normal voice. His all doubts about his safety are over and he will not mind you to observe him!”

Yes, we saw him enjoying his food for quite a long time and meanwhile a few foxes arrived in the scene and were keeping a safe distance from the tiger.

Mr. Arora said “ The tiger will continue his sumptuous lunch up to the late night, I hope! Should we go back then?”
Forest guard replied “ Sahib, I have to wait here till he completes his lunch”.

---- Why? Why, should you stay back and stay all alone here?”

---- “ Sahib, I have to collect the skin of the goat and submit to my office. If I don’t do that I don’t get money and so I don’t get my food…. Sahib, you please go ahead, I will collect your signature tomorrow”.
Published: 2008-02-20
Author: Asimendu Bandopadhyay

About the author or the publisher
About the author :
The author, Mr. Asimendu Bandopadhyay, uses his free time in writing. He has developed a writing style revealing the bondage of nature and the life. He wants to share & communicate those events of his own with the readers for their valuable feelings and interactions. The author was working as a Director in Geological Survey of India in the last phase of his service career. In his younger days worked in various field of geology with background of foreign training in United Kingdom under United Nations Development Programme Scheme in Marine Exploration. He gathered vast experience both in land and Ocean. Active participation as Chief Scientist in as many as 15 different geological cruises in the Bay of Bengal is in his credit. He took part in search of Fe-Mn nodules cruising 45 days at a stretch in sea in the Indian Ocean in Skandy Surveyor, a Norwegian Research Vessel. Published scientific papers in national and international journals. Besides scientific milieu, came across many human-inhuman experiences. Vast field of Rajasthan, the place of desert and his initial placement in the job ended in the deep sea through majestic happenings covering human feelings and scientific search.

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