Padumi now had just the one pig; another two having died as piglets. This male pig got her undivided attention, as also the love and care from Haina, who was now at home during most of the day. At best, she would sometimes walk to her sister Hangma’s house, that was about two kilometres away. Hangma now was married with two children – a girl and a boy.
Haina looked after the pig that was now almost one and a half quintal in weight. Her mother usually left for work early. She cooked the mid-day meal for the family before she left. But, it was upto Haina to look after the rest of the house work and the pig. The latter she enjoyed doing as she loved the pig. She affectionately called him Bonda. She had just to call out, “Bonda, ne, ne” with his food and the pig would come running, wherever he was.
Padumi was planning to sell the pig before Magh Bihu in January. That would be just before harvesting the crops. A number of traders had set their eyes on the pig. There was good meat on him. Padumi wanted to have a gold chain made for Haina with the money from the sale of the pig. She felt it was time to think of getting Haina married, if they could find a suitable boy. The boy would have to be capable of supporting a wife on his own income. He should be loving and caring as well. She and her husband kept their eyes and ears open for such a groom.
Haina was a beautiful girl. She had a pink and white complexion and a skin that felt like the petals of the soft gardenia. Her eyes were like those of a playful deer, and her lips were rosy red. When she walked, it was as though she floated in the breeze. Amidst her friends, she always stood out like a princess. Under normal circumstances there should be no difficulty in getting a good match for Haina. She was a bright girl too. She had studied upto class nine, doing well in her studies throughout her school years. Had her parents been better off, she would have completed her matriculation with credit.
Now this is the picture of the small village where people lived happily in close harmony. The families rallied round during hardships and misfortunes. In the same way, they rejoiced in each other’s success.
In the adjoining village lived Khawkhlâb with his wife Damayanti. Khawkhlâb’s ancestry seemed to be unknown. He lived in the remotest corner of the village which was not frequented by many people. They had no children of their own. However, both husband and wife were fond of children. The children from the neighbouring houses played in front of their house, and sometimes spilled over to their yard. Their’s was a small hut with a small vegetable patch in the backyard. They had two betel nut trees and a coconut tree. Apart from that, they grew a small amount of potatoes, gourd and other garden vegetables. Some of what grew in the garden they sold in the market.
Khawkhlâb was a regular visitor to the weekly market. Strangely though, even with the scanty produce from his own garden, he always went to the market with loads of vegetables and betel nuts. There was always a reasonably large quantity of potatoes, gourd and other goodies under their bed. Children playing hide and seek would invariably discover these during their play.
Most often, when the neighbours saw only a couple of gourds in Khawkhlâb’s garden, he had a dozen to sell. Soon, people started missing their own vegetables from their garden, and discovered them in the market on market days. One evening, while the children were playing hide and seek, one of the little boys who hid under the bed, asked Khawkhlâb’s wife : “Aita, I can’t see any mango or banana trees in your garden. But there are loads of green mangoes in the basket and so many bananas under your bed ! Where are they grown? We want to climb your mango tree. Will you let us, Aita ?”
To this query, Damayanti replied:
“My sister has a number of mango trees in her garden. These mangoes are from her garden.”
“Can I go with you to their house, Aita?”
“It is so far away that you can’t walk the distance.”
Khawkhlâb’s wife couldn’t get over the lies she told these children. She was well aware of the fact that her husband stole stuff from the neighbours. He also stole from the adjoining village, when he went out in the evenings on his so called ‘outings’. But she pretended not to know, and asked no questions. She was content to make believe that her husband’s various explanations were true. But, deep in her heart, she knew that Khawkhlâb was light fingered. Whenever a fowl or a goat was lost, the villagers knew where to find it. Many a time, Khawkhlâb was caught red handed. But he always had a ready explanation.
It was Khawkhlâb’s practice to steal stuff from others’ gardens and combine it with his own, while selling it in the market. Lots of times people recognized their own gourds in the market place, but could not prove their identity.
Khawkhlâb would saunter to the next village of an evening, to explore possible sites for pilfering. On one such evening, he arrived near Robi’s house in the adjoining village. He heard Haina called out to her beloved pig. “Bonda, Bonda, ne ne ne”, she called out. He was intrigued. Seeing a robust swine with so much meat on him, he was truly excited. “Here is plenty of money if only I can get my hands on him,” he thought. Towards that dream, he stealthily examined the site. The entry and exit seemed to be pretty simple. All he had to do was choose a suitable hour of the night ! He spent an hour or so, loitering around the site to find out details about the household. He could not, of course, take the pig to his house. He would have to synchronise his arrival at the market place with the pig, with the arrival of customers. The following day, he would fix up the sale with a trader that he knew. The only problem would be his wife. How would he account for his night’s absence from home?
Suddenly, an idea came to his mind. Damayanti’s cousin stayed close to this place. For a long time, he had not visited his house. He would tell Damayanti that he was going to spend the night at her cousin’s home on Friday night. It would be far too difficult to walk back home after an invitation for dinner at his house. He would embark on his nightly project after dinner at their place.
The following morning, he met the trader and finalised the sale of a pig weighing one and half quintals, for a princely sum. He was now going to be rich !
Haina’s mother had bought a good length of strong plastic rope from the market on the last market day. On Friday morning, as she set out for work in the field, she called out to her daughter. “Haina, don’t forget to change Bonda’s rope today. Yesterday, I noticed that the rope round his waist was frayed. I’ve bought a nice new rope for him. Change it, and tie him up well in the evening. I might be a bit late returning home. Madei has asked me to sift some rice for her this evening.”
Seeing her mother off at the gate, Haina assured her that she would not forget. After the day’s work was done, Haina called out to the pig, “Bonda, Bonda, ne ne!” Bonda scooted towards her from the mud puddle looking roly-poly and joyous! While the pig fed, Haina changed the rope and let him go for now. In the evening, she would tie him up.
Khawkhlâb arrived at Robi’s yard on Friday night, after a meal at the house of Damayanti’s cousin. He crept up to a bush near the spot where the pig was sleeping. He squatted there for the time being, and watched the house. He had to make sure that the entire household was asleep. He sat on till all was quiet and not a single flame in any lamp could be seen. It was now pitch dark. When there was light enough, he made a rough estimate of the distance between the bush and the pig. Now, he moved softly, feeling his way in the dark. The pig was tied with a new rope to a stump. He quietly untied the pig from the stump and slowly moved towards the gate. The pig followed him almost obediently ! Noiselessly moving the bamboo poles that were used as a gate, he went out of the front yard and hit the dirt road. The pig willingly followed him.
To be continued