This picture of me reminds of my times in the capital city in the late nineties. The re-discovery of it in one of my old boxes has led me to unfurl a tale of my childhood that remains ensnared in it. I started herding cattle even before I was enrolled in school back at my village. Maybe I was too good at it that I got to continue the task even in the capital city. Afterwards, me & my mother would start our journey towards the West every winter vacation. She would carry her Thrithag (a set of wooden structures for weaving clothes) while I just have had to worry about herding cattle.
The clothes cladding me as featured in the image might have been the only set that I would have owned. I remember walking barefoot at times along the paddy buns. The then our proprietor or I would rather call them as Provider; the provider of daily meals & a set or two at the most of clothing just happened to be the sister of my maternal aunt's husband. He was too cunning to have us accommodated in his house. I could recall a moment when he sent me away right from his door step saying that there were paddy straws in between my toes. He was a dread enemy of dirt & dust, and he would do anything to repel filth from his dwelling. My mother sent me with a message to my aunt only for my feet to be hurt & my sentiments to be brutally murdered.
My sensory stimuli responded well in encrypting the everyday routine in my brain. I needed no instruction for my work. Right after breakfast, I take a day out with my(entrusted to me) herd of cattle. I don't exactly remember the actual count of the cattle heads I herded. Neither do I recall of any names I used for each of them. All that I remember is the journey along with the herd, across a series of paddy fields & up into the forest, and then back right after sun set.
One day, on my return journey, I spotted the nephew of the owner standing at the door step of the ground floor with a not very pleasing look. I hesitated for a moment. He smiled all of a sudden which put me at ease and I walked up till the door. He grabbed my hand & tugged me inside the ground floor, which was then used as cattle shed. Though I was very little to understand everything, my instincts told me that his acts were nothing but of sexual harassment. I tried pleading him to release me but to no avail. I had to fight against it for I was too young for it or my conscience negated this. I fought with all my might but soon I was drained of my stamina.
Only the fierce biting of his fingers gripping my hand outwitted his strength. He then released my hand with a yell of pain. In an instant of seconds, I ran out, out of his cruel grip & out of the dungeon house. After running to a considerably secure distance, I turned back to check whether he was following me. He was ruefully watching me from a distance. His expression reflected a fretful feeling of having lost the flesh from his clutch before he could savor it.
He was too steadfast on his sexual craving that he pulled out a bunch of notes from his pocket. Driven by his lascivious inner urge, he displayed the notes on his palm & signaled me to advance towards him for grabbing it. As much as he was persistent on to tasting a flesh of mine, I was firm in my attempt not to even let him grab my shadow from then on. With a last disdainful look of denial, I fled from the monster, never to turn or look back. He was driven by lust for I wasn't. I was too small to even recall the details of the incidence aftermath.
Our owner had my cracked soles a bit of relieve when she bought me a pair of blue gumboot. My excitement reached its zenith when she hooded me with a hook jacket of the same hue as my gumboot. For the set of blues that she gifted me with, I reared her herd of cattle with utmost care & with all my heart. As long as the adornments stood in my sight or clad me, it always reminded me of the debt I owe her. The only way in which I could pay for the debt was by being a good cattle herder, if not outstanding.
My mother still recollects the owner saying, " This kid is going to do great in her life by looking at the way in which she herds the cattle". However, at the end of the winter vacation, I was agonized by the fact that I might be rid of the blue set, the gumboot & the hook. I happened to ask my mother with a note of dismay masking my face, " Ama, are they going to retain this gumboot and hook with them when we start to leave this place?". As the voice of my mother lingered in the air with a positive response, I tossed myself into the frigid winter air out of sheer excitement. I was rammed with contentment to be carrying a new set of what I was wearing while returning home.
Every time I swing my way through the Babesa Expressway, the memories of my bygone days as a cattle herder would flash into my memory instantaneously. The present building-crammed and roads branching to every building were the very space that I as a very small girl used as a grazing ground. I could at times fantasize as to how many foot prints of mine had been there, buried under the exotic buildings. The lands that once grew tons of paddy now harbors series of buildings.
I now no longer have to meddle my life with cattle, but I do have strong reverence for the hardships in my earlier life that kind of did the task of paving or refining the path of life that I am treading upon now. It only taught me to be stronger & loom in front of challenges instead of walking away. It also taught me the value of dignity of work as I am ready & I can plunge my hand into any kind of work.
|The old granny version of my childhood portrait at Babesa|