April 16, 2010

The last of the Mohicans

I was fortunate to grow up in a small railway colony, one of the many that dot the vast landscape of this country. It was during the pre T.V and pre computer era. These devices had not yet arrived, only to cloister us within our homes.
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No one needed an appointment to come over, nor did any one have to call before dropping by. In this little colony, homes and hearts were forever open.
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In the evenings our compound would be hosed down to cool the soil, then chairs would be laid out in the verandah & neighbors and friends would drop by for a chat. It was a time for intermingling and a time to share ones joys and sorrows.
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That was also the time when a railwayman’s story telling was at his best and it would get even better if he had his evening drink before coming over. These tales would enthrall us children & we could never get enough of them. They were swashbuckling tales of bravado, valor and fearlessness, tales that would have made a Spaniard of yore envious, the legendary Don Quixote! One evening a mail driver came over, he told us that he had halted his steam engine at a desolate village. The village had been plagued of late by the menace of a man eating panther. As its kills increased, the beast got increasingly fearless and soon it was entering huts and dragging its victims out. That night while he had stopped his engine & waited for the signal to turn green, he heard a thump on the roof and then he saw a black tail dangling down. He knew it was the panther, he was alone and unarmed. He said, he had to do something quick or else he could end up yet another victim. That’s when his genius took over (so he said to the disagreement of his wife) & he let off a powerful blast of steam from the engines boiler. The panther leapt off the engine and scampered into the neighboring bushes. The villagers discovered the beast the next day, dead, badly scalded and as he put it----properly pressure cooked. I never got a chance to visit that village or to verify his claim; however the proverbial pinch of salt was always at hand.
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We would be visited by a gentleman who did not like his mother in law, and to make matters worse she lived under his roof. One evening he appeared distraught & said that every night while he lay fast asleep she would wake up and yell that she was about to die. Her screams would continue for an hour or so and then as her palpitations subsided she would snore off to sleep. The poor chap would be left tossing and turning in bed till morning, his sleep having vanished. Some days later he appeared jubilant & said he had cured the old bird of her nightmares. When we asked how he did it? He said that the previous night when she woke up howling that she was about to die he told her “Don’t worry Ma you wont die ---- you have to be shot”! That cured her for good!
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The most enthralling yarn I ever heard was from yet another neighbor who had returned from a shoot. The previous night he along with a friend had gone hunting & they perched themselves on two different trees on opposite banks of a nullah. As the night got darker my neighbor claimed to have seen a huge cobra slithering along a branch on which his friend was sitting. The cobra was inches away from his friend and all ready to strike. Without much ado he raised his rifle and fired knocking that “Damn things head off”. He was all praise for his marksmanship but was quick to add that had he missed by a few inches he might have shot his friend on the knee cap or stomach or somewhere in between. I feel lucky for his friend and now realize that had he got him somewhere in between his kneecap and stomach our colony would have had its first Boy George, all by himself Number 6, complete with a saree and dholak, clapping loudly to bawdy Hindi tunes. I guess he got carried away while telling this tale and he didn’t realize what he had said.
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Had these men put pen to paper we would have had many more Ruskin Bond’s.
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Those were wonderful times when life was unhurried and carefree. In those colonies it was a case of one for all and all for one, sadly the good times didn’t last. We grew up and flew the nest. Those folks retired and left the colony to spend the rest of their days with their children and grand children in far off places. Soon hardly any one was left in the colony and it was never to be the same again.
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Ours was the last generation to have experienced those wonderful times and to have grown up among those wonderful people, many of whom sadly no longer walk this earth.
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Being the last generation to have lived there at that time, we ended up ---- the last of the Mohicans.
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NOEL DIAS