Before going to bed, Biswas went to his cowshed to check if everything was ok there. He did not find anything suspicious. Both his cows and a calf were happily chewing the cud. He stroked the one that was currently lactating and patted her calf. He swept the floor for the final round and then left them to relax. He was happy with his animals, for they had all the good qualities domesticated animals should ideally possess.
The next morning he went again inside the shed. He was shocked to find his cow dead. She was the one that used to give him milk these days. She was lying calm and peaceful with her leash around her neck.
'What happened to her?' he mumbled. 'Was it a case of snakebite? A heart attack? Or some other type of fatal body dysfunction?'
But one thing he was sure, he had committed a great sin. A cow dying when she was still on leash constituted a sin. Cow represents the entire pantheon of thirty-three crore gods and goddesses on the earth and her dying so unceremoniously was the sin of the owner.
But every sin has a course of expiation, codified and unassailable. There are pundits who can tell whether a particular death is to be treated a sin or not. They have their knowledge of scriptures and conventions to guide them making this crucial decision.
The pundit asked, 'Can you tell me how the animal died?'
'No. I saw her chewing the cud when I went to the shed last night. I discovered her dead in the morning,' Biswas replied solemnly.
'Can you then guess the reason?' enquired the pundit.
'No, I cannot,' Biswas could not grasp the purpose behind such probing question. Later others told him that the pundit was trying to find a way out to save him from the hassle of expiation.
The pundit decided: it was a clear-cut case that called for expiation. The owner must institute that, if he wanted to avoid going to Hell. Biswas had to agree.
It was a seven days' penance when he had to wear a leash made of rope. He was supposed to remain in the same place where the cow died. But now that rule had been relaxed, he could move about with that thing around his neck. He was not supposed to talk. He was to only moo, like the cow that was dead. Nowadays the rigidity of the rule was not so much as it used to be fifty years ago. Biswas could talk. But he was not to touch anybody and remained very watchful to avoid contact.
His food became very simple, just a vegetarian meal a day with no onion and oil in it. He was to sleep on a straw mat.
It was for him to decide if he was to go for begging. If he wanted people to help him meeting the expenditure in the expiation ceremony, he could do that. Yes-he was to feed a minimum of twelve Brahmins because they represent gods and goddeses, like the holy cow herself. That is why there is Sanskrit hymn that ends:
"Go Brahman hitaya, jagdhitay namonamah"
(Meaning: I salute thee for the welfare of bovine population and Brahmins.)
Moreover, there was need for elaborate worship, during which a liquid consisting of cow dung, cow urine, milk, curd, and ghee would be prepared which Biswas would swig to rid himself of his sin. Then the Brahmins who would be fed would bless him chanting hymns in a chorus. The whole budget was to exceed three thousand rupees.
Biswas went for begging with the leash around his neck. At every door he mooed and the housewives gave him alms. They were generous, but how much rice could he have begged? Norms of begging can not adjust itself against the inflation. At the end of seven days he could accumulate just fifty-kilogram of rice. He sold them for a sum of five hundred rupees. But that was quite piddling. He still needed another two and half thousand.
Finally, Biswas decided the most painful. He sold the other cow that was alive and pregnant. Since she promised to give milk in a month or so, there was no dearth of buyers. Biswas got a sum of three thousand rupees now. It was sufficient to manage the expiation ceremony comfortably.
Lo, he was left with no cow in his shed. He had only a calf to stroke, to take care of, and to talk to. He did not mind his poverty. He was once again a sinless man to rear cow and live peacefully.
A. N. Nanda
Labels: short story