A Specimen by Chandra Latha

He wasn’t in the habit of waking up early in the morning, but that day he woke up early, when the alarm clock he had set rang. That day, he had to go and collect some specimen. His professor had strictly instructed him to have the specimen transported to the lab within fifteen minutes after its collection. Perhaps he would reach the lab very soon! He was a very disciplined man.

The man, who regularly supplied the specimen to them, was not to be seen for the past fifteen days. No one knew the reason for his absence. Perhaps he was sick or perhaps he had gone to his village. Whatever was the reason, the responsibility of collecting the specimen fell on him. It was anyway unthinkable that his colleague, a relative of his professor, would go to the slaughter house. She was very intelligent, but hardly socialized with others. His friend, Murali, mocked at him saying that he agreed to work here only to impress her.

 Strangely, when the Professor asked him to collect the specimen, he agreed to do it unquestioningly. She looked at him with an appreciative glance like one would at a well- mannered boy. He recollected this incident only when Murali reminded him of it later.  No sooner had he reached his room, he was confronted with the question as to how to get the specimen. He asked Murali rather hesitantly. It was at that moment he made fun of him. He, however, obliged and last evening took him to the slaughter house. He walked into the slaughter house with his head bowed down, lest he saw deskinned goats, bleating lambs and chicken being dressed.

“Hey! Newly married bridegroom, lift your head now,” teased Murali.

When he raised his head there was no sign of the sight or sound, he had imagined. He was told a little later that the slaughter house was at a distance from that place.

He expected the butcher to sport a bushy mustache, blood –shot red eyes, check –designed lungi, a green t-shirt, a broad leather belt and a butcher’s knife in the hand. The person in front of him had, nevertheless, none of these characteristics.

He asked him, surprisingly, very courteously, “Why did you take the trouble of coming here, Sir? Had you sent me a message, I would have personally come to you.”

“You can be surprised about how courteous he is later on, but first tell him what you want.” whispered Murali, nudging him with his elbow. He needed certain parts of a cow and he gave him the details. He told him that he would come the next day to collect the specimen. He specifically instructed him to take out the parts without rupturing a nerve or a vein. He then remembered his professor’s words of having the specimen transported to the lab within fifteen minutes.

“It’s okay. I shall bring all the things necessary to preserve the specimen tomorrow. Take the specimen only after I’d come,” he instructed the butcher, who agreed to do so. Murali asked him to walk ahead and he saw Murali discuss something with the butcher. Perhaps it was about money. They purchased the necessary chemicals and glass jars to preserve the specimen .As it was difficult to transport the specimen in the stipulated time, they hired a taxi.

The taxi driver assured them that he would come early the next day. Murali refused to accompany him to the slaughter-house in the morning. He slept snuggled cozily under the blanket covers and snored.

Next morning he stepped out, wearing a jacket.

Like a bride glancing shyly and hesitantly through the veil, the sun rays had just begun to peep through the mist. Rubbing his hands together, he walked towards the taxi parked on the other side of the road. The taxi driver was fast asleep in the taxi. He must have come early in the morning. He woke up the driver and arranged the things he had purchased the previous night, in the back seat.

It was very cold. He pulled the jacket collar up to cover his ears and thrust his hands in his trouser pockets. The taxi driver pulled up the window panes. He had given him the address earlier; hence he was relaxed and settled down to watch the outside world.

The mist dampened the window panes now and then and it looked like some mystic painting. Mornings like these reminded him of his village. They went to their village during summer vacation. His sister and he would wake up early to watch the orange-colored sun rise lazily over the spread of green fields.

How wonderful was the life in the village! Peddananna would wake them up early in the morning. He did not like anyone waking up after the sun had risen. He welcomed the sun even before bidding farewell to the stars. When they had to attend the school, they would sleep late in the night and would wake up late in the morning. It was surprising that they changed their habits very quickly in the village.

When the stars appeared in the sky, they finished their supper and gathered on the cots. Listening to the tinkling of the bells that moved gently when the cows chewed on the cud leisurely and the stories recited by Peddananna, they would doze off to sleep. He still remembered the fragrance that wafted over the blossoming parijatas. He loved watching the dance of sunlit dews on the grass.

His sister learnt from his peddamma to draw the rangolis on the floor which was wet with the water mixed with cow dung. He tried to draw with the muggu powder, but was unable to draw even a straight line, but his sister learnt to draw creepers and flowers very quickly.

He enjoyed playing with the calf. She had beautiful doe eyes and a white patch on her forehead like a bottu. How happily she frolicked around!

Peddamma got angry every time the calf trampled on her flower plants. She wanted it kept tied all the time.

“How can you not allow the calf to run around? She wouldn’t be a calf if she did not run around, would she? Take her with you and play, my dear boy.” Peddananna encouraged him.

His sister too would get angry at the calf for chewing up the tender branches of marigolds and trampling on the chrysanthamums. Peddananna and Peddamma personally milked the cows. His sister and he would always be ready with the vessels. Peddananna milked the cow only after the calf had had its fill. He had very little milk in his vessel. Peddamma called the farm help as soon as the calf was freed and instructed him to tie her.

“Look, look. Your Peddamma is stealing the milk meant for the calf,” Peddanna teased.

Peddananna whispered these words very gently, but peddamma never failed to listen to it. She would exclaim gesturing with her hands,”Yes… Now you say so. Later you will ask me to give each one of them a glassful of milk. Where do you think it will come from?”

His sister too would accompany her inside and make faces at me. Peddananna and he would laugh looking at each other.

Recollecting those childhood memories brought a smile to his lips and he came back into the world of reality, when the driver suddenly swerved the taxi.

Negotiating the turns on the bylanes, the driver finally stopped in front of the house he had come yesterday. Seeing the taxi stop, he rushed forward and took the things from the taxi and brought him a chair to sit in. He gave him the instructions once again. He assured him that the work would be finished in fifteen minutes.

He looked around.

A narrow lane.

People had just started their morning routine and were moving here and there.

Some children touched the taxi in awe. The driver shooed them off. The house he was sitting in was built with bamboos and with frames covered with palmyra leaves.

On one side the marigolds were in full bloom indicating the good care the owner had taken.

A goat ran past him. It looked healthy with sheen of black coat.

He felt like running after it and caressing her. He was reminded of the calf in the village.

It must have now become a mother to many such calves.

Peddanna now did not have the physical strength or the enthusiasm, he had earlier.

He sold away the cows retaining a few milching cows only for the household needs.

When he heard the news, he remembered the lean and malnourished cows and oxen tied to one another at the horns, and being brought to the city in great numbers. He saw that scene every Saturday.

Peddananna   was hurt and told them that they were being taken to the slaughter house. They did not know what a slaughter house was. They did not even know why Peddananna was so emotional at the cows being taken to the slaughter house.

Peddanna would look at them in anguish, “They are now useless! People love and take care of those things that are of use to them. They expect many things in return till the last moment. Then like this… “

Peddanna could not say anything further.

He did not visit the village after that as he became busy with his studies. Whatever be the reason, he found it difficult to see his ailing Peddananna and the nearly empty verandah.

Even when he visited the village, those thoughts haunted him for a long time after he came back.

A four-year-old girl stood in front of him chasing the goat. The ribbons tied to her plaits came off the knot. Pulling the short skirt up, she disappeared in a jiffy. The sun was beginning to spread yellow hues as if competing with the marigolds. He shifted his chair to a shady place.

He could hear somebody asking something from inside the house.

“Have you served tea to Sir? “

He came out. He told me that his men were getting the specimen. The girl with two plaits asked him to come in.

He went inside and brought a glass of tea for him. He held it with great respect. It was a new experience for him to sip the tea in the warmth of the sun.

Perhaps the tea was made on firewood stove. It had a strange taste. Meanwhile, his men put the specimen in the taxi. He thanked him for the tea. He told him that he did not have such a tasty tea for a long time.

“Yes Sir, it seems that cow gave plenty of milk! It had a white spot on its forehead like a bottu.

The butcher continued to blabber.

He remembered the calf.

“I milked her after removing the parts you wanted, Sir! I got enough for the tea…”

 He could not hear anything after that.

He did not know when he kept down the glass.

 His insides churned.

Warm milk gushed towards his heart.

He could not wait there any longer.

 He walked towards the taxi as if in a trance and sat down next to the driver.

He felt as if the specimen in the back seat mocked at him!

 (End)

Translated by Sujatha Gopal and published on thulika.net, October 2006.

 The Telugu original story nenu naannanvuthaa. was published in the anthology by the same name.

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Foot notes

Peddananna  :  Father’s older brother.

Peddamma   : Wife of father’s older brother.

Rangoli        : Drawings on the floor made with lime powder or rice powder.

Muggu         : Lime powder or rice powder

Parijatham   : Flowers considered sacred in Hindu tradition, used for religious purposes.

Bottu           : A vermillion mark on the forehead.