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Animal stories

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018

THE BULL IN THE WELL

One day, I went to the Jayanta Market, where there is a picture framer. He has a small shop, and on the walls many pictures hang. He brought from a shelf some paintings which were wrapped in newspaper. When he untied them, and spread them on the counter, I saw that they were paintings made on glass, with crushed, semi-precious stones forming the colours. And there was an image of Hanuman, the monkey God, the Lord of The Animals, who gave his heart, and his strength and his supernatural powers to serve His master, Ram, however he could. And I looked at his eyes, and his long, curled tail, and his powerful muscular fur-covered body, and the sceptre he held in his hand, and I said to the picture-seller that I would buy the painting, and he wrapped it in newspaper and tied it with pink plastic ribbon, and I took it back to the shelter

The next day, there was a call to the shelter from a fogged phone, and Bhavna, the animal care manager answered. The caller, who spoke gutteral gypsy Hindi said that there was one bull fallen-one in one well, and he explained the location.

We went to look. The well was one of four or five in a large maiden, or empty paddock, of perhaps one square kilometre. All the trees had been cut from this paddock, and it was now covered with green shrubbery and weeds, as a result of the recent monsoon.

‘This land once belonged to the village,’ Ramnivas, our driver, said. ‘But the land was resumed by the government for building houses, so now those village people have gone, and their wells lie empty.’

We walked towards the well. It was set flat into the ground. There was no wall around it, and grass grew to its edge. The circumference of the well was perhaps about ten feet, and it was made from stone and cement. The sun was beating down, and we knelt down on our knees and peered over the edge.

The well was completely empty, and quite dark. It must have been at least forty feet deep. The cement cylindrical walls seemed to vanish like a tube inserted into the flesh of the earth itself. Right at the bottom of this dark funnel we could see a distant object. It was a bull, lying flat on the base of this great, dried monument to the past, a past where once there was a thriving village, with a deep well of pure water, and crops growing under the trees, and white bullocks ploughing, and children playing outside the mud houses. But now there was no water left, for the occupants of the encroaching suburbs had sucked it wantonly from the subterranean stores of the earth, and the deep still stretches of pure water which had layn for eons, had now had been plundered and were dry.

At first we thought the bull was dead, but then we saw that he lifted his head and twitched his ear. He lay on his side, his legs extended. He was of typical Indian breed, a dappled grey, with curved horns and long hanging ears.

‘He’s still alive,’ Ramniwas said.

‘It’s amazing that he could have survived such a fall,’ I replied, ‘Because he’s so heavy.’

‘He’s so big, all his insides must be burst open,’ Ramniwas said.

‘How long has he been down here?’

‘We do not know. The man who phoned found him only today.’

‘How can we get him out? We can’t send our staff down there, because there could be poisonous gases.’

‘Sometimes it happens, first one man, and then another man go down a well and they all die from the poisonous gas,’ Ramnivas said.

We stared down at the bull. Again he moved his head, just lifting it slightly, as though in great pain.

‘He seems paralysed,’ I said, ‘And he could be so thirsty.’

We watched some more.

‘ We can get the police to bring their crane to get him out. They have a big crane,’ Ramnivas said.

So we went back to the shelter, and we rang the police and they said they would send a crane, but after many hours the crane had not come, so then we rang the commissioner of the Nagar Nigam, (municipality) to tell him that the bull was down the well, but his assistant said that he was not available.

So then we rang the police, but the commissioner of the police was not available either. And we rang the fire brigade, and they said they would come, but they did not come, and then it was evening, and the bull was still lying at the bottom of the well alone and in pain.

So again Bhavna rang the police, and again they said they would send a crane, and again we went round to look at the bull. This time we went in the shelter’s rescue truck. It had painted on the side ‘Help in Suffering,’ and it had a picture of a horse and a bull, and our telephone number, and writing which said, ‘Donated by Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.’ And it was white and clean, and designed with special features, so you could jump out a side door, if an animal charged the staff when they were loading it.

We stopped near the well. Our staff were curious to see the bull, and confident that they could rescue it. They had rescued many animals from drains, and wells and gutters, but this well was deeper and more solemn and serious than any other well.

There were eight of them, all kneeling round the lip of the well, peering into it, as though in prayer. They wore navy blue pants and light blue shirts, and each had Help in Suffering embroidered on the shirt and also his individual name. Bhavna also knelt staring over the edge. She was wearing a Salwar Suit which was crushed and muddy due to her work. And I was moved by the sight of them: their heads, with thick black hair, their brown skin, their lithe bodies, their synchronous movement, all peering, all kneeling, all wondering, excited by the challenge, wanting to help, to rescue, to save, not individually but together as a team.

‘It is very dangerous, this well,’ I said to Rajendra, when he stood up.

‘At least one man fall down this well every year,’ he answered.

‘Where are the other wells?’ I asked Ramniwas.

‘Come, I will show,’ he said. We walked together over the maiden. The grass was unusually high and green. There was a mud track which crossed to the corner of the maiden, where it joined the nearest cross-road. At this corner there was a collection of tents constructed of pieces of black plastic, bamboo and sticks, sheets of iron, and an assortment of stones. Inside the tents there were families living. Long ago, all the trees had been cut, so there was no shade, and they were exposed to the burning sun. Children ran together after us, shouting and jeering, ‘‘ello, ello, bye, bye.’ The children had tangled hair and their clothes were torn and dirty. A woman was cooking over a small fire with a hearth made of broken bricks. There were some clay waterpots balanced on a bamboo frame.

‘These people seem very poor,’ I said to Ramnivas.

‘Yes, they are very poor. They are gypsies,’ he said.

We looked at the well which was nearby to their hamlet. It was also deep and dry. A low rim of stones meant that at least it was visible and delineanated, unlike the bull-well.

We walked back towards our vehicle, followed by a gang of giggling, dancing children. The advent of a white woman, walking past their tents to peer at an empty well, was the most exciting event of their day.

Inside the well, the bull was flicking his ear, the only sign that he was alive.

‘This is terrible. Why won’t these people come with their crane?’ I asked Bhavna.

‘See it is so bad,’ she answered. ‘Right opposite, just here is a police station, yet they are doing nothing. We will go and ask them,’ she concluded.

The entire entourage of staff and managers trekked across the raped paddock, devoid of trees, devoid of water, devoid of habitation, except for the gypsies in one corner, and the herd of cattle in another. We crossed the road, and entered a newly constructed police station. The walls were cement and already stained with monsoonal rains. A slow fan turned in the ceiling. In the heat of his bare office, a policeman sat behind a desk, leaning back in a spring chair, and talking to one of his colleagues, also seated. The persistent, steamy hotness, the endless ennui of his job, seemed to contribute to his thin but exhausted demeanour. Bhavana explained to him in Hindi about the bull and he listened patiently, as though it was almost beyond the resources of his strength to maintain concentration.

She however spoke with a certain passion and determination. By her side stood Rakhee, manager of our equine project, also a strong and persistent crusader when it concerned the welfare of animals. Both of them spoke in fast, loud, insistent voices for a long time, whilst the policeman visibly wilted under their tirade. Eventually when they had stopped, and stood calmly waiting for a response, he motioned towards the phone, as though it was the most of which he was capable.

‘He says I should ring the commissioner of police,’ Bhavna said, rummaging in her bum-bag and producing a small notebook in which some telephone numbers were written in biro.

She made a phone-call. She was speaking on behalf of a creature, one of her beloved creatures, and so there was no humility in her voice, and no deference, but only a determination that justice should be done.

After she hung up, she said that there would be a crane coming soon.

We thanked the police and went back to the well and stood in the sun for a long time, occasionally glancing over the side to see that the bull was still twitching his ears. A broken piece of ladder lay beside him on the soil at the bottom, and I wondered whether he had hit it and dislodged it in his fall.

‘Maybe one of our staff could be lowered down there,’ Bhavna said to me. ‘They could tie the rope round the bull and then we could all pull him up.’

‘We can’t risk their lives,’ I answered. ‘There might be poisonous gas.’

She wanted more than anything that the bull should be rescued. Already she loved him, and yearned for him to be lifted from the dungeon beneath the earth, onto the grass, and into the sun. She was ready to try anything to see his suffering ended.

Bhavana wanted the staff to buy rope. I said I would go back to the shelter and try to make some more phone calls.

At the shelter Sunil (the shelter vet) and I tried to ring the commissioner, but he was not available. Then Sunil rang the fire brigade, and he rang the local paper, because he thought they would cause some action to occur.

Then after about half an hour, Sunil came to tell me that Bhavna had called. They were pulling the bull out of the well, and we should go round there immediately.

When I returned with Sunil I saw a great crowd of people had gathered. As we pushed our way through, I saw Bhavna, kneeling beside the bull, who was also kneeling, and whose head was lifted, and whose eyes were open. And his eyes were dark, as dark and as deep as the well, and his body was as smooth and unbroken as though he had been resting under a tree.

‘This man was very brave,’ Bhavna cried to me. Her face was shining, and she was aglow.

‘This man volunteered to go to the bottom of the well, and we lowered him on a rope, and he tied the bull with rope, and then we pulled the bull up.’

The man stood shyly before us. He was from a village, in torn, ragged clothes. He lived in a tent, hoping to find work somewhere in the city.

We all clapped, and he stood unsmiling, as though no-one had ever clapped him before, and he did not know what it meant.

‘Please come to our shelter tomorrow morning, for we would like to thank you formally,’ I said to him.

He nodded, and continued to stand. I did not think he would come.

The bull was not one of the animals whom Bhavna had ever met before. She had never touched him before, never greeted him before, but to her he was the Lord in manifestation, a symbol of the greatness and power of God, and as her hands massaged his body, and her face shone in triumph, it was as though she herself had been lifted from the darkness, and into the sun, and she was united with the greatness of the living bull, and all of the history of all of the cattle, and all of their cowness, and their beingness, and all that they had given, and she rubbed his silken skin, and she rejoiced in the wonder of his creation, and she worshipped his mightiness, that he could come from the darkness, after days of seclusion, that he could have fallen so far, and still be alive.

Some distance away a small tractor and crane was parked.

‘See,’ Bhavna said, ‘They had finally sent this, but how could it possibly reach so far?’

I agreed that the short crane was totally useless for the job.

Soon a fire engine arrived. It had a long, narrow ladder attached to it, and two diffident people sitting in the front of the truck.

‘The bull is saved,’ Bhavna shouted triumphantly to them. We thanked them for coming and they went away.

A large crowd of men lifted the bull into our rescue vehicle. For each one who touched it, it seemed as though they had been blessed.

The bull was driven back to the shelter, and laid in sitting position in the cowshed.

The next morning, unexpectedly, the hero returned. He had put on his best clothes, and combed his hair. He stood expressionless, and we called for all the staff.

Then Bhavna made a speech, and thanked him for his bravery, and gave him an envelope with 500 rupees in it, and a certificate, signed by the managing trustee, and addressed to Hanuman, which was the name of the villager.

Although everyone clapped him, the villager still stood, thin and alone, without smiling, and he said, ‘You see, yesterday, Tuesday, is Hanuman’s day, and I did the deed of Hanuman only.’

Then I remembered the picture which I had bought to hang on my wall, and I ran to the house, and gave it to the man, still wrapped in cellophane. And I said, ‘You see, I bought this two days ago, and I knew that you were going to climb down the well to rescue the bull.’

And everyone laughed, and I gave him the picture of Hanuman, with his black, deep eyes, and then I saw that at last the villager was smiling, and he was filled with happiness and very radiant.

And, for some amazing reason, the bull is alive to this day.

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