Dogs, Snakes and Buffalo

May 12, 2010


We had a neighbour called Ram Sing who was a friend of my Grandpa. He had two nephews. Sunam Sing and Kharag Sing. Those two were my uncle’s friends. Sunam a touch more than Kharag and uncle’s classmet. Since our town was small, everybody even of very little acquaintance became relatives and did not remain just acquaintance. Naturally, I had these two additional uncles in the ever increasing list. Visitors from city used to wonder how I could have Muslim and Sikh uncles.

Sunam uncle was sweet and used to come to our place any time he liked and was fun to play with. He even used to allow me to touch his waxed beard and the turban during play.

In comparison, Kharag uncle was always very terse and straight forward Yes, No, (mostly No), when spoken to. Additionally, he wore a Rifle on his shoulder twenty four hours and the Kirpan, the mandatory Sikh dagger. His room was next to our compound, and he used lean over the terrace watching our garden, when he dried his hair. I or any of my friends did not have a liking to mess around with him and he could never be engaged in a dialogue even if I used all my charm.

It was therefore no wonder that our Kharag uncle reared a pack of about ten very ferocious dogs. All were dachshund like crosses, squat and stretched. They were a spoiled lot since Kharag uncle used to take them on Tiger hunts in his jeep. They did not like children at all, tried to bite without provocation, were never chained and free to roam anywhere they liked terrorising children and adults alike. Nobody of we friends or adults dared to enter Ram Sing’s house when he was not visible – even if only the pups were around. Such was their fame. If you were fortunate, they would be satisfied with your half pants. If it was your bad day, you would lose a couple of pounds of flesh and bones.

Kharag uncle loved his dogs very much. Should anybody even raise a finger at his dogs, I was sure he would have killed him on the spot. People knew his sentiments and the dogs had their merry days.

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During one night, Grandma woke me up. She wore a mask of total fear. She handed me the wick lantern and told me to go and get Kharag uncle right away. She then disappeared in the dark back of the house. I somehow got up rubbing my eyes and went to the back of our house. My aunt Alka was inside the bath room, crying and shouting in frenzy and everybody was trying to calm her down from the bath room window. As I understood, she had locked the door from inside and a cobra was coiled up on the door latch.

Grandpa never killed a snake for his religious reasons. Alka Aunty was very dear to me. Although I sympathised with both of them fully, facing Kharag uncle’s dogs at this hour was simply impossible, even to think of.

I tried to explain this first to Grandma, then to Grandpa, but he shoved me off, asking me if I was a coward andwhat I was waiting for. Beat it, he said.

There was no respite now, since Grandpa was the highest authority.

I took the lantern, a stick and started to tread my path as slowly as possible. It was hardly a couple of minute’s reach around the compound to Ram Sing’s house. But I took a good ten fifteen minutes for the pilgrimage, all the time looking over my shoulders hoping that somebody would call me back. At least God will help, I hoped. But He/She did not. I was a lesser being.

The dog pack was ready as if waiting for me. Fortunately, the gate was locked. No sooner than they saw me, all hell broke loose. While barking, each of them was trying to break through the gate to nab me. This was terrifying. I lost my voice and had to retreat. I ran hastily, to the back of Ram Sing’s house and started yelling for Kharag uncle from there. The dogs were smarter. They came to where I was within no time. Now there was no gate in between, just a barbed wire fence and they leapt in earnest all at a time. I left the lantern there and came back running to our house, with the dog pack following me. However, when they saw too many people, they retreated barking.

To my surprise, Kharag uncle had already arrived, with his signature rifle with him. He told Alka Aunty to keep calm, since he was now there to help. By this time the snake had climbed on to the top of the door. At Grandpa’s request, Alka Aunty gathered whatever courage she had conserved, and opened the latch. Somebody pressed open the door from outside. The snake would not move. We could see it coiled on the door like an arch.

Now it was Grandma’s turn. She reminded Alka Aunty how brave she was when a scorpion had bitten her, that this snake was nothing compared to the one we saw last year, how taking a few steps is nothing compared to the courage she had shown in opening the latch, and to come out fast. We were watching with betted breath when she finally managed to come out crawling under the snake arch.

Kharag uncle now sprang into action. He made the snake to go inside the bath room. Then he plugged the only drainage outlet from outside, went again in the bath room and killed the snake with the but of the gun. After a minute, he came out holding it by tail. It was a good seven footer cobra and stood a feet taller than the tallest of us and was still rippling.

Grandma looked relieved because she was convinced that it was not the ‘guardian snake’ of our property, which – she had heard from her elders – was reddish, had hair and a jewel on the head.

Next day, the snake was set on funeral pyre with a copper coin in its mangled mouth. It was then set afire in presence of a good number of spectators, Kharag uncle amongst them.

Impressed as I was, I tried to pester Kharag uncle. I enquired about killing a snake, tiger, of courage and then finally, how he managed to reach before I did the other night. He said he was watching from the terrace all the happenings from the start and when he saw a lantern approaching his house, he knew what to do. He came running from the front gate, while I was busy with dogs at the back. He enquired if I had fun with the dogs last night. I said I am never going to set foot in their house henceforth, even for Dashahara festival. He said that is what his pets are for – to guard their house from people like me and one of the dogs had barbed wire injuries because of me, all in his usual curt tone.

I kept staring at him wondering whether he will ever be friends with anybody and he kept looking at the snake smoke. Alka Aunty, however, labled him as her real brother after this incidence and he was a most valued guest in Rakhee or Deepavali celebrations in our house thenceforth.

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We had a buffalo then. Actually we had a lot of them earlier on. But one by one they disappeared either because they were not yielding or were very difficult to look after. May be they were sold because we needed money.

Grandpa was very fed up with this last buffalo also, since she had bred a male calf this time. However, Grandma had issued a final warning that unless I grew up, the last buffalo will not be sold. So, it stayed.

This buffalo was not a very polite type. I tried everything to please her, I fed her every day, showered her with well water on weekends and what not. But she would not drop a single hint of love or any parallel emotion. All she did was to complain if I missed her meal time. The calf was okay and cute. We usually tied it away from her in a fenced area lest it will suckle all the milk.

That day, for the first time I saw some emotion in her eyes. Anger was normal. But it was more than that. Fear? She kept mooing and dancing all the evening and when I put hay in the gutter in front of her she was almost out of control and I thought she would break the iron chain or at least my back.

Grandma was watching this and called Grandpa to have a look. I was standing near the buffalo. Then all of a sudden a cobra came out from the hay very near to me, went towards the house and coiled around a pillar of the veranda. We could see that it had a further plan to get inside the house.

Grandpa saw this and was in two minds. Although he never killed snakes, this time, there was nobody at hand to kill it. The cobra had a brush with the buffalo and me as well. As such, there was no point in taking risk, and reluctantly with a painful face he brought a stick and killed it.

The buffalo was still restless. Therefore, Grandpa told me to tie the calf near her for the night and forget the milk. I did accordingly.

It was past midnight when the buffalo started uproar again. Cursing the buffalo, I and Grandma got up and went to the shade. The scene we saw was horrible. Kharag uncle’s dogs had torn apart the calf’s abdomen and hind. The entire pack was happily nibbling at the flesh and blood. Grandma got very annoyed and started beating the dogs with whatever was available. I was afraid they might bite her also. So I joined in warding them and in mainly saving her. Hearing the noises, a few doors in the neighbourhood opened and Grandpa and some others joined us in fighting the beasts. Painstakingly, we pursued the dogs to leave the calf.

Grandma brought from the house a container full of turmeric and started filling the calf’s wounds with my help. Grandpa was watching us despairingly. We all knew that our efforts were in vain and the calf was a goner. Mother buffalo fell silent after some time and I thought she unabashedly showed emotions and tears for the first time, once she realised that the death was certain.

We were sure the dogs will come again if we left the calf in the shade. As such, we brought the dead calf inside the house, stood vigil until sunrise and then buried it under a tree.

Two episodes in the same night were too much for the buffalo. She altogether stopped yielding milk the next day. We waited for a few more days. She did not eat much and there was no improvement. On one Sunday, with heavy heart, I had to carry the buffalo to a middleman. The buffalo was transported the same day to a different town by the buyer.

I could not forgive Kharag uncle’s dog pack for a long long long time. Whenever I found them in our compound I used to pelt big big big stones at the dogs, even when Kharag uncle was watching me from the terrace.

I think he sympathised, did not mind and later tried hard to become a bit friendly with me.

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2 Responses to “Dogs, Snakes and Buffalo”


  1. People like ‘Kharag uncle’ seem to be quite undulating, and its tough to have such people around you. I mean, one day they can become your biggest savior and the very next day they can be very unrepentant about something bad they (maybe inadvertently) have caused. You don’t know if you should thank them or hate them because you don’t know what to expect from them! Its not an easy experience and your article clearly depicted it.

    Again, kudos to your ability of detailing the minute and graphic details of incidences.

    • rajeevelkunchwar Says:

      Thanks. Dont know what to say for the praise. Kharag uncle did not change his gait as I remember.


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