When Ravi called on Saturday morning to say that he would not come to work,I was really irritated. I had consolidated all my miscallaneous errands for Saturday and called to tell him not to come on Friday. So, this was really screwing up my plans – but when he told me that he was going to get his cow, Dali, back – I could not stay angry.
Its a long story. Ravi has been my driver for over 3 years – a quiet, reticent man of few words. Few of us can claim to ever get to ‘know’ the variety of people who provide us invaluable services even though we have fairly regular contact with them, the cleaning lady, the maids, gardner etc. A small, compactly built man from the Gujjar community, Ravi came from a village about 10 Km further along the Sohna Road from where I live. Since I commute to Delhi frequently, we must have spent many hundreds of hours in the confines of the car – he tucked into the corner of the driving seat and concentrating on the road, with a “I will keep to myself” air about him. Hence, in these 3 years I have learnt little about him – that he is a bachelor, lives with his mother and his cooking skills are zero. When his mother had to have eye surgery, he was really distraught and persistent enquiries revealed that his anxiety was more for the source of his daily meals rather than his mother’s surgery. He is also frugal, seldom borrows money and if at all, would request for advance on his salary and these would mostly coincide with family weddings or with the visit of his sisters – having to fulfill the various obligations of a still traditional society. Traditions like that of brothers having to buy new clothes on every visit of the sister to the Maike (maternal home of the woman). But he was very prompt in returning the money – giving the impression that he wanted to have no obligations.
Since his village is off the main road, he has expressed difficulties in getting home late – the tempos (only form of transport) don’t ply late, off the main roads. So I take pains to see that I don’t keep him late and on a coupe of occasions when that has happened he has had to walk the last few Kilometers. But it was not only the lack of transport that was the reason for his desire to get back early – it was also due to the fact that he got up before 5 every morning to milk the cattle. And this is the only subject which brings out the emotions in Ravi – his cattle. He has a buffalo and a cow (the stolen Dali) and while keeping some of the milk for home consumption, sells the milk through a cousin. The cousin is one of the many milk vendors you now see on the roads in the morning – on motorcycles, with large milk cans hanging on both sides. I have learnt that although buffalo milk is bought for its higher fat content, in reality, some of the fat is extracted before the milk is sold. Every village has the contraptions for fat extraction, and the extracted cream goes into the ghee industry. Buffalo milk is also adulterated with cows milk and camel milk (Cows and camels being cheaper to keep).
To come back to Ravi’s cow – she was stolen about a year ago. He had called me then, too, one morning saying he would not come to work as his cow had been stolen. He was upset at the loss, as a new cow cost upwards of 50K. However, he was not surprised, as cattle theft is a thriving activity in these parts. The thieves are from Mewat (or so their version is) and swoop down in a tempo, in gangs of 6-8 persons in the wee hours of the night, physically lift 2-3 cows/buffaloes and speed off. They are usually armed with stones which they throw at any vehicle trying to give chase. The police can do very little and the animals often end up in the illegal slaughter houses. So, I did not think he really imagined that there was any chance of getting the animal back.
Then, a couple of weeks ago someone form his village went to visit a relative in a distant (50KM or so) village and reported that he had spotted Dali!! So Ravi took a day off last week to accompany his Panchayat elders to the village where Dali had been located. And sure enough, the cow was identified ( this itself was surprising to me) and the present owner accosted. He confessed to having got it only a year ago – but asked for a few days to return it. The trip cost Ravi Rs 1000 as he had to bear the cost of transport and the chai-paani of everyone including the police who accompanied them. Some detailed negotiations must have ensued between the pradhan of the two villages, because the Saturday trip ended with Ravi having to give Rs 7000/ to get his own Cow back!! This was the decision of the elders – as the new owner claimed he had bought the cow for Rs 14,000 – and they decided that the 2 parties should share the penalty. Another Rs 1000 or so to get the cow back home in a tempo – and Ravi is a happy man!!
In Ravi’s world, traditions are strong and unchanged, and the people have faith in their local justice system – the police are only by-standers. This is probably the real India …….methinks.