It was considered to be one of the warmest place in Punjab when my Father was posted at Bathinda in 1975 and we had just moved in from Amritsar. The area was undeveloped and mostly desert with sand all around. The city was developing at that time hence scarcely populated. The place had a Thermal power plant due to which the city had gained its importance. I was a 9 year old kid and had taken admission in St Joseph’s school located about three kms away from my house. I commuted to and fro on my bicycle with my friends through a short cut route which bye passed the main road to avoid traffic. I had many friends who accompanied me while on my way to school. By the time I reached the school we would be four to five in strength who would finally lock our cycles together in the cycle stand before entering the class. The same routine was followed during our return journey. On our way to school Javed, his brother, khalid and Shankar would join me at the power house road. Dinesh also would accompany us at times. So we were generally five of us in our group and soon developed intimacy with each other as the days passed. Apart from sharing our school note books, comics and the story books we would also go for the outings on picnics and adventure out of the city area towards the barren land and forest for a hunt carrying my airgun and catapults with us. We would even hunt and cook a bird game in the fields by making a tripod of thick wooden sticks lighting fire to roast dove and pigeons over it at times. We would then have that roasted bird with taste after sprinkling salt, pepper and lemon on it. Shankar would keep himself away from the tasting part as was a veggie but took active part in hunting for fun. We even tried to jump holding a bed sheet from a height of about 10 feet on the sandy ground from trees making a parachute out of it and experienced the thrill of floating in air for a few seconds which although was risky but added to our fun. Such acts were a routine for us in our day to day adventures.
One day Khalid and I were on our bikes and saw four donkeys with reins hanging on to their heads. Khalid stopped and asked me to help him take a donkey to one side under a shade of a tree. I helped him and when the animal quietly walked to the side a new thought struck his mind. “We will mount on him and have a ride”, said Khalid to me
. “Are you mad he will kick so hard that you will not be able to know which side is north after that”, I adviced him discouraging for doing that act.
“No! No! I have done it before in Bangalore and believe me it is going to be a great fun, you hold the reins while I mount on him ” Said Khalid very confidently which created an interest in me also as he had said with such a confidence like an experienced person. I fearing about the kick of the animal hence approached it from the side so that even if it kicked it would be in the direction either to the front or rear of the animal making me safe in both the cases.
“Don’t worry he is not a cow that he will kick you in front as donkeys and horses always kick at the back”, said Khalid again. As I caught hold of the donkey’s leash and Khalid was about to mount from the side keeping his left hand on my right shoulder to take the support for mounting on its back the donkey got panicky and suddenly jumped ahead to save himself from the load. Khalid fell flat on his bums to the ground cursing me that I left the donkey.
“What could I do? By the time I could tighten the grip of my hand he just vanished with a jerk for which I was not prepared,” I said clarifying it to him and agreed to his point to tighten the grip next time.
“We will not leave that donkey and I will show you how to take a ride,” said Khalid getting up in anguish cleaning the backside of the trousers with both his hands. We came back to his house and the matter was discussed with Javed who was actually my classmate and elder brother of Khalid. After hearing the incident he said advising Khalid,
“We should be careful next time and catch the way we did it at Bangalore” “Yeah” replied Khalid. “Then we have to get those ropes, the big and a smaller one,” continued Javed. “We have it in our court yard,” said Khalid excitingly and he wasted not a second to get it. We were now three of us on the task; To catch the donkey and take a ride on it. There were two tasks and not any one of it was simple. First to chase the animal and catch it and second to mount on it and take the ride. Javed explained that after locating a donkey two of us would hold the longer rope from its either ends and run towards him forcing him to reach a corner having two sides blocked and the third side will be blocked by us with the rope resulting him to be trapped in between the three sides like in a triangle. As soon as he will be trapped between the three sides the smaller rope will be put in one of his front leg quickly by the third person and it will be immediately lifted up so that his balance is only on his three legs remaining on the ground as a result of which he will not be able to jump or kick since would fall being not able to balance on his two remaining legs or one leg if he plans to even kick with both his hind legs together. It was a deeply thought and logical plan which seemed to have emerged after a lot of their experience.
The first task of chasing and bringing the animal to the nearest available corner available in situ was a difficult one as it involved a lot of running and chasing the animal while the second task was of courage since involved risk of getting hurt if not acted swiftly without confidence. The target was soon located chewing the cud like a cow in the nearby field; a lovely looking donkey of pure white colour and medium height till our chest levels. He had long beautiful ears which he raised and lowered time and again moving his tail simultaneously to shoo away the flies. He was looking down towards the field where he was grazing. We located a corner with a wall of the house as one side and a fence at right angles to it at the other making a perfect place where he was to be pushed to. I and khalid held the rope from its ends which was about 7m long and quietly lifted it up at just about one feet from the ground. On getting the signal from Javed we started approaching him quietly from his rear so that were out of his sight lest he runs away. We were about 10 m from him when khalid indicated with a jerk in the rope to raise it further up at two feet and run towards the animal. I did as was told and we sprinted towards him. Sensing from the sound of the disturbed grass created due to our sprint he understood that something is wrong and he also sprinted. His two leaps took him about 10 more metres away from us and we chased and chased till we were tired. The first plan failed. We waited for him to stop which he did and we were again on the task. He also enjoyed playing with us and would stop after two leaps, waited for us to come near him. As we approached him he again leaped forward and made us sweat and dead tired within few minutes. Javed called and told us to wait for some time.
The next move was not to chase him but to collect some grass by collecting it in our hands and we soon made a bunch of it to present the bouquet to our friend. I took the same and approached the donkey alone. Surprisingly he did not run, first because it was a friendship gesture, second he was hungry and preferred a ready made meal which would save him from applying efforts to collect the grass, thirdly was sure that there was no rope with me and lastly that I was all alone. I went near him and he looked with his attractive eyes into mine with an innocent face. I wondered why people called him donkey as appeared much cute than any other pet in the world. I offered the bunch of grass to him and he brought his mouth forward and opened it to get hold of the bunch of grass while his eyes gazed at me for any extra move from my side. As he was having his grub Khalid shouted,
“Catch hold of his ears”
“Shut up ! I cannot do this he has approached me with a gesture of friendship how can I cheat him. It will be an abuse to the trust of a human being. We can resort to it later” I replied to Khalid and continued feeding him gently caressing his forehead on his smooth fur with strokes of my hand going downwards unlike a dog for which the strokes are upwards. Khalid had used me as a bait with a bunch of grass to attract that beautiful donkey which I had forgotten as his faith on me made me forget that. As a result of my inaction to hold his ears Khalid started to advance slowly towards me so that he is within the range to hold the animal. The donkey sensed this and he immediately caught hold of the grass from my hand at one go and jumped forward. After going at a distance he finished the grass bunch and brayed at Khalid,
“Dhaaaaaaaaaanchhooooooooooooooo” and galloped few leaps ahead indicating not to try fooling him as he may be a donkey as per the nomenclature of humans but God has given him brains too like us to understand what is what. We were tired now and it was for sure that this Mr Smarty is not going to be our game for the day. Javed then pointed to another donkey who was standing in the same position where Smarty was there initially. Khalid now gestured me to start over again with the second donkhunt. I also in spite of being so tired started off as there was no result achieved since last two hours. We chased him similarly but this time we brought him to the trap since he got confused where to go. As he behaved like a true typical donkey Javed made a lightening move and got hold of his left forelimb and raised it in his right hand to about one feet from the ground thereby bringing his weight on his three legs after which he did not budge. A small rope was immediately tied by putting a loop in his foot which was held tight by Javed. Now the bigger rope was left on the ground and Khalid quickly tried to mount from the side but could not as the donkey was able to place his foot on to the ground since the rope loosened from Javed’s hand but was immediately pulled up as I helped him. Khalid now attempted mounting from the rear and managed to sit on it like on a horse. He sat slightly towards the rear side on the donkey. After sitting and establishing his position holding the donkey firmly by his neck he asked Javed to leave the small rope with which Javed was holding one of his front forelimb. As soon as Javed dropped the lifted foot of the donkey down he jumped and started to gallop. Khalid was on it and must have enjoyed those three leaps which I also saw and then carefully slipped back after that getting down from him from the rear but slipped down on the mud landing successfully. He was luckily not hurt but had the quota of enjoyment of the day which was planned and executed to the entire satisfaction of all of us.
Seeing him I also got inspired for the donkhunt one more time as desired to have a similar ride. Next time I took the ride but my heart was already above my lungs when I took the first solo leap with him and after the second leap I carefully slid down from his rear side fortunate enough not to get a kick from his back side. I learnt it later that the horses and donkeys are to be mounted and dismounted from the sides. The donkey was kind enough to all of us for kicking us from the back. This new sport spread like wildfire in our group and it became a routine affair thereafter to have a donk ride after catching them in which we had become expert in it until one fine day when we took our friend Shankar also with us who had just brought his brand new cycle with him.
The teams were divided into two groups comprising two of us in each including the ropes. Javed held the smaller one. We chased a donkey who somehow went towards the market side but we carried on chasing to divert him towards the trap. He took a turn from the other side astride the main road where the person having a shop of turban dyeing was located. The turbans were spread in the open tied to the trees for drying up in sun after dyeing. There were number of them placed astride each other. The donkey was on the chase by our two teams and finding no other way to escape turned towards the area where the turbans were hung for drying. He went right through them tearing them one after the other in despair. I could see him running ahead thereafter from in between the torn turbans. It appeared as if some missile had gone straight through them making the things visible at the other end through the coloured turbans. The owner of that shop seeing the turbans tear into pieces first looked towards them as if was watching some rare incident but after coming to his senses when he realised that they belonged to his customers ran after the donkey with a stick to shoo him away. However by that time the animal was hundreds of yards away. He then saw us holding the ropes and understood the complete story and then chased us. We were already prepared and took off on our cycles. He somehow caught hold of our friend Shankar and started abusing him in punjabi of which Shankar could not make a head or tail of it. He confiscated his new bicycle and asked Shankar to call his Father to whom he would return the bicycle after taking the cost of damages incurred.
Shankar was very depressed and pleaded the shopkeeper time and again to return his brand new cycle but all in vain. Shankar did not cry but returned to the next crossing where we all were waiting for him. As he narrated the whole incident we all turned tense.
“How much money do you have in your pocket?” asked Javed from me.
“Five rupees” I said. “And you ?”He asked Shankar
“Three “ replied Shankar
“What about you Khalid?”
“I just have fifty paise left” said Khalid
“And I have about eight rupees, which makes it a total of Rs 16 and paise fifty” said Javed.
“How much does a turban cost? Javed asked me, I being a surdy.
“Hey I have not yet started to tie turban nor I have any idea of how much it costs” I replied to him. Nobody amongst us had any idea of the cost of turban and we were under the impression that it may be within the amount we collect by collection amongst us in order to resolve the matter at our level itself for releasing Shanker’s bike from that shopkeeper. Everyone feared that if the matter reaches at our parent’s level we surely are going to get into a serious problem. Shankar was the most tensed as his property was confiscated and hesitated to go back home. It was getting dark and our playtime was also finishing fast so was Shankar’s patience. After not being able to hold on any longer he said,
“Lets go to the shopkeeper and ask him the cost”
“Are you mad he only has your bicycle and if we go he will keep one of us as security and create a fuss too, maybe he may report to police to get his money,” said Khalid.
“ Yes we should not go,” added Javed to his statement
“Ok then we should go to some other shop and ask the cost of turban,” I put forward my advice to them. My advice was accepted and we proceeded to another shop. When we came to know the actual cost of a new turban we all were shocked as it turned out to be about Rs 60/- each at that time and we were not knowing how many of them were torn by our friend; the donkey. Even if we calculate for three of them it would be Rs 180/- and we were planning to sort out the matter with just Rs 8 and paise fifty only. So there was no point hiding the fact any longer and we adviced Shankar to narrate the whole story to his Dad and add that the donkey went on his own and we did not have any role in it. Shanker with great fear and hesitation had no choice but to agree.
We all waited at a distance from his house fearing that we also may not be the recipient of his share of things he was going to receive from his Dad. After some time we saw Shankar coming out of his house along with his father hurriedly. They both went on a scooter and we followed them from a distance. They reached the spot where his bicycle was parked near the turban dyeing shop. His Father went to the owner and was having a chitchat with him. The discussion was loud where I could clearly hear the shopkeeper conversing in punjabi blaming the children who forced the donkey to run through the turbans converting them into bits and pieces of rags.
“What do I do with these and what reply do I give to my customers when they come to collect their turbans from me which they had given me for dyeing” pleaded the shopkeeper to Shanker’s father.
. “But the donkey ran on his own so why do you blame the children?”argued his Dad with him.
“Sir ! Do you think I am so mean that I would confiscate their cycle for it if they were not to be blamed. You please ask your son he had other friends also with him and they were having a fun game playing with the donkeys” replied the shopkeeper to his father truthfully. His Dad looked at Shanker and understood the case.
“Are you sure that it was their fault?” asked Shanker’s father to the shopkeeper for the last time in his south Indian accent. “Sir I do not have any proof except asking the donkey as kids will not agree since are afraid of thrashing. You may ask the donkey if you so desire” the shopkeeper said with a smile. Shanker’s Dad looked at the donkey wondering how he could have torn the turbans while we looked at his reaction as to what is going to happen next.
The donkey meanwhile brayed again and ran away from there indicating to Shanker’s father that what the shopkeeper is saying is truth and nothing else so he should pay the bill and finish off the matter. Probably shanker’s father received his message and asked the shopkeeper
“How much is the damage?”
“Sir the donkey has torn four turbans but since they were not new ones I’ll ask for only three hundred rupees.” His father immediately gave three currency notes of Rs 100/- each from his purse and handed them over to him. We saw Shanker holding his bicycle with a sense of relief on his face to proceed home following his father’s scooter. We also followed him to console him and say sorry for the inconvenience caused. We stopped about hundred metres from his house and soon after 10 minutes Shanker came out locking his bicycle in his house. We all met him as fans meet their favourite film star for getting the autographs and discussing about the matter. He narrated it word by word which was same as we had noticed and guessed from the distance with our eyes.
“Now we will not play such games as it has led to so much of loss.” I said on behalf of all of us.
“Next time we will not carry our bicycles” said Khalid while we all looked at him.