Friday, March 18, 2011

Bagpiper Karma

It was one of those golden summer evenings in the hills of Jharkhand. I was enjoying a quiet walk down a narrow path through the dense bushes of Lantana, with bunched blooms of red and white all around. And, I had an aluminum canister in hand, to get our family's daily supply of milk.

In those days, you would be considered a complete fool in rural India, if you trusted the milkman to give you unadulterated milk. You could pretty much trust anyone else in town, but if you left the milkman on his own, he would dilute your milk with water, and blame it on everything under the sun. After our milkman, Kailashnath, blamed the poor quality of the milk on the loudspeakers blaring music at night during Holi, we decided that enough was enough. And thus began my daily trek to the milkman's tabela (cattle shed), where he would milk the cow under my watchful eyes, and I would make sure that no hanky-panky happened between the bucket and the canister, in collusion with the sneaky hand of Kailashnath, the milkman. Of course, the quality of the milk improved dramatically. And we were quite happy for a while.

On this particular evening, I found Kailash sitting on a large piece of rock outside his tabela. He was wiping his forehead with a thin towel. And, he looked quite despondent. When I asked what had happened, he shook his head and said, "Babu, Rampyari gum ho gai hai. (Babu, Rampyari has disappeared.)"

Rampyari was the name of Kailash's latest  addition to the cattle shed. Her bovine influence on our diet was substantial. And if she went missing, I didn't know where the paneer in our next meal would come from. So, Kailash's loss suddenly became my own loss, and I volunteered to help him find Rampyari.

For hours, we looked around in the usual grazing fields, but there was no trace of Rampyari. After we looked at all possibilities, including Kailash's conspiracy theories involving rival cattle shed owners, I just decided to give up and go home. Kailash vowed to keep his search on through the night.

The next morning, Kailash delivered our milk at home. Apparently, Rampyari had come back at night. The milk tasted awful, since Kailash had decided what it should taste like. The same thing happened that evening, and at that point, I was getting suspicious that Kailash was hiding Rampyari from me, so he could bring us diluted milk the next day under one pretext or another. But, the day after, when I was about to blow my top when I didn't see the cow in the shed, Kailash saw me and exclaimed, "Babu, guthhi sulajh gai!" (Babu, I have solved the riddle!). Then he almost dragged me to the field where Rampyari would usually graze.

She was in the middle of a huge field of grass, chomping away at the green bits of nutritious cellulose, that would be appropriately taken care of, in all the four chambers of her stomach. And we decided to wait. In just a few minutes, we heard the strangest sound ever heard in the hills of Jharkhand. It sounded like a bagpipe, and it was coming from the edge of the field, which ended in a little hillock. On top of the hillock, stood a pretty little guest house, where visiting engineers to the local mine from all parts of the world, would be put up. Like us, Rampyari had heard the music. And suddenly, she lifted her tail, and ran towards the source of the music!

We decided to investigate further. We peeped inside the guest house, which, at the time was housing a team of engineers from Britain. And, on the front lawn, we saw a rather unusual sight. A Scotsman, wearing a colorful kilt, was playing a bagpipe. He seemed very happy. Perhaps, this was his way of unwinding from a long day of  work in the mine. And Rampyari had comfortably settled herself on the grass outside the guest house. She seemed to be enjoying the music. Once the music stopped, Rampyari got up, like a dedicated fan of Scottish music, and went back on her way to the tabela, completely ignoring our presence.

The riddle was indeed solved! We decided not to interfere with Rampyari's love of music, and every day, I would just go to the tabela a little later, when she would be back. Then, one day, Kailash was despondent again. Apparently, Rampyari had stopped giving milk completely and a little bit of investigation showed that the Scotsman had left. Without the music, there was deep sadness in her eyes. And neither of us could bear to see it.

Kailash said, "Babu, maine  Ganga-din sapere ko bhi bulaya tha, lekin uske bajane se kuch nahin hua!" (Babu, I even called Ganga-din the snake-charmer, but his playing did not work at all!"). The snake charmers in north India play an instrument called the Been, which sounds similar to the bagpipe. Kailash did try it seems, but, Rampyari would not budge. Now, it was up to me to see if I could help.

That night, I was listening to the BBC on shortwave and "Andy Kershaw's World of Music" came up. And one of the pieces he played was a Scottish melody, on a bagpipe. I hit the record button on my tape-recorder, just to see if that would work. The next day, I went to the tabela, armed with my tape-recorder. After we played the tune a couple of times, Rampyari looked happy. So, I decided to leave the tape-recorder with Kailash for some long term therapy. The next morning, Kailash was ringing our doorbell excitedly, and we found that Rampyari was back to being normal. Kailash had brought our milk for us. Its  improved quality was perhaps a token of his gratitude.

Since I needed my tape-recorder back, Kailash quickly made arrangements with Ganga-din the snake charmer to play the Scottish melody on his been every evening for Rampyari. And it worked like a charm!

We moved to a different town shortly afterwards, and I often wondered if Rampyari continued to listen to Ganga-din's "Scottish" melody, and continued to give buckets full of milk. But, more than that, I have wondered how a cow would develop a taste for the music from the highlands. And, after much deliberation, all I could say was that Rampyari must have been the reincarnation of a Scottish cow in India, and the Karma of her past life refused to let her go.

Perhaps, this was an open and shut case of Bagpiper Karma.


  1. Curious case :)
    Remember listening to some discourse where the speaker said that Lord Krishna (during his days as cowherd) would play the flute to increase the milk yield!

    Re. your previous wishes for the book. I think, you have it in you to write technical stuff that can be understood by a wider population.

  2. Thanks Soumya. Appreciate your kind words.

  3. Thank you Desi Babuji, The Peanut Express is a pleasurable acquaintance I hope to see till the end of days...

  4. Thanks Hdaran. It is always a pleasure reading your comments!

  5. hence proved. the fact that scientists have been trying to prove forever that music does wonders to your brain. plants, animals and human beings alike.