Sudha madhuri dash is a published author of many novels. Along with photography she loves horse riding and practices odissi dance.
A WILD MUSTANG THAT TAUGHT MY CHILDREN THE MEANING OF LOVE AND LOYALTY
Year 2014, life in the olive uniform took a new turn. We were going to Jalandhar on posting but my father’s in laws eminent kidney failure took us to Calcutta. I have always preferred this old name to the new, for it held more meaning for me than the modern name of this city…. (Kolkata).
It reminds me of the quaint china shops in the Hogg market. The quintessential old name Calcutta reminds me of the red trams of the yore. The smell of fresh scones and bread in the early morning air that wafted out from the tiny Parsi bakery tucked away at the corner street. Still my heart had been set on the city of Jalandhar and I was a wee bit upset…I would miss my friends and the library at the cantonment. Rerouting of our trucks for the whole journey lengthened out to an extent that I lost one my precious turtles that was almost a twenty-year old. I was pretty upset with that loss of a dear pet. We moved into an allotted house at Clyde row, among other comforts I was lucky to get Shallu a goofy village woman to work for me and stay in my servant quarter at the back of the Bungalow. She had a squint in one eye, while her other eye rolled slightly upwards when she spoke. Her working skills were minimal and cooking skills zeroed down to an abysmal nil...still I was very happy with her for she showered me with so much affection. Her loyalty was a hundred percent this fact was often taken advantage off by my two girls. Teary-eyed they would complain to her and she would turn around in her stand and advocate for them.
My house or should I say the mini palace was old…dated back to almost a cool two hundred years and more to counting. The rooms were huge and it took a big circus-like effort from my side trying to decorate the whole place with my fauji stuff. Shallu had a lot to say about the house. It was a former hospital, all types of creepy stories found their place in the pantry among the servants on cold winter evening. I too heard a few stories about a headless shadow that walks around the lawns and the verandas. Shallu’s bad eye went rolling in every direction trying to tell me to be careful. I thanked all the ghosts and the chudails in the house for allowing me to settle down calmly. However, sometimes the children would speak of seeing shadows streaking past or sound of random closing of doors. I have always thought of myself as a dreamer…lover and a writer. The house had such a mysterious ambience to it, I had all the cocktail required to write. The small lawn at the back of the house overlooking the kitchen garden and the lotus tank was just the right spot to spin out tales. Often I would see myself sitting dreamy-eyed but unable to spin out a single line. What had earlier flowed like wine from a cask was now like a salt desert. I was unable to break this Thar Desert of my life. My broken knee too was a painful reminder that I could no longer pursue horse-riding. My husband a man of olive noted my disturbed self with his usual quiet indulgence. Though he made no suggestion but his quiet support and him not rattling me with questions, sort of held me together.
School admission done I was getting busy. Having explored the city for the hundredth time, I decided to find a more dedicated avenue for my children. Brushing aside many doubts about my broken knee, I decided to join a yoga class that was being conducted in Fort William. That evening with ominous dark clouds of rain hanging in the sky, I mustered the courage to take on the mad traffic of Calcutta. Anyway, before I could even reach the gates of fort William I was caught up in a massive traffic jam this led me to take a detour. The road was muddy full of potholes, lined by tall trees some as ancient as the fort itself.
“Mom look there is a termite mound,” shouted Rishika. My children getting excited about a termite mound. What else a python?
I pressed on the gas trying to hurry on, one never knows for this part of the fort was quite unexplored and manmade tracks were a few. After my experience with the ghosts in my house that keep closing and opening of doors I had very little interest in confronting a big snake...could be a python that had remained hidden all these years...ancient and hungry. I too was overthinking.
I tried not to look. I had enough of these ‘look this and look that’.
When suddenly I had to brake sharply, for standing right in the middle of the muddy track was a tawny colour beast, he was huge, he reminded me of two beer kegs that was placed side by side. He looked like those wild horses one sees in calendars’. Its dark mane flowing like flowing like a shiny fall of satin. His large black eyes regarded me a look of challenge. My love for horses has far surpassed my love for diamonds and strings of Basra pearls. I opened the door and got out of the XUV. He moved not an inch but I could see a change in his eyes, as I inched closer his eyes were becoming smaller from where I was standing I could just see the white of his eyes.
As I drew closer she suddenly reared up, his hooves pawing the air. Warning me that he would next do that kind of pawing upon my head, he forced me back, I could feel my heart fluttering. He then turned around and throwing me a look of disdain…as if saying you are not worth my time he galloped away into the deeper wilderness of the fort. My two girls were craning their necks out from the windows, they looked shocked and scared enough, as to not to leave the safety confines of the car. It was my turn to be more shocked, when I saw a bunch of uniform clad army boys coming at a run.
“Memsahib have you seen a fat horse?”
I mutely pointed in the direction that the fat one had gone off to. The men with long ropes in their hands immediately they took off in a run. I stood wandering a while than I drove off. After a good solid drive of fifteen minutes through unseen tracks. I reached a pair of tall iron gates, the padlock hung loosely as if broken by some brute force. I parked the car and limped across to what seemed an office. The door stood ajar and I could hear a deep sombre tone conversing with another agitated and worried voice.
“He has again runaway again”
Where were you...?”
“What has he broken this time?”
“How could Rajbir break his arm and dislocate his hip at the same time”.
What do you mean he pushed him...it is just but a horse not a human
The door suddenly opened finding me standing outside wide-eyed and bewildered, at having heard all that. I too was worried I did not want to be pushed by this person. I had had a broken knee, I wouldn’t survive another fall.
“Hello mam please come in”.
The man was tall and towered over the others in the room, I recognized him he was the famed polo player Prithivi Singh Rathod. Almost everyone who was anyone and who knew how to ride had heard of him.
“I am in charge here mam, would love to have an army lady ride...you shall be our first....”
To begin with, my day had been bad but now it was indeed looking up. My eldest looked surprised as I filled in the forms and with a glad hand.
As I drove back home my eldest asked accusingly “you said you would never ride again”
“I shall tell dad,” quipped my little one.
As I parked the XUV in the driveway, I said, “Be ready four-thirty sharp tomorrow”.
The two looked at me with a hint of mischievous glint in their eyes, which I ignored. Early next evening, I was surprised to see even my four-year-old ready on her own, usually she needs my help to dress up. She had been faking it all this time.
I have been riding since I was kid and the accident had really halted my life’s journey. Men I know from my personal experience have a huge chip on their shoulders if they see a woman ride. This feeling of insecurity is larger than life if they themselves are non-riders. They are so acutely plagued by physical incapacities and drawbacks, often such men are driven to a deep frustration of becoming very vile in their lives. After joining the club I had the unfortunate experience of meeting one such creature. He would patiently wait for me near the water filter. He had a lot to say to me, I had nothing to say back. I was forced to hear his neighing.
“Mam I too was a good rider”.
“I am thinking of joining back again”.
“As a lady with a broken leg you should take things a bit slow...especially at your age”.
“Are your glasses crizal?”
“You are quite regular for your age”.
“Where is he posted?”
“I know him”.
It became worse when he started pitting his twenty-year-old son against my twelve-year-old girl. He would race to ride every horse that she would sit upon. This comparison turned extreme when Rishika won medals both in the JNEC and the Indian dressage league. The man went a tottering
mad. I had enough. The man was getting too comfortable with me making me even more uncomfortable and afraid. To avoid this over friendly-character, I decided to confide in Prithivi.
With a serious look in his eyes he said, “come in the morning you shall find likeminded people”.
With new hope in my heart, the girls and I joined the four o clock early morning ride. I was at ease with Jags, Palit, and Sweety. Made quite a few good friends, while they would head home after the ride, I would head towards the stables with a big tuffin of jaggery in my hand. My daily ride, Mystic force was a gentle creature, a true racehorse, tall and a bit on the big bone side, he simply was the love of my life. In the stables as I would feed him jaggery, I would feel another big brawny head with a head of silken flow of mane jostling at my elbow asking me for a piece of the sweet temptation. Ignoring the big tawny head always proved to be disastrous, for the next morning I would find bite marks on Mystic forces neck. The sight of these would drive me wild and make me very angry. I would complain out loudly that the fat horse was biting Mystic Force.
At this the fat horse would shake his big head and beckon at me whenever I would go to the stables to meet Mystic forces and if I ignored him, he would instantly land a bite on my horse’s neck. Clever and more intelligent than an average horse he had me cornered. I started eventually feeding him jaggery and patting his big silken head. Over the next three months, it became such a habit that I started looking forward to meeting the fat horse everyday and him me.
I was in the stables feeding jaggery to the horses, when I reached mystic forces stable, I missed the jostling at my elbow and the big silken head.
“Where has this fat horse gone?” I asked one of the stable hands.
“To the doctor”
“He is going to be put down next week...so...”
Horrified, I dropped the big tiffin of jaggery with a loud clang, startling the large Hanoverian next door. It could not be happening. All this while I never had the urge to even know his name...but now I was too shocked. I at once made sharp queries that led me to Lenka. A kind-eyed compounder working at the veterinary hospital.
“He cannot be ridden...killed a fellow last year, snapped his neck in two....even three people sitting on his back can’t handle this beast or nor calm him down...breaks down the gates and runs away almost every other day...he chooses victims and causes injuries....good riddance I should say”.
“What is his name?” I asked in a quiet voice.
“Phantom” his words rang out clearly in that rain swept morning.
“Rishika shall ride him”.
“What” Lenka almost chocked and started coughing.
“Tomorrow saddle him up” I said and left.
“Prithivi sahib shall not...”
I knew my daughter well and by now, I knew phantom well too. Man shall bite the hand that feeds him but an animal...a different code exists in their world.
The next morning ride, I found a small crowd had gathered on the side of the riding ring, even the old fellow who worked who cut grass had also turned up with a bunch of his pet flies. They had all turned up for the show...curious as well with nasty intentions of having a good laugh.
Rishika looked at me but I looked at phantom. “she will ride you, understand.” That is all that I said to him.
Rishika was a gifted rider and extremely good for her age. He bucked and bit her, even tried breaking her legs by pushing her against the big pillars around the riding ring. My girl knew her riding well and I kept up with the big bully sitting on mystic forces. Whistling and calming him down. This continued for the next few days. On the seventh day of our trial he threw her near the gate and ran away towards the stables. I took Mystic force after him in a gallop, not allowing him to escape into the jungle in the fort. Six men cornered him and the ustad came at him with a whip. I barricaded and stood between them and him. “Please do not hit him, leave him alone”. I could feel his big head behind me nudging at my shoulders. He for the first time in his life had someone rallying for him. I wrapped my arms around his great big neck and buried my face in his long silken mane.
“No one shall hit you, I promise you that” I whispered as I scratched his forehead. I felt this majestic horse relax and lean onto me. He sniffed me deep and then licked my face.
I laughed and ruffled his mane and said “naughty fellow look what you have done”.
Rishika too had reached my side, “mom! Move away, he has a nasty habit of landing a bite”. I laughed and hugged my daughter close to me, “he may bite but not me and that I am sure of”.
I had just said that when the horse rumbled close to Rishika, nudging at her face and shoulders, as if saying sorry. She went up to him and hugged him and kissed him reassuring him that all was fine.
That day I think for the first time in his life he put his trust in a human being. His great big heart melted down imprinting his upon my daughter. That day was the last he ever misbehaved other than of course his acts of jealousy of biting Mystic forces whenever he could or sometimes trying to be naughty. His love for my girl was so evident like the morning sun that never fails to rise. From the most hated, he became the most loved in the stable. What experienced riders had failed to achieve a twelve year old had achieved with love and patience, she had whispered a horse to docile calmness. A few strings pulled here and a there and his death papers were withdrawn.
He is still wild and more naughty than ever but causing no harm to anyone. He loves going on the jungle trails but now he treads with care for he has Rishika on his back, avoiding fallen trees and deep holes. He knows these paths well. I feel safe with him in the lead, for I know he shall avoid all pitfalls as he moves ahead.
Every morning ride is a delight, my two girls looking forward to spending time with ‘Fanta’ that is what we call him now...everyone does.
For Phantom....by Rishika.
I can hear the heavy hooves on the ground,
Now a wisp and then a ghost,
Breathing fire as he gallops forth,
His chestnut mane like a river of fire,
His proud arrogant crest raised high above the petty mortals,
He reared and kicked as the boys tried to catch him and jumped the fence with a grace of a gazelle,
He could not be tamed nor could be caught,
They called him a monster...Phantom
And I ‘a legend’...Fanta
Seven years in the stable, this equine was divine,
His spirit unbreakable,
Unlike the bones and pillars that he had smashed to a smithern,
He did not have much time as they were putting him to sleep forever and for always,
In deep thought, I forgot ‘phantom’ had runaway,
And I came face to face with the big red,
He stood as majestic as ever,
Radiating power and determination to get his way forever,
In his eyes deep, dark and beautiful, I saw hatred with no hope to sway,
But just when i was about to give up I saw a tint of gold in his angry eyes
I could almost smile,
He paved the ground with his hooves,
I was willing to take the risk,
I stepped forward with a piece of jaggery in my hand and to my surprise he came forward and guess what happened next?
I found out his weakness for sweetness and a bond of love was formed,
For in that piece of jaggery I had offered him my heart and all..
© 2022 sudha madhuri dash