By Ananya Mukherjee
Kaaga sab tan khaiyo, mora chuun chuun khaiyo maans re,
Par do naina mat khaiyo, mohe piya milan ki aas re
My name is Ruuhan. Given that am not a human, it is an unusual name. The forest officer has a poetic streak about him and a special affection for my ma, and it is he who has christened me thus. Ma tells me, it means spiritual.
I don’t know if there was anything mystical or pious about my birth. Just like any other fawn, I was born amidst an immense and gory struggle of will and contentment in a little shaded corner surrounded by huge tropical trees in India’s Kanha National Park. But unlike many others in my tribe, my birth was registered; I was named and tagged. During the process, I remember overhearing something about being a handsome but rare and endangered species. I don’t know what it implied. However, right from the time that I’ve seen the light of the world I’ve known one truth. I am different, if not special.
And I have grown up with this conviction. Interestingly, this difference that I once so happily assumed, is also quite stark now. It stares me at my face when I stop by the sparkling waters of the stream for a drink. My reflection on the sweet water tells me I am beautiful, that there’s none like me, yet that is also the reason why I am usually alone. In my moments of quiet silence and respite, I have often wondered if it’s the onus of carrying a name with a meaning (something that is unheard of in my clan) or having being born with such a different psyche that I have always been a loner. Another bone of contention in my herd! A stag like me should be a leader heading a band of five hundred gazelles, not grazing around alone in the forest and wondering about the philosophical implications and divine influences of his name. But, you see I am Ruuhan, and I am different.
But there’s a story about me that I haven’t told anyone. I see strange dreams, like frames from an afterlife or one that I have been through and these dreams keep coming back to me like a deja vu. Often in my idle wakefulness, I see myself as a cosmic illusion, a golden deer with eyes like rounded gems, horns and hooves like silver, sprinting around in a forest clearing. And I know that I am here for a purpose. I am being used as a bait and there’s nothing that I can do about it. I am merely following orders with death as an inevitable reward. I vision myself as a small part of a greater plan, a bigger picture, a divine intervention in the imbalance in the law of nature. Then I see an arrow striking me, slicing into my body, and leaving me numb. Even in my hypnotic state of painlessness, I feel something piercing into a formless entity and hear someone call out a name in my mind. Mareech.
Oh, I just ramble on and I think too much like humans, my ma tells me. I am a creature of the forest. I should be led by instincts not logic, she warns me all the time. But I know I am here for a purpose like none other. I am yet to find out what that is, but I know there is a reason for my being for sure.
One of the possibilities could be finding love. I am still on the lookout for a mate. My handsome demeanor does attract a lot of kohl smudged doe eyes. I have seen many of them cross my path, huddle up and lure me but Ruuhan as I am called, my search is somewhat different. A bit spiritual if I may be allowed to add. For me, it’s not the bark of a deer; it ought to be a call from a soul mate. I wonder why something tells me that voice in my dream that calls out my name with a desperate pain is that of a female. Maybe she was my consort, my mate in a previous life and from the jungles of Chitrakoot to the plains of the Seoni Hills by the Wainganga, I’m carrying her safely within me like my prized kasturi.
It’s getting dark and times are not as good as they used to be. My life has greater threat from men than from predators. Ma tells me there are poachers hiding in the park and I should get back to a safer location deep in the forest after dusk. I must hurry back now and take refuge in the shelter of the thickets beyond this plain. Hush, a moment…I hear something like a rumbling of the earth and before I know it…I feel something rush towards me and pierce into my smooth skin….
My hind legs feel heavy, my breaths are running short…and I know my time is out. Between the two thick forests of bamboo, just when the glorious sun dips its head into a submission to the earth, I can feel a numbness enveloping my senses and life slipping out of me. Flashes from a previous birth come rushing back ...yes, it was a female’s voice and she was calling out my name…Mareech.
I make a last attempt to rise and say, yes, my love, I am here…I can hear you now…but in my last breath all I can manage is crying out a name….hers.
Ghazal. Someday, they will remember you and me for leaving our legacy behind.
PS: This writing was inspired by my own passion for music and poetry. Not too long ago, Ghulam Ali Sahab shared a story about the origin of ‘ghazal’. The Arabic word originated from gazelle, he said. Kahete hain, teer khaya hua hiran (gazelle)jab akhri saansein leta hai, uske halaq se dard ki, tarap ki, ek akhri awaz sunaayi deti hai...us awaz ko ghazal kahete hain. Kya aap isse waakif thhey?