Talk

A lack of trust

Omair Ahmad | Updated on April 17, 2021

Pregnant pause: An incident involving a baby goat had quickly turned into a scene rife with political tension   -  THE HINDU/BISWARANJAN ROUT

Of an injured baby goat, young men on motorcycles and political tensions

* A group of young men on motorcycles overtook us, one of them banging on the window on my side to signal us to pull over

* In the few minutes it took for us to go back to the dhaba, my mother had called up my cousin and told him that a group of young thugs were trying to take me somewhere

* Accidents will always happen, and at such times we need to step up to help each other

****

Sometime ago I was in a small road accident on the way from my farm to the city. Like many accidents it had many actors, and none, but it did have a victim.

I was not driving fast. One cannot on that road, especially towards late afternoon. It is just wide enough for two-way traffic, but without dividers. Nor are there any barriers or fences between the road and the land on each side of it. As with many small towns in UP that have expanded towards their villages, the population has sprawled out, with many living along the roadside. You have to be alert to people crossing the road suddenly — or a car, motorcycle or bicycle coming out of nowhere, or even an animal.

As I came to a stretch by a dhaba, two baby goats suddenly ran on to the road in front of the car. I pumped the brakes and swerved to avoid them, feeling only the slightest impact, thinking one of them had hit the side. In the rearview mirror I could see both of them still standing, and breathed a sigh of relief. Had I been alone, I would have pulled over and double checked, but since I was with my mother and sister, and the goats seemed okay, I figured it was not worth the bother. I was wrong.

A few minutes later, a group of young men on motorcycles overtook us, one of them banging on the window on my side to signal us to pull over, which I did. My mother, unsure of what was happening, immediately began to worry. I got out of the car, and asked the men what the problem was. One young man with a large and fresh tika on his forehead, who seemed to be the leader of the group, said I had run over a goat.

“Are you sure?” I asked him. I had seen the two goats standing behind on the road, seemingly unharmed, and I had no reason to trust the words of a group of strangers.

“Why would I flag you down otherwise,” he asked in exasperation. “Do you think I am mad?”

He sounded genuinely flustered, and one of the others who had come along suddenly said, “How is it his fault if a goat is on the road?”

“Why don’t you show me?” I said, offering to go with them.

At this point my sister called me over and asked me what was happening. I explained. My mother, primed by stories of thugs and lynchings that have become so common in today’s India, was in a state of panic, and insisted that I not go with them. My sister merely said, “You can’t leave us here.”

This, of course, was true. I told the men to lead the way, and got back into the car.

In the few minutes it took for us to go back to the dhaba, my mother had called up my cousin and told him that a group of young thugs were trying to take me somewhere and do unspeakable things to me, perhaps.

At the dhaba there was nothing to be seen, other than the normal crush of people. The goats had disappeared, so I asked the young man again to explain what happened.

He said that some people who kept goats lived nearby, and part of their flock had run out on to the road, and while I had managed to avoid hitting the goats directly, one of them had injured a leg when it hit the car.

“Okay,” I said, “so how is this my fault? What can I do? Where are the goatherds.”

He answered the last question first: “I think they have gone to see the leg seen to.” Then he shrugged in answer to the other questions.

Had I been alone, I might have stayed. By their very nature of work, goatherds are not rich people, and even if the leg had not been hurt badly, the small cost to poor people would be an additional burden. However, they were not there, nor did I have a reliable way to find them, or give them any money. Reluctantly, with the agreement of the men at the dhaba, I got back into the car, and drove off while my mother recovered her calm.

In all of this, everybody had their best intentions in mind. The young men had seen a problem and tried to help. That it led to nothing was no fault of theirs. That their appearance had led my mother to panic was also not their fault, or hers, for that matter, only the terrible political situation we currently inhabit. Accidents will always happen, and at such times we need to step up to help each other. It will be a tragedy of extreme proportions if politics pushes us to the point where all we see in each other is a reason for fear.

I worry, though, about the baby goat.

Omair Ahmad   -  Businessline

 

Omair Ahmad is the South Asia Editor for The Third Pole, reporting on water issues in the Himalayas;

Twitter: @OmairTAhmad

Published on April 17, 2021

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