This being during the time while I was on Dhoedaam estate in-charge of the Pabbojan Division, Madhav was all of three years of age. Himmat Singh, a very senior planter and the manager of Tara Estate, despite the huge gap in our seniority level and our respective ages, having befriended my family, we had in course of time become very close friends and were very regularly dropping in to each other’s bungalows.
Himmat and his wife Krishna, having no child of their own, loved our little Madhav with a passion. A weakness which Madhav, very innocently and naturally as children are wont to do and obviously not even knowing that he was doing so, took full advantage of. The Tara bungalow having a swimming pool in the compound, we’ve spent many a Sunday lazing around the pool with a plenty of beer at hand to stave of the heat and humidity watching Himmat in the water playing and generally fooling around with Madhav who would be in peals of laughter.
Besides his many other passions, Himmat was the proud owner of a very handsome thoroughbred. Fateh Jung was a recently retired race horse who stood at a majestic 16 hands. Instead of the usual jeep which all managers used for estate work, Himmat would do the rounds astride Fateh Jung. Whenever we visited Tara, Madhav sitting in front of Himmat and clutching on to Fateh Jung’s mane, would be taken out on a long ride to come back to the bungalow flushed and bubbling with sheer excitement. With him being very possessive about his steed, it was always after a lot of pleading with him that Himmat would allow me to take his horse for a ride.
The approach road to Tara was through an Assamese basti (village). Every single time we’d head to Himmat’s place we’d see a small brown pony munching grass on the side of the road. Whenever we headed that way, in anticipation of seeing that fellow, Madhav his eyes wide open, would be half hanging out of the car window. The moment the pony was spotted he’d make us stop and wait while he walked across to touch and caress the fellows flank and had to be literally pulled away so that we could move on. Aware of Himmat’s passion for horses, on reaching the bungalow Madhav would run up the stairs to share with him graphic details of the encounter. For months altogether it was always the same modus operandi that we all went through.
And then that morning of 30th June which is Madhav’s birthday. Very early, well before dawn, a tractor rolls up to our bungalow gate with a trailer in tow. On the trailer was a bed of hay on which stood the ‘enroute to Tara pony’ with a hat on its head and a placard around its neck which read “Happy birthday Madhav, I am Ramu”. Madhav, needless to say, was over the moon with excitement and spent that whole day fussing around Ramu, making sure that HIS horse was comfortable in the garage. Me, I was dumbstruck. This was way over the top.
That evening following evening muster we made a bee-line to Tara. My concern was only one, that we confront Himmat and explain to him that there was no way that we could accept such an expensive gift from him. Enroute we stopped at the basti and after asking around got to the house of the erstwhile owner of Ramu to learn from the gentleman that he had sold the pony to Himmat for five thousand rupees. Back in the day that was a princely sum. It was just not right.
Much as I argued with Himmat, he would not have a word of it. Finally suggested to him that would he at least accept half of the cost and was in the choicest words told to go take a walk. Needless to say that the words my friend actually used were rather different! Finally, having been forced to put up my hands, we did what was our standard procedure whenever we got together. We hit Himmat’s bar.
And so Ramu, who every now and then when excited was not averse to taking a chomp at one, stayed on to became a member of our animal farm. Constantly horsing around with Phantom, our black Labrador.
It was five years later by when I had been transferred to Rajah Ali that Phantom managed to contract dumb rabies. How that happened has always remained a mystery. By the time we could figure out what the problem was, he had died. A few days later sitting in the bungalow jali kamra waiting for Madhav to get back from school, I saw Ramu who was standing close to the bungalow gate, just keel over. By the time gardener and I rushed across to try and help Ramu back on his feet, we just couldn’t get close to him because his legs were flaying and he was thrashing around violently. While we watched, in a matter of minutes he went stock still and his eyes just rolled over.
Knowing that Madhav would be traumatised if he were to see his beloved Ramu dead, we had the car bringing Madhav back from school, drive in through the rear gate. Quickly had a large pit dug to bury the pony.
While he never saw Ramu dead, when he learnt about it, that Madhav was devastated would be a gross understatement. Life – Always full of ups & downs!