Before returning home my grandma would serve my favourite chicken curry prepared in thick coconut gravy with the livestock she had bred in the house. One day I glanced at the presence of a small boy in front of grandma, wearing torn trousers. My grandma handed to him one of the rooster from the coo. He took the struggling cock behind the house. Out of curiosity, I followed him. For me the sight was a cause of concern, he killed the cock. The poor one was stooping its head downwards while the body was still shivering. Observing my gloomy face, grandma said ‘then how would we prepare chicken curry’? But that day, the breath taking smell of the curry did not tempt me. Not a bit. I refused to eat it. I did.
Thereupon whenever I saw the boy, I attempted to ignore him. Though when he saw me, his face was brimming with a captivating smile. It was like someone attached that smile on his face. I could not help myself noticing it. I detected the colour and shape of his tooth. It was black and cracked and I was curious about it. My grandma cleared my doubt, ‘Nesamani might not be cleaning his teeth,‘ she added, ‘if you were not following dental hygiene, at night the Tooth Fairy would sleep with you and eat the dirt in your mouth that she is fond of.’ Listening to her words I was petrified. I promised myself, ‘I will clean my teeth regularly.’
One day Nesamani approached me and hesitantly said “Akka(sister) would you come with me I would show you something very special”. Out of curiosity, I agreed to go with him. He took me to the nearby woods. The grass was lush and green. On the way a couple of leeches fastened to the flesh of my bare legs. I became afraid and soon he scratched the little creature and threw it away, but blood began oozing out from my leg. He consoled me that to be bled by leeches was a remedy for various ailments. The skin became sore and itchy, he squeezed some leaves and poured the juice into my leg. I found the boy was a treasure house of knowledge that I was unaware about. Wielding the catapult he shot a number of wild fruits which excited and made me delighted. I forgot the tingle in my legs.
He climbed over a tree like a monkey and called out to me. “Akka, would you come near? As I looked at him, he said, ‘Open your mouth and then look above”. I did as instructed without hesitation. To my amazement I tasted the sweetness of honey in my mouth. When my mouth was full, I downed it.
I saw a big honeycomb in the tree. He squeezed more and more honey into my mouth. Soon the disturbed bees began to chase and stung Nesamani. He climbed down and held my hands and we ran like a cheetah. I fell and injured my leg. The angry bees didnot spare me as well. The pain made me cry louder. I ran and ran, flushed and breathless. And finally landed into the open hands of my grandpa. She heard my wailed and, she was in search of me already. Hearing my screams even the magpies, bulbuls and other birds resting on the trees were spooked and they flew away. With cries of alarm. The whole incident made my grandma grumble, “Wretch, loafer, evil one, how he hurt my girl!”.
Grandpa rubbed medicine to the stung marks. I felt sorry for the boy who was hurt more and grandpa consoled me, he said, “these things were a part of their daily life. The injuries would be healed by applying the extract of medicinal plants grown in the hills, which was not at all a cause of concern. Usually, the honey should be collected during twilight. That stretch of while the bees were away for training their young ones. And before taking the honey they usually smoked the hive to ward off the bees.” Grandpa explained to me in detail. He also spoke to me in length about how to collect honey from a honeycomb. After hearing all of it, a cold chill passed over my body. Nesamani, he ignored all the safety features.
After a couple of days, camouflaging himself behind the tree, inching closer, carrying a bundle of sticks in hand which he had collected for the kitchen fire, he approched me. Nesamani was nervous about the fact that he should not be seen by my grandparents. His presence in the flawless shape made me content. I considered him to be my true friend and enquired about his whereabouts. I understood that they were residing in the “Alai” ( a den inside the rock) up in the hills. They are good at hunting. Grandma told me that they tracked rats and ate the burned meats. But I didn’t believe it. Not a bit. But then my new friend concurred with that mastery. He adored eating rat and the underground roots of wild plants as well. The very thought of eating rats made me feel like vomiting.
Everything about and around Nesamani emerged uncanny to me. He used to flutter around like a butterfly in the hills which were wrapped in mist even at noon. Simply, wandering around and doing humble jobs to contain hunger. Within that primitive level of life, he was enjoying true pleasure in the lap of mother nature, a representative of the life of tribes in that era of which people like me were unaware.
Far far away from pretty wholesome decades, I still heard the melody of bulbul, the attentive trees in the hills with their leaves folded and listening in. Nesamani would be smiling and strolling through the woods showing the half-broken damaged tooth with the most beautiful smile I had ever seen.
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