My family tells me that I was born with a twin. A baby boy. He didn’t live longer than 18 days, and he was never named. During the rare times we spoke about this, my Mom would tease me that it was I who had contributed to the little baby’s death. Apparently, I took most of the nourishment in the womb, and the scraggly baby that was my twin died as a result.
Don’t even ask me about the psychological ramifications of knowing such a thing. I haven’t ever thought about it too much, although I do wonder what it might have been to have had an identical male version of me. But one thing does rankle, apart from me being the monstrous baby who sucked away another life. This kid had no name. He died unnamed. But not unloved, I hope.
I was reminded of this when I was in Bylakuppe for New Year. I love Bylakuppe. It’s my secret place of serenity and love. Last year, I didn’t want a New Year of booze or drugs. I just wanted peace. And Bylakuppe is where I go to seek it. In the middle of golden monasteries, maroon-clad monks, and bowls of thukpa is where I most find myself. There’s a beautiful field that I always walk through on my visits here. Each time I go there, I find that it’s changed. Once, when I visited in May, it was a lush meadow. Another time, it was overgrown with towering stalks of some unknown crop. This time, in January, it was not a meadow, not quite grass, not quite crop, but just a field.
I walk through it, trying to find a vantage place to see the last sun of the year go down. A goatherd is sleeping under a makeshift shelter. His herd all bleat around him. I stop, fascinated as I am always by animals. Nearby, the goatherd’s child is playing in the grass. I am in thrall with the goats, and it’s perhaps why I don’t hear the child’s screams at first. But the goatherd does. He springs up, and I turn around, startled. The child is pointing at something in the distance. “Aiyo! Aiyo!” yells the man, scrambling up and running across the field. I stand there, astonished. A minute or two passes by. The child and I scan the field. And then, I see the man return, carrying a kid in his arms. I walk over to him and watch as he sets the trembling kid down by his mother.
“What happened?” I ask the man in Kannada.
“The dogs took this kid,” he replies. “Just born.”
I look down at the black kid. He looks up at me. “Is he badly hurt?” I ask. “Yes,” shrugs the man. “Won’t you take him to the vet?” He shrugs again. “Maybe. Let’s see,” the goatherd says. I am a bit stunned by his nonchalance. After all, he ran like a goat himself to rescue this kid.
Meanwhile, I sit down near the kid. The Mom keeps looking at me, the afterbirth still dangling from her. She paws the ground in frustration, willing the kid to get up. Prance around. Do what goat kids do. I can see the pain in her eyes. The kid is wet and shivers on the ground. I can’t bear to see him any more. I wish him all that I can from my tattered heart and walk away.
The last day of 2019 and I wonder why I had to witness such a mauling. But maybe, the kid is going to show me faith, I think.
The next day, I go past the field. I turn around the car a couple of times. Should I? Should I not? But curiosity and compassion get the better of me. I park my car and walk down the field. The goats are there still. I can’t see the goatherd. I try to find the little kid, but there’s no sign of him. I spot a woman cleaning the tent. “Where’s the kid from yesterday?” I ask her. “He died in the night,” she says emotionlessly. I swallow. The first day of the year and this is what I have to hear? I am not sure what the message is.
I so wanted this kid to live. I wanted this kid to prance around too. I wanted to believe that there is so much more to life than death. I walk away, and this time, I don’t look at the mother goat.
What was the reason for this? What do I learn from this? This kid led such a short life. He came into this life, was snatched by some dogs, and died trembling in fear. I don’t know the answer to this. I don’t know much.
But this I do know.
That kid deserves a name. What shall I name him? Should I call him Faith? Because Faith was born and died so briefly like a cruel analogy to my own wavering belief in the Universe? Do I call him Hope? Because hope too dies a million deaths in our weary hearts? What should I call him?