On Peacocks (and peahens?) and dancing

On Peacocks (and peahens?) and dancing

Partha Desikan

This is a line up of two short stories, both having to do with one or more peacocks or peahens. The first one entitled ‘The peacock didn’t dance, lion moaned’ by S V Ramakrishnan, appeared on 03 Jun 2009 in the New Indian express. I fell in love with it at once and am quoting it below verbatim. The second one with the title, ‘A Song for Vimal‘ was made up by me to amuse my grandchildren some three years ago and has not been published so far. Today (04 Jun 2009) I am combining the two and releasing them together. You will observe that there is a connection between Sri Ramakrishnan’s beautiful tale and my ‘story-song’, though the link could merely be song and dance.

 

Sri Ramakrishnan’s tale, ‘The peacock didn’t dance, lion moaned’

I had just turned six the previous day. Some relatives had come from Patnam (that is how Madras was referred to in those days) and I was busy playing with their girl Saroja. She suggested that we play ‘Lion and lamb’. It was settled that I would play the lion and Saroja the lamb. Two cots lying near each other in the upstairs hall would be the forest.

The lion let out a terrific roar from one cot and the lamb, looking properly frightened, retreated to a corner on the other. With another ‘simha garjana’ the lion now leapt to reach its prey, but lo, fell in between the two cots. Its roar now turned a piteous wail, so loud that everybody downstairs heard it and rushed to our play spot. Initially I was surprised at the unusual attention, as I really did not feel that much of pain. All the same, to keep up my self-respect, I cried louder still. Meantime, I heard my father’s remark "Oh. It looks like a fracture". Some thing really serious, I thought. With a sense of thrill, I awaited further happenings. I was not to be disappointed.

As I playfully watched, my anxious parents rushed me to the ‘Periyaspattiri’ (Big Hospital, as our town government hospital was respectfully called). The doctor examined me in detail and said that my elbow was fractured and as they had no x-ray, we had to go to Coimbatore. A taxi was sent for. Soon an ancient model car with canvas top arrived (these taxis were around till the mid Sixties, but mainly for marriage processions). But the driver reported a problem. He did not have enough petrol for the journey. He took some advance to procure it in black market. That was wartime, when petrol was severely rationed. If not all petrol, he could mix some kerosene (also rationed).

At Coimbatore, Ramarao and Lakshmanrao, two doctor brothers, had a hospital, famous for ‘fixing broken bones’. Father having telegraphed, they were readily waiting when we reached. Putting me on the operation table, Ramarao, whose kind face I still remember, asked me "Do you know counting?" I proudly declared, "Yes".

"Up to how much?" he posed a trickier question. I boldly claimed ‘hundred’, but was immediately worried whether I could manage so much. As it happens, most of the time in my life, my diffidence proved unnecessary. As he lightly pressed an exotically smelling pad on my nose, I had counted only nineteen, when the job was done. Yes, I was now unconscious inhaling chloroform, like Queen Victoria a century earlier. When I woke up, my elbow was all in plaster.

We stayed on at Coimbatore reporting to doctor every two days. My uncle’s house with its spacious compound and mango trees, his grandchildren of my age group and a peacock around to boot, was great fun to stay. My only disappointment was that this peacock never danced; mother told me that female peacocks did not learn dancing. All good things have to come to an end and after sometime the doctor told my mother that the fracture had healed and we could go home. But he advised that I carry some weight and walk fifteen minutes everyday to strengthen my elbow.

Mother would put some sand in a tiffin-box for me to carry up and down. I first used my fractured (left) hand but when I found it easier to carry on the other hand, I simply shifted it rightward. Only when my mother discovered it and laughed, it struck me that exercising with the good hand was useless, though comfortable.

 

 

Partha Desikan’s product, ‘A Song for Vimal’

 

 

Prologue

 

Vijay lived alone in the hills. He wrote poems which he sang to himself. Occasionally he sang to his animal friends and it seemed to him that they listened to him.

One morning he found a peacock at his doorstep. Or rather a pea-chick. Bald as pie and with various shades of blue and green on his little body, no crown yet, nor any plumes. When Vijay picked him up, he learnt that one foot was injured. It was an easy job for Vijay to get him right in a matter of days.

 

The Song

 

Vijay and Vimal became great friends.

Sometimes he called him chick-pea,

thinking of his blue, lilac and green shades.

The chick-peas in his garden

of course had a glorious array of colors.

Vimal grew.

And before the plumes and crest started coming,

he had learnt hygiene from Vijay.

He loved to bathe everyday.

Strictly however, to be bathed.

 

Vijay bathed him lovingly

with water only, without using soap.

He did not want him to get used

to anything artificial.

Even on days when Vijay forgot,

Vimal used to get near his tub

and let out his screech, key kaw key kaw!

 

Vimal went out to find his own food

and to have adventures with little snakes.

And as time passed,

Vimal’s head and tail started becoming beautiful.

The colours on the body became silkier and gold-shaded.

The crest and the plumes grew and grew.

After some more time, Vimal was a fully grown peacock.

No longer a pea-chick. Or chick-pea.

Vijay stopped bathing Vimal.

 

                        

Vijay had stopped bathing Vimal because

Vimal had learnt to go into the rain

Or wade into shallow streams all by himself.

Vijay watched

as Vimal danced in the rain

and peahens started going round him.

Vijay watched

as Vimal pounced on an unsuspecting snake

and carried it away with his strong feet.

Vijay watched

as a group of peacocks strutted back and forth

under the banyan tree,

their long necks popping up and down

their unpleasant cries filling the air,

their heads importantly turning left and right.

And he could always tell his Vimal from the rest

by the small white patch on the left leg above the claws.

 

                       

Vimal knew he was not dancing in the rain

though Vijay thought he was;

though the other peacocks who were just copying his steps

thought he was.

He was, in fact, taking a shower.

After his head and body had become fully wet,

Vimal spread out his gorgeous plumes

so that they could all become nicely wet.

And he waved his beautiful body this way and that

and rested it now on one foot, now on the other

so that every bit of him would become wet.

You see he spread out his plumes only when it rained.

His dance was only a nice happy bathing session.

 

Vijay sang-

Look at my only Vimal, my lovely Vimal

Spreading his parasol, his golden green umbrella

And dancing, oh, prancing in the rain!

 

Vimal said to himself, silently,

‘A song is not about what you see,

nor even about what you know (or should know )

but only about what you feel!’

 

In the course of years, as monsoon passed dry days

and the dry days passed yet another monsoon,

Vimal’s friends took off to other places

where too peacocks lived,

and taught them to dance in the rain.

Well, of course, they got cleaner after the dance.

 

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