by Malsawmi Jacob
The koel called early in the morning. The clear, sweet voice delighted Munna. He could have jumped out of bed and enjoyed listening at the window. But he made up his mind to get annoyed instead. “Damn it!” he muttered, burrowing his head into one of the pillows. And went back to sleep.
Munna dreamt. A bright, sunlit morning. He was a little boy in knickers, barefooted. Walking on the green grass, back and forth between the well in front of the house and vegetable garden at the back. Helping his mother water the plants, fetching water from the well. His mother, young and laughing, pinched his cheek, patted him on the head, and called him “My big boy”. The sky was blue, the sunlight golden, and the grass green. And the koel was singing all over the place. The world was smiling.
“Get up, Munna, the koel is calling”, said his mother’s voice. He awoke with a start and then came back to his senses. “Shit! My mother’s dead and can’t call me any more”, he said to himself. “And why the hell should I get up just to go to college and listen to boring lectures?” He turned over and tried to sleep again.
The koel continued to call outside. “Up, up, Munna, the koel is calling us”, Ma would say in the old days, when he was a little boy. He would get up, bright and cheerful, to greet the new day. While he brushed his teeth Ma would boil milk, mix with sugar and cool it by pouring from one vessel to another. He would drink the milk with a couple of biscuits, sitting at the dining table, feeling like a little lord. Then he and Ma would fetch water from the well and take bath. He still had a clear picture in his mind of the little cottage where they used to live. It was on a hillside, cream coloured, the wood works painted dark brown. A patch of grass on the front yard with a well on one side of it. The well water was warm in the morning and felt real good on your body. If the weather was dry they would water the garden. Then Ma would make the breakfast of roti and gugni while he got ready for school. After breakfast they would walk together to the bus stop to wait for the school bus. Father was away on business most of the time, but when he happened to be home, they would go on outings and picnics on holidays. Those were happy times!
Life rolled along quietly and smoothly until Munna turned fourteen. Then, all of a sudden, everything changed. He fell out of love with everything. Out of love with the morning, the sunlight and the koel’s music. Out of love with life. All he now cared for was watching TV late into the night, sleeping late into the morning, and roaming around with friends after school late into the evening. His studies suffered. He did not heed his mother’s gentle corrections, and his father’s harsh scolding made him only more stubborn. Both parents were puzzled and dismayed at the change in their only child.
A few years later when Munna was just seventeen, his mother died. She was one of the victims in a bus accident. From then on Munna grew more bitter. He came to hate everything and everybody. Two years later his father remarried. This was a further blow to Munna. He felt betrayed, abandoned. Each new day, he told himself he had no reason to get up and go through the day. But he always did somehow.
Summer came round once again. Birds chirped and flew about the trees around the house. Among their many voices the koel sang out with clear, sweet voice. It sang any time from morning till night. The sound awoke strange feelings in Munna. He now lay in bed, head buried under the pillow, trying to shut out the koel’s voice. Trying to sleep. But sleep would not come any more. Thoughts and feelings crowded in upon him,. He couldn’t sort them out, couldn’t make sense out of them. They caught him and whirled him round and round. In the midst of this whirling darkness a voice was calling, clear and sweet. Munna suddenly thought ‘I must kill the koel. Silence him forever’.
He sat up. The thought of doing something surprisingly gave him a sense of purpose. He started plotting how to kill the koel. ‘I can use my father’s gun. He or his new wife won’t know it when they get back from their honeymoon’. He got up and walked to his father’s bedroom and tried the door. It was locked. With a grim smile he thought ‘Of course, they don’t trust me. Why should they?’
He found nails and wires in the storeroom and went to work, hoping that Ganesh, the all-purpose servant, would not hear him and peep in to see what he was doing. Picking locks was one of the things he learnt from his High school friends. After some effort he managed to get into the room. He found the gun, found bullets in the table drawer and loaded it. He went back to his own room and stood by the window, leaned the barrel on the window bar, and waited. He was ready. Crows were cawing raucously on the bhel tree. Sparrows and mynahs hopped about on the mango. A dove was cooing from somewhere. In a little while a koel landed on the big neem. Munna took aim and cocked the gun. He watched the bird’s black form as it gave three calls. His forefinger was on the trigger.
But his hands shook and his face poured sweat. He slowly lowered the gun. He could not shoot. Hardened as he thought himself to be, he could not commit the heinous crime. The koel gave three more calls and flew away.
Munna unloaded the gun and put it back in place. Then he came back to his room and sank down on the floor, exhausted. His nerves had been taut the last few minutes as if under great terror. The moment they relaxed he felt physically tired, drained. But he felt relieved too. Relieved as if he had just escaped from great danger. Or had passed a difficult test. And he now knew why.
It would never do to kill the koel.