The goat chewed absent-mindedly as a small group on the other side of the stable made merry. A bull, flanked on either side by a brown horse, was saying, “Her skin was like milk and her neck was like marble.” His friends approved of the direction the story was going in by mooing, neighing and bleating their general appreciation. The bull continued, “She nuzzled my neck, ‘Mahabali, take me! Make me a cow,’ she said.”
“This is what Ayodhya is coming to,” said a displeased voice from behind the goat. The goat turned and momentarily stopped chewing. A beautiful cow stood in front of him. There was hay in her mouth but she wasn’t chewing. She looked holy.
“I am Kurup,” the goat introduced himself and waited. Then he realised his mouth was open and resumed chewing.
“Suvarna,” said the cow and her eyes finally came to rest upon Kurup. “Forgive my temper. But those beasts are talking about me.”
The goat didn’t know what to say. He had been listening to the bull for quite some time now. Now it started to appear distasteful.
“I haven’t seen you here before,” the cow said.
“I was purchased today… apparently,” Kurup said and shrugged. He had realised over the years that it didn’t help to dwell on the fact that he was someone’s property. In any case, for all practical purposes, he considered himself a free goat.
A great guffaw of laughter erupted from the other end of the stable again. If Suvarna heard it, she made no show of it. Kurup fidgeted on his hooves.
“It is alright actually. I guess I shouldn’t complain. This is Ramarajya after all,” Suvarna said and smiled. Kurup kept quiet. It would be a few months before the most beloved of Ayodhya’s princes returned from his 14-year-exile and claimed the royal throne.
“It is Bharatarajya actually,” he said matter-of-factly. Then he thought for a bit and said, “Actually, it’s just a pair of sandals.”
Suvarna burst into a laugh. Kurup took the compliment quietly. He chewed in silence till Suvarna’s laughter died. Then he looked up at her and she burst out laughing again. “You are amusing,” she said eventually.
Kurup didn’t think it was that funny. But he didn’t mind. Maybe she needed to laugh.
“I hope the prince and his wife are alive and well,” said Suvarna after some time.
Kurup nodded, even though he saw little chance of that. Dandakaranya wasn’t exactly a grazing ground. Every few weeks travelers brought news of hermits attacked and mutilated by rakshasas and asuras. Even able Kshatriyas like Rama can only do so much against such beasts.
They chewed in silence for a while. The muttering and rude laughter from the other end of the stable continued.
Kurup turned and yelled at the bull, “Stop your mooing you piece of dung!”
A wave of silence swept the stable. The bull moved, but realised he was tethered. “Are you talking to me goat?” he said, pretending to be calm.
Kurup’s voice left him. He nodded but felt he couldn’t nod properly either.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” Suvarna said.
“I know. He will probably stamp me to death the first chance he gets,” Kurup was looking at his hooves.
“Not because of that. I just meant you were rude. There is a difference between him and you. Let it be.”
Kurup didn’t think there was a difference between him and the bull. Perhaps that’s why he yelled.
“You are a dead goat! There is no hope for you!” the bull was saying. Kurup agreed in his heart.
Then the bull fell silent. Kurup looked around and saw him staring open mouthed at the patch of sky visible immediately above his side of the stable. Kurup couldn’t see it. Nor could anyone else.
“Did you see that?” mooed the bull loudly, pulling at his tether in apparent panic, leaving inch-deep hoof marks in the soil under his feet. His cohorts scattered. None of them had been looking at the sky at that particular moment.
“See what?” asked Kurup, relieved to be hearing something akin to common conversation from the otherwise raging bull.
“Someone… something… flew over us just now. It was huge. And he… I think it was a man. He had a tail.”
“That is… very… interesting,” Kurup said and started moving towards the bull. “Did he have wings?”
“No… it… You don’t believe me do you goat? I am serious. It flew by so fast. Trust me.”
“I trust you,” Kurup lied. He was standing right next to the bull now, looking at the sky with him. The bull’s mates stood huddled in the far corner. Kurup grew convinced that prolonged exposure to the noonday sun had done things to the bull.
“…and he was holding a weapon of some kind,” the bull panted. “Also… He also had a mountain on his shoulder.”
“I wish I had seen him,” said Kurup, sounding his wistful best. He was actually quite happy. From where he stood, Suvarna looked holy.