It’s Not an Evil Eye, Mom!

Mahesh Paudyal

“Friends! Come; let’s go fishing in the river,” Bikram proposed.

Summer vacation had just started, and the children had leisure. With his friends, Bikram started roving around the village, rivers and the meadows. They devoured all the barberries and wild-berries that grew on the bank of Bange that flowed across the village from north to south. They also ate the bay-berries as much as they could.

In the meantime, the cow at Bikram’s bore a she-calf. A few more of his days passed playing with the calf. But, the holidays would not end so easily. So, he proposed his friends that they should fish in the river.

Bange had run low into a trickle. At places, water had collected into stagnant ditches. The children went to those ditches to fish.

The ditches were quite deep. They could not tip away the water completely. They could collect just a fish or two by the time they had dried a ditch. Then, they collected dry bamboos, splinters or turf from the bank, made a fire, roasted the fish, and ate. Before parting for the day, Bikram said, “Tomorrow, after breakfast, do gather at ours at ten o’clock. We will fish tomorrow as well.”

Though it was summer, there was no sign of rain. The village, which depended on use of water was facing a terrible spell of drought. River Bange had run dry into a duct. The villagers had been watering their vegetable gardens by making small waterways from the river.

Towards the end of the village, the villagers had dug a pond, where they collected the little water that flowed in the river. Four or five families drew pipes from the pond, and fed their fisheries.

At the southern edge of the village, Bikram’s mother had her hut. She had reared a cow. A small stripe of dry and barren land too belonged to her. It hardly supported any crop or vegetable. She had hoped that once the cow bore its calf, she would sell milk, collect money, and manage school fees and clothes for Bikram.

All through the day, Bikram’s mother would graze her cow along the bank of Bange. As dusk came darting, she would take the cow to the pond at the end of the village, wherefrom the cow would drink water. Other villagers’ cattle too came here for water before returning to their sheds.

The next day, Bikram’s friends gathered as decided. Bikram shared them a new technique of fishing in the ditches, “Friends! I have heard that if we crush wattle leaves and put the juice into the ditch, the water becomes poisonous and fish float dead on the surface. Last year, I saw Bithyaha Kanchha use the same technique. Let’s do the same.”

They went to the river and did as Bikram had proposed. A few fish died and floated, but the number was far too less than they had hoped. The next day, they tried the same in another ditch. This way, they mixed the extract from the leaves and soft branches of poisonous plants like soapberry and wattle, and gathered some dead fish. Then, they made fire on the riverbank, baked the fish, ate them up, and returned home.

This trend continued for many days, and now the holidays were ending. There were now only a couple of days more for the school to restart. But, their craving for fish had not been quenched yet. On the last day, they started contemplating on means to catch as many fish as they could. All of a sudden, Suyog said, “We have a powder at home that kills pests. Shall I bring it? I hope it kills fish as well.”

Bikram spoke with a sudden delight, “Is it so? Why didn’t you tell us earlier?”

“When daddy sprinkled it in the cowshed, our cat died.”

Bikram said again, “Then it will surely kill fish. Go, get it soon.”

Suyog darted away homeward, and within a few minutes came back with the white powder. They put it in the ditch. In a few minutes, fish started floating, one after another, on the surface. By evening, they had collected a lot of fish. Then they made fire on the river bank as usual to bake them. But as they roasted them, a strange, unfamiliar odour came from the fish. It was the smell of the poisonous powder reeking out of the dead fish.

After thinking deep for a long time, Bikram said to his friends, “Friends, let’s not eat these fish. The poisoned fish might do us harm.”

“What then should we do with these fish we caught with such labour?” said Chetana. Everyone grew serious.

Breaking the silence, Suyog said, “If we take these fish home and feed our dogs, the dogs might get sick. Let’s rather leave them here. At least the wild birds can feed on them.”

Vijay caught Suyog by his throat, and said, “Won’t the wild birds die?”

Vijay was true. Everyone resolved to bury the dead fish. They buried them under the sand and went home.

The school reopened. Bikram and his friends started attending school. On his way back, Bikram would always find his mother waiting for him near the pond at the southern end of the village. She used to take the cow there for water.

After a few days, the fish in the fisheries that drew water from the pond started dying one after another. They thought it was the kingfisher; so, they placed a scare-crow. Some of the farmers blamed their fate for the misfortune.

When Bikram heard of the misfortune, a terrible chill went down his spine. But he did not utter a word. His friends too were as mute as stone.

After a few days, the calf at Bikram’s fell sick. One evening, it appeared foaming from the mouth. Mother called for a sorcerer, thinking that it could be a spell, or the cast of ghouls in the river. The sorcerer chanted his mantras and sprinkled water upon the calf. But the next morning, they found it dead.

Rumours said that other calves in the village too were falling sick. Bikram was worried even more. Fear shook him so much that he stopped eating and sleeping well.

When the calf was dead, the cow was reluctant to give milk. The mother tried to milk it for a few more days, tying its legs with a tether on a pole. But one evening, even the cow discharged foam from its mouth, and before it was dawn, it breathed its last.

Once the cow–the only source of their income–was dead, the old woman had nothing left with her in the name of property. She cried for quite a long time. Bikram felt quite sour too. He sniveled with his mother.

When she felt really forlorn, she said to her son, “Bikram! Someone cast an evil eye upon our cow that just bore a calf. Cows and calves at others’ too are getting sick. There is no point in staying at this place anymore. Come; let’s go and stay at my parents’ for a few days. Your school is not quite far from there.”

Bikram did not utter a word. He just held his head low. The mother got her bundle ready, and locked the main door of her hut.

With heavy hearts, the two started plodding their way. At the house next-door, people had gathered to dispose a dead cow. At another house, someone was heard shouting, “Lo, the calf falls aground. What’s wrong with it?” But the mother and the son paid no heed to anything; they just kept walking on their own accord.

When they had reached the edge of their small farmyard, both stopped for a while. They paid a grave, parting look at their small hut, wiped out tears from their eyes, and resumed their journey.

When they reached the pond at the southern edge of the village, the mother stopped. She stared at the pond for some moments, and said, “See, honey! Our cow used to drink from here. But, someone cast an evil eye and…”

Then, the old woman gave out a loud, heart-rending cry. Bikram could control him no more; so, he joined his mother. After some time, Bikram wiped out his mother’s tears and said, “It’s not an evil eye, Mom!”

“What is it then, if not an evil eye?”

Amid tears, Bikram told everything to his mother, and wiped out his tears with the fringe of her shawl.