This is a true story.
This is as true as the greatest story ever untold - the one that resides peacefully in Manmohan Singh's heart.
This is a story about Ritanjan. It also involves a lot of animals, but we will come to that later.
Ritanjan is a PhD in Development Studies (don't ask!) from the London School of Economics, which probably means that his level of enlightenment is on a different plane than mine. It also almost certainly means that he lives in England, which he does.
However, his academic pursuits are not the only aspects of life that sets Ritanjan apart from lesser mortals like us. He loves walking on trails, which is a passion as obscure to me as eating Rubik's cubes is; more so, since the guy had been a student of Patha Bhavan (without any doubt the greatest school the world has ever seen), and is an ardent follower of cricket (and a passionate player as well, taking leagues by the storm all over England).
So, off they went, the two of them, Ritanjan and his backpack. It was a rare sunny day in England (well, I assume it was a sunny day, since it makes a good story). They took the South Downs Way, one of the largest national trails in England (with Ritanjan everything is kingsize; that's the kind of person he is - had he been in India, Gold Flake would probably have made him their brand ambassador).
Of course, he wasn't walking the whole trail. He started off from a small town called Petersfield, and walked the rest of the trail. He walked and walked, and then walked some more (that's all you do when you go on trails: it's Ritanjan's idea of fun; London School of Economics PhDs belong to a different planet altogether).
He walked upto a village called Buriton. Note the way he went in a direction exact opposite that of human civilisation - London, Petersfield, and then Buriton. Given a chance he would probably have been living in a cave by now.
(For a vivid, very detailed description of the route from Petersfield to Buriton, click here.)
So far, so good. Our hero eventually went out on the much-awaited trail - that would take him from Buriton to further west - towards Winchester. Of course, it's not exactly obvious for people in the Western World to go further west, but that's another story. We won't deviate.
Ritanjan, immersed in the mesmerisingly picturesque mystique of the English countryside, soon came across a field. It looked like a rather nonchalant stretch of greenery, surrounded by ominous-looking fences across its perimeter. Inside the field were about eighty cows, grazing on the fresh grass in the same leisurely manner that cows have done in the history of cattlekind.
There may have been a few oxen among the lot, though, but Ritanjan wasn't one to stoop low enough (literally) to classify the cattle by gender. He is destined for greater things.
Anyway, he knew that the field was a shortcut to his destination, and decided to leave his footmarks on the expanse of lush greenery. He walked and he walked, for that is what people are supposed to do on this mysterious hobby that goes by the name of 'walking trails'.
Now, Ritanjan, despite his academic conquests, is a rather simple person at heart. As his trekking shoes made their way across the uninterrupted greenery, he did not notice that about half a dozen cows had distanced themselves from him, and were slowly forming a semicircle around him.
It took him some time to realise that there was something wrong. Cattle weren't supposed to go on a semicircular formation around human beings. Being an extremely intelligent and educated person, he also realised that there could be only one reason for them to act in such a non-bovine fashion.
Being the athletic person that he is, he turned around, and ran back as fast as he could towards the fence. He could hear the tale-tell sound of twenty-four or so hoofs thundering on the soft earth behind him and closing on to him as he managed to jump the fence just in the nick of time.
He decided to give it another shot. Mustering as much stealth as a PhD can under these circumstances, he crossed the fence yet again, possibly with the unrealistic hope of making a dash for it and reaching his destination.
Much to his dismay, the entire barricade of eighty-odd cows, now arranged in a neat, linear formation, took this attempt rather personally, and sped towards Ritanjan, as if marshalled by some invisible CowLord. He was ready this time, and turning a full one-hundred-and-eighty-degrees, he made it to the fence, this time rather comfortably, and panted on the other side of it, utterly defeated.
Unfortunately, none of them could come to his help. Meanwhile, the cows had retreated by a few yards; on the other hand, the eighty-odd cows had moved closer to the fence to have a closer look at this seemingly harmless alien.
What next? Ritanjan had to cross the field in order to pursue his trail (which, as we have mentioned before, held a larger-than-life significance to him). There was another route somewhere, but it was probably a convoluted, lengthy, and obscure one - and there was no assurance that there won't be any cattle on the alternative route.
He sat, confused, worn out, and devastated. He was soon overcome by hunger, thirst, and the sheer frustration of not being able to go on with the trail - the thing that meant possibly the world to him. These were not your typical rickety Indian cows. The Jersey Cows were larger, stronger, meaner, and looked like they meant business.
He waited for what felt like hours. Though it was rather early in the morning, he was so exhausted that it seemed that it was closed to sunset. He had forgotten, it seems, that The Sun never sets in the proud British Empire.
And then, along came a man, with the two creatures that made him a bonafide British - his wife and a dog. The dog was small one, possibly a chihuahua. Chihuahuas, as we all know, are possibly the most overhyped creatures in the world - even more than Amish Tripathi and Aishwariya Rai put together.
The man, possibly more British than a steaming cup of Earl Grey, asked Ritanjan the same question they often used to ask leading men in Bengali movies of the 1960s: "any problem, young man?"
Ritanjan, hoping to clutch on to the family of three in the same way that a Tata Docomo user does to the minuscule indication of the availability of a tower, poured out the details of his exasperation to the threesome.
The man nodded with a stiff upper lip.
The woman was surprised, and exclaimed "but cows are the most peaceful animals!"
The chihuahua kept quiet. Chihuahuas typically keep quiet during important discussions.
Ritanjan responded "till about half an hour ago I'd have agreed with you heart and soul". It was clearly evident that he had regained some of his composure, and had eventually got a grip on the time elapsed.
The couple assured Ritanjan, and offered to walk him across the field. The chihuahua, as before, kept silent, sticking to the policy chihuahuas have stuck to over centuries. Ritanjan accepted their brave offer somewhat reluctantly, the skepticism evident in his voice.
So off they went, the four of them. The very British man, his very British wife, the very bright scholar, and the very useless dog. Together they dared to challenge what few groups of four have been brave enough to do in the history of the third planet in the Solar System - take on a gang of eighty cows.
The grass, lush with the anticipation of an unmatched, gory confrontation, greeted them with the aroma of now-fading dew. The cows, watching them in rapt attention, formed a file yet again. Their intention was clear.
Ritanjan's throat dried. He tried to speak, but not a single word left his parched throat. The Briton and his wife didn't utter a word either.
But the chihuahua did. It barked. Twice.
There was silence. An absolute, numbing, pregnant silence. There would have been an audible sound even if a pin had been dropped. Unfortunately, Ritanjan does not rate pins too highly, and doesn't consider them a necessity while go on that grand hobby of his - which goes by the name of trail-walking.
They stood pinned to the spot, though.
And then, the unthinkable happened. The cows, petrified by the chihuahua's atrocious wails, retreated, keeping a safe distance from the Gang of Four. The foursome passed away, completely untouched of the awestruck herd that didn't dare to come any closer.
There is a small postscript, though. On reaching to the safe abode at the other end of the field, the woman told Ritanjan "This is how you tackle cows. They're rather meek creatures. I don't blame you, though - I'm sure you don't come from a country where you've seen a lot of cows."
PS: Other than the man himself, I guess I should acknowledge Bimbabati - the pocket-sized amazing talent who simply refuses to write - who was the first to narrate the story to me. Ritanjan, of course, helped me with the detailed information.
I could not find the man, his wife, their dog, or any of the cows for more details.