Monday, August 31, 2009

Animal Farm


The last time I tried to write about this, I had to flee persecution. It did not go down very well with the hoi polloi. Most of them wanted to incarcerate me, but unsuccessfully. Several of them tried to suppress what I had already written, but someone got wind of it and finally managed to get it out in the open. Somehow, it was salvaged. The memory of it, over years of attrition, was slowly and excruciatingly erased till very little remained, just about enough to provoke a laugh or a scoff in the Corridors of power. Hardly enough to really make you think about what it was that I had tried to tell people. Nevertheless, I was not completely bumped off, which had less to do with the munificence of my persecutors and more to do with their ineptitude. I wasn’t exactly pushing daisies in the years after. I was recuperating. Working and everything, trying to get things in working order again. So much effort it demanded of me – worthwhile all the same. I tried to think optimistically about the future – I even succeeded for a while, when most of those who encountered me in passing remarked on it – but it was getting slightly tiresome. I tired of the fa├žade of normalcy and I wanted something drastic to change the ennui befallen on our farm.

I did not have to wait for long.

I believe it is the recrudescence of old problems that fascinates man most. This is mainly because of two factors: the first is that he has an uncanny ability to recognize things that he has seen in the past quite adeptly; the second is that he experiences a burst of gratification when something that he had foreseen in past comes true. He likes foretelling evils. Very much the same with me. I got bored of the regularity and inertia at the farm. And when what I am about to tell you happened, everything, for me, fell into place again. I recovered faster and better: because I could see that all that I had said the last time could not be contradicted this time. It happened right in front of us for all to see.

We had in our farm several facilities. We had the pig-sty, the cow-shed (enlarged beyond necessity, in my opinion), the horse-stables, the fish-ponds, even a rather cumbersome stretch of land for goats to graze in. Of course, I should mention prefatorily that I occupied the sty, because I am pig, and a rather overgrown pig. We had pretty decent living-quarters there; much of where we spent our waking hours was adequately desiccated to make it habitable and there were hardly any food-contingencies. I would say the same for the horses. They seemed quite well off. The cows did not complain either but the incessant sound of their mooing sounded irritating and whiney anyway. It is the hens’ area that I should come to next, being as it is the theatre of our story, where a strange and mysterious episode unfolded over a week in August.

The hens, which in our farm were all black, had a large thatched conservatory to themselves. They were, as you would know, consumed on a large scale and demand for their meat did not flagellate at any time of the year. It meant the best, most consistent care taken of them. The owners of our farm, an old and bedraggled couple, tried their best to keep the black hens in optimal order. The black hens cooperated, grew fatter without hesitation or resentment, ate the food provided for them and generally kept in good humour. The overall condition of the hens in the past half decade, at the time of the incident, was, you could say, satisfactory. They did their feeding and laying of eggs uncomplainingly. The supervision and confiscation of eggs was not a problem. Such an understanding to this effect had been reached between hens and humans two millennia ago by common agreement. In fact, they did not even experience the global terror wreaked upon their species plaguing their counterparts in farms across China and Europe. Much of what transpired there came to us in fits and starts, as gossip, and our hens remained eminently indifferent to it, because they knew their health was unimpeachable. By virtue of their black colouration, they showed certain characteristics that made them different from hens of other plumage. They were slightly bigger, more aggressive and louder than others, if you believed the farmer’s wife.

At some point before August, the farmer received a kind of contract for a horticultural experiment. Since his hens were all purely black, he was to introduce into their lot a white cock. I should mention that the farmer kept black cocks in a segregated section of the hut, and that the offspring of the two produced, as you can imagine, regular, healthy black chickens. News of the arrival of the white cock created a ripple in our farm. Several animals discussed what the hens felt about it. The hens, for their own part, were bemused and a little offended at the ignominy of being experimented upon. A lot of talk went around, some of the hens were purportedly breaking out of their hut to try and escape, but they never got too far. Some of the other hens kept mum, not really aware of what the hullabaloo was about. Some of them anticipated his arrival quietly. Some of them had seen white cocks before – and knew perhaps, unlike the rest, how wondrous they could be.

The day the white cock arrived was marked by commotion. A lot of the other animals were intrigued to see him. Some said he looked so prodigious, so huge, so muscular. Some spoke of his enviable strength. Some stared at his incomparable feathers, baffled by his stunning beauty. He mesmerized everyone so quickly it was as if someone had slipped aphrodisiac in our collective water-supply. The prodigious white cock marched confidently out of the van and into the compound that was to be his exclusive leisure space, partitioned from the conservatory by a thin mesh through which hens could see the outside. They saw what awaited entry into their midst. I found it hard to glean much from their initial reaction. I think some of them were shocked into silence; for much quiet prevailed most of the day. But when evening fell and an unusually dark night came upon us, shrill cries of indistinguishable anguish could be heard from them. They wailed and wailed as if their insides ached. We knew not why. It was all very mysterious. The white cock, in the meantime, I believe, slept peacefully in a corner outside, wholly unmoved by the cacophony of sounds emanating from within.

Next morning, the hens went berserk. The white cock upon waking found that the mesh portioning him from the hens’ quarters had been torn and in his compound, a multitude of hens scattered helter-skelter. Most of them ran along the periphery in concentric circles. Some shrieked at the poor beleaguered black cocks cowering inside. Some wailed like they did last night – clearly their ache had not subsided. For much of the morning, the other animals tried ways and means of buffering the sound but to no avail. Most of us went back into our hay-stacks to shut our ears off from the terrible sound.

The rest of that week witnessed a drastic change in the hens. The white cock now stayed inside the shed and hardly ever ventured out. Several dispossessed black hens waited outside, unable to enter what were only a few nights before their laying-spots. Many stayed on inside, but from what I hear, their hierarchy had changed. The bigger black hens, earlier leaders, assumed the most distant corners and the leaner, more emaciated ones occupied prime hovels in the centre. In the very core, most comfortable spot, the white cock had taken over residence. Those whose places were of closest proximity became newly endowed with the leadership of the hens. The white cock did not really have much to do. He simply sat there, looking honorific as he did, tended to by the harem most proximate to him.

The worst of it was of course reserved for the black cocks, for whatever food and provisions were provided for them was intercepted by the black hens on his bidding. The white cock never once deigned to look in their direction. The black cocks, truth be told, would have loved to be enlisted in his retinue – they too were mesmerized. Instead, however, after days of starvation, boney skeletons covered with black were found in their wake.

*****

I believe I must stop here. The rest of the story is too terrible to be told in detail. But I will summarize. A week after his arrival, the white cock was taken by the farmer to his kitchen and was never seen again. The black hens, pained by absence, gave birth to several incongruous black-and-white offspring prematurely, all of whom perished. The strange pestilence at which the very same hens had earlier cocked a snook came upon them like Hell’s vengeance and not a single one was spared. They all collapsed into a heap of dead blackness.

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