The Night Vigil
The sun tilted toward the western horizon and cattle are returning to their sheds. It is becoming dark. A dusky blanket of birds fly away and cricket whistle from their secretive nesting site. The farmers are retiring after hardest toil in their fields. The brooks are gurgling over pebbles. There is an evening song bird like brain-fever echoed far across the distant forest. It is dark in Shilling.
Shilling is a tiny village, six and half hours walk and two and half hours drive from Yadi loops. It is located in the gentle slope overlooking the village of Balam and Jadung. Its house appears sprinkled with nine household and population of 33 peoples.
Seventy six years old Ap, Chhoten Tshering and his son Norbu Wangdi, 27, are assembling their cattle in the shed and tying the cattle in corner of the field. His house is made up by bamboo mats with plastic roof. Ap Chhoten’s wife died two years back in tragic landslide when she was fetching firewood from the grove. So there only three of them.
One of his brother goes to school in one of a remotest schools. “Soon it’ll get dark and we have to be there in the fields before the wild animals,” says Norbu Wangdi after drinking two cups of Ara. He never drinks Ara but this time the hardest toil made him drink to ease the backache. Before he leaves he called a neighbour to look for the missing cows.
Last whole night, Norbu Wangdi guarded the fields with bow and arrow. Each and every corner of the field was checked but wild boar had destroyed a portion of the maize in another side. Many fields in Shilling are kept fallow, because farmers have to give up fighting off wild animals. Ap Chhoten has been fed up guarding the fields. A few like Ap Chhoten have preserved grains in tiny wooden box and they wondered how they would survive till the new reap.
Norbu Wangdi is not like other men who keep silent. He own a power chain and gives for hiring to others. He earns some cash. Often times, Ap Chhoten has to seek help from neighbours to guard the field when Norbu goes to other place. Sometime Norbu guards his field empty stomach as there is not much to eat.
The next day Norbu was called for the Geog meeting so Ap Chhoten has to guard the field. It was becoming dark and Norbu had not come back from meeting. That night was terrible for Ap Chhoten. There was heavy rain and thick blankets of cloud cover the night. Then he peeped from top of the guard house and he saw something he thought was a tiger approaching the cattle shed. He tried to pull the tin which is hung over the branches of a tall tree to keep away the animals entering the field. Suddenly he saw a group of wild dog entering the cow shed. He sought help from some neighbours but did not listen to him as they didn’t have cattle.
The next day Ap Chhoten saw his cow was killed by a group of wild dogs. He becomes helpless and wonders how he will give reply to son when he comes back. He reports to the agriculture extension officer. Ap Chhoten takes the officer around his cowshed. One of his cows was killed near the field. Nagan was only his cow who gives more milk. Fortunately her calf had escaped unhurt.
The next day, Ap Chhoten’s son Norbu Wangdi returns after two days of meeting. Before he steps into the door he saw father crying. “Everything is over”, he weep looking through the window. Inside a hut supported by four thin tree branches and overlooking the entire maize field – are three thin planks, a thin old carpet, and some torn cloths to use as blankets and pillow.
Norbu went to guard the maize field again. The sound of crickets, beetles and other insects seems like a mani opera under the cold starry night. It’s 11:00 pm. Norbu wanted to make a fire but could not because the firewoods were wet. Then he started shouting to drive away the wild animals entering. The moon was too bright and could see everything. Norbu scans the fields every hour with bow and arrow.
The he gets up at 5:00 am. And get to work, milking cows, fetching fodder, and working in the garden. That morning time has already stuck to 7:00 am in the morning. Father was very worried about his son not coming on time. “Norbu, come and have breakfast,” father yelled peeping through the window. “I have boiled potatoes for both of us.” Potatoes are only main food for them. Some time they preserve a kg of red rice to give to visitors like gup and mangmey whenever they visit their house regarding wild animals’ issues.
The very next day his father becomes seriously ill and could not guard the field. Norbu has to look after his sick father. His father becomes worse day by day. He did not know what else to do with his father either to take him to hospital or to guard the field. Norbu seeks help from a neighbour to guard his field. Samten is the only good friend of Norbu who is really willing to help. He agreed to guard his field for few days only though. That night they guard the field together. Someone above them guarding a different field joins in. They shout into the field together to scare the animals. Then they sing songs and tell different stories to each other to keep away from sleeping. Although shouting was not enough, Samten, yanks at a long set of ropes tied to a bunch of tins on pole at the edge of the maize field. Although far, the noise could reach all the corners of the field. Samten says that, even when farmers set up traps, boars still come and snacks on their crops. Taps are useless, Kezang, added.
In between screaming and tugging at ropes, Samten thought his field might have lost to the wild animals. Then he try to petrol his filed at the same time together. There were many family members to share the work load. Of his two brothers Norbu wangdi is only one left at home to help his father. Ap, Chhoten Tshering is a well know man in olden days. He served as Army officer for more than forty years. He was settled in village after he was retired.
Ap Chhoten recovered from ill after long days of self treatment. It’s 2:30 am in the morning. Samten takes Norbu Wangdi around the field. They shout again together. The air has got chillier; they go back to their hut. “We have to keep pulling the rope whenever we’re awake,” And so he did, feeling glad to his friend Samten for helping in such needy situation. The next morning at 5:30 am. Samten went back to his home. Norbu Wangdi stays back continue his guarding routine. The field was untouched. But Norbu knew better. The boars, must be lingering near by the forest. They will be back by any time in the night.