Where is the Mutton?
by Richard Rupnarain
In a village where privacy was a word that drew suspicion, and where residents felt they had the right of knowledge to their neighbors affairs, the two brothers were to be commended for keeping their lives and affairs in hermetic secrecy for almost a decade.
The elder Bhopra and his sibling, Jodha, lived in a little ramshackle one-roomed hut on a plot of land just off the embankment along the railway tracks in Mon Repos. The narrow two-acre parcel of land was owned by Mr. Goorpersad Persaud, an East Indian gentleman who made his fortune from selling rum. His strategy for success was simple. He built all his rum shops just outside the estate pay offices and lured the workers for a quick drink before they headed home. Unfortunately, most of them wound up staying for more than one drink, then for a dance or two to the music of Mukesh, Rafi and Lata, and a little carousing with wild women, until they became so drunk they had to be escorted home either by their irate wives or embarrassed children.
Mr. Persaud had acquired the parcel of land along the railway embankment with the intention of erecting another liquor store but was forced to put any development plan on hold when the local authority informed him of the government's plans for the expansion of the railway service and the possibility that they might require the land for easements. But fearful that if the lot was left idle for too long it might be confiscated by the government or worse, that it might be squatted upon by villagers looking for a place to dwell, he opted to build the hut and employ the two brothers as caretakers, allowing them to live there free of charge so long as they kept the land cultivated. Ever grateful for Mr. Persaud's magnanimous gesture towards them the brothers accepted the deal without question and without remuneration.
Before moving out on their own they resided with their parents, as did most unmarried offsprings of East Indian parentage, in a house slightly larger than theirs somewhere in the adjacent village. For reasons unknown to the villagers, and much to the chagrin of their parents, the brothers never married and more surprisingly, never displayed any disappointment in the celibate life. Rumors had it that Bhopra was in love with a mixed-race girl when he was eighteen and when he informed his mother of his intentions she reacted like a woman possessed by Kali and threatened to kill herself if he proceeded with the madness of marrying a woman who had black mans blood. When he took the case to his perpetually inebriated father the old man slurred a D'Aguiar white rum inspired threat to cut off his head and another more intimate organ with the implement of his trade, a 22" cutlass. Bhopra did not take the threat lightly as his father was known to have chopped off his own left index finger just to prove he was a man.
Jodha fared a little better, at least initially, perhaps so because he had heard of the organ donation threat his brother received, and also in that he was more discreet in broaching the subject to his mother. He had confided in Bhopra how he had feelings for Fazia, a girl he once knew from primary school days but whom he had since forgotten, until she reappeared at work in the field next to him. Since leaving school she had enlisted in the weeding gang at Enmore estate, much to the jealousy of the older women, for she was a fair damsel, unlike the sunburned and crass women like Hardai and Basmattie, who at the slightest offence, will hurl expletives and unabashedly lift their dresses to advertise their recycled Robin Hood flour bag brand of undergarments. It did not help Fazia's cause that in her first week at work she was the target of numerous amorous glances, bird calls and sweet talk from the young men in the spray gang, the sardars and chargehands, and even the field supervisor who offered her a ride on his shiny new S90 Honda scrambler motor cycle. But in the end it was he who had ensnared her heart and soul. It was his simplicity, his unpretentiousness, she had told him, that attracted her to him and he in turn interpreted that to mean that she was proud of him because he had no ambition, being content to kill canerats for the rest of his life. Nevertheless, she liked him in spite of his ignorance and lack of ambition and one day, during the break for lunch, as he unpacked his roti and bhaji from his two-tiered aluminum carrier she came by and sat beside him, with her beef curry and rice, and, under the envious stares of Hardai and company, he asked her to marry him. She agreed, though apprehensively, as she was a Muslim and he a Hindu, and she was well aware of the wars such unions had ignited in the past.
That day he went home, caught between emotions of euphoria and fear, but convinced that he would be able to win his parents support. After all, she was not black! He learned very quickly that night that racism is inveterate in the human soul and that it seeks not after commonality but also differences however slight, however superficial, and however spurious that by any means its host might find leverage to claim superiority and exalt itself above others. He least expected that Fazia's religious tradition might create a chasm wider and deeper than that into which Bhopra had fallen. Besides, he had approached his mother when she was most relaxed, on a Saturday afternoon when all her chores were completed, and when he felt the stars were aligned in his favor. That day, according to the daily horoscope, something special was going to happen for people born under his sign and he, a staunch believer in astrology, felt his moment had arrived. His mother had just taken a bath and was seated cross-legged on the platform atop the steps chewing on fried channa and munching on bara and biganee when he approached and took a seat beside her.
Hey, ma, what you eating? he asked.
Just some fried channa," she replied as she combed her fingers through her still damp hair to loosen any knots. "Want some?
Nah! I dont like fried channa. It stick up in me teeth, he politely refused. Then silence reigned for a minute. He was hesitant to broach the subject and she was preoccupied with untangling knots in her stringy hair. Finally, she broke the silence with a startling barrage of questions.
Bai, is when you gon get married? You nah find none gal?
On one hand he was stunned at the suddenness of her diversion from food to marriage but, on the other, he was relieved that she had broached the subject. He could not believe his luck and so, exhilarated at his good fortune but not wanting to shock her with a ready answer, he deliberately paused and then, as if thinking through the matter, he responded softly and matter-of-factly.
Well, I know this girl from de backdam and me think she likes me.
His mothers ears perked up like a cat on the trail of an undiscerning mouse and her eyes widened, not out of fear but in happy anticipation of becoming a mother-in-law and a grandmother, as well as being able to rid herself of the stigma that moon pass she hugly pickney. She clasped her hands and looked up to the clear blue skies.
Aray bapray! You get gal? Tell me, beta, a what she look like? She fair?
"Yes, ma, she fair like them flim star, and she nice, nice too."
"Like Mala Sinha and Rekha dem?"
"You na gon believe me but dem coolie boys say she is like Hema Malini."
"And she like you?"
"Yes, ma, a dah de ting what surprise me. Them supervisor a try fuh soor am but she nah interested in them. She said dem briga and dem education run to them head. But she say me unpretentious and simple. Na good ting me drop out from school? You see? Me always tell you common sense is de best sense."
"So what she name? Abie know de family?"
I don't think you know them. Everybody does call she Fazia but me think she real name is Fazila.
Fazila? the old lady cried as her back straightened up and her eyes widened like a cobra about to strike, "dat is wan fullah man name? Is a fullah gal?"
Yes, but she say she dont care about religion. She doesnt go to masjid and do reading.
Na mek dem fool you. Dem fullah man scampish. She only telling you dat, but before you married into dem people religion you have to change your name to Mohamed and get succumsize.
Ma! What chupidness you talking!
You think me got tongue like snake? Just ask the magi down the street. Look, son, me know dem fullah gal fair and ting but them na abie kind.
What you mean, abie kind?
"Abie is Hindu. You born Hindu and you got to dead Hindu. Besides, you know the cow is sacred to abie, but them people does eat beef everyday. How you gon tell the gal she cant cook beef? And what all dem people at de matya gon think when dem hear me son a married fullah gal?
Is that what bothering you? What people at the matya gon think? You dont care about me. You only care about your own self.
Look, na play mannish wid me. Dont tek you eye pass me fore me clap two box pon you bocas and slap out your fox teeth. If you think you a wan big man and you want fuh married dat fullah gal you can go and find you own house. Na bring am here."
And so, fearful of the consequences of continuing the relationship with Fazia he avoided her like a snake that had seen a mongoose and, when she did confront him about his strange behavior, he simply said he could not see her again. Shortly after that he saw her in the company of the field supervisor and became infuriated at the thought that she could forget him so easily when he still could not get her out of his mind. With raging jealousy he would watch through the corner of his eyes as she held tightly to the waist of her new boyfriend when they biked aimlessly through the lush canefields, her long hair blowing in the wind and the sound of her girlish laughter rising above the noise of the perforated muffler. Eventually his anger gave way to self-loathing as it dawned upon him that he had lost the most beautiful girl because he was a coward, a man who was afraid to stand up to his mother and who was too jaundiced to fight for his beloved.
And so, he and Bhopra continued to live with their parents, his elder brother constrained by the wincing thought of losing organs that are dear to him, and he, restrained by the words of pandit Gulgulla, that to honor one's parents is the greatest of virtues, even if it means cohabiting with them with crushed dreams and a broken heart.
When Bhopra and Jodha turned fifty-two and fifty years old, respectively, they took up Mr. Persauds offer and moved out of their parents home. Unfortunately, they took with them their accumulated bitterness which transformed them into mean and grumpy old men, traits that provoked the villagers to retaliate with taunts and unfounded accusations, and especially from the children who were caught stealing dunks and guavas from their fruit trees. The brothers did not fare much better with the adults either, overcharging the women for greens and refusing to socialize with the men.
It came then as no surprise that when one of Roshans sheep was declared missing from his pen, and the old sheep herder saw a woolen skin drying on the fence aback of the hut he became suspicious of the two brothers and called in the police.
The day before, Bhopra had found the strayed lamb chewing on his bora and, incensed at the animal, he lassoed it, took it to the back of the hut and with one blow with his fathers 22 cutlass, decapitated its head. After washing away traces of blood he chopped the lamb into bite sized pieces and curried it, about twenty pounds in all, and laid the skin out to dry on the fence where he thought it was out of sight to passing traffic. What he did not count on was that he was not dealing with casual passers-by but precocious kids and inquisitive adults who stared at the hut, being the only habitation on that side of the road, and who, over the years, knew the place so intricately that they could tell whether or not anything had changed. Unfortunately, for the brothers Roshan saw the skin and immediately suspected foul play. Of course, when he confronted the brothers they vehemently denied the charges and even summoned Lord Ganesh as their witness.
Undaunted by their deference to deity, Roshan remained convinced it was his missing lamb that was killed and personally fetched the police officer on his Hercules bicycle to file charges. Unfortunately, it seemed like the officer had his training by watching Inspector Clouseau in operation as he had no clue what to do in the situation. Then, as if to make matters worse for Roshan, a sugar lorry passed by and the stream of air pushed the scent of curry up the officer's nostrils and he, noted among villagers for his voracious appetite for East Indian roti and curry and, drugged by its odor to the point where he began to salivate like a rice eater, quickly forgot the purpose of his mission and asked if he could have some curry to take home. The brothers were delighted to offer him some but Roshan intervened, clearly incensed at the turn of events.
Officer, he cried, you come fuh eat or for charge them theif man buddy? You cant see that them cook the lamb?
The officer, on realizing that his addiction to curry could result in a conflict of interest in the matter and possibly his termination from the force, reluctantly restrained himself to a mouthful and then displayed some detective skills.
That is a lot of meat, comrade, like you expecting visitor or what? the officer asked.
Yes, yes, later on tonight me buddy family coming for dinner, Jodha replied.
Which buddy? You only have one brother," Roshan was quick to point out, and he dedeh right yahsoh!
No, not him, I mean my sissy son. Is he birthday and I decide to cook some curry for him.
But this curry smell like mutton, Roshan rebutted.
Yes, I buy it yessiday.
From who abie buy this mutton from bai? Bhopra asked his brother.
Am, that butcher man from Lusignan that does pass around with meat. I forget his name.
Officer, me think this is me lamb dem theif. I know me meggy and that skin that hanging pon de palin belongs to me.
After further questioning, the police determined that Bhopra and his brother could not produce credible evidence to support purchasing the meat, nor could they explain why they cooked so much meat for just two people, as they failed to offer proof that the family who was expected to dinner actually existed.
By then a burgeoning crowd of villagers had started to assemble in front of the brothers home, as they always did when a police is on the scene and, after hearing of the accusation against the much disliked siblings, they began to call for their arrest.
Lock them up, officer, them too theifing, they bayed.
So the police officer handcuffed the two brothers and marched behind them as they headed for the Police Station at Annandale. Immediately behind the two brothers were two young men, handpicked by the police, to bear the spoils as evidence for the magistrate. This they did by stringing the pot to a bamboo rod which they bore at the two ends. As the procession moved on it grew in numbers as people with no other means of entertainment joined the crowd. Many of them had allegations against the brothers, mostly trumped up out of envy, while others sought opportunity to get their revenge. But then things began to take a turn in favor of the brothers.
In the shack the police had sampled the curried mutton and the taste had stupified his senses to the point where he kept staring at the pot even as they trekked to the station. Aware that the curry was having an hypnotic effect on the bumbling officer Jodha drew closer to him and whispered in his ears.
"Officer," he said, "you like curry?"
"Yes, I like curry bad," the policeman replied.
"Well, you better eat that curry fast because it got plenty onions and it gon spoil quick in the sun."
"Me gon lie to you?"
"Aright. I gon take some. But is a lot? How I gon eat all this, this curry?"
"You could eat it, man. And, so as not to make it look bad you can offer them two men some as well," Jodha suggested, loud enough for the pail-bearers to hear.
And so, as they journeyed on, the officer and the bearers of the evidence kept poking their fingers into the pot, careful not to be seen by the accuser and, by the time they arrived at the station and had waited another hour for the magistrate to arrive, the pot was virtually empty.
Immediately upon his arrival, the magistrate began his interrogation.
So who are the people being charged with stolen property? he asked.
These two, your honor, the corporal replied.
What is your name, sir?
And who is the plaintiff?
This man here, sir, the corporal said as he pushed Roshan forward.
What is your name, sir?
Roshan, your honor.
Mr. Roshan, you are accusing these two men of stealing your sheep. What evidence do you have to support your claim?
Oh, your washup, me recannice me meggy skin hanging pan he fence.
What color was your sheep?
White or whitish?
Well, he been white when he was a kiddie, but now it get tatty and dutty.
But a lot of sheep have whitish coats. How do you know this one was yours?
I know all me sheep, your honor, and when this one did not come home me go for search for ram a pasta and then me eye spot the skin pan the fence. But you knows, was lil far so me couldnt see prappa, so me ball up me pants and crass de four-foot and examine the skin. Is me sheep, your washup. Besides, them buddy this dont have sheep. Where dey get de skin fram? Ask them dat, your washup!
Well, Mr. Bhopra, you heard the question. Where did you get the skin from?
I buy it a long time ago from the butcher shop, your warship.
For what purpose?
To make a mat for me house.
"And what was the skin doing on the fence?"
"Oh, mud get pon it and I wash it and put it out fuh dry."
Mr. Roshan, I cannot charge these men based on your belief that the sheep skin belongs to you because it is white. Thousands of sheep out there have white coats. Unless you have something more tangible I will have to dismiss this case.
Your honor, what about the mutton curry?
Ask de police. When I carry him to the house we smell curry and then we go inside the house and see a big pot of mutton curry pon the fireside. And when the officer ask them what they making so much curry for them start for lie. You ask them yourself, your washup.
Officer, is it true that these men had in their possession a pot of mutton curry when you entered their home?
Yes, your honor.
How do you know it was mutton?
Because I taste it, your honor.
And you know the difference between beef and mutton?
Yes, your honor. Beef taste different and it more hard.
I see you still have some of it hanging off your lips. Go and clean up yourself.
Yes, you honor.
Okay, so Mr. Bhopra, let me ask you this, Did you or did you not cook mutton?
Bhopra, looking at the pot lying to the side, paused for a moment and then he answered, No, your honor. I only eat fowl curry.
So are you saying that the pot of meat was not mutton?
Your honor, me can't afford mutton. Is just a likkle fowl me ajie give me for me birthday that me cook.
He liad, your warship, is wan whole pot meat we see.
Officer, is that true?
Yes, your honor, I sees it wid me own eyes.
Do you have the evidence?
Yes, your honor.
The officer fetched the pot and rested it on the counter in front of the magistrate. The aging arbitrator stood up, peeked inside, and then withdrew, clearly annoyed at what he saw or, more appropriately, what he didnt see.
You all taking me for a fool, nah? There is nothing in here but the remnants of a curry paste of some sort! Where is the mutton? he screamed.
The corporal began to sweat, whether from the pepper laden curry or from fear of humiliation, it was hard to say. Then he burped and everyone turned in his direction as the smell of curried mutton dissipated in the crowded courtroom. The magistrate looked disgustingly in his direction and shook his head at him as one does when dealing with a moron.
You people just wasting my time. I am dropping the charges against these brothers! Case dismissed! he cried as he slammed his gavel on the counter with such force that it created a dent in the resilient purpleheart wood.
As the elated brothers made their way out of the court the magistrate looked at Bhopra and pointed his fingers in the direction of the police officer.
"You be sure to thank that corporal," he remarked.
"The corporal? Why, your washup?" a bewildered Bhopra asked.
"Because he ate the evidence," the magistrate replied.
Bhopra complied. Resting his arm on the policemans epaulette, he whispered, Officer! Thanks, my friend!"
The officer, too dumb to be embarrassed or to detect sarcasm, licked his curry stained teeth and replied, "Safe, man!"
Richard Rupnarain lives in Toronto, Canada
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