was just leaving for his grocery shopping after breakfast, when Jogenbabu
arrived. Jogenbabu looked very concerned. So concerned that his glasses slipped
almost to the tip of his nose, his moustache hung limply down and his shirt was
worn inside out.
Barodababu, I had to come so early in the morning, I am in big trouble.
was new to this region, well, not really new. He was originally from these
parts but in between had spent thirty years in Bihar. Recently, he returned to
was Barodababu’s neighbor and a very nice gentleman.
was the reputed wise man of the area. Everyone sought his advice. It was said
that he could divine a person’s innermost thoughts simply by looking at him.
Listening to Jogenbabu, he smiled calmly and said,
seems the milkman failed to deliver milk today?
no he did.
then your maid must have taken the day off!
she did not.
then did the kids from Sheetala Puja Committee demand 100 rupees as contribution?
Sir, I gave them just five rupees.
does your wife have a toothache?
really. I just saw her chewing chalbhaja. No, it’s something else. What
I really want to know is, you must have heard the proverb, ‘An empty barn is
better than one with an unruly cow’? Is it really true? Shouldn’t one prefer an
unruly cow to an empty barn?
on, what is the problem here? An empty barn is indeed better than having an
unruly cow. There are many issues with owning an unruly cow. She can gore, escape,
break through other people’s fences and refuse to give milk. But you don’t even
own a cow, so why are you worried?
I am not really thinking about the cow but about the proverb. Just a few days
ago, I heard another one, ‘A blind uncle is better than not having an uncle at
all’. Tell me, is this true too? Or should it be, ‘Having no uncle is
preferable to a blind uncle’?
is simple. Rather than having no uncle, it is better to have an uncle who is
blind or lame or even mad; after all, he is still an uncle, isn’t he? And you
can also go to this uncle’s house, and have a person to lovingly call uncle.
There may be other advantages too, I can surely think about them later.
isn’t this contradictory reasoning Barodababu? First we say, ‘an empty barn is
better than one with an unruly cow.’ Then we say, ‘a blind uncle is better than having no uncle.’ Just
think for a moment, isn’t the implication of the two proverbs totally
I have not really thought about that.
is exactly why I am here so early in the morning.
but tell me Jogenbabu, why are you so concerned about uncles and cows in the
uncle Kanai suddenly arrived with a cow this morning. He said, ‘I was feeling
awful that your barn is lying empty, so I brought you a cow. It cost only 5,000
rupees but you can give me 50 less. A cow is very useful. It is bad for a
household not to have a cow.’ That’s why I thought of asking you. Isn’t having
no uncle preferable to a blind one? Or is an unruly cow preferable to an empty
sounded tired, ‘It seems cows and uncles are complicated issues, I have to
ponder a bit more on these.’
Jogenbabu was not satisfied at that, ‘You know the problem with people
Barodababu? They say things without due consideration. First they say, ‘blind
uncle is better than no uncle.’ Then they say, ‘having no cow is better than
having an unruly one’. First they say it is better to have, then they say it is
better not to have. I am so confused, what should I follow?’
thought for a while, then said,
the proverb, we are talking about blind uncles. It does not mention uncles with
normal eyesight, but certainly mentions blind uncle. This means it is fine not
to have a normal, healthy uncle but one should definitely have a blind uncle.
Is your uncle blind?
course not. My Uncle Kanai, a towering
personality, is certainly not blind. He was a police officer once. Thieves and
robbers used to despair whenever he was posted nearby. They would quit cooking
in frustration, march in processions to express their griefs, even designate a
day to curse him. Failing to steal anything, some of them had to commit
suicide. Some took to social services as their new career, others donated their
blood while some even organized drawing competitions to while away the time. To
this day, no one dare look him in the eye and speak. Whatever he commands has
to be instantly carried out. People lovingly called him ‘Kanai Daroga,
Your uncle seems dangerous.
that is exactly why I want to know if my Uncle Kanai is preferable to not
having an uncle?
indeed a very reasonable question! I think it is better to have no uncle
instead of a bad, angry one. No uncle, no problem.
there is another problem.
what is that again?
you know what Ramkhelaon, the milkman whispered in my ear when he delivered
milk this morning? He said, ‘Sir, be careful when you buy cows. The cow that
your uncle brought, is blind. It has cataracts in both eyes, it will definitely
give you lots of problems.’
are you saying now! A blind cow!
and because of that I want to know if a blind cow is preferable to an empty
barn? Is there anything said on this topic to your knowledge?
looked troubled, ‘There is a lot said about unruly cows but nothing regarding
blind cows. However, I see you have created a complicated problem early in the
morning, with your bad uncles and blind cows!
but there is another proverb, where an uncle and nephew get together, no danger
can ever appear. Correct?
proverbs are not untrue. I have several uncles, Uncle Shibu, Uncle Chitto,
Uncle Ram, Uncle Raghu, Uncle Niru, Uncle Jishnu, Uncle Jyoti. But none of them
try to sell me a blind cow early in the morning. And none of them is ill
tempered or a police officer. But I see you are the one trying to make complex
problems out of simple things.
are you getting upset with me Barodababu? How am I creating problems? Jogenbabu
you? Creating problems is your habit. We have heard of bad cows and blind
uncles. Now, with your bringing blind cows and bad uncles into the discussion,
you have created such a mess that it is making my head spin. I have completely
forgotten what I was supposed to buy at the grocery store. When my temper rises
I lose appetite and cannot sleep. Just
day before yesterday you arrived in the morning and suddenly asked me to
explain the difference between the ragas Tilak-Kamod and Pilu. Won’t such
questions give a person a heart attack? I have not yet gotten over my anger
over that and now you bring more questions about bad uncles and blind cows.
down. You are a wise man, that’s why people come to you with their questions. Just
the day before you answered my question so easily. You said the difference
between Pilu and Tilak-Kamod was like the difference between squash and okra,
or boyal and chitol fish or a bear and a gorilla. Didn’t you say
you also said, if Pilu were the be all and end all of all ragas, there would be
no need for Tilak-Kamod. If mankind were not satisfied with Tilak-Kamod only,
they would occasionally listen to Pilu, right?
I did say that.
then you said, if Pilu were to be Tilak-Kamod then Pilu would not have the
unique Pillu-ness, and if Tilak-Kamod were to be Pilu then it too would lose
its own Tilak-Kamod flavor, correct?
I did, Barodababu sounded tired.
explanation made that crystal clear to me and so I was in high spirits the
whole day. Pilu and Tilak-Kamod have settled down, there are no more fights
between them and that’s precisely why I have come to you. After considering my
present situation, do you think the saying ‘Where uncle and nephew are together,
no danger can ever appear’, is correct? Some people do say the opposite.
do they say?
say, Yama, son-in-law and nephew can never be truly yours.
they do, I agree.
folks be saying such diametrically opposite things? This is how the very adorable uncle-nephew
relationship got poisoned through the ages. And isn’t the terrible state of our
country directly a consequence of such poisonous relationships? All around us we
see lawlessness, thievery and falsehood; it is obviously caused by these
confusing proverbs. And this has been going on since the ancient times.
my head is spinning and I feel faint.
I was feeling just like that a short while back. Uncle Kanai is having his
breakfast with milk and flattened rice. Soon he would leave with the payment
for the cow. Which is why I have come running to you. Barodababu, if you could
lend me 5000 rupees, I will be indebted to you, forever.
Chalbhaja: fried grains of uncooked rice
Daroga: a police officer
Boyal and chitol: types of fish found in the
rivers of Bengal
Nephew, in this case refers to sister’s son
Yama: the Lord of death