On a blistering day in June, under the scorching midday sun, when the surrounding air danced in a haze of heat and rose towards the glaring sky, a giant of a man standing eight feet tall and weighing nearly a quarter of a ton tugged on his shoulders a massive wood and iron plough. Scarring the face of an endless field, he churned the hard soil preparing it for his master to plant his crops. With the strength of a labouring ox and a simple mind that had not matured much or developed, Boloram had worked his whole life as a human bullock.
“Ei, Boloram’da would you like to have a mango,” enquired the ten-year-old Chutki with half a dozen of the juicy fruit gathered in the cradle of her skirt. Sitting on the trunk of a fallen tree, she dangled her legs to the tune of the Bengali limerick “Ikir mikir cham chikir, chamer kata Majumdar, Dheer elo Damodor,” an ancient children’s game played by counting and folding one’s fingers.
“No Chutki, I rather finish ploughing the rest of the field, otherwise your father would beat me up. Save a mango for me, I will eat it later,” replied the burlesque simpleton and continued lugging the massive plough on his shoulders, while the little girl played on humming “Ikir mikir…” and enjoying her mangoes under the hot summer sun.
The district of Malda was the largest producer of excellent quality jute in India. Apart from jute – rice, legumes, and oilseeds were the chief crops in the surrounding areas. Mulberry plantations and mango orchards also occupied large tracts. Silk manufacturing and mango trade had become the major economic activities in the district.
Surrounded by the waters of the rivers Fulhar and Ganges, Bhutni was a small island in this Malda district of the Indian state of West Bengal. It was a part of the physiographic sub-region known as the Diara, a relatively well-drained flat land with fluvial deposits of rich and newer alluvium soil that made it ideal for cultivation. The livelihood of most of the ninety thousand residents of the isle centred around agriculture. Boloram was born and lived in Dakshin Chandipur, one of the sixty-three villages of this fertile little island.
Twenty-seven years ago, on a half-moon night of low tide, a low caste single mother cowhand, gave birth to a bastard son and took her last breath in her master’s barn. A woman servant, the only person present there, took the infant and latched his lips to the udders of a milking cow. Born in the filth of bovine dung and urine, the boy grew up with the cows and the bullocks.
The master had nothing but much aversion and hatred for the illegitimate child. He would have gotten rid of the boy a long time back, had he not discovered the kid’s inhuman strength and decided to use him for laborious jobs. Gradually as the chap grew older, the master realised that his too simple mind was not suited for any intelligent work and used him only for ploughing the fields as a full-time human bullock.
Boloram came back to the fallen trunk at the corner of the field after finishing ploughing his designated patch of the land for the day. He wanted to have the mango that Chutki had promised him. To his surprise, the little girl was not there while an intact mango lay on the dirt, with a bunch of flies buzzing around it. Chutki was very neat and caring; she would never leave a mango for her dear friend on the ground?
“Ei Chutki, ei Chutki, where are you? Come, come out now from wherever you are hiding,” called out Boloram and went about looking for the little lass forgetting about and leaving behind the tasty mango that a moment before he had been craving for. Finding his tiny friend was more important to the giant than having a bite at the juicy fruit. He always worried about the spirited child, worried that she would eat something wrong, worried that she would hurt herself in a fall, worried about all the small things that could hurt a ten-year-old lively little village girl.
Most of the villagers looked down upon Boloram. They considered him dirty and dumb, a man who was more of an animal than a human. They would curse him, spit on him, beat him, and do all sorts of things to torment and humiliate him. The simpleton, however, had come to accept his abusive fate and overlooked everyone’s mock and scorn. He controlled any angry or hateful feelings, worrying that he might badly injure or even kill someone.
Boloram had just three comforts; the first was ploughing the fields, which gave him great joy as no one would come and disturb him there. There he had a purpose and was in control of his being. The second was spending time in the barn, where he looked after the cattle and even spoke with them. He considered the cows and bullocks as his kith and kin. He was born there and felt at home in the place. The third was the ten-year-old Chutki, the only person in the universe who did not hate him, was his only true friend and accepted him for who he was.
“Aei bata Boloram, why are you loitering around you good for nothing fool. Come here immediately, you nincompoop,” thundered the master from under the shade of his villa portico, from where he saw the giant snooping aimlessly around the trees and the bushes.
The master was enjoying his afternoon siesta on his bamboo charpoy and was annoyed to wake up to see the brute sulking about the place. “Sorry, my lord, please don’t be annoyed. I’ve finished ploughing the field. I was worried about your daughter and was trying to find her,” stuttered the giant and quickly came and sat on the floor catching the leg of the master’s wobbly bedstead.
“Don’t lay your dirty hands on my bed, you low-born filthy untouchable cur. I told you not to fill Chutki’s head with the dung in your skull,” roared the master and kicked Boloram in his face while still lying on his rickety charpoy. To the giant, the master’s kick was just like the tap of a fly; he was too strong for the master to hurt him physically. He had grown up receiving such kicks, slaps, and blows. The only pain that such aggression still caused him was in his heart and in his mind.
Chutki opened her eyes in partial darkness. Scared and disoriented, it took a while for her to calm herself. Her hands were bound, with the same sticky tape that covered her mouth, encircling her head. In the light that came through a crack in the wall, she saw her four mangoes wobbling on the floor. After rhythmically swaying for a while, the dark room violently shook for a few moments, and with a final jerk, it stopped moving. The scared little girl heard muffled sobs and moans, realising that she was not alone.
Two kilometres from the master’s villa, a Tata 407 flatbed pickup truck cradling a small shipping container on its back stood in the shade of a grove off the road. Four men consumed country liquor and played cards on a tarp laid on the ground beside the parked vehicle.
“Hello, friends, have you seen a little girl playing around,” asked the ignoramus goliath to the four gambling drunks. Searching for Chutki for more than two hours, enquiring with every person he came across, Boloram had landed at the grove off the road. “Get lost, you lumbering clown. Don’t disturb us. We are in the middle of a very serious game. We just have a few hours left before the boat comes to transport our precious cargo across the river.” replied Kota, their green-eyed leader.
Boloram realised that these men were just drunks wasting their time gambling while waiting for a riverboat. He decided to leave them and continue his search further down the road, on the shoreside and the secluded jetty area just up ahead. “Carry on with your game brothers and do keep an eye out for the little girl. I will go and check somewhere else,” said the simple giant and moved away.
Now Boloram was really worried. He had searched for a long time, and there was no sign of the girl. Not finding Chutki in the shoreside, he took through the fields to cover more grounds. Before long, he was back at the same grove off the road where the truck was parked a few hours ago, and now it was gone.
The gentle giant hopelessly sat on the ground in the shade of the grove, covered his face with his massive palms and sobbed loudly. He became annoyed at the flies buzzing around and cursed them for not even letting him cry in peace. All his anger came down on the buzzing insects. He rose up and violently kicked and struck the air to decimate their kind, but nothing happened, and the flying arthropods kept on buzzing by. Then he suddenly realised, why were there so many flies in that grove at that time. He bent down and saw lumps of crudely torn flesh of mangoes lying on the ground.
He focussed on the flies and saw a few of them go and sit on another clump of torn mango flesh a few feet away. He moved towards the spot and realised that there were more flies further ahead and other torn pieces of mangoes making a trail. Following the little chunks of his favourite fruit, guided by the buzzing flies, Boloram was back at the riverside jetty, a kilometre from the grove, where he had searched a few hours back.
At the riverside, Boloram saw the Tata 407 parked. The back door of the container it cradled was wide open. The giant went to have a closer look and saw four seeds of his favourite kind of mangoes on the floor of the metal box. Someone had been pushing out torn chunks of the juicy fruits from a crack in the metal container’s wall.
Realising what might be happening, Boloram ran towards the shore where one of the four drunks he had seen in the grove was untying a rope attached to a sixteen feet long motorboat. Seeing the giant lunge towards him, the ruffian took out a curved kukri knife to strike. His efforts met a jaw-shattering massive slap from the behemoth. The man fell unconscious, face down on the sand.
Seeing what had happened to his man, Kota, the leader of the gang, pulled the ignition cord of the boat’s engine and twisted the throttle to escape the giant. What happened next was unbelievable. In a display of unheard human strength, the human bullock tightly held the boat line. A guzzle of sand and water sprayed all over the place from the fast-rotating propellors. The engine spewed black smoke in a futile effort to pull the boat into the water. The goliath did not budge.
One backward step after the other, the gargantuan simpleton pulled the sixteen-footer away from the water and onto the sand. The human bullock had triumphed over the Yamaha E8D Enduro Marine Outboard Motor. Terrified by this display of inhuman strength, Kota and the other three ruffians got down from the boat and ran to save their skins that day.
With the boat line still twisted around his arms, drenched in blood, and buried into the skin of his hands, Boloram slowly moved towards the boat and opened the sliding door on the topside of its hull. Within the dark and watery belly of wooden craft lay five children with their hands tied and their mouths gagged.
It is estimated that human trafficking affects around 65 million people in India. Those who are trafficked, are forced to work in industries such as brick kilns, rice mills, agriculture, and embroidery factories, to mention a few. It is believed that a child goes missing, every eight minutes in the country and one in every six children missing is from the state of West Bengal.
In 2019, officially, over one-hundred-nineteen-thousand children were reported missing in the sub-continent, of which more than nineteen thousand were from the state of Bengal. Sadly, only about thirty per cent of the cases are reported. The nation has around three million prostitutes, and forty per cent of them are children under the age of eighteen.
With its porous international border with the country of Bangladesh, the districts of Malda, South Dinajpur and North Dinajpur in West Bengal are both a source and transit point for massive human trafficking in the Southeast Asian region.
So, if you ever happen to land in the Dakshin Chandipur village on the Bhutni island in the Malda district of the Indian state of West Bengal, do ask around for a giant of a man with a weakness for mangos, who became a local hero and saved five children from the clutches of human traffickers. He is a bit shy and avoids meeting strangers, but if you get the season and you’re timing right, you are bound to catch a glimpse of the gentle behemoth, working in the fields, tugging on his shoulders a massive wood and iron plough, labouring as the human bullock.
Copyright © 2022 TRISHIKH DASGUPTA
This work of fiction, written by Trishikh Dasgupta is the author’s sole intellectual property. Some characters, incidents, places, and facts may be real while some fictitious. All rights are reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including printing, photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, send an email to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch with Trishikh on the CONTACT page of this website.
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