If a boy of fifteen can catch an angry bull by its horns and force it to bow down to him, he must be something. And if the very same teenager, changed into a benevolent leader of sorts in a school hostel a year later, silences bullies-to-the-weak with just a look, he effectively tattoos his path of choice for the rest of his life. The path of Selective Toughness. This boy, now a boy-man, is Bhartan. My husband.
Bhartan is proud of his machismo; and justifiably so, I hear. The boys of yesterday have passed his legends on to those of today. The narrow streets in the tiny Nainital, his home town, sometimes witness a whispering huddle, talking of his triumphs with unabashed awe. Still. After all these years of his having become a reluctant adult. It makes me chuckle in amusement. And swell with pride. But I confess I see more in him than the valour and physical strength. I shamelessly admit that I find that More more disarming than the punches he’s capable of.
At four, he went missing. He used to play in the market square in front of the house and used to be back before sundown. That day, he didn’t come home. People rushed around, search parties were sent. He was found 500 metres away in an elephant camp, sitting next to the animals. Just sitting there, being with them. The next day, the mahout offered to give him a ride around the then sleepy Nainital on top of his best tusker. Quite a sight it must have been. And such a thrill for Bhartan.
His fascination for beings doesn’t end in just wonder. It begins from and develops into care. When he was about six years old, his mother has related this story to me a number of times, he went with his parents to visit an aunt who kept a cow. He heard its calf mooing in distress, because it was tied at the other end of the shed. They needed to milk its mother. It bothered him for a long time, the calf’s call. When no one was watching, he untied the little one. It drank to its fill. That day, little Bhartan was the happiest in that house.
What about the bull-fighting macho, you might wonder? Where does that fit in? His father told me this story of when he and Bhartan were walking through the jungles of Nainital on a narrow footpath. A bull, who apparently saw them as intruders, charged at Bhartan’s father. I don’t think the bull knew what hit him next. Or grabbed him. Before long, the beast was pinned on the dirt track — the calm, still boyish, boy was holding him down with its horns for having put his father in discomfort.
The many unannounced strengths my husband has somehow take a back seat for me, because this unfaltering love for all beings, including humans, is a virtue with which I am quite content. It will make him do no harm. And when he does wrong someone, he will make up for the mistake with a natural logic and precision. He always does.
The boy you’ve just read about hasn’t changed even after all these years. Through national boxing championships, boyish ego duels and immature need for a macho image, he has retained the sincere child in him, who will rush to pick you up if you fall, and never laugh at your misadventure. His love for life and its creatures is unfailing, and honest. His honesty, in fact, can be disconcerting. At least for me.
I used to drink wheatgrass juice in those days, when we’d just met. During one of our walks at a stage of our friendship when an infatuated man is normally inclined to please his love interest, he stopped me from cutting wheatgrass from the endless fields the villagers grew close to where we were. “You have no right,” he said.
He was twenty nine then – a boy much beyond seeking the pleasures of a ‘manly’ show of strength; grown up to become a boy again. And back to looking at the world with a wonder reserved for the innocent and the wise. I like to think I was the same, only, thankfully, a girl. This shared wonder must have been the thing that made us run away whenever we could from the boarding school campus we taught in. We walked the hills, felt the desert sands, biked to the remotest village for a cup of tea or drove to the faraway city to eat pizza. The wonders never cease, they say. For us, it was just that, an Endless Wonderment. Perhaps with one difference in the way we saw it. He soaked it in. I rattled on about it. And it’s still the same.
Five years later, however, our time is filled with hurried love. There’s work to do, dogs to care for, more work, parents to think of, and again, unfinished work to go back to. It becomes a little too jet-setty at times. But that is how I see it. Bhartan seems wisely unfettered. He talks of the love nest we have created. Of the richness of loving and giving and receiving. I try to see it from where he views it. However, my selfish desire to just be with him and get his undiluted attention makes it a little difficult. In his strangely gentle way, he reminds me of the fact that we are together, and want to be, too.