The problem with humankind

Year 2005. I was taking part in training for executives in the management of people in Accra, Ghana. There were around 25 executives in the training room all from the United Nations Mission in Liberia. During the warm up session, every executive was asked to share one of his or her memorable experiences in life. I was chosen as the first one to share. Although I was not really prepared, I had to perform as a trainee. And I could think of only one story to tell from my childhood experience that was relevant in the given context.

When I was a ten-year-old child, I joined my grandmother to go to an annual Fulbari Fair, which was about a two-hour walk from my village, Bastipur in the Siraha District. She had nothing to do with the fair as such. All she wanted was to visit the shrine in the jungle where the fair was organized. She took a bath in the wetland nearby and worshiped God. On the first of Baisakh every year, many thousands of people visited the fair for cultural reasons.

My grandmother purchased some sweets and gifts for me, and then insisted that we rush back quickly. I wanted to look around, visit several makeshift shops, and watch the people singing and dancing in the jungle. There were some shows for the children as well. But my grandmother, who never spared her time for such things, was not ready to wander with me. Finally, I found another village boy, Kale Bhujel, a teen already, and I persuaded my grandmother to allow me to stay back with him until the evening. He saw some pennies in my pocket and quickly promised my grandmother to take care of me and return home together.

The idea worked! But after my grandmother left, I lost Kale Dai in the next couple of hours, just as my grandmother had predicted would happen in that crowd. I tried to find him in the crowd, here and there, in different unknown groups. But alas, he was not anywhere. I enjoyed the fair thoroughly, hoping that he would return to pick me up as he had promised my grandmother. But he did not come. The day was falling. I did not find anybody to return with. I was a little thirsty, and I had not a single penny left with me. And I was frightened too. So much for the youngest, pampered grandchild!

Finally, it was dusk, and there was no time to bicker around anymore. I had to go back even though I was alone, and my nerve was failing. Those days, we used to hear stories about the jackals in the field between the Fulbari jungle, Ganeshpur and my village that attacked unaccompanied children. A jackal had bitten Jayanta Giri of my village when he was peeing in the open around the same place sometime back. During the month of April, due to warm weather, snakes came out of their holes occasionally to enjoy the evening air. I had no torch in hand to light the way, but I armed myself with a stick for my defense along with some stones in my pocket. And yet, I was worried about the ghosts on my way. There was a young adult named Gobre Dai in my village, who had died of cholera previous year. He used to harass children when he was alive, and I suspected, he could appear to take revenge on me. My legs were already heavy with fear.

I walked past the first stretch of land with some courage as there was a couple of people still heading towards different villages. After half an hour, there was nobody on the rural road. Before I reached the second stretch of land, after I crossed Ganeshpur Tharu settlements, there were big simal trees hovering over me, where eagles and vultures used to stay. I could hear them now and then. The bats were flying very low. I was alone under the sky. I could not move on at all beyond that point. There was no place to return.

Frighteningly, I was looking around, and I found a buffalo coming towards me. She was frightened and unaccompanied too. She had a big udder and teats, and she was grunting frequently. I was quick to understand that she had lost her calf somewhere and was searching for it. As she came close, I realized that she belonged to Bhaiyalal Kaka at my village. My grandmother used to send me to his house to fetch fresh buffalo milk every morning. Bhaiyalal Kaka had a daughter who was older than me, but she was still unable to milk the buffalo. We used to talk while her father did the milking. Sometimes, I even scratched the buffalo's throat and dewlap, which she seemed to enjoy.

I was so glad to find an animal that I knew in this frightening evening. It was quite relaxing for me, and my nerves were slowly coming back.

While my fear had disappeared, I still wondered if the buffalo would give me a ride, and I never had that opportunity to ride one before, unlike many other village children had had. We had a couple of cows in our shed, but no buffaloes. I touched the buffalo around her neck, to test her mood. She was alright and responded to my touch. So I quickly took her by the side of a ledge, mounted myself, and jumped on her back. She allowed me to ride on her.

While we consoled each other, we tried to find her calf together. It took another half an hour for us to find her. The calf was almost sick and lying by the side of a pound a little away. I climbed down, helped the calf to stand on her legs, suck her mother's teats, and we all headed to the village together. The beast knew the way. She was a trustworthy companion, and I was safe with her. In fact, I also started singing a Maithili folk song "Chhote chhote dengba ho bhaiya … !" [“… walking small steps, my brother!”]. I wanted to comfort the buffalo as a buffalo herdsman. But I did not miss the human kind during my beleaguered journey.

I rode the buffalo to my house first, climbed down from her back, and gave her some pats to go back to her place, the Bhaiyalal Kaka's buffalo shade. I had arrived home safely.

Everybody in my house was worried about me. I recounted how the buffalo brought me home finally. Everybody was surprised. However, my grandmother sighed a sense of relief. She replied, "Animals are predictable, while human beings are not."

After a few decades I understand what my grandmother tried to convey. Just as a human had abandoned me, an animal had found me, provided comfort, and brought me to safety. Unlike animals, humans are unpredictable, and this is an important shortcoming we must consider in the management of people and institutions.