by Pervaiz Munir Alvi
Even though there was nothing remarkable about him, still every body knew Bakka Gujjer. Those were the days when many in our neighborhood kept a milk cow or a buffalo at their homes. Bakka was their sole trusted community cow-hand. At the crack of the dawn he would show up at our door and yell:
“Doctor Chaman, Bakka is here.”
When I was young I used to hate Bakka for many reasons. For one, I had this assigned job to get out of my bed, go downstairs and hand him the milk-pail filled with water so that he could wash and milk our cow. And then I must stay there to take the heavy pail of milk back upstairs to the kitchen. And the second reason: ‘Why the hell he always calls me doctor chaman’. “Bakka, I am not Doctor Chaman and don’t you call me by that name,” I would scream at him. “OK Doctor Chaman,” Bakka will answer with a grin. And the third reason of my irritation with him was that Bakka was hard of hearing. ‘Why must I always yell at the top of my lungs so that Bakka could hear me’. “I swear nothing is wrong with his hearing. He only pretends that to further irritate me,” I often complained to my mother.
The good part of my involvement with Bakka was that for the rest of the day I did not have to put up with him. After milking the cow he would mix her morning feed and then move on to another house to repeat the same process and perhaps irritate some other little boy like me.
After his morning rounds Bakka would go home to his family only to return before ‘the sun was high in the sky’ as my grandma used to say. This time he would round up all the animals in his care and herd them to an open pasture just outside the city limits. No one saw Bakka for the rest of the day until the proverbial ‘cows came home’ in the evening.
This business of him calling me ‘doctor chaman’ started when I was really little. One day Bakka asked me what I would like to be when I grew up. As I had done with all the other adults in my life, I parroted that I was going to be a doctor. “You mean you are going to be Doctor Chaman?” he asked. “No I will be Doctor ME,” I had told him with my youthful sternness. But to him it did not matter what I said and how I said it; Bakka was going to call me ‘Doctor Chaman’ for the rest of my life.
As I grew older Bakka became less and less irritating to me. I learned to ignore his name calling and with time we even started to have short meaningful conversations during our early morning encounters. One day I asked him about his loss of hearing.
“When I was your age I wanted to be a wrestler,” Bakka started to tell me his story. “My father had put me under the tutelage of famous Ustad Reema Sultaniwala. I was getting to be a really good wrestler except I had to quit because of my hearing.”
“What happened?” I wanted him to continue.
“You see one day I was sparring with this boy much older than me. We both started to slap each other around. Except he hit me real hard on my ear,” Bakka said.
“Is that when you lost your hearing?” I asked.
“No, not right away. I had start bleeding from my ears and then some one called Ustad Reema. He knew how to treat many injuries. He cleaned the blood off my face. Put some oil in my ears and stuff them with small pieces of cotton. My wounds recovered after some time except I could not hear no more,” Bakka became quiet after that.
I wanted to ask him more questions except he handed me the bucket and told me to move on before I got late for school.
One day I had just returned home from school when my father told me that Bakka had an accident today. “Oh no. What happened?” I asked my father.
My father started to tell me that this morning Bakka had left the neighborhood with all the cattle as usual. Just when he was crossing the main road with his herd he got struck by a truck. “Did he not see the truck coming?” I asked.
“No he got hit from behind,” my father was saying.
One of the cows had wandered off and Bakka ran to get her off the highway. That’s when he got struck. The driver tried to miss the cow and swung to the left at the same time blowing his horn. Bakka never heard the horn and got swiped by the fast moving truck. He was lying on the road unconscious when a bunch of people gathered around him. Some one ran and came back with a charpai. Grown men plopped him on the cot. Then some one else yelled, “Let’s rush him to the doctor. His head is bleeding.” The crowd ran towards doctor’s house.
“Could Doctor Sahab come out? We have someone badly hurt out here,” one of the men carrying Bakka shouted out at the doctor’s door.
“Doctor Chaman is not home,” some woman answered from inside the house.
The crowd was on the move again. With Bakka on the cot bleeding, every body ran towards the Civil Hospital. By the time they reached the hospital, Bakka was dead.
The next morning I lay in my bed wide awake knowing very well that Bakka will not be coming today. But somehow I kept hearing the familiar call:
“Doctor Chaman, Bakka is here.”