Officer saab, as he was fondly called around here in his native place, raised the heavy farsa high over his head, and slashed down hard at the neck of the young buffalo. The priest marked the holy moment with a quick tinkle of his bell, as a goat in the distance, smeared with vermillion, pulled hard at its leash in fright, bleating frantically.
The man, a police officer back in the city now, paid his monetary obeisance to the priest, collected his prasad, and then went away to throw a lavish treat to the villagers in celebration of the sacrifice.
By mid-morning, he had wrapped things up, and was already on his way back home in his chauffeured gypsy, leaning comfortably back in his cushioned seat. He was calm, feeling relieved to have paid his dues to the Goddess. Something he did not like to miss.
Up since before dawn, he was soon overcome by sleep, and kept slipping in and out of it, until hours later a constant cacophony of horns forced him to tear open his eyes. They were out of the mountains. In Rishikesh, he read on a signboard, squinting through the traffic jam building around them.
“How long has it been?” he asked the driver, taking a sip of water.
“Around ten-fifteen minutes, sir.”
He frowned, and craned out the window, but could see nothing beyond the roadways bus in front of them. “I’ll go check,” he said, opening the door. “You turn on the siren.”
Then, he strode away, picking his way through vehicles coughing out smoke, as the red light on top of his gypsy began flashing behind him, slicing the air with a wailing that drowned every other sound.
Soon enough, a huge truck started coming into view, standing askew on the roadside, with its windshield broken, and its doors wide open. As he moved further, he glimpsed a man, apparently the driver, lying curled up below, while a dozen or so men were fleeing into the surrounding forest, already disappearing behind the trees.
The officer hurried towards the spot, shouldering through the crowd of onlookers, but stopped short as his eyes caught something moving on the other side, near the bushes. A cow, bleeding, and groaning in pain, looking dazed.
He understood the matter at once, and a surge of anger shivered through him, as he watched the holy animal struggle to get back up on its legs. He shot a look at the driver, cursing under his breath, and took out his phone.
Fuming, he made a couple of quick calls, and then, went on to disperse the crowd, and clear away the traffic. When at last it got moving steadily, and his gypsy reached the spot, he waved it aside next to the injured cow. And there he sat, stroking its soft head, serving it water in an emptied lunch box, and waiting, until a pickup from the nearest veterinary care centre reached and carried it away.
Satisfied, he climbed back in and they drove off, past the twitching figure lying under the shadow of the truck. And it was only an hour or so later that an ambulance finally pulled up at the spot, and hoisted away the unconscious driver.
Later in the day, when the officer entered his home, hugging his kids, and telling them stories of his journey, the cow, having been shooed away after the first aid, was tottering again on a bustling road outside the care centre, rummaging open garbage for food.
And, miles away, the wife of the truck driver glanced up at the darkening sky, beginning to worry now, while he breathed his last on a hospital gurney, unattended, finally succumbing to his injuries.