Run, Bulbul, Run!

This heart-warming story is written by Sigrun Srivastav, a German-born Indian author.

Ramzan Goroo watched his horse throw up his head and snort defiantly. Then he reached up so quickly that Ramzan’s father lost his balance and was thrown to the ground.

”Father!” cried Ramzan Goroo. “Father!”

He ran across the yards towards the horse. The tall man jumped to his feet angrily. “That horse has to go. Yes, yes! What good is it to us if it throws its own master? By Allah, I will not tolerate it!”

”He never throws me,” said Ramzan softly.

”He never throws you,” thundered his father, his face red with rage, “but he has thrown me thrice. And soon he’ll start throwing the tourists. And what will that do to our business, may I ask? No, Ramzan, Bulbul must go. The moment I get a buyer, I’m going to sell him. Now take him to the International Camp and see that you get a few good trips. We need some money.”

”Yes, Father,” said Ramzan and felt tears pricking his eyes. Avoiding his father’s eyes he took the horse by the reins and left. As he walked Bulbul through the village, he talked to him, “Listen, Raja Bulbul, I know you understand me. You are my horse. Nobody loves you more than I do. But if you want to stay with me you will have to behave yourself. You mustn’t throw anybody, especially not Father. Will you promise me that?”

The horse looked at the twelve-year-old boy with his large, liquid shining eyes. He neighed and rubbed his soft nose against Ramzan’s shoulder.

Ramzan patted Bulbul’s beautifully shaped head and stroked his soft white coat.

”Come on now,” he said. “Let’s go and earn some money.”

Ramzan mounted the horse and galloped down the road towards Pahalgam. They soon reached the large camping site.

He didn’t have to wait long before Bulbul was chosen by a tall American.

”To Aru,” the American said with broad smile. “You can leave me at the market there. I am going up into the Lidder Valley.”

Ramzan helped the young man into the saddle and handed him the reins. The horse found his way surely down the slope onto the main road. Ramzan encouraged him with soft clicking sounds as he trotted behind, thinking about what he could do to change his father’s mind.

Reaching Aru Village, he tucked away the money he had earned, safely into the inner pocket of his woolen firan and made his way to the roadside tea-shop. Leaving Bulbul to munch the grass, he settled down with a large glass of tea and a couple of dry buns.

Leaning against the wall of the tea-shop, and sipping the hot tea, Ramzan’s eyes swept over the valley’s snow-covered mountain peaks. He didn’t like the colour of the sky. It looked grey and the air dangerously still. He could smell a storm brewing – a big one.

Finishing his tea quickly he fetched the horse and said to the owner of the shop, “I’d better hurry. I don’t want to reach home drenched to the skin.”

He galloped down the road, along the Lidder river. An hour later a gust of wind swept through the trees. Their branches bent and swayed as the gale screeched through their leaves. To his right Ramzan saw a great, black cloud crawl over the sky, spreading out like a gigantic monster. The day grew ominously dark as the clouds came lower and covered the snow-peaked mountains. In the distance he could hear the rumble of approaching thunder.

”If I take the short cut via the Army camp, I might just make it home in time,” Ramzan thought and wrapping his blanket tightly round his shoulder, said “Come on, Bulbul, let’s go!”

He dug his feet into the horse and guided him up into the wood onto a small bridle path. “Run, Bulbul, fast!”

Above his head he heard the wind tear at the branches. It swished through the underwood and whipped into Ramzan’s face, freezing his breath.

”Hurry, Bulbul,” urged the boy crouching low over the horse’s neck. “Hurry.”

The horse dashed on, sure-footed and confident. He knew the forest as well as his master, maybe even better. The first drops of rain drummed on the leaves. A blinding flash lit up the sky and an ear-splitting crash echoed and re-echoed in the valley. Tightening the reins, Ramzan coaxed the nervous horse, “Easy now, easy. You are doing fine. You are doing fine.”

Bulbul neighed and tossed his head. A series of quick flashes of lightning pierced the darkness of the wood blinding the boy. Then the forest dipped back into a murky grey. Ramzan’s heart beat rapidly against his chest. The boy and the horse stood still, immobilized with fear.

And then it happened. The next blinding flash was so close, Ramzan thought it had struck him. A deafening thunderbolt almost jerked Ramzan off the saddle. The horse whinnied and strained against the reins. He reared up and neighed frantically.

”Down, Bulbul, down,” ordered Ramzan. “Down, that’s a good horse.” And he pressed his heels gently into the horse’s flanks.

The horse stood rigid, all his senses attuned to danger. He trembled, but before Ramzan could decide whether to turn back or to continue, a big branch fell and struck him heavily on the shoulder. It flung him of the horse burying him under a mass of twigs, cones and branches. The sudden fall knocked the wind out of Ramzan. Then he winced as a sharp pain shot through his body. He tried to free himself from the tangle of green, tried to push off the heavy load that pinned him to the ground, but he just couldn’t move. Something had happened to his shoulder and tight leg. He couldn’t move them. Oh God! Terror rose inside him.

Another flash of thunder tore the sky. A lightning bolt followed and rain began to pelt down. Down it came with such force that the ground was soaked in a minute.

”Raja Bulbul,” cried Ramzan helplessly, “Bulbul.”

Once more he tried to push his left hand and leg. He squirmed and twisted his body, till he finally managed to throw off the branch that had pinned him down. Panting with exertion, rain streaming down his face, he crawled towards the horse. “Come, Bulbul, come,” he called softly. Bulbul neighed anxiously and came close enough for Ramzan to grab the reins. But this superhuman effort drained Ramzan of all energy, overwhelming pain tore through him. The sky spun round and round and a heavy blackness overtook him. He lay unconscious. He didn’t feel the rain then through, from very far away it seemed, he heard a horse snort, heard it make soft sounds in an attempt to wake him up. Bulbul, Raja Bulbul!

He knew he wouldn’t be able to mount the horse. He had to wait till someone found him. But nobody knew where he was. They wouldn’t know where to search for him.

”Oh, Bulbul,” he cried in despair, “Bulbul.” The horse bent over had nuzzled the injured boy. “Oh Bulbul,” sobbed the boy, “what shall I do?”

Bulbul neighed softly, and then moved restlessly, trying to urge his master into the saddle.

Bulbul! If anyone could help, he could.

”Bulbul,” said Ramzan urgently, “listen to me. You have to go home, home! Raja,” he stressed, “home. You have to bring Father here. Get him, please!”

The horse stood still. He was breathing rapidly. All his instincts told him to flee but his eyes were fixed on his master. His ears twitched backwards and forwards restlessly as he tried to follow Ramzan’s words. “Bulbul,” said Ramzan pulling the horse’s head down and patting him lovingly. “Bulbul, run home. As fast as you can. You will find the way. Bring Father here, bring him here. Go, Bulbul, go.” He let go the reins and ordered, “Go home, Bulbul. Run, Bulbul, run.” Then another spasm of pain shook his body and he sank back to the ground.

The horse’s nostrils flared and his magnificent body trembled. But he did not move. Ramzan ordered one last time. “Go home, Bulbul, bring Father,” and with the last ounce of strength he struck the horse on the rump. The horse reluctantly took a few steps, turned and looked back, his large eyes puzzled.

”Go,” cried Ramzan, “please.” Bulbul reared on his legs, whinnied sympathetically, then turned and ran. He was soon lost in a curtain of rain.

Ramzan Goroo closed his eyes.

The horse galloped through the night, slipping now and then on the wet ground. Twigs and branches whipped his body, scratched his coat and tugged at the reins, hanging loose by his side. He didn’t feel anything. He went on as fast as he could, jumping over little rivulets, carefully crossing rickety wooden bridges, over mountain streams. He didn’t stop, he charged on till he reached the village, and hooves thundering, galloped straight into the courtyard. He stopped in front of the house, reared up and whinnied loudly. He whinnied again and again, till the door opened and a man appeared, carrying a lamp. It was Ramzan’s father.

”Ramzan,” he called into the rain. “Is that you, boy?”

Silence. Only the heavy snorting of the horse and the thud of his hooves, as he shifted nervously, could be heard.

”Ramzan?” asked the man alarmed. “Answer me.”

A woman tried to push past the man. He stopped her with his left arm. “Wait.”

”Ramzan?” he asked once more and swung the lamp up. Then he saw the horse, standing there on trembling legs. His coat was steaming and his teeth gleamed in the dark.

”Bulbul,” cried Ramzan’s father. And Ramzan’s mother cried, “Ramzan, where is Ramzan? Oh, Allah! What has happened to him?”

”That devil of a horse must have thrown him,” roared Ramzan’s father. “I knew he was good for nothing. He threw me just this morning. He must have thrown Ramzan too. I’ll kill that horse. I’ll kill him!”

”No, please! Stop, stop,” cried the woman. “Bulbul would never throw Ramzan, never! Maybe there was an accident. Perhaps Ramzan was unable to ride home and Bulbul has come to fetch us. Please, oh please, don’t hit the horse. See, he’s calling you, I can feel it. He wants you to go with him.”

”I am not mounting that devil,” replied Ramzan’s father. “I, I, …”

”Then I will go,” said the woman picking up her shawl. “Yes, by Allah I will.”

A short silence. Then Ramzan’s father said wearily, “Very well, I’ll try, but …”

”Do try, please,” cried the woman. “I know he’ll take you to Ramzan. Be gentle. Talk to him softly. He’s a good horse, but you must know how to handle him. Go, Allah be with you.”

Hesitantly Ramzan’s father walked through the rain towards the horse. He walked slowly, talking to him the way he had heard Ramzan talk to him.

”Raja Bulbul,” he said, “You love your master. Yes, you are Ramzan’s horse. I know, I know, and maybe that’s why I’ve resented you. I am sorry. Now, your master is in danger! Only you and I can help him. Bring him back home. We must reach him fast, as fast as you can take me. Let me mount you. Now come on, Bulbul, it’s for your master’s sake.”

His voice had grown softer, reduced to a mere whisper.

Bulbul stiffened, took a step back and looked at the man. Slowly the man stretched out his hand and touched the horse’s coat, rubbing it gently. “Bulbul, shabash Bulbul!” Then holding on to the saddle he mounted, slowly with care. The horse snorted softly.

”Good horse, good horse,” murmured the man, patting his head. “Let’s go, Bulbul. Take us to Ramzan. Go.”

He galloped through the rain. Two of his neighbours joined him.

No one spoke. They sat hunched on their horses, their eyes piercing the grey mist.

”Ramzan,” they shouted occasionally. “Ramzan, It’s me, your Abbu. Ramza … n! Rama … n!

After a while the rain stopped.

”Do you think the horse will be able to find the place?” whispered Farookh to the other rider.

”I don’t know,” muttered the man, “I don’t know, but I hope he will.”

They came to a wooden bridge. The swollen and turbulent river beat against the bridge planks. They didn’t dare look down as the horses crossed.

”Ramzan,” they shouted time and again. Minutes ticked by. Suddenly Bulbul reared, snorted loudly and broke into a wild gallop.

”I think I can see him,” cried Ramzan’s father. “Yes, there he is lying near a broken tree. Ramzan, oh Ramzan! Run, Bulbul, run.”

The horse seemed to fly the last few meters. Ramzan’s father jumped off and was by his son’s side in a second.

”Ramzan,” he whispered, lifting the boy’s head gently.

Ramzan lay very still. His face was blue from the cold and pinched with pain. Slowly he opened his eyes and looked straight into his father’s anguished face. His lips moved but no sound came out. Then he saw Bulbul and his face lit up.

”I knew he would make it,” he said brokenly. “I knew he would. Come here, Bulbul.”

The horse came and lowering his head rubbed his nose against his master’s cheek.

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