The air was heady with the stench of decay. A line of ants was crawling towards an open hut of mud. Another line of ants was crawling towards another hut opposite the first. The ants did not differentiate. Decay to them was only a feast, whatever its colour or culture might be.
People held their noses when they walked by, unfailingly amazed at the bizarre situation. The situation concerned a cow. A cow sawed in half and that too unevenly. Trails and splatters of blood could still be seen leading from one hut to another. It always looked like either a slaughter house, a sacrificial platform, or a war zone. Older people often looked at the scene and sighed that clichéd sigh with an “Oh, ‘twas once upon a time…”
The ants were now crawling in circles between the huts. Perhaps they couldn’t decide which decay was bigger and more worth their journey.
Iqbal Ali sat inside his shabby hut with his head in his hands and the pockets of his kameez turned out looking a perfect picture of perfect emptiness. The only other noticeable thing in the room was half of a rotting cow, now mostly just a carcass. The ants had had a fulfilling feast for well over half a decade now. The poor cow had fed generations and generations of these ants. They were always very grateful to Iqbal Ali’s cow and often got into quarrels with the neighbouring ants who preferred the other hut’s cow. That too was almost a carcass but had relatively more rotting flesh hanging to it.
The hut was dimly lit and dingy in furnishing, although it did have a large sandooq which Iqbal never opened. People knew he had all kinds of wealth locked in there which he never used. He would often go hungry or ask for alms but he wouldn’t open that trunk. Inside that room was decaying beauty, wealth, reassuring means of survival, all of which Iqbal badly needed.
He rose to his feet and gathered himself, turning his pockets in and walked out when a knock resounded. It was a knock too familiar to his ears. The neighbour was asking about his cow. How is it doing today? Do you need some water to replenish the decay somewhat? Have the ants finished it off yet? All the questions mocking the situation, when ironically, the neighbour was part of the situation. Iqbal always asked after the neighbour’s cow as well. The two were obsessed with each other’s half of the cow. Never had the world seen two people more obsessed with a rotting cow; a decay of more than 6 decades.
Karamchand Nehru walked over to his own hut from his neighbour’s, smiling a strange smile, the kind which realizes its own decay in relation to another’s decay, without realizing that which the ants know. No matter which is bigger, a decay is just that, a decay.
Karamchand’s hut was slightly more spacious than Iqbal’s. A line of ants connected the two huts, or more specifically, the decays inside these huts. Karamchand’s hut had a door. That was another difference; A battered door but a door nonetheless. His cow’s carcass was relatively safer. He sat down heavily on his wooden chair and took off his turban, within which he hid his savings. He opened the folds and revealed the money he had saved to spend on his cow. He looked over lovingly at the ant-covered carcass in the middle of the room. It was adorned with a crown and several strands of flowers woven in thread. Rose petals surrounded the decay. For it was, after all, just a decay. Incensed candles glowing in each corner of the room brightened up the glum atmosphere which remained glum despite all of Karamchand’s efforts to beautify it. He looked out at the blue sky and thought of his once-whole cow. How he loved it. And then how he fought for it and over it. And then how he watched it being sawed into two. Every time he walked over to Iqbal’s, he traced those trails of blood and relived the events of the massacre of his cow. His cow. Just like his decay.
A huge crowd from all over the world was gathered in the village for the unveiling of a masterpiece by a globally renowned artist. The artist had spent much of his life creating this piece, and what made it special was that most of it had created itself after the artist made the initial strokes. He only had to paint a few lines at certain places and bend a few characters into shape and voilà! Foreigners and natives alike were interested in the spectacle. The clock ticked to 3pm and the sheets were lifted to reveal two huts of mud with a line of ants between them, and two halves of a cow, one in each hut. Mere carcasses, with ants crawling in every crevice. The exhibit was titled, To each his own decay.