Wild goats are a near forgotten legend in my village now. Some sixty years ago, they were not. Markhors and many other species of wild goats were very common in both the Shamus Bari range in Karnah as well as the Neelum range of mountains. The goats lived in the sky high rocky mountains, where humans could only dream of going. During high winters however, due to heavy snowfall, these goats migrated to the lower ranges of the mountains and would come as far my village, situated at the foothills of the great Shamus Bari range. A few people in the village had the luxury of the gun then. Out of all of them, one or two managed to get a goat per season. My grandfather was very good in the game business. He was famous for shooting flying eagles with his Spanish-made 12 bore double barrel. All that is now a near lost part of the history.
People now hardly care about such exploits, nor should they. But deep down, the people of the mountains still nurture an obsession with the wild. Add to that the rich white men with nothing better to do than use their vacation money to land on the other side of the river seeking the wild goat as a hunting trophy and nothing more. The people of the village had far more dignity, as the quest for the wild goat was all about cherishing the bounties nature had to offer for a much-coveted feast.
A few days ago, during a fresh spell of snowfall, an exciting bit of gossip started doing the rounds in my village. It was heard from the scarcely stocked markets to the slowly burning bukharis (wooden heaters) in cold rooms. On the way to the mosque, the faithful mentioned it, followed by a highly satisfying “praise be to God”. One could not find a single place, where one or two references of the “big news” would not come up. Soon it gained momentum, as well as the required audience. And within two days it was on the lips of every single inhabitant of the village.
“So they are finally here!”, “at last”, “after so many years!” were the most common exclamations one would come across. It was argued that at least three people had actually seen them. A strange ecstasy was radiating from the face of every single villager. The reason for the joy was the news that “wild goats” had been sighted in the nearby forest. As news and expectation go hand in hand, a feast was on the way.
On the next day, at nine in the morning, it was snowing gently. People were mostly indoors, encircling the bukhari or a chulha raging with fire. Suddenly out of the quiet, somebody yelled out loud, whistles followed from all sides and the clamouring screams became louder and louder. Someone had seen the “wild goat”. People were called from every direction to pick up anything at hand, an axe or a stick and move towards the little hill in the forest.
Soon enough and without much hesitation, the whole village was on the way to the forest. They were led by at least thirty men with guns in their hands. At last, the moment had come when they would do what their forefathers did once far more often. Their time had arrived in the cold of a dead winter, rendered alive by the auspicious news that would surely culminate in the type of satiation only a feast can bring with it. In response to these expectations, the more senior among them were followed by the fanatically energetic youth of the village with sticks and axes in their hands, and blood and hunger in their eyes.
The snowflakes that came into contact with their faces evaporated immediately. They were burning with a euphoria tall enough to make them forget the winter cold. In that frenzy, most people were left behind, at the foot of the small hills. The main attack team was way ahead now. People decided to wait there, while arguing “what if the goat decides to slip through this way?” They cordoned the stretch and waited for the guns to go off.
One of the gun slingers was a curious man of about forty-eight. He was a highly experienced shepherd who had placed himself in the middle of the forest. While moving discreetly, he suddenly noticed subtle movements in the bushes, hardly forty yards away from him. Within the snow laden shrubs, something moved. “The wild goat!” thought the shepherd as he loaded his gun quietly but in a rush.
While aiming towards the bush, he took a deep breath and with God’s name shaping up on his lips, he pressed the trigger. The “wild goat” was not expecting that. It jumped some fifteen feet into the air and started running for its dear life. The shepherd followed hurriedly, and so did two of the axe-wielding youth who were not far away. The wild goat was cruising, so were those following its trail.
One of the youth was a bit more excited than the rest, and in the same excitement he forgot that he was now too fast and way ahead of all of them, running straight towards a cliff while chasing the goat. The wild goat was in his aim now.
Just near the cliff, he slung his axe towards the prize. The axe hit the goat and it started rolling down, followed closely by the youth who failed to stop himself at the edge. They must have rolled a hundred meters down the hill. It was a complete miracle that the boy didn’t die from the fall.
Lucky for the young hunter, the snow-laden shrubs he landed on after every roll, saved him. The boy was in a puzzled state. For a moment he failed to make anything out of his surroundings or what had befallen him a few seconds ago. Suddenly he saw the “goat” with his axe stabbed into its body. The boy limped towards the animal, which lay twitching while bleeding out slowly into the snow.
The boy approached the dying animal, and as he looked at its snout, a shiver ran down his spine. He had never seen such an animal in his life or in a book. But that is how it must be. The goat in front of him was just as if out of a legend. And it was he, out of all the hunters and seekers, who had finally gotten it.
He felt a strange satisfaction that filled his cold lungs with the warmth of happiness set ablaze by a deep sense of victory, so much so that he forgot the pain of the fall. Slowly, he pulled out his axe and performed the most religious rite required for the occasion. With an “Allahuakbar” he slaughtered the goat in the most pious way known to him.
It was then that the shepherd arrived with the whole gang gathering behind him. The boy kneeling before the sacrificed goat was the reason behind this collective success. The boy got his due credit as well as praise, but in the end it was the shepherd who had fired the first shot. As such, the victory of the chase and kill was shared between the two, while the bounty of the hunt was a matter of discussion and agreement.
Among cheers and congratulations, people moved towards the hunt and feasted their eyes at the strangest four-legged animal they had ever seen. They were confused at first, as the goat didn’t have many features that resembled the legend of the goat narrated by their elders. The legs surely looked like a goat’s but the head and the face were giving it away. Their fingers started pointing and a hum of questions followed.
Somewhere from the crowd, someone cried “that’s a pig!” Everyone around held their breath in horror. The shepherd intervened and with self-serving boldness declared that what was before them was actually a wild goat.
With that, the people took sighs of relief. Then came the next question. What should be done with the prize? The villagers thought about making the best out of it. One of the skinny fellas said that maybe they should cook a feast for the whole village. Another man who had links with the village head said that it must be offered to the chief. The boy who had slayed the goat came forward and said that it must be offered to the local religious school (madrassa). His proposition was accepted immediately. Faith, after all, played the most important role in their everyday existence.
But all was not settled.
Some cynics present at the scene were not satisfied. The only person in the village who could clear their doubts was an old teacher. Without hesitation, two boys were sent to seek his counsel. He was a short man with long arms. Followed by a few uninterested kids, the old teacher came near what was claimed to be a “wild goat” and gave it a good look. He took a 360-degree tour of steps, quickly circumambulating the dead animal.
The old teacher had been highly composed when he arrived. Now he was looking slightly anxious. A hundred eyes were following his every movement. In order to muster some courage, the old man took a tired and deep breath. Then he faced the inquisitive audience and started speaking in a broken voice. He told them that he was very confident that the dead animal before them was not a wild goat but a wild pig.
As the word “pig” came out of his mouth, a medley of ‘Astagfirrullahs’ chorused in unison as people started running in all directions, in a frenzy as if the wild pig, earlier mistaken for a wild goat, were chasing them with its uncouth and slimy boar snout. A few women collapsed. In the name of the wild goat, they had just killed and slaughtered an animal “that must not be named”. And it was not just some animal, for faithful, it was the most forbidden animal ever.
People started washing their hands and sought recovery through other rituals of purification. Someone started complaining about a grossly foul smell, which strangely an hour ago was not there. Curses, as well as prayers for forgiveness, filled the cold afternoon air. But the shepherd was still not convinced. The old teacher told him that there was only one way out of this confusion.
On a small mountain top, with its vision set on each direction of the village, there was an army post not too far away. It was manned by the Gurkha regiment of the Indian army. Now they were called. Within twenty minutes flat, six army men appeared on the spot. A young Gurkha Sargent cried in joy when he laid his eyes on the dead swine. No one was required to say anything. The wild goat was actually, and factually, a wild boar.
The army men thanked the villagers, tied the dead animal on a pole and went back to their posts. Meanwhile, the people of the village left traumatised, silently rushing back to their homes, spitting away their disgust into the snow along the way.
In the evening, the shepherd was performing the mandatory cleaning of his gun. This was the most satisfying act for a hunter after a hard day’s toil. For the shepherd that day, a feeling of gratification was far from what he felt. As he was inserting the pull-through in the barrel of his gun, he heard a faint sound of singing and music coming from the army post on the small mountain.
The shepherd was too exhausted to take pride in his village not letting even the forbidden go to waste. Verily, for God does not love the wasteful and God does not love those given to excess.