In the wee hours of that morning I happened to be a spectator at the emergency village meeting. The watchman had caught a man trying to steal an old cow from the cowshed maintained by the village elders. The man was pleading his innocence. The watch man asserted that he had caught the man red handed. The watch man was known to be a honest person. The thief was from another village but he too looked a decent human being. The village elders calmed every one and the proceedings began.
The loud knock on the door had woken me up. A man was yelling at the top of his voice. Thief! Thief!. I was quick to follow outside. I had imagined the thief to be a cruel looking person with scars over his face and looking cunning. But the man I saw looked destitute but very much like others in the village. I trusted the watch man fully. He had caught two notorious thieves in the village. There was no iota of doubt in my mind about what the watchmen had said. But the thief looked innocent as well although I had seen him for the first time.
The watchmen spoke first. He had been patrolling the area when he saw the man conspicuously roaming about the shed. He kept a close eye on the man. The man then entered the cowshed, untied the cow and was trying to steal it when he had pounced on the man and caught him red handed. There had been a struggle and the man had tried to flee. But he had not allowed that to happen although sustaining injuries. Open and shut case was his opinion.
The village elders once again had to stop an angry group from worsening the matter by attacking the thief. The thief was asked to put forth his case. Amidst protests he started by being grateful to the village elders for the chance he was given. He was also pleased with the village elders for
not abandoning his old cow. This did not seem like a thief talking. Now the people were listening carefully to what the man was saying.
The cow had helped him raise his family for a long time. Now it had become old. Three months earlier he had to sell the cow. He had been forced in this act as he did not have enough money to support himself. He had felt guilty that he was deserting the cow at the time when his support was much needed but there was nothing that he could do. A month ago he had seen the helper in the shed steal the fodder and sell it. He knew that his cow was not doing well and if nothing was done it would die soon. Last night he had been in the shed and promised the cow to get some fodder. He had bought a bundle of fodder by spending all his earnings for the day. His family would fast that day. He pleaded that he was merely taking the cow to feed it. He would then tie it back in the shed. He had tried to flee the scene as he was afraid nobody would believe him.
A man was sent to look for the bundle of the fodder. It was immediately found. Every one was stunned. I stood agape with wonder.
The man had been immediately appointed as the new custodian of the cowshed. The watchman and the custodian became very good friends. No animal in the cowshed would suffer anymore. The custodian moved in to live in our village with his family. He and his family had come a long way from days of hardships.
Today was the first sans the custodian. Everyone was mourning including the ones in the cowshed. I felt a sudden burst of emotion.