Having despaired of ever getting full-cream or pure milk from various 'doodhwalas' we engaged a few years ago, we siblings decided to personally collect the white liquid milked before our eyes. So, I voluntarily shouldered the milk-collection job, though our parents were not in favour of this idea.
Fortunately, an acquaintance introduced me to a milkman, Billu, living in a village on the outskirts of our city. He immediately and unexpectedly gave his nod to "oblige" us. I was happy as it was hardly a kilometre run to the destination and back home.
Soon, my happiness faded when the milkman asked me to reach his place at the unearthly hour of 4 am. Despite it being a loss-making, sleep-losing deal, I went ahead and bowed to his unchanging time table.
What appeared originally to be an effortless achievement turned into a nightmarish experience the very first day when a pack of dogs, as if waiting to waylay me, broke into a chase once I scooted past them. Thank God, somehow I escaped being "chewed alive". But the dog menace persisted for two months.
Despite all this, I was there on the dot with a milk container slung over my shoulder. To my utter amazement, Billu asked me to follow certain do's and don'ts: make payment on the first day of the month; no holiday allowed; revised rates to follow Verka milk's price rise every year; and no refusal midway till one year. And I did the 'run-for-milk' errand punctually and religiously for a full two months.
A diet-conscious soul, Billu would also offer 'khal-binola' (special diet for increasing milk production) to buffaloes to be milked. Then he took them inside a room, obviously to avoid me, and returned a while later with a pail virtually overflowing with white foam.
Asked once as to why I was not invited inside, he shouted, "Don't you know that milch cattle are susceptible to the evil eye (indirectly referring to me), under the influence of which they give less milk?"
To prove himself to be an honest milkman, he would stir the milk in the pail by a measuring glass to let the foam subside. It is another matter that we were not able to get exact 2-kg milk on most occasions. It was useless to complain as it meant rousing Billu's ire. Rather, we learned to happily bear this short-changing.
The first five to six days, the milk was as pure and tasty as nectar, then it was the same watered-down liquid as we had been delivered by previous milkmen over the years. One day, Billu even confessed to diluting the milk - but only with water. "I have never used pesticides, detergents, washing powder, soaps, chemicals, etc," he said proudly.
Instead of getting healthy by having this "pure" milk, my health took a nosedive from lack of sleep within weeks. I was reduced to a drowsy, listless person, waking up with a hangover almost every morning. My official work suffered, with frequent bouts of siesta catching me off and on. Consequently, the physical and mental exhaustion overpowered me.
The recurrent thought of leaving the milkman started flashing through my mind. But it was difficult to do so, as it could undermine my acquaintance's reliability, faith and good relations with Billu.
At last, on an Independence Day, I mustered courage to break the "sacred" deal, but only after ensuring a customer to replace me. "Good riddance," I sighed at last!