3457 words | 25 mintue read | Flesch–Kincaid readability score: Grade 3

Bholu and Golu
Written by Pankaj Bisht
Illustrations by Tapas Guha
Published by National Book Trust, New Delhi

This is the story of a small circus bear called Bholu. Golu, the mahout’s son, becomes his friend and resolves to free him from the cruel life of a performing animal. With Bholu’s help he helps the little frightened bear run away from the circus to the forests where Bholu was born.

Excerpts from the book:

The Ringmaster’s Whip

Golu went inside when the show started. There was nothing for him to do outside. There was nobody about.

The bear was so upset he could not concentrate on anything. Somehow he got through the bit where he had to play football. Riding the motorcycle was the next trick. He was made to sit on it, and go round the arena as he did every day. The children in the pavilion laughed and clapped when they saw him. Suddenly the bear remembered that when the kite was up in the sky, he too had clapped like this. And, when he was flying the kite, Golu was as delighted as this.

Bholu felt that the kite was again up in the air and had flown high into the sky. Bholu took his hands off the handlebars and began to clap. He forgot that he was riding a motorcycle. He lost his balance, the motorcycle wobbled violently, he couldn’t control it, and fell. The ringmaster cracked his whip angrily. The bear was put on the motorcycle again but he was too nervous to ride it properly.

When the show was over the animals were led to their cages. Golu returned to his tent. After some time his father came and told him that the ringmaster was very angry with the bear. He would get no food that day.

The Tale of a Circus Bear
The Tale of a Circus Bear []

Golu was very upset. “Bapu, anyone can make a mistake and Bholu is only a child,” he said.

“Yes, you’re right, “Bapu said smilingly. “But a bear is an animal and this is the only way to teach him.

Golu didn’t like this. He kept quiet for a while and then said, “Bapu, should I go and give him something to eat?

“No. If the ringmaster hears of it, he’ll complain to the owner of the circus,” he explained to his son. “Then I’ll get into trouble for allowing my son to spoil the animals. You’ve already been up to mischief with the bear.

“But Bapu, we were only riding the elephant. Nothing else,” said Golu, trying to give his side of the story.

“You’re right, son, but the bear could have fallen off the elephant’s back. What if he had died, or broken his limbs? The owners have spent money on training the bear. He is one of the performers. People pay to see his antics.

Golu thought: Men capture animals so that they can use them to earn money. They beat the animals and teach them all sorts of tricks. They make lions jump through rings of fire. They force elephants to dance and stand on little stools. Bears are made to ride motorbikes.

After a short silence Golu said, “Bapu, Bholu is both clever and nice. He’s very young, even younger than me. I can’t ride a motorcycle – he can. He won’t make such a mistake again. I’ll tell him. Can I go and give him a roti?”

But Golu could not get around his father. He strictly forbade Golu from feeding the bear. Golu was very upset. He found it difficult to get through dinner. The roti stuck in his throat. He stealthily put the rotis in his pocket, then racked his brains to find a way to get them to the bear. Finally he hit upon a plan. He washed his hands and went quietly to bed, and waited for his father to fall asleep.

Bapu had had a tiring day. He was soon snoring. When Golu was sure that Bapu was fast asleep, he got up quietly and after checking that the rotis were still in his pocket, tiptoed out of the tent and headed for the animal enclosure.

The lions’ cage came first. The pricked up their ears at the slightest sound. The biggest lion growled, “Who is that?

Golu replied in a scared voice, “Brother lion, it’s me, Golu, the mahout’s son.

The lion heard him but continued to growl softly, as though enquiring, “What are you doing here at this hour?

Golu folded his hands and begged, “Lion dear, speak softly. I’m not doing any harm. I couldn’t sleep so I thought I’d visit the bear. I heard he fell off his motorcycle today. I hope he didn’t get hurt. I’ll just go and see. I don’t get time during the day. I have a lot of work.”

The lion quietened down after hearing Golu’s words. By now the other animals had also woken up and had heard the conversation. So they didn’t ask any further questions. They understood why Golu was going to meet Bholu.

Bholu rose to his feet when he heard Golu’s voice. He hadn’t been able to sleep. He was hungry, but more than that it was the humiliation of the punishment that upset him. Whenever he was punished he felt homesick. Today too he missed his family and friends.

At home there were no restrictions; he could wander about in the jungles freely; nobody forced him to play foot ball or ride a motorcycle. He could eat what he wanted; go where he liked. Memories of home made him sad and tears began to flow down his face. He wiped them away when he saw Golu coming.

The boy stroked Bholu gently and asked, “You didn’t get hurt, did you?”

Bholu didn’t reply. He didn’t know what to say or how to say it.

Golu took out the rotis from his pocket and put them before the bear. “Come on, eat,” he coaxed.

The bear felt a lump in his throat. Golu stroked the bear’s nose and said again, “Here, eat them. Forget what happened. These people are wicked. But you must be careful when riding the motorcycle. What if you had fallen and hurt yourself? That wouldn’t have been good, would it?”

The bear began to feel homesick again. He missed his parents, his friends, his relatives. He had been so happy in the jungle. There was freedom. He could jump and dance with joy whenever he wanted. Everybody loved him. His parents would go hungry themselves but always had food for him. He wasn’t beaten or starved even when he made a mistake. Thinking of this, Bholu began to sob.

Golu hugged him. “Don’t cry,” he said. “Do brave children cry? Look, I’ll see that the ringmaster doesn’t bother you again. He’s really getting too big for his boots! Hitting you for no reason! I’ll get my father to beat him up. Bapu always listens to me.”

But deep down Golu was apprehensive. What if the bear found out that his father could do nothing? He corrected himself quickly, “Okay, even if my father can’t do anything, there’s my friend Eravat, the elephant. The one who gives me a ride everyday. He’ll surely listen to me when I tell him that this wicked ringmaster should be taught a lesson. He punishes innocent animals. Why doesn’t he feel sorry for them? After all, who doesn’t make mistakes? But you don’t go round beating people! At the most he could scold them. That would be enough.

But no, he uses his whip whenever he feels like it. Don’t worry! Eravat will set him right in no time. He’ll pick him up with his trunk and fling him into the sky. That should teach him a lesson. Then he’ll cry, ‘Help! Save me!’ But will we help him? No! And you, Bholu, mustn’t help him either. Let him howl. Then he won’t do it again.”

The bear burst out laughing. Golu realized the difficulty of actually doing what he had suggested. But he was not one to admit defeat. He said, “Okay, so what if the elephant is afraid of him? The lion is my friend too. He shakes hands with me everyday! You know how dangerous he can be. Everyone is terrified of him. I’ll ask his help. One roar will make the ringmaster’s blood run cold! Who does he think he is? We’ll snatch away his whip!”

Bholu roared with laughter.

“Shh! Laugh softly!” Golu was worried. “You’ll wake up Bapu. Come, be good. Eat your food.”

Golu broke off a piece of roti and put it in the bear’s mouth. Golu cheered when the bear began to eat. Then it was Bolu’s turn to feed Golu. Golu protested, “Oh, don’t give me any food. I’ve already had lots to eat. There isn’t much anyway. Two rotis won’t be enough for you.”

But the bear refused to eat alone. There might have been two rotis but rotis had never tasted so delicious before. For the first time Golu and Bholu realized how enjoyable food could be.

When they had finished, Golu said, “Look, Bholu, we can’t handle the ringmaster as long as he’s got a whip. But whip or no whip, the animals just don’t have enough courage. In the circus ring you aren’t tied up, neither is the elephant. The lion too is not in a cage. Let’s forget about you, but tell me, is the ringmaster stronger than the elephant? Or for that matter the lion? Why don’t they snatch away his whip?”

Golu was right. The animals were certainly stronger and more dangerous than the ringmaster.

“We can’t discuss everything now but I’ll tell you one thing: if the lion refused to obey the ringmaster, what could the ringmaster do? He’d whip him – that’s all. If the lion struck him and snatched his whip what could he do? He’d run for his life.”

The bear felt that Golu was right but it wasn’t as easy as it seemed. After all, there must be a reason for the lion’s fear. If it was just a matter of taking away the whip, why had animals allowed themselves to be enslaved so long? Animals weren’t cowards. No, it wasn’t just the whip, there was something else. But what it was he couldn’t figure out. So he remained silent.

Golu felt uneasy too. There was a flaw in his argument. But what? There was no time to think about it just then. He said, “I’ll see you tomorrow. If Bapu wakes up I’ll be in trouble.

What happened that night?

The last show had started. Golu went and sat in the circus pavilion for a while. When he was sure that everyone was busy, he slipped away unnoticed, and headed straight for the ringmaster’s tent. There was no one around. The chowkidar’s attention was on the audience. Golu lifted the tent’s flap and went in. It was dark inside, but enough filtered through for Golu to see that the motorcycle key hung in its usual place. The helmet lay on the table. He picked them both up and came out. He inserted the key in the bike and kept the helmet beside it, on the ground.

Then Golu went to the boundary wall. He soon located the place where the tin sheets were nailed loosely. He hadn’t been able to find a screwdriver so had brought a pen-knife instead. He loosened the nails enough for them to be unscrewed by hand.

As soon as the show was over everyone returned to their tents. They were tired after the long day. Dinner over, the lights were switched off one by one and soon everyone was asleep. Only then, tiptoeing, Golu reached Bholu. Bholu was waiting for him. Golu untied him, but when the bear lifted his foot, his bells jingled. Golu immediately bent down and took them off.

There were rain clouds in the sky and the night was pitch dark. Bholu led the way, Golu followed. Even so, Golu often stumbled. Finally Bholu took his hand. Creeping along in the shadows of the tents, they reached the boundary wall and the spot where the nails had already been loosened. Golu removed the nails easily. Then together they noiselessly lifted a tin sheet and put is aside. They did the same with next one. They could now see the road. Golu went out and looked around to check if there was anyone around.

It was very quiet. There were a few lamp-posts at a distance, but in the vicinity of the circus it was dark. This was just what they wanted. Now all they needed to do was to bring the motorcycle there.

Golu gripped the handle and pushed, but the bike didn’t budge. He pushed again. The bike moved a little, but still didn’t get off its stand. Now Bholu joined in and pushed from the back. This time the motorcycle shuddered and rolled off its stand with a click.

Golu could not control the motorcycle’s sudden movement and it began to topple, almost crushing him. Bholu immediately pulled the motorcycle towards himself and straightened it. But the resultant noise scared them both. They held their breath. What if somebody had heard them? But luckily everyone was so tired that they were all sound asleep.

The chowkidar at the gate was a little suspicious. He peered around anxiously, but all seemed peaceful. May be he’d been dreaming, he thought. You never could tell what the animals were up to. There were always restless. It was getting chilly. Pulling the blanket tightly around himself, the chowkidar dozed off once more.

Now Bholu took over the bike. He found he couldn’t control it either. Together they managed to plush it forward. And wheel it to a spot where they hoped to start it without anyone hearing.

Golu pressed down the starter repeatedly but the engine showed no sign of life. Then Bholu remembered that the ringmaster always turned a little knob below the petrol tank before starting the motorbike. He found the knob to the left. He turned it, and this time the motorcycle started with a roar.

Golu had brought a shirt of his father’s. He made Bholu wear it. He looked for the helmet but discovered that they had left if behind. What now? They couldn’t possibly do without the helmet, he thought. Without it people would recognise Bholu even from a distance and get after him. He tried to switch off the motorbike but couldn’t. Finally Golu handed the bike over to Bholu and telling him he’d be back shortly, he ran back to the circus grounds.

Bholu was very agitated. He didn’t want Golu to leave him alone. But Golu was already inside the circus grounds. Bholu began to tremble, partly from fear and partly from the cold. Praying to God, he anxiously waited for Golu.

Golu wasn’t long in coming. When he returned, he was dismayed to see the motorbike lying on its side and the bear trying to lift it. Putting the helmet aside, Golu ran to help Bholu. Soon the motorcycle was standing on its wheels, its engine whirring.

Golu breathed a sigh of relief. He said softly, “Don’t worry! You know how to ride a motorcycle. What are you doing? Hold the bike firmly.”

Golu tried to fit the helmet on Bholu’s head but realized the bear still had a ring in his nose and his mouth was strapped. He took out the pen-knife from his pocket and first cut the nose-ring and then carefully cut the straps. Now for the first time Bholu began to believe the freedom was within reach.

With the helmet on, Bholu looked like any human. But he was a little uncomfortable. Golu explained, “this is a good disguise. With it you won’t attract attention. And if you fall, you won’t get hurt. It’s always good to wear a helmet.”

Bholu just nodded.

Golu finally managed to get Bholu onto the motorcycle. Then he gave him an affectionate hug and patting his shoulder said, “Give my regards to your parents…..”

Golu wanted to say much more but there was a lump in his throat. He didn’t want Bholu to see his tears and somehow controlled himself.

“Get going,” Golu said. “There’s no time to lose.”

Bholu slowly let go of the clutch and the motorcycle began to move forward. For some distance, Golu ran alongside the motorcycle. Patting the bear’s shoulder again, he said, “ Take care of yourself. Make haste. Don’t stop anywhere. This road goes straight to the hills. We’ll meet again.”

Even in the darkness of the night he could see the bear nodding his head. Golu stood and watched as the motorcycle and Bholu disappeared into the distance.

Golu was both happy and sad. His friend had gone away. Perhaps he would never see him again. He began to cry. Then he wiped his tears and returned to his tent.

He lay down on the bed. There were occasional flashes of lightning and claps of thunder. Rain seemed imminent. Golu began to pray silently, “Dear God don’t let it rain till the bear has reached home.” He was exhausted and could not keep awake for long. Golu did not know when the drops of rain became a downpour

The jungle breeze

Dawn had still not broken. A rosy glow was beginning to light up the sky. They had left the last town behind and were in the jungle. A river flowed near by; the mountains were only a short distance away. Bholu was very happy. Birds chirped all around him. A herd of deer was returning from a pool. The bear gazed at the scene, entranced. The fragrance of the forest trees imbued the clean early morning breeze. He had never experienced this before, towns were just full of petrol and diesel fumes.

“Pitta didi,” he said, “which river is this?”

“It’s the Kosi,’ the bird replied. Then she said, “come let’s get into the water. You must bathe. You’re covered with mud. How will anyone recognize you?”

The bear wasn’t happy at the mention of a bath, but what could he do except quietly follow the bird?

The morning light falling on the water made it shimmer like silver. “Hurry and bathe,” urged the bird, “then we’ll go into the jungle.”

It was chilly. Just looking at the water made the bear feel cold. He decided to test the water before stepping into it. But, he’d barely touched the water when he recoiled as if he had received an electric shock; jumping back, he went and stood at a distance.

“What’s the matter?” asked the bird in surprise.

“O God, the water is cold! It’s really icy!” wailed the bear.

How can I bathe in it?’

The bird didn’t even glance at him. Taking a long breath she dived straight into the flowing stream. After a few dips, she called out to Bholu, “The water is lovely. Once you’re inside you won’t feel the cold. Come in and see yourself.”

The bear was still hesitant, but slightly ashamed of his cowardice. He also knew that there was no escape for him.

The bird called out again, “There’s no need to be so scared. Come on! Come quickly!”

Finally, Bholu jumped into the water. He meant to take just one dip and bolt, but the bird was ready for him. She didn’t let him get away so easily. “You’ve still got mud in your ears. Clean them properly,” she said. Then again, “Give your back a scrub. It’s still dirty.” And when he had cleaned his back, the bird said, “Oh no! Look at your neck. And clean your hands and feet too. Rub them against a stone. They’re layered with dirt. What will people say?”

In this way the bear had to have a proper bath. When he emerged from the water he was shivering with cold.