A stray incident, a facial expression, the note of a song - sometimes they creep into your mind and keep coming back to you as recurring images long after the moment is over. Sometimes they are troubling; sometimes they make you feel nice; mostly they just stand there demanding your attention like my dog who cannot express what he wants but will keep coming back to me until I have guessed his need and attended to it. Well, there is this short story by a Lebanese author which I read about a month ago which has been doing this to me. I have not been able to put my finger on what it is that the story wants me to do with it so I thought if I wrote about it and shared it with you, it may get resolved.

The story is titled "La Chevre Du Liban" (the goat of Lebanon) by a Lebanese writer called Andree Chedid.
Autoun, a Lebanese Shepherd is about to return home with his sheep when he hears a voice in the distance calling out for a lost sheep.The anguish in the voice disturbs him as he can understand what a lost sheep can mean to a shepherd. He looks for it as far a his eyes can see but finds nothing. When he returns home he talks about it to his wife but she is unconcerned and is busy with getting the supper ready. Autoun is irritated about the nonchalance of the woman to another shepherd's distress. He worries about the shepherd who might not be able to eat or sleep that night until he finds the sheep. He cannot bring himself to eat so he decides to go and look for it himself. His wife is worried about the cold and his health. Unmindful, he takes the lantern and searches all night in the hard and hilly terrain until morning when he finally reaches the neighbouring village where a couple see him tired and worn out. They invite him into the house so he can rest. Autoun asks them if they know about a man who lost his sheep and has been looking for them .
The lady laughs and says "He is the biggest shepherd of the village. He sold the sheep in the morning and forgot about it in the evening and was looking for it."
Autoun asks her if she is sure and she confirms it and also tells him that the man would be passing by on his caravan shortly and he could have a look himself.
In a few minutes, the caravan passes by with a well dressed man on his camel who tips his head as a mark of respect to the woman.
In passing he shoots a casual glance at the tired old man in dusty clothes who was seated outside the house as one might look upon haggard Vagabonds.
And that is where the story ends.

I wonder what thoughts and feelings went through Autoun's head.
I remember being left with a similar feeling after watchinga tamil film called "moonram Pirai" (Sadma in Hindi)

You care too much for someone and give all of yourself to help them out because you think they need you but then, the other person has no such need and does not even know you exist much less know and appreciate your efforts for them.
What does that make you? a fool, a busybody, naive or just plain human?


Here is an extract from the text:

Autoun, a Lebanese shepherd, heard the remote call of a neighbor who lost his goat. This voice torments it all the day. The evening, it returns at his place.

As soon as that it opened the door of its house, Autoun called to its wife:
“Chafika, there is the neighbor of the mountain which lost a goat. You did not see it in trimmings?
- No. But, come, soup awaits you. “
Ah! If only this woman spoke less!
Of the nests of silence, girls of this country. All day long, they plunge their arms in the water of linen and crockery; or, they polish the back of the copper pans and the tiling of the stripped rooms (1).
“He would not be able to eat this evening!
- Who?
The neighbor! He who lost his goat…
- Hurry, your soup will get cold. […]
- I prepared you what you like, of the stuffed vineleaves. They are the first.
- Vineleaves, is that what you can think of?
How could it be question of vineleaves whereas - up there - a man, a neighbor, a brother has corroded the heart? Antoun imagined the voice: it went and came in wood, it beat the thickets, the nervous step, the closed face. It called, it called:
“My goat! Where are you my goat?” It is terrible a man who calls! That does not leave you any more rest.
“He will not sleep this night.
- who? “
The woman returned carrying her pan wrapped in a cloth.
“But the neighbor!
- The neighbor! The neighbor! (Chafika raised the tone). It is ridiculous, you never saw him! You do not even know his face.
- I heard his voice… “, said Antoun.
Chafika sighed. It was useless to answer. When men harness themselves with an idea, they are so involved, all stupidly, like carrioles.
“But at least finish your soup.” […]
Antoun pushed back the table, rose:
“Listen!” The plate full of soup flowed on the tablecloth:
“I cannot stand it any more… Give me the lantern, I am going to seek the goat!
- You are insane! With your age and in this cold, you will catch death.
- It is perhaps somehwere in the neighbourhood. I know the way well.I also know the path of the goats. “
She knew she could not stop him. It was like that, he was obsessed with the idea and no one could do anything to dislodge it."
“I will find his goat, I will find it.”
Chafika gave him its lantern and he left.
26 Responses
  1. Mahadevan Says:

    What a penetrating observation!

    ‘Moonram pirai’ was one of movies that touched me deeply. You pour out your heart and soul on somebody and one day you find that the other person’s mind is preoccupied elsewhere and you are shattered. This can to parents, lovers, friends and even between the teacher and the taught.

    You have posed a question at the end. The man or woman at the receiving end would become a psychological wreck. You call them fool or insane, the label would not stick.

    Your post is more poignant than the story on which it is based..

  2. Mahadevan Says:

    Sorry. In the second para, after the words 'this can', please add the word 'happen'.

  3. touching... happens in everyday life also. mahadevan has summed it beautifully.

  4. Oh man.. this one is one story, and no wonder it lingered on your head..
    I guess its the pain you felt when you saw that the poor shepherd spent his whole night over something which didnt bother the owner himself. And the comparison is so apt. I dont think there is any person who has not felt his heart clench when he sees Kamal Hassan in the last scene of the movie...
    The extract wasnt actually necessary, your writeup was enough for me to feel the pulse of the moment...

  5. Hip Grandma Says:

    I am a little like the man in the story and can therefore relate to him.I cannot leave people to deal with their problems.i have to do my bit.I sometimes wonder if this is a strength or weakness.Nice story.Thanks for sharing it.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Thanks for some inspiring words. Thanks again. God bless u n all of ur wonderful friends. Happy Durgapooja to all of you. ravi

  7. passerby55 Says:

    "much less know and appreciate your efforts for them ..."

    it is we who observe feel the injustice done, our heart feels for them...

    we think they have been foolish. but those into never feel so. they would do the same again if put into a similar situation... i guess.

    some people dont; change even with changing worlds and time.

  8. passerby55 Says:

    nice story,,,,and you have a mind that keeps thinking ...

  9. That is a very nice story Usha. Thanks for sharing it with us. I have seen bits and pieces of "Moondram Pirai" , especially the last screen - after that I decided I don't want to see the entire movie for I know that it will have a long lasting sad impact on me - I really hate sad endings.

    I get reminded of all failed "Love Affairs" that a couple of male colleagues shared with me - when I donned the role of Aunt Agony - the secret love that they nourished for a girl, and kept track of every happening in her life - and the day the girl got married to one of his friends, she hardly glanced at this poor love-lost kid. Well, i don't blame the girl!

    It is easy to say that the fault was that of Autoun -for he let himself get hurt - but I know from practical experience that each one of us has been Autoun sometime or the other. And many of us, even when we have had the bitter ending - don't stop from repeating a similar incident again! The Heart - is a dangerous thing!

  10. Anonymous Says:

    Loved the story. Caring for someone without expecting to be acknowledged in any form whatsoever is indeed one of the hardest things to do. Even when we think we don't really need anything in return, we still hope for at least a smile or a 'thank you'.


  11. Anonymous Says:

    Ha, these goats and sheep. They get lost; but leave them alone, they will come home, wagging their tails behind them.

    Anyway, the rich man's casual glanec the next day must have got Autoun's goat.

  12. Usha Says:

    Mahadevan: Is it better to give only to the extent of the requirement of the other person rather than going too far even at ones own peril? is that a more sensible way of handling relationships so there is no hurt?

    ITW:Perhaps some of us just cant stand by and let someone handle their problems, even to the extent of ending up as fools?

    SG:I guess you got it right and perhaps I have been in a similar state with some people in my life.

    Hipgran: welcome to the club and so we better be prepared for some thankless indifference in the end too.

    Ravi: Thank you and wish you the same.

    Passerby:I think the shepherd might also do the same again when faced witha similar situation. I guess it is the way some people are.

    Vidhya: That was a nice comparison with the secret admirers. I have heard a couple of such stories too.
    Agree that this heart is a dangerous and stupid thing.

    Vivin: You summed it up beautifully.

    Raj: Spoken like a seasoned shepherd!
    As for getting the goat,absolutely true and the whole story got my goat and i decided to come and set it among you all!

  13. rads Says:

    What does that make you? a fool, a busybody, naive or just plain human?

    Ive been an Autoun and it's not a pleasant feeling when you expect something at the end of it. To perform acts selflessly requires a higher state of living, something that's either inborn or one that you attain through careful steeling of your own emotions.

    Moonram Pirai - a wonderful movie for many reasons.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    Wonderful story. The Antouns of the world are 'simply like that'. They wouldn't even pause to complain that they have been taken for granted.


  15. MJ Says:
    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  16. Anonymous Says:

    My views on this story may not be the way the writer wished to project it but one thing is definitely obvious from this story and that is the insensitivity of the man to the needs of his woman(wife).One the one hand he is chasing a goat and that too the goat of a stranger but totally insensitive to the plight of his wife who has prepared the dinner and is waiting for him to finish so that she can finish hers and clean up and maybe go to sleep or chase her dreams or do something her heart desires rather than sit and watch him chasing his thoughts.Women often in their roles as wife and mother forget that they have desires too and would like to maybe chase buttherflies instead of goats.

  17. MJ Says:

    really touching.Such incidents happen with all of us few times and when we give up everything we just end with total loss-just a blank mind for a while and it does make me go crazy,mad.

    Its quite human to expext some selfish good at the end but not all are that fortunate and are blessed with pain.

    The film Sitakokachiluka (telugu version of sadma-if i am not wrong with the name)is one of my favourite films and the scene where Kamal crashes with the pole is where all the summary of the story is actually said without a word.

  18. Pradeep Nair Says:

    A moving story!

    By the way the answers to the questions in the tag are up.

  19. passerby55 Says:

    "One the one hand he is chasing a goat and that too the goat of a stranger but totally insensitive to the plight of his wife"...

    hi usha,

    the above words are from one the comments here(shuvashreeghosh)hello to you shuvashreeghosh.

    I agree somewhere here, the people out there for some social cause, cannot balance a few things in their own nest. this nature of feeling for everyone sumtimes is harmful.

    Usha,your views please.

  20. Usha Says:

    Rads: I agree. A man who would go through such trouble for a stranger in trouble would be the kind of man who doesn't do it for any acknowledgement. he just follows an inner dictate which tells him that it is his responsibility to help out a comrade in distress.( That he is his brother's keeper?)

    Anon:Rads said the same thing too. Makes a lot of sense.

    Suvashreeghosh: Now that is afresh take on the story! I never looked at that aspect.
    I hope Chafika did go and chase some butterflies.
    Very interesting thought.

    MJ:I agree that most of us would have expected thanks but that is where the Autouns of the world stand out!

    Pradeep:Checked them out! Interesting responses, thanks.

    Passerby: yes I was also jolted by her fresh take. All the altruism is fine but what about one's own backyard? I have heard some people have a similar view about Bapuji and his treatment of Ba too.

  21. Wild Reeds Says:

    Je dirais 5% fool, 30% busybody, 45% naive et 20% plain human.

  22. Usha Says:

    WR: :) sounds good to me.

  23. Shankar Says:

    "You care too much for someone and give all of yourself to help them out because you think they need you but then, the other person has no such need and does not even know you exist much less know and appreciate your efforts for them.
    What does that make you? a fool, a busybody, naive or just plain human?"

    I often wonder about that, and, how is it that you attain the answer of that question and admit it to yourself without degrading something within you -

    So which is better - for one's ownself? to find the answer, or to leave it unanswered?

  24. Usha Says:

    Shankar: I guess it all depends on your motivation - if you did it expecting gratitude or because you felt that it was the thing to do. I guess most of us expect acknowledgement, that is why we would do it only for someone who we know.

  25. I guess it happened because he went off in a tearing hurry to help, not knowing if help was really wanted. As a relatively young mother, my heart goes out to the small babies of the roadside who sit on their bare bottoms on sharp stones and whose chubby feet go traipsing over thorns and tangled undergrowths, while I mollycoddle my own son and I'm left wondering at the difference. And then I reflect that is their way of life and they would probably be unhappy at my attentions which would probably be taken by them as stifling...

    Moondram Pirai is one movie which I can watch over and over again and still have a lump in my throat at the end...The futility of love, the desperation of Kamal and the ignorant indifference of Sridevi, overall the cruelty of Fate...

    A very nice post, indeed.

  26. Usha Says:

    JLT: Sometimes I also think that it is we who are the reson why we care - not really the other person. being caring and giving makes us feel good.