Taking route 4A, they sped down picturesque countryside - rolling fields and cashew orchards, moving southeast, and after crossing Curti, turned off the highway, the road much narrower, the farmland gradually receding as the land became more wooded, the hills growing larger in the distant, emerald green and lush, the air filled with the call of numerous birds... The road cut through uneven ground, hemmed in by the steep mud banks as it snaked its way through the wilderness, soon emerging once more onto farmlands, and after passing a small town hugged its way along a stream, the gurgling water close by, beyond the screen of the tall trees. Fifteen minutes later Sandeep swerved the car off the road onto a concrete pathway, driving the Cruiser along the rivulet's edge for a short distant and then taking a sharp right, entered a huge gateway.
"Welcome to Tarpan Stud Farm..." he announced as Mayank looked up at the large signboard over the gateway, "and honestly, I never thought the day would ever dawn," he added in a low voice, smiling at Mayank.
A luxuriant carpet of green covered the undulating surface as far as the eye could see... dotted with trees, standing singly or in small clumps... and as they drove further in, Mayank saw the lush pastures enclosed by the fence, stark white against the vivid green... picture perfect. Going over a hump, he saw the ground roll away... and there in the distant, to the left, loomed a cluster of buildings - structures that looked like barns and sheds, and a little beyond that stood the other blocks, probably the research wing... the green carpet continuing further along... merging with the hillock that rose behind the complex. Towards the right, the direction that Sandeep took, stood another large building, 'L' shaped.
"Our parent farm, near Bangalore, was established in 1960 by my granddad," Sandeep said as they drove towards the building, "with eight broodmares and two stallions. His objective was to produce sound, top performing sports and show horses within the country. Though very small, with an average of 3 foals per year, our results were impressive and soon he got into race horse breeding, and training too."
Mayank looked around him as he listened to Sandeep, seeing a course in the distance across the pastureland, marvelling at the vast expanse of the property, and the impeccably well maintained pastures.
"Still later, he got into research and development, and built a modern, by the then standards, veterinary hospital and research facility," Sandeep was saying. "In the eighties my father built this farm. This is a larger complex and was originally divided into two separate, independent, units; this one and another across that hillock," he added, pointing to the south, "about five kilometres away, beyond the cashew orchards. This was for the show horses and that was for the race horses. But five years back we shifted our race horse breeding programme to Bangalore, which is now used exclusively for that purpose - breeding, rearing and training thoroughbred race horses; while this is solely for the sports and show horses.
"The race horse breeding and training facility was lying vacant all these years, and over the past year, ever since I moved to Goa, I have been toying with the idea of converting it into a new business centre, a horse-based theme resort. We'll have rooms, cottages and tents, two restaurants and an open bazaar; and there'll be ponies for kids, and we'll conduct regular riding classes for both the novice and the advance rider, with special lessons for arena riding and trail riding. We'll also conduct shows and other equestrian events for the visitors and tourists, with viewing of our regular training sessions at the stud included..." he enumerated, turning off the road and driving up a gravel pathway, headed for the 'L' shaped building that Mayank had seen. "I also want to include a mini water park with some thrilling water sports and wet rides," he stated cutting the engine, and then turning towards Mayank, smiled, "And that's why I need you with me." he said, unfastening the seat belt, "to help me, support me and inspire me!"
"You ride?" Sandeep asked leading the way, as they walked inside the administrative building.
"Oh... well, I'll teach you once you're with me," he said, entering his office.
"Sit down," he said going behind the large table and jabbing the intercom, asking for a jeep to be sent to over. "We'll drive to the barns," he told Mayank, who nodded in reply, looking around the spacious office room, seeing the various framed certificates and the numerous photos - of horses and men, adorning the walls... The two glass cabinets stuffed with trophies of various sizes and shapes... cups and plates, sculpted galloping and rearing horses in silver... A soft knock on the door made him look back at Sandeep as the jeep was announced. "Well, let's go," Sandeep said standing up, "let me show you the facilities."
Waving away the driver, Sandeep took the wheels and soon they were driving down a tree lined path, the cool breeze washing over their face, fragrant. "This is the pre-training and training facility," announced Sandeep as they reached the building complex nestled at the foot of the hillock, "We have a fully developed professional training program for both sports and show horses here, and one of the best team of dedicated professionals and passionate equine enthusiasts working."
Climbing down Mayank looked around, admiring the grand view from that slightly elevated ground as they looked down at the various structures spread out in a semi circle. "Those, over there, are the barns," Sandeep pointed out, "safe, well sheltered paddocks with roomy stalls for the horses, with the latest and the best amenities. And that, over there, is one of the tracks," he added pointing to the north. "We have two specially designed turf tracks here, that, an 800 metre oval track, and another 1600 metre straight track, the one you saw while we were driving in. We also have a sand track for trotting work, a left over from the race horse training days; it is nine hundred metres long, with a 6 inch sand base, combining steep gradients for a perfect workout."
Mayank nodded, awed by the impressive layout, the vast expanse, overwhelmed. "And that way," Sandeep was pointing out, "to your left, you see the green-tiled roofs, well, that's the veterinary and breeding facility."
"We have different training programmes for the show and sports horses here," he said turning around and leading the way, entering the building, "continuously reviewed to suit each individual horse - its capabilities and temperament; ensuring a fully broken-in, perfectly disciplined, top performing horse at the point of sale, and trust me," he added with evident pride, acknowledging the greetings of the staff with a smile and a nod, "the results have proven the credibility of our programme, our horses going on to win numerous events and awards, both here and abroad, from Singapore to Dubai and even in the US."
"Today, this farm stands 7 stallions and approximately 80 broodmares strong, the majority of the yearlings produced each year being sold through private sale to both domestic and foreign buyers."
Opening a double, glass panelled doorway they entered a large hall that looked out onto a vast expanse of green, "This is the viewing gallery," Sandeep announced, "here visitors and buyers get to see photos of champions bred and trained at our farm; and also watch our farm's bloodstock on display in the arena."
Mayank looked at a few of the large photos on a side wall as Sandeep recounted the history and achievements of the individual horses, and then together, they walked down a ramp to the open area. "That way is the indoor riding arena," Sandeep informed as Mayank watched men leading magnificent young foals through lofty archways. "The rest of the building houses the staff offices, conference and business rooms, and of course, classrooms for the handlers; and the south wing houses the residential quarters of the men."
He spoke to a few of the men and then turning to Mayank led him back out, to the jeep, "Now to the stables," he smiled, his eyes shining.
It was an enormous, naturally lit and well ventilated barn, the floor concrete, spotless clean and fresh. On either side were the large, spacious stalls with angular steel framed doors, the bottom half wood panelled, the top having steel bars... the fittings, anodised brass, adding to the aesthetic beauty... and Mayank was pleasantly surprised as he strode down the aisle - there was absolutely no odour, usually associated with animals.
"The barns are temperature controlled," said Sandeep, "and have reflective aluminium sheet roofing to dissipate the summer heat, thus aiding the cooling system."
The first few stalls were empty, making Mayank wonder where the horses were, and as if reading his mind Sandeep explained, "You won't see too many horses in here right now since we leave them out in the pastures during the day, allowing them to graze, remain physically active..."
"But though we allow our horses to graze out in the pastures, we also have a strict feeding regimen, monitored by a leading equine nutritionist, ensuring that they have a balanced feeding programme."
Going down a bit further, Mayank finally saw the animals - magnificent creatures... handsome and powerful.
Sandeep walked up to the nearest stall and reached in, lovingly stroking and rubbing along the animal's powerful neck as it came forward, as if seeking that touch... whispering sweet nothings as the horse nuzzled close, the ears twitching.
"Actually we make sure that every horse gets sufficient exercise, move around a lot," he said turning back to Mayank, "and that has ensured that we've never had a major cribbing problem with our horses!"
"Cribbing can actually lead to very serious health problems in the horses," Sandeep explained going over to the next stall and calling out as the horse came forward, sticking its head out, butting Sandeep's extended hand. "Wild horses don't have the problem, yet it's pretty common amongst domesticated, farm horses, and it has been attributed to stress leading from poor diet and the non-active, sedentary life style that is forced on the horse by keeping them confined in a paddock."
Between brief words with the stable staff, and petting the horses, Sandeep elaborated as they walked on, "Horses need to constantly move around, constantly graze, and we make sure they do it, restricting their time in the stable to a minimum. And that's another reason for spreading out our facilities - the barns, the clinic, the training arena and tracks, so that they get a good workout each time they visit these facilities," and then he suddenly stopped, briefly casting a glance at Mayank before laughing, "Well, all this makes no sense to you I'm sure, and you don't even have a clue to what cribbing means, huh?"
Mayank smiled as he shook his head.
"Ah, well, someday I'll teach you."
"You plan to make a horse trainer out of me, eh?" Mayank asked as Sandeep led him out to an adjoining courtyard.
"There's just one thing that I want to make out of you, dude," Sandeep replied with a far-away look, and then grinned, "But now you come and meet the lucky dams!"
"And these are the two lucky beauties," he said, walking up to the two mares in the stockade behind the second barn. The animals seem to recognise him, even welcome his presence, walking up to him with a ballerina's gait, the head bobbing, tail flicking. Sandeep seemed thrilled, literally hugging both horses as he churred... his affection for the animals apparent, and, their love for him clearly evident!
"Now for lunch," Sandeep announced, taking Mayank by the arm and leading him out. "We'll keep the visit to the clinic and the breeding centre for after lunch, since the live cover is scheduled for the afternoon," he said as they walked back to the jeep, "I'll take you there around that time, and after that we'll go to the pastures, see the other horses!"
Mayank nodded silently, as they drove away.
The quaint little bungalow stood in the centre of the cashew plantation... set in a clearing, surrounded by bougainvillea and various variegated creepers, fronted by a small, well maintained rose garden. The lunch was lavish, and elaborate... and as the men cleared away the table Sandeep stood up and grinned, "Ready to witness how horses make babies?"
"Um, I'm... I'm not so sure, Sandy, like... I don't think I want to actually witness, er, a live cover..." mumbled Mayank, feeling all weird about standing and watching people make the animals mate.
Sandeep had already spoken in great details about the mating procedure while driving through the plantation... About the process of 'teasing' the mare with a stallion across a barrier when she came in heat, noting her reaction to the stud, and her readiness; about preparing the mare and stallion for the act. About leading her to the stallion in the breeding stall and helping him mount her... "One need to be an expert," he had explained, "or thing could get pretty dicey. The mare needs to be kept calm and restrained, and the stallion in control, and so, there are always multiple handlers on the job."
"It is a short and swift process," he had elaborated, "the stud just mounts her and thrusts a few times and once in, holds still, and within a minute it's over! Horses don't hump like most other animals... and once done, he kinda grunts and has to be immediately removed, and the mare walked so that she doesn't eject the semen. Of course, sometimes he needs to be guided in..."
"Oh my God, don't tell me..." Sandeep stared for a while and then burst out laughing, his face a bright red, "you mean, seeing horses make out makes you squirmy?!"
Mayank sat quiet, embarrassed.
"Oh well," Sandeep finally said after he had controlled the fit of laughter, "fine then, dude, we'll walk around the orchard and skip the live cover," and unclipping the walkie-talkie spoke rapidly, informing the handlers about his unavailability and giving detailed instruction. "There, now relax, and let's go for a walk," he grinned at Mayank, shaking his head.
"You know, that's why I like you," he said as they walked out of the bungalow, headed for the surrounding grove, "you're so refreshingly different!"
Mayank lay under the shade of a cashew tree, eyes closed, suddenly enjoying himself, feeling nice, when the hand on his shoulder made him open his eyes, "Have you given it a thought?" asked Sandeep smiling down at him.
Mayank stared back, wondering for a moment what he needed to think about...
"From tomorrow the work begins, with meetings scheduled all through the week - the architect and builder, the interior guys and various other people," Sandeep was saying, "in fact, tomorrow I'll be in town to meet some suppliers, and then back here with the landscaper guys, and probably won't be able to call you much... but I'm counting the days, and by Wednesday, next week, your two week period will be over!"
Mayank groaned silently... He had indeed given it some deep thought... and somehow he didn't like it... the idea just not appealing. A friend was a friend, and anything could go between them... but a boss was someone else, and you never could really be friends with your employer! He loved and enjoyed his job, and wanted to achieve a lot in the hospitality industry... and he didn't want to get into a situation where any individual could, or would, exert too much influence on his choices. Despite all the promises, and he knew that Sandeep would allow him all the professional freedom that he could dream of, yet, he still felt uneasy... the very idea of joining Sandeep's resort somehow making him squirmy and uncomfortable...
"Lost in thoughts again, eh?" Sandeep's soft voice jerked him back to the present.
He gave a wan smile and shook his head.
"I want you, Mayank..." Sandeep said, his eyes looking away for a moment and then with a smile he sat up, "you just can't imagine how I feel..."
Mayank felt that odd sensation once more... but quickly discarded the thought... hadn't Sandeep made his feeling for men like Ali apparent? Then, why ideas on those lines, again? Well, with Kajol and Ali constantly repeating it, over and over again, it had probably got stuck somewhere in his brain... and would now take some time to get out!
And as Sandeep was about to speak again, Mayank's cell phone buzzed... Sandeep fell silent, watching Mayank take it out of his pocket, sit up, and then slowly getting up, walk a short distance away.
It was Harsh. "I miss you," the boy said.
"So do I, Pretty Boy..." whispered Mayank, using the term of endearment he regularly used to address Harsh whenever alone, a term that never failed to make the teen blush coyly.
"Can't you just come back, huh?"
"Try and understand honey, he had it planned for long and I've finally come," Mayank reasoned, "how can I suddenly walk out on him?!"
"Oh-okay..." Harsh responded, reluctantly, "but did you read my messages, huh?"
"Of course I did," Mayank smiled.
"And you didn't even reply!" Harsh complained.
"Baby, how could I," Mayank replied, "he was talking, showing me around, and I just couldn't go around tapping away on the cell..."
"I love you Mayank."
"So do I," Mayank said, "I too love you... We'll meet tomorrow afternoon... go for a movie and later have dinner," Mayank promised.
"Okay, bye," Harsh replied, cutting the call.
"Who was that?" asked Sandeep as Mayank returned, pocketing the instrument, "Don't tell me it's your office, and they need you now, even on a Sunday!"
"Nah, a friend," replied Mayank.
"Ali?" Sandeep asked again, giving Mayank a funny look.
"No," Mayank laughed, but didn't go any further.
Sandeep nodded, "Well, let's go back to my office, it's getting dark already.
"Well, being a Sunday I can't introduce you to all the people working at the stud," Sandeep said as they walked down a long passageway, not the one they had taken in the morning while going to Sandeep's office. "But I want you to meet my project and design development team for the theme resort. They'll be living and working out of here till the administrative block is redesigned and refurbished at the project site."
"As I had mentioned the other day, I've got a core team together... a senior project manager and a financial specialist, a couple of fresh hotel management graduates, a water park expert, and an architect," he paused. "There's also a couple of landscapers and an HR guy; about a dozen people in all. And of course, a whole lot of project and design consultants, whom we'll be meeting on a regular basis."
"And as the work progresses, we'll be taking in more people, putting the basic staff in place. Of course, the handlers are already there, we'll shift a few men to this project."
They entered a large hall and Mayank saw the cluttered tables and the blinking monitors... people hunched over papers and laptops.
"Hey, guys," Sandeep greeted the team as they looked up, returning the greeting. "They just moved in today," he informed Mayank, "so, not yet settled..." and then went around introducing him, telling them that he'd soon be joining Sandeep, taking over the resort.
"Where's Ajay?" he asked looking around.
"Oh, he's on another of his coffee breaks," grinned the architect, adding, "and there he is," as a side door opened.
"Hello Ajay," greeted Sandeep, motioning him to come over.
"Um, hello, sir," replied a very surprised Ajay, looking at Sandeep and then at Mayank.
"Meet my friend, Mayank," Sandeep introduced. "And this is Ajay, my new..."
"We know each other," replied Mayank with a smile, "we were at the institute together..."
Sandeep nodded, "Well, guys, you burn the night oil, while I go and drop off my guest, and future partner," he said turning back to his team and then guiding Mayank out of the room, walked out to the car.
"You were at the 'IHM'," he asked getting behind the wheels, "but Ajay's papers say he did the course from Victoria Institute of Technology, Australia?"
"Well, he had joined our institute, but took a transfer after the first year..."
"Oh, well," Sandeep responded, "now let's have dinner and then I'll take you back home."
Mayank nodded, relieved at Sandeep's words; grateful that he had not pressed Mayank on staying back at the farm for the night, like he had once mentioned earlier...
As he parked the car before Mayank's cottage, Sandeep suggested that they go surfing the following Sunday, "Actually, I'm totally occupied the whole damned week, and after all that work I need to relax, and what better way than to catch a few waves!"
"Sure," Mayank replied, getting out.
"Great, then see you Sunday morning..." waved Sandeep, reversing the car and driving off.
To be continued...
a story by outlaw
If you enjoy the story, please do mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org