Nice that Mint has added a separate Cow Chronicles link. Go to the end of this article and click.
I usually write between 800-900 words per column. After watching Aniruddha, the photographer, shoot for this article, I wish more photos could be included. Maybe I should write fewer words
The cow chronicles: headed to the hostel
There are two types of people in the world. Some are animal people and others are not
First Published: Sat, May 25 2013. 12 12 AM IST
Updated: Sat, May 25 2013. 11 49 AM IST
The next day, we talk some more, Sarala and I, about the fate of the male calf. Why not ask one of the army households to keep the calf, I suggest. After all, they have land. The calf can be tied up outside a home.
They tried that once, says Sarala. Some years ago, they had a male calf—their first. They didn’t want to give it to the goshala. Selva wanted to raise it for a few months and then let it loose on the road. “Cows are self-sufficient animals. Once you raise them, they will wander around the neighbourhood and come back to your front door only for water or to sleep.”
Sarala asked an army family if they would keep the calf tied outside at night. A few days after the calf was born, she took it one night and tied it to a tree outside one of the army homes. “Some stray dogs came at night and tore into it. They ate the whole little calf. Only its head was left over when I came the next morning. Can you imagine how I felt? I couldn’t sleep for an entire month after that. I got the gili (willies) after seeing that poor dead thing. How can a family sleep when a calf is being eaten by dogs, ma? Didn’t they hear the calf bleat?”
I have nothing to say. “You think we give away calves on purpose?” she asks. “We give them away because we have no choice.”
We discuss whether I can keep the calf. Sarala loves the idea, but she doesn’t think it is realistic. Will your neighbours complain, she asks. What will you do about the flies? It is not difficult to raise a calf, she says. A few weeks later, we can let it out on to the roads. It will take care of itself.
At the end of the half-hour discussion, I tell Sarala that I cannot keep the calf in my balcony. It just won’t work. I have a sick elder living with me. We are worried about infection. I have a lot going on.
It has taken a few days but all of us are finally on the same page. We have decided to leave the newborn male calf at a goshala. It is the only option available.
Maybe we can transport the calf in your van, they suggest.
My driver, Robert, flatly refuses to allow our car to be a cow-carrier. “The car will stink for weeks,” he says. “Toyota Innovas are made to carry people, not cows.”
In his iconic Harvard class, “Justice,” Professor Michael Sandel begins with the question: What is the right thing to do? He describes the utilitarianism of British philosopher Jeremy Bentham by framing solutions as the “greatest good for the greatest number”. That is an easy, convenient approach that works in most cases. Not in this one. In the case of the male calf, we are left with the best of the worst solutions; one that is driven by exigencies of space, infrastructure, livelihood, lack of support, and gender? Try finding the philosophy in that.
Had the calf been female, we may never have had to give him away. Had Sarala more support from—I don’t know, the government—it may have been easier for her to keep the calf.
Sarala and Naidu may admire a male calf’s shape and size. They may feel bad for separating it from its mother. At the end of the day, however, they do what they must because they have no choice. They have no support. It is the best of the worst solutions.
“Don’t worry, ma,” says Naidu. “These Jain people take very good care of the cows. It is like being in a cow hotel. You should see the goshala on full-moon days. Truck-loads of jaggery and other delicacies arrive.”
But he knows, and I know too, that he is merely rationalizing our decision.
On Monday morning, the security guard calls my home. “There is a calf waiting for you,” he says. This sounds better in Hindi.
Naidu, his cousin, the calf and an auto-driver friend (who I later discover is half-blind) are waiting downstairs. The auto driver wants Rs.800 round-trip for dropping off the calf in Whitefield. We negotiate and settle on Rs.600. The security guards gravitate towards the auto as we push the calf inside. In one of his stand-up acts, Jerry Seinfeld talks about how men sidle up when they see other men working with tools. A calf being loaded into an autorickshaw has the same effect on these security guards from Orissa. The calf lies on the floor, in between me and Naidu. Its snout brushes against my calves.
Our first stop is a local pawnbroker shop. “We need to show the sait this calf and get an authorization form,” says Naidu. “Otherwise, they will question whether we stole the calf from somewhere.”
I am to accompany them to Amar Chand Champalal, a pawnbroker, for added credibility.
We stop the auto in front of the tiny shop and produce the calf. A wizened old man clad in a white kurta-pyjama takes one look at the tiny reluctant animal and waves his assent. He will call the goshala and give them a heads-up that we are coming.
“They charge us murderous interest rates for the jewellery we pawn and then go and give the money to places like the goshala,” says Naidu ruefully.
“Whatever,” says the cousin. “At least they are doing some good work. Let’s go.”
There are two types of people in the world. Some are animal people and others are not. Both can exist within the same household. To people who aren’t into animals, the whole notion of struggling so much with a calf would seem ludicrous. To animal lovers, the fact that we are giving a newborn calf away is outrageous. To both sets of accusers, I say, “You weren’t there.
“You weren’t there as the events unfolded.”
Shoba Narayan has never eaten jaggery on a full-moon night like a cow has. This is the third column in the series.