Beastly encounters, Potshots

Cow’s laughter

Cow's laughter 001

Ah! Recycling is such a joy, for the environmentally aware citizen as well as the struggling writer. Buoyed by this ignoble sentiment and by the nationwide brouhaha over divine bovinity (bovine divinity?) and whether it is right to hog beef, I dust off and present an ancient piece carried by The Times of India on 15 April 1999 under the title ‘Cow’s laughter’.

“What do you feel about cow slaughter?” asked the chairman of the interview board.

“Well,” I began confidently, “the issue’s unfortunately been clouded by religious sentiment…”

“Indeed, we know cows have religious feelings,” interrupted the chairman, “but what do you feel about the issue?”

Mercifully, the interview was terminated soon thereafter. Yet the true significance of the chairman’s remarks struck me – literally and rather forcefully – only many years later. I was in an auto-rickshaw, and my driver, like so many of his tribe in the Great City, was knowledgeable and voluble. Having discoursed at length on rising prices, falling morals and the urgent need for a Truck Driver Eradication Programme, he turned to the subject of cows.

“Ah! What a creature!” he breathed reverentially, swerving us towards a passing dog and missing narrowly. “She gives us milk, from which we make butter, cheese, curds, ghee…her strength pulls the cart and the plough, her very dung fertilises the soil…”

“And her meat is rich and nutritious!” I cried, caught up in his enthusiasm. “Her hide makes footwear, and her…” but I stopped short at his cry of horror. Indeed, so agitated was he at my remarks that he accelerated and braked at the same time, and our chariot executed a series of skips and jumps before shuddering to a halt. He turned to me.

“Sacrilege!” he whispered hoarsely. “To speak of eating cow’s flesh. But then you, sir, are undoubtedly a product of inadequate spiritual education, and therefore ignorant of the divine attributes of the cow. Let me tell you…”

At that moment, disaster struck. A dappled cow had been grazing contentedly on the grassy divider nearby. A passing truck sounded its horn; the cow jumped out of her skin; and the next instant she was charging straight towards us, mooing plaintively. I yelled in alarm; the driver twisted around, but too late. The cow lowered her horns instinctively before hitting the windshield, which disintegrated with a splintering crash. Stunned by the impact, I watched as the cow – not a bit put out by the incident – poked her head through the gaping hole where the windshield had been.

“Moo?” she inquired softly. But the driver, who had assumed a foetal position on his seat, did not reply; and so, with an apologetic nod at me, the beast withdrew her head and trotted off briskly down the road.

I disembarked and joined the interested crowd of sidewalk ghouls which had gathered. At length, the driver uncurled himself, a limb at a time, and lurched to his feet. And then, he began to curse.

We were awestruck by the flow and fluency of his expression. He began with a general character assassination of the impugned cow, went on to cast ghastly aspersions on its antecedents and parentage, and finally dismembered it with ritualistic slowness. “It should have been strangled at birth!” he cried, and demanded to know what the government was doing in the matter.

At this, a bystander chided him gently for speaking ill of divine bovinity.

“Rubbish!” the driver yelled. “That was no Bharatiya cow! I saw the spots on it: it had foreign blood in it. It was a foreigner, I tell you, a foreigner…”

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