There were two essays we had to write in school which we urban kids had no idea about. One was on a journey by boat. Now I had never been on a boat ever because my dreadfully careful parents would never allow it as I don’t know how to swim. The water world was a mysterious world and it always got written only due to the hyper active minds of young adolescents.
A much bigger problem was writing an essay on cows. The closest I had been to a cow was far away. I knew beef, yes, but cows were a different matter. They belonged to farmers and the only time we saw them was when we went shooting and saw them from far away in the fields. My imagination of a cow was largely limited to its ‘hamba’, a most non-musical greeting/sigh and that they did shit in large quantities. Which followed what I am not sure but that’s the way it was till I met them later in life.
* * *
The only time we ever see cows is during Qurbani. In today’s consumerist world, sacrifice has become equated with buying cows and goats off the market and then slaughtering it. It’s not the animal you sacrifice but the money you have earned, haram or halal. I can’t figure out if this qualifies as “qurbani” or not but let it be. Were there large cattle markets in the ancient world, where people would pick animals off the shelf and take home?
The notion of sacrifice is understood in many ways and my parents who were very religious but interpreted their Islam according to their conscience, said that sacrifice was more important than animal sacrifice. So we never saw the slaughtering scene but the money went to set up someone in business or long term treatment or whatever. That practice is still followed.
My uncles said that when my two older brothers were very small, my parents had bought a goat for slaughtering later. So my brothers looked after it, fed it, nursed it till it was time for slaughter but then the two brothers refused to give up the animal. In fact, one brother even offered to be sacrificed instead of the animal in a reversal of the original holy story. Don’t know which one is true but we never had animal sacrifices. Chickens yes but not goats and cows.
* * *
We had a family doctor who would have short bursts of temper and we were used to it. During the Qurbani time, he went to inspect the animal about to be slaughtered which undoubtedly not liking it, attacked him and lifted him up in the air and then just took off. Our doctor landed in bed while the cow went on a city tour chased by angry and increasingly breathless relatives of our doctor. It was late in the day when they found it, peacefully chewing someone else’s lawn. The cow was brought back and the bed ridden doctor was informed that all was OK. Whereupon he jumped from his bed, grabbed a stick and attacked the cow. Whereupon the cow butted him again, left him on the ground and left the premises, never to be seen again.
* * *
Yet I have seen cows of a different kind which become attached to people. While in our cow belt in Faridpur, a man who ran a dairy farm showed me his cows and each had a name. He called out his favourite one, a dark hued animal called “kali’ who came bouncing to him. I of course hid behind him as I am not famously fond of cows and it literally nuzzled him. In fact, it acted like a dog. So maybe cows and dogs are both capable of showing emotion but since we tend to eat up the cows and not the dogs, we see them behave slightly differently.
In Nepal, where I lived once, cows are worshipped seriously and interestingly, so are dogs. So both are garlanded and have vermillion on their head and there are several statutes devoted to such dog worship but the interesting thing is that while the dogs roam the street in packs and often howl and when the mood serves bite, the cows have had no accusation brought against them. Cows may not be considered noble like dogs but they appear to be well mannered and more devoted to munching grass than biting legs.
* * *
Not that I haven’t seen rebellious cows. Once, while walking through the fields, I had no idea that I had gone close to a munching cow. Seeing me, this famously peaceful animal kicked me in a classic way just like the younger Jackie Chan. I know one thinks they aren’t like that but in a recent incident in the UK, a bunch of cows attacked a nurse crossing the meadow and didn’t just gore her but did something I never thought was possible, sat on her. Think of cows taking turns to sit on a person lying down and literally crushing her chest and making her disabled for life possibly.
* * *
But do we think of them as wits? I think they are and this incident illustrates my point. My friend who bought a two lakh taka cow was waxing eloquent on his major purchase standing right next to several cows. When he was really being insufferable, the cows suddenly stated to do their “hamba hamba” and then one turned around till we faced his anus and then it let go a pound of his best fertilizer. The cow was like on a talk show and letting the world know what it thought of them.
Cheers and Eid Mubarak.
Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist, activist and writer.