Until the cows come home

I noticed a bull head-butting a garbage bin, overturning it and scouring for food waste discarded by humans.  Some urbanites who do not have enough space to rear cows and bulls let loose cattle on public roads. Some kind people feed them with greens and leftover dinner.  If some of these cattle are already diabetic, nobody will know because they are rarely checked by a veterinarian. In fact, rearing animals is a painstaking exercise. Nowadays, people want milk only and are not bothered about the fate of the animals that give us milk.

Decades ago, my grandfather owned two cows. He had a cowshed at the rear of his house where the cows were kept with enough hay, fodder and water. Whenever green grass was not available in the house, the cows were let out to go in search of meadows in the village. It was a wonder that invariably the cows found their way back home in the evening even though there was no cowherd to escort them. One evening, my grandfather came back from his outing and found that the cows had not returned home. As dusk approached, he became worried and started scolding grandmother as if it was her fault that the cows delayed their return. Finally, grandmother ventured out with a lantern in search of the cows and to her luck, she found them lying under a tree, masticating the day’s grass intake. She persuaded them to follow her home. From then on, grandfather arranged fresh grass from a field to be brought home for feeding the cows. Milking the cows, feeding them and cleaning the cowshed was an arduous job which grandmother undertook in addition to the burden of feeding a large family.

Then there was a destructive deluge similar to the floods of 2018 in Kerala.  Water entered my grandparents’ village. As heavy rains continued, water entered the houses also.  Boats were used to evacuate people from flooded homes.

Grandparents with their children locked up their house and got into boats and went in search of safe refuge. There was no space for cattle in those small boats with manual oars. It was presumed that cattle would swim to safety. Hence the cows were let loose outside the house. The bovines swam away to elevated places. They survived with whatever little vegetation was available on hill meadows which had not submerged in the water.

After a few days when the waters receded, grandparents returned to their devastated home and repaired it. It was a wonder that their cows found their way back home to the joy of my grandparents, though they looked famished from the ordeal, they were an invaluable asset for the impecunious family.

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