The cow chronicles

Syed Badrul AhsanSyed Badrul Ahsan
Published : 6 July 2022, 09:58 PM
Updated : 6 July 2022, 09:58 PM

Long years ago, when I was yet reasonably young, my brothers and I escorted a cow from Gabtoli to our home in Mohammadpur's Tajmahal Road. Obviously it was a sacrificial occasion, seeing that Eid-ul-Azha was only days away. The cow and we walked from Gabtoli through the mud road which today is Ring Road.

On one side of the road, if it could be called a road, were a few houses newly come up. On the other was a vast expanse of rice and jute fields and water as far as the eye could see. That vast expanse is today Adabor, where we have our home.

On that trek home with the cow, a friend somehow espied me from somewhere nearby and quickly called up another friend to give him this revealing report: "I think I just saw Badrul with a cow. Trouble is, I couldn't make out which was the cow and which was Badrul."

It was humour which I appreciated hugely and had a good laugh over. Here we were, accompanying the cow home to have it sacrificed in all the devotion which comes of demonstrating faith, and there was my friend associating me with the bovine creature. I admired his sense of humour, indeed his ingenuity.

Yes, I now have before me a book, on loan from my good friend Muneera Parbeen, called The Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young. It is an excellent work that gives you everything you need to know about the personality of cows.

That cows can make good decisions, that they engage in different kinds of mooing, that they can remember things they have experienced in the past — all of these riveting details have been sketched out for you in the work.

The point? When you meet a cow or have it readied for sacrifice, try reminding yourself that it is a thinking creature you have before you. The same God who made you made the cow. The cow has a mind.

But, of course, all animals have this powerful faculty of thought which lies at the basis of their existence. Squirrels collect nuts all through autumn and bury them in the ground as food to be ingested in winter. Cats are pretty philosophical, as a work by John Gray (Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life) would have you know.

And dogs? Cheerfully wagging their tails, they remain the best of friends for man around the globe, especially in the West. It then follows that, in tune with other animals, cows have their own distinctive perspectives on life in general.

Go back to R.K. Laxman, the reputed Indian cartoonist. Close to four decades ago, perhaps more, he sketched a scene where two cows look up from their grazing, to see a bunch of politicians grinning from ear to ear approaching them. One cow tells the other: "How soon time flies! It must be election time already."

And there you have it. No matter how often we denigrate the cow in our attempts to humiliate someone before us by calling him a goru, don't forget that the cow is a creature which is serious about maintaining its self-esteem. Non-violence is its forte.

It is docile, of course. But there are the times when it erupts in righteous indignation, as when a cow bought for Eid for the family, again long years ago, made a brave attempt to run away from my brothers. One of them held on resolutely to the rope and ended up having his palms badly bruised.

In the 1980s, when Bangladesh Television was the only visual entertainment in town, a musical group called Barisal Youth Choir came forth with a truly hilarious parody on the famous song 'Je jon premer bhaab jaane na tar shathe nai lena dena'.

The parody was based on the old cliché, 'the cow is a domestic animal; it has four legs and a tail; there is a tuft of hair at the end of its tail' — a lesson which teachers in our baby days made us learn by rote in class.

The rendition of this old English lesson into that parody by those young men from Barisal bowled us over.

Cows are part of cultural tradition. It will not do to forget this cardinal lesson from life. Godhulibela is the story of cows, in that ambience of the bucolic, making their way back home. The dust, 'dhuli', the cows, 'go', stir up with their hooves as they return that pinkish hue which goes for that twilight moment just before darkness takes over.

Where would literature be without that godhulibela, without all our cows coming back home?

Ah, that takes us to the English phrase 'till the cows come home.' The phrase is not as simple as it is made out to be. America's Democrats, beleaguered by Republicans in Congress, can wait for change to happen till the cows come home — which essentially means it will be a very long time before change comes or it means that thoughts of change will remain a pipe dream.

One other point. As you accompany your cow home from the Eid cattle market, please remember that this cow and its ancestors have made remarkable contributions to our vocabulary, in both Bengali and English.

Governments everywhere are forever 'beefing up' security — and beef is the preserve of the cow. Body builders often awe you with their 'beefy' muscles. For the Hindu community, the cow is an integral part of faith. There are pubs in England calling themselves 'Beefeater'.

See the point? So as you make ready to consume that gentle cow, all of it, on Eid day, bear in mind its contribution to culture, its place in history, its role in politics.

A few years ago, the owner of a cow brought the animal to a city cattle market to be sold to a buyer. The cow was eventually sold, at which point the now lapsed owner, a humble village man, could not check his emotions. In sad farewell, he placed his arms around the cow and wept.

And the cow had tears flowing from its large, beautiful eyes.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher