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Vol. XXIX No. 15, November 16-30, 2019

When the cows come home

Every year, during Diwali and Pongal, we get an expected visitor. Named differently at different times, we have been visited by Gopala, Perumal, Jambavan, Lakshmi and Kanaka Durga, names which invariably originate from the vast pantheon of Gods and Goddesses. This time, Venkatesha Perumal, a two-year calf/cow, visited us as its owner sang and showered encomiums, asking the cow to nod its head at various pauses, bestowing its wishes that were filled with everything bountiful. The animal was draped resplendently in bright colours of blue, green, red and pink, its forehead adorned with cowry strings and its hump stringed around with a garland of bells which jangled every time it turned its head. 

“Shake my hand”, the owner, Govindan, would say, and the animal would lift its right forelimb. “Do a namaskaram”, the owner would say but the cow would have nothing of it. “This is a cemented space,” the owner would apologise, “on the mud ground, the cow will sit comfortably”, he would explain. The animal however was quite an active creature, bobbling its head up and down, and trying as much as possible to turn around and walk. 

“This is the only time we get to make some money”, Govindan started conversationally. “I live in Periapalayam, and I have been making the rounds in the city for the last two days”, he explained, his Tamil laced with a tinge of the Telegu dialect. “Five of us from my village have come into the city last week”, he elaborated, “and we have been walking with our cows”. “Our first stop was the Ayanavaram water tank, and from there we have taken different routes” he explained, injecting a sense of adventure in his journey. 

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“I started my journey yesterday and I have walked through the city touring Kilpauk, Nungambakkam, T Nagar and now Mylapore, taking rest every two hours”, he recounted. “I spent last night at the Lighthouse. The Nageshwara Rao Park authorities do not allow us to rest outside anymore”, he lamented. 

He was very clear that he was entertaining people. “I live an honest life”, he shared. “I help in farming. I also play the drum (parai) for all social functions – a naming ceremony, ear-piercing ceremony – by which I make some money”, he said justifying his honesty.

“But during Diwali and Pongal days, I earn between Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 a day”, he explained. “Children want to sit on the cow and take pictures. Of course, they also feed the cow with fruits. Some North Indians (settu karanga in Tamil), apply kumkum on the cow’s forehead”. He sounded knowledgeable, underlying the subtle cultural differences with an earthy explanation. 

“But on other days, the city can be harsh”, he rued. “Everyone seems to be so busy, they do not have the time to stop and talk. No one looks at my Venkatesha Perumal.” He shared his views on urban busyness and the disconnection in multi-storeyed buildings, independent homes and crowded localities where children did not play in the streets anymore.

By this time, the cow which had been stoic for some time, demanded attention. After having devoured the plantains that were offered, the cow looked at us intensely and turned to its owner’s hand and licked it, perhaps communicating to him that it was time to move on. The owner patted its forehead and asked the cow to say goodbye, as it lowered its head at us for one last time and followed its owner to trudge another street and another home.
– Lata Ramaseshan

* * *

‘Smart Cities’ – the name itself smells sweet and to learn that Chennai has come under this rubric warms the cockles of one’s heart. One dreams of garbage-free roads, nice pedestrian boulevards, easy access to metro, suburban and main railway stations, senior-friendly footpaths, etc. But what is the reality?
The city is stinking with all sorts of rubbish strewn along the roads – whether it’s Adyar, Mylapore, or Annanagar. Go to any place in the so-called Greater Chennai Corporation area and one finds multitudes of potholes of different sizes and depths spelling doom to motorists and pedestrians alike. The menace of unauthorised vehicle parking in every locality has assumed alarming proportions. To cap it all, unhygienic conditions confront people on the roads everywhere.

Quite naturally, two judges of the Madras High Court gave vent to their anguish during the hearing of a public interest litigation (PIL) the other day. As can be expected, charity begins at home and the judges spoke about

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the locality housing them and Ministers, that is, Greenways Road. The details are really shocking. Even the incumbent Chief Minister’s official residence has unhealthy conditions prevailing with garbage strewn in the vicinity. This can be contrasted with the ‘spic and span maintenance’ of Poes Garden during the tenure of his mentor and former C.M. Jayalalithaa, remarked one of the judges.

This writer came across a rare, quiet, garbage-free area the other day, and no wonder the bovine of the species is chewing the cud contentedly with its keeper enjoying a mid-day snooze (see accompanying photo). The cow is nicely decorated and decked with flowers, coloured strips of cloth, etc. The area is Annanagar West Extension. It was striking in a way because even a short distance from the bovine’s resting place, one finds garbage strewn around with badly constructed stormwater drains along the roads.

After living in Chennai for six decades, this writer finds conditions deteriorating with each passing year. There are only authorities with ‘unseeing eyes’ and callous attitudes. And the corporation of Chennai is more like an atrophied limb of the government.

However, one must not be pessimistic and give up. The following ditty by A.G. Howard may perhaps make us laugh even in trying situations:

By accident once, a pessimist sat with all of his weight on his Panama hat. He fussed and he fumed when he saw it was flat. When an optimist had a misfortune like that he looked at the wreck for only a minute and thanked the good Lord that his head wasn’t in it.
– T. Rajagopalan

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