Sherpa Hossainy's Blog

The cow conundrum

Posted in Bangladesh, Dhaka, Humor by Sherpa Hossainy on December 3, 2011

Published in the Weekend Independent on 2 December 2011

Read the article on Independent website

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Perhaps most of us endured the agony of writing small paragraphs in English classes throughout our school education. I remember, while in first grade, especially the paragraph on “Cows”, always essentially started with this very sentence, irrespective of any writer – “The cow is a very gentle domestic animal.” It went on further with the obvious lines, with a few exceptions maybe – “It has four legs, two eyes, two ears and a tail. It feeds on grass and gives us milk” or something like that. Unfortunately, after all these years, I have to admit that reality suggests otherwise about the iconic first line referring the cow as a humble animal.

Every year the makeshift cattle markets of Dhaka teem with cows and other sacrificial animals for the joyous (not for the animals!) occasion of Eid-ul-Azha, the Eid of sacrifice in Islam. Religious Muslims rush to cattle markets to buy the animals even in the last hours. Most Dhakaiates had the misfortune of being stuck in a mile long traffic jam caused by the temporary cattle markets scattered everywhere in the city. To make things worse, the incoming cattle supply on big trucks from around the country cause a standstill in every cattle market entrance. Despite the volunteers’ almost tearful request on the mike to free up the parking space and roads, the atmosphere is always enormously messy.

A common scene observed in the chaos is proud cow owners chasing the big beasts in the middle of the road. Even with two extra men guiding the owner’s precious possession safely back home, they struggle with the sticks and long ropes to keep the cow from running frantically in the road. Sometimes the cows crash into some ill-fated rickshaw on its way and breaks it into pieces. Rather unfortunate car owners also have to go through the painful experience of staring helplessly at their scratched and smashed cars. Maybe the mental discomfort of a raging bull who is about to be sacrificed and overwhelmed by the big city traffic, is quite easily comprehended by the otherwise sensitive car owners.

In this regard, I would also like to relate an incident that happened to me this year. As I was waiting in a long trail of traffic, understandably caused by the cattle markets, an ominous black bull caught my attention. It was rushing in the middle of the street and heading towards my rickshaw. Three helpless men were chasing the rampant bull like Spanish matadors, only quite unsophisticatedly. I had been taking pictures just moments ago, but when I saw the disturbed cow running towards my rickshaw, no fancy idea of taking pictures of a lunatic cow came into my head. My instant impulse was just to jump out of the rickshaw but I failed on that attempt as my whole body froze by the thought of the impending disaster. I could only manage to pray to the “God of cows” desperately hoping that the mighty beast would change its course and miss the tyre of my rickshaw.

The raging bull

Nevertheless, that was not the order of the day as the cow hit the side of my rickshaw to make my worst nightmare come true. To my delight, the impact was not that menacing as the three matadors somehow managed to pull it back in the final seconds. The rickshaw was only semi-airborne for a few seconds while I was still pondering my special Spiderman move to jump out of the rickshaw with one leg stretched out and another hanging in the air. After the nice landing from the one-second flight in a rickshaw, I was relieved to find the rickshaw in one piece. I thanked the “God of cows” as my rickshaw driver started driving again. After moving 100 metres or so, we saw a completely ravaged rickshaw lying beside the road bearing testimony of the massacre of the raging bull. I am confused about what emotion was exactly going through my mind – empathy, grief or a feeling of respite. As we went on, another incident of mad-bull-racing happened, luckily on the other side of the road – and this time I did take some photos.

So, why this madness – this lunacy from an allegedly humble and gentle animal? I wanted to find out what others were thinking. Tenth grade student Juthi admitted her fear of cows by saying, “They are nothing like I’ve read in books. They are crazy!” Actually, most of my female interviewees echoed the same statement about the cows being really unsophisticated and impolite towards them. I have no idea whether cows and women actually share some vendetta that is going on for ages. Although university student Sabrina seemed to have a good rapport with cows, “Cows are really friendly. They look so cute with their big black eyes and soft nose.” Although she suggested ‘something mysterious is happening’ when asked about the disturbing madness of them. The male counterparts, on the other hand, seemed pretty chilled about the violent bulls. Tashfique, a college student, said rather indifferently, “There’s nothing to blame them for. They are just being themselves. I guess that’s what we would all do if we had to put our head under the sword.”

Baridhara cattle market, 15th November, 2010

It is quite understandable why the sacrificial cows act that way if we put ourselves in the same position. Nevertheless, the unanswered question that still haunts me is – Can the cows actually tell the imminent danger? Do they have some sort of sixth sense or are they actually violent? Retired government employee Mr Mahmud told me, “Cows can sense that they are going to be killed. Azrael (the angel of death in Islam) comes in their dreams with a sword and tells them about their fate. You’ll see cows crying on the morning of the sacrifice.” I was not quite sure about the angel of death’s appearance in the cows’ dreams so I kept on searching for the answer. Sadly enough, I could not discuss the whole subject with any animal scientist or researcher who could have at least given me a satisfying answer – hence my last resort was Google. Although nothing concrete came up from the search, there were some articles claiming cows having sixth sense, concluded from Google Earth satelite image studies.

We have seen cows raising terror in the streets, causing all sorts of casualties and many of us even have been the victim of it. I have also had the experience of watching cows running with their head dangling from their shoulder after they break free in the midway of a sacrifice! All the crazy stuff regarding cows that I’ve mentioned makes me question the assumption about the gentle nature of cows.  The statement might hold its ground, because if unprovoked, almost every animal is unobtrusive and peace loving. Certainly, there lie obvious reasons why cows act like raving lunatics during the sacrificial season, as that is what we would surely be doing under the same circumstances. Mr Hamid, who has been in the cattle trading business for over 20 years, echoed this sentiment, “Cows – they are just like humans. Some are bad, some are good, some are gentle and some are just rude!”

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