Having been born and growing up in India, the land of the sacred cow, I am no stranger to this domesticated, quadrupedal ungulate of the subfamily Bovinae, genus Bos. It’s difficult not to have respect for an animal whose scientific name already proclaims it to be the boss, and I am culturally well-conditioned (‘well-done’, one might say) to accord an immediate reverence to this multi-faceted (not to mention, delectable) animal. After all, Gau-mata, or Cow the Mother, is an enduring socio-religious meme in India, stemming from simpler, more agrarian times — possibly a testament to the species’ intimate association with human history ever since it was domesticated about 10,500 years ago (archaeological and genetic evidence suggests that cows in Southeast Asia, Bos indicus, a different lineage from cows in Europe, were domesticated about 7000 years ago in the Harappan civilization).
Anyway, this post is not about the gentle and benevolent, docile, cud-chewing, staring-into-infinity image most often conjured up by the word ‘cow’ and its equivalents and connotations in different Indian languages. It turns out cows have a violent past; Aurochs, the wild ancestors of the modern bovines that roamed the grasslands of Europe and Asia, are considered to have been extremely difficult to domesticate. Of course, cows are now known to be temperamental animals; therefore, what I read about today may not come as a complete surprise:
Cows are quite capable of murder!
** Cue Ominous music **
Among walkers in the British countryside, the University of Liverpool researchers found reports of 54 cattle attacks over the two decades of their study. Of these, 13 resulted in a fatality.
Just imagine! Those bovine blackguards! Oh, what a profound potboiler it would make by use of these villainous ingredients!
I am familiar with untoward and outrageous behavior from bulls, of course. When I was growing up, there was a flower shop right across from our gated residential community; every day, at a certain time in the morning, it used to be besieged by a bull demanding to be fled garlands and loose flowers, as well as fruits from an adjacent temple. If refused, it used to head-butt the small flower-shop counter, upend the coin collection tray in front of the temple, and block traffic by standing in the middle of the road. In fact, blocking traffic seems to be a popular pastime for bulls on Indian streets; when I was doing my graduate studies in Delhi, every so often the main road running in front of my institute would get blocked by a bull sitting bang in the middle of the street or, on occasions, even mounting a cow – showing zero remorse or embarrassment at being caught in flagrante delicto. And beyond halfheartedly shouting or blowing their vehicles’ horns, which left the bulls undeterred and unfazed, people would not do anything but wait patiently, braving the traffic jam, because – you know – holy cow.
But murderous cows? Far out, man! Can you imagine my angst towards cows after this, and especially after I learnt that cows would, occasionally, eat chicken, other birds, bird eggs, and so forth?
And did I ever mention, this one time a cow almost murdered me in open daylight?
It was a brilliant day. I was speeding away towards my workplace on my flashy red Hero Honda Splendor, a 100-cc engine, nimble motorcycle, without a care in the world. The morning rush hour traffic was yet to catch up with me, and NH8 (the expressway connecting Delhi and Gurgaon) stretched reasonably empty in front of me, appealing to my sense of adventure to open the throttle wide. How could I not heed that call? I did… And the next moment, I was conscious of a grey blur in front of me. I swerved left — hard, and would have been fine had I braked and been thrown clear of the bike. But I was conscious of falling down with the handlebars still in my grip, pulling the motorbike on me, and being dragged on the asphalted road by the momentum of the keeled over two-wheeler — for about 8-10 feet, but what seemed like a light year at that time.
|Credit: Photo © Surabhi Dhake, used under CC-BY-2.0, modified from original|
Some people were already accumulating by the road-side; by now, they ran towards me, asked me if I was alive (I was, likely thanks to my helmet, although a bit worse for wear — with my trouser legs in tatters and multiple parts of my legs scraped bloody), and pulled me up — just in time for me to see four gangly unsteady legs scampering down the grassy area by side of the road, apparently unhurt. Noticing me looking in that direction mouth agape, one of the folks helpfully offered, voice dripping with paternal affection, “bachhra hai” (“it is just a calf” — reason enough to forgive and forget).
** Shudder! **
It has been said: “To err is human… to moo, bovine.” Nowadays, I simply keep my distance from these moorderous coos.