Times were peaceful back then. Men went about living their lives minding their own business, and cows their’s. People consumed beef, with nobody questioning them. Nobody lynched a fellow citizen on account of consuming beef. People consumed whatever they wished to, without other more ‘nationalistic’ ones breathing down their necks, or peeping into the kitchen where food was being prepared, or the plate on which it was eaten. There was no need for a cow ‘vigilante’. Yet, the animal was tended to much more than a fellow human anyway. It was about 26 years ago, after my marriage that I got to witness a rather fruitful symbiosis between an elderly lady and the cow. The lady in question was my wife’s maternal grandmother, who was nicknamed ‘white Ammachy’(Malayalam for mother) by her first great grandson, in reference to her silvery white hair. The cow was her raison d’être. The cow reciprocated by providing milk, the excess of which, after use at home used to be curdled. Milk was her favorite food along with plantains. Life of the wife of a minister in the erstwhile Achutha Menon ministry in Kerala was simple, unlike modern versions!
Her favorite animal used to be purchased from familiar neighboring families instead of from the animal market. Once the animal aged and was ready to be ‘disposed off’, it would be sold to a person or family, usually a neighboring one, known to her. Despite the age she took the animals to graze and bathe them herself, much against the family’s persistent disapproval, whose contention was that ‘she was too old to manage a cow’. This was proved right when she broke her leg bone after tripping over the rope that secured the cow to a tree to graze. The family was aghast and in utter shock at the sight of her being carried into the house on a chair by caring neighbors. Undeterred, white Ammachy continued to insist that she had the ‘moo’ emanate from the manger in the backyard, which was music to her ears, much to the objection and protests from rest of the family, especially her grandson, whose responsibility it was to do the rescue act whenever his grandmother happened to be at the receiving end of anything in life, be it even the cow. White Ammachy is no more. The house and property was sold years later as the family moved to distant Cochin due to compulsions of employment, education and other inevitable changes in lifestyle of later generations, and all that such changes demanded. The manger is gone too, as are the cows, resultantly. Gone is the ‘fruitful symbiosis’ between the animal and man, as cow has now turned the reason for bloodletting, something which definitely would have hurt White Ammachy had she been alive today. I wonder how the likes of her who represented a more peaceful society back then, in which cows were looked after well, and a mutually symbiotic relationship existed between man and the docile, yet benevolent animal would have reacted to today’s confusion over the cow. I’m sure she would have said, ‘my children, live, and let live’!