The White Revolution
Children and elders were bubbling with joy when they learnt about the calving of the cow.
There would be no need for worrying about milk. Hereafter they need not run from street to street for a mouthful of buttermilk. Was it not a scheme inaugurated by the minister himself! They gave money to the neighbour Nanamma to buy a milking cow. She rushed and got a cow that was milking.
But what was the use? The village cooperative depot refused to buy cow’s milk. It had no fat, it seemed. In that case were the townspeople crazy enough to drink cow’s milk?
Cow’s milk is good for health. Who said it is not? All the minerals that are not found in buffalo’s milk are in cow’s milk only. Who says it is not so? But will this argument hold water?
Nanamma became sad as well as angry. It did not occur to her to ask whether it was empty slogan to say, “Save the country by saving the cow”?
She simply said, “Oh, mother! What kind of play is this! How is it that these people refuse to get the milk given by Sridevi (goddess of wealth)? But this angered the president of the milk society. But could she retort?
And she had to repay the amount given by the government by selling milk.
Crying desperately she sold it for three fourths of its original price and bought a buffalo. It would take a long time for it to give birth.
And what torture this buffalo gave to Nanamma! On the first day itself it gallopped; you must have seen to believe it. It must have been tethered for a long time.
Poor Nanamma; she would be exhausted running after it… “This birth is enough, sami,” she cried.
But in this house nothing like that happened. .without tension.. four and more villages had been visited and searched for the best and got this buffalo with the skin of a bat and a garlandlike dewlap around its neck.
If it is a buffalo one must let it to graze in the village meadow as it likes…ass .. another pig. .. and if it enters water that is all…it will be watching everything that goes on the bank of the kanmai (tank), keeping its entire body in the cool water holding its head above so that only the eyes could be seen! Shitting and urinating all in the water. It will be there hours together. It will be impossible to get it up as it will be getting late for milking. So one has to throw stones from the bank. The watchman of the kondi (village cattle shed where stray animals are kept) will shout at them. “You asses, you are filling up the tank with all the stones of the village.”
One has to beg Sadayan: “you boy, get into the water and drive out the buffalo.” When Sadayan is not available one has to throw stones and the landlord will catch them. The tank is not his. However when the tank gets dry in summer he will get the sand on auction. “If it is full of stones what I going to get in the auction, sand or stones?”
On the day the buffalo was calving nobody at home slept that night. Subbiah Gowndar came in the evening itself and had declared, “All the signs are there, it will give birth to the calf before night.”
The animal was struggling, getting up, lying down. The fluid sac came out and the little sister shouted, “The calf has come out.” Elders laughed.
After some time the animal lay down and stretched all the four legs. Two hooves of pearly white and wet legs alone could be seen. But when the buffalo got up both the hooves were drawn in. the animal once again lay and down and stretched its legs and pushed hard. Then along with the two hooves could be seen the black nose of the calf. Once the buffalo got up it went back inside.
Mother brought our neighbour Ramapatti for helping in the delivery. Ramapatti was known for bringing luck in such matters. When the grandmother came all looked at her face. The grandmother without any anxiety opened her betel leaf bag, took out a piece of tobacco and put it in her mouth. She then folded her sari around and cleaned the floor with a dried branch of cotton plant used for sweeping the cowshed. She took some hay and spread it over the wet floor.
Then she looked at the buffalo and said, “Why do you do this? The calf will drink the waste material.” The buffalo once again lay down and pushed hard. The head of the calf came out and the grandmother wiped its nose and mouth off the poisonous material. Then spreading her lap she shook the calf holding the face along with its fore legs. The calf came out gliding down.
The moment the animal saw its calf, it could not hold itself. It started licking it. “Can we untie it?” father asked. “Wait for some time,” said the grandmother and placed the calf in front of the mother. It licked the layer of the liquid on the calf.
“Is it male or female?” asked father. “It is only male, no harm,” she said laughingly and winked at mother. All could guess that she was telling a lie from her winking.
Grandmother took out a knife and peeled off the false hoof and placed it on the calf. The buffalo ate it hungrily. “This is your medicine for your injury, eat,” she said.
The calf was healthy. When Ramapatti put her finger in its mouth it started sucking it. “Are you getting milk?” she asked and laughed.
The calf started standing up. Grandmother took hold of the teats of the cow and squeezed. After something like a thin twig used to be kept in the hole in the ear to prevent it from closing came from it, the first milk touched the earth like yellow thread. “Earth goddess, drink it first,” she said. Till the afterbirth decidua came out, all were vigilant without sleeping. It came out only at daybreak. Grandmother put it in a box made of palm leaf used for packing jaggery and handed it over to Tharmar. She asked him to tie it up in the milk tree.
She bathed the mother in warm water and with white lime put circle marks on both sides of the face and said, “I am going home. After the calf feeds, squeeze the first milk, boil it, add sugar and give it to children. Poor things, they will love it.”
Young Tharmar took the pack of deciduas (Mucous membrane lining the uterus of the cow) to the bank of the tank and tied it at the top of the banyan tree.
All three days children got the ‘beestings’. That is all. On the fourth day the vendor from the diary farm had come. On seeing him Tharmar imitated him keeping his mouth like the vendor’s. The vendor Paul Pillai had protruding teeth; he could not close his mouth.
The moment it struck twelve Paul Pillai would go in the street like the messenger of death ringing the bell. They had got him a bell like that of the mendicants.
One day Paul Pillai was going along the street ringing the bell. Tharmar folding his dhoti went after him shaking his bottom. On seeing this, Nayakkar who had lost his teeth laughed saying, “That is it boy, that is right.” Elder sister reported this to mother and said, “Scold thambi, (younger brother), mother. Shameful.” “What does he know? Young child.. why do you exaggerate it?” mother said. “Yes… an infant…he is going to be eleven or twelve. Shameless like a fat bull.”
Two days before Tharmar did this, he and mother drove the buffalo to the farm to be milked. On returning he held on his head the pot for milking upside down. The little brother and sister asked hungrily, “Where is the milk?” “Coming behind,” he said and threw the empty pot. Mother said nothing and tethered the cow at the shed.
The next day Tharmar said strictly, “I am not going to the farm with the cow.” He argued that his duty was to graze it, put it in water and that was all. Rarely on some days would they bring the milk left over after giving to the farm. They would boil it, curdle it and make buttermilk. Children would avidly mix it with rice and eat. One day there was no buttermilk for Tharmar. Nobody could describe his anger. He simply broke the pot itself. Father thrashed him. “Just a little boy and see how angry he becomes,” he shouted and kicked him. For a whole day the boy was lying down in the village choultry. Mother had to go and beg him to bring him home.
When the buffalo was being milked father would be keeping the calf on hold. Till the milking was over the calf would be sucking the flesh of the lower jaw of the mother.
After some days the calf which had been galloping had to be carried by some one. It became so emaciated it could not even walk.
Unable to bear the sight of the calf, Tharmar one day let it loose before going to the farm. Mother who came there accidentally had to tie it up.
“What happened to you, boy? The calf which had not tasted milk at all will suck all the mill and die out of indigestion.” That day also father beat him black and blue. As the calf did not get any milk, in a short while it died. The day it died relatives and friends came to condole with them. Vendor Paul Pillai also came.
“Why is there so much hullaballoo about it? Three fourths of the buffaloes that come to the farm for milking have no calves. We can train this also. Don’t worry,” he said emphatically. Tharmar was staring at him all the time.
The village cobblers came and took away the calf. The entire family was affected. Tharmar started crying.
The buffaloes were grazing in the open field. Tharmar was sitting in the shade of a tree, thinking. There were his mates sitting around him. They had spoken about the dead calf. After some time Seeni said, “One day we must break Paul Pillai’s head with a stone.”
Suddenly Tharmar looked at Seeni with surprise. He had spoken out what he was thinking!
At that moment Vendor Paul Pillai was riding his bicycle with his milk can. He was going to Kovilpatti. The boys could see him at a distance.
“You boys, you hide yourselves somewhere. Otherwise run away.” Except Tharmar and Seeni all the other boys ran and hid themselves near the stream. Some boys did not like it and they were frightened beyond expression. They simply vanished.
These two boys took a sharp rock each and hid themselves behind the cactus bush. Vendor was struggling to pedal up the slope, keeping his mouth strangely twisted. Here he had come, had come closer. The cursed man who starved the calves and children without letting them have milk had come here.
Tharmar threw the first stone saying, “come on, have this, man.” It missed and hit the aluminum can. It opened up and the milk started spilling out. Seeni just raced away.
Shocked, the vendor keeping his balance sitting on the saddle looked around. Seeing Tharmar aiming another stone at him he turned the bicycle and pedalled towards the village fast.
Soon the guards of the village cattle shed came and caught hold of Tharmar. They took him to the village. Tharmar accepted that he did it. “Yes, I did it. I aimed at his head. But it fell on the can,” he said fiercely.
When he said this Ambalakara Naickar (local chief) could not control his laughter. As a young boy he had also done such mischievous deeds. That is why he laughed at what he said. He even started liking him.
The president of the dairy society was boiling with rage.
“We should not let off this boy. Give your judgment. He must remember the punishment life long,” he said.
Ambalakara Naickar took the boy aside and asked him gently, “why did you throw the stone like that?” Tharmar narrated the whole story.
He explained how children at home were deprived of their milk and buttermilk and how he calf was killed without letting it have its milk. When he explained this, Ambalakarar was moved and his eyes were wet with tears.
“This injustice had been seen by this young child!” he thought. However outwardly he scolded him saying, “Poor man, what can he do? Does he do this of his own?” Then he came to the people and ordered Tharmar’s father to break a coconut at Pillaiyar Koil. He shook his towel, put it over his shoulders and walked away with a bowed heard without noticing Tharmar and Paul Pillai stare at each other.
Ki. Rajanarayanan, known as Ki. Ra. by his initials, is a great short story writer and novelist in Tamil. He was born in 1922 in a village called Idaiseval near Kovilpatty in Tamil Nadu. The drought stricken land called karisal kadu around this place formed the base for his short stories. His first short story was published in 1958. He has published five novels and a number of short stories. A folklorist, Rajanarayanan has collected Tamil folktales in eleven volumes. He has also served as a professor of folktale at Pondicherry University. His novels, particularly Gaopalla Gramam and Gopallapurathu Makkal, have earned universal acclaim. Ki. Ra. has won many prestigious awards including the Sahitya Akademi award. The literature of the soil or regional literature in Tamil has come of age with Ki. Ra. We honour him on the occasion of his ninety-eighth year celebration with the English translation of one of his short stories.
Dr. S. Vincent is a retired professor of English. He has translated more than thirty books from English to Tamil. He has brought out collections of essays including Muthumai Inimai, Nadine Gordimer, Valarga Uyarga and Edgar Alan Poe in Tamil. He translates books from Tamil to English which include Contemporary Tamil poems and the short stories of Kumarananthan. With Dr. Lawrence he has translated Veeramamunivar’s Paramartha Guruvin Kathai and Mayuram Vedanayakam Pillai’s Prathaba Mudaliar Charithiram (the first novel in Tamil) into English. Other important books translated by him into Tamil are Kafka’s Metamorphosis and other Stories, Paulo Coelho’s Fifth Mountain, Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society and Dostoevsky’s The Idiot.