Bheem and Balaram March 24 2013

When we moved to our farm at Chitrapur, our extended family of 2 dogs and a cat got further extended by yet another dog and a whole lot of bovine members. Strangely the previous owner never felt the need to name his bovine clan. There were 4 cows, 1 yearling bull calf and a really feisty buffalo. One of the cows calved shortly after we came to live here. So naming them was a must – I couldn’t possibly keep referring to them as “Mother of the bull calf” and “Mother of the new calf” for long. So the new calf was “Gomati”, her mother “Godavari”. The beautiful black cow with a white star on her forehead was “Shabari”, her son “Bheem”. “Kaveri” the cow who had apparently had some health issues after her previous delivery 3 years back and hadn’t conceived, and “Nandini” the old matriarch of the clan. All this took a lot of brain-wracking, some names sounded nice but I invariably knew close friends/relatives with the same name and I wasn’t too sure if people would take it as a compliment to find a large doe eyed gentle beast sharing the same name. I barely finished naming them when Shabari delivered a female calf – surprise as none knew that she was pregnant. So “Shravani” it was. And I had not yet thought of a name for the beautiful buffalo. So when the kids were on a visit to the farm, I posed the question to them. Their answer was spontaneous and unanimous “Madhubala” they said. And yes it did suit her and always drew laughter whenever she was introduced to all our visitors.

Never having really looked after dairy animals, it took us some time to learn, adapt and also change some things that we felt needed changing. For instance, the age-old practice of layering the floor of the cowshed each day with heaps of green leaves so that it is crushed underfoot and mixed with all the dung and urine, until at the end of the week the massive pile of rotting leaves mixed with the dung would then be cleaned out and piled into the compost pit. It was the time –tested method of getting good quality farm-yard manure for the plantation. But it was far from hygienic and attracted armies of flies which also found their way into our kitchen. So this had to be changed. And we started washing the cow shed daily. The animals looked cleaner and the fly menace reduced. As we familiarised ourselves with the different varieties of cattle-feed and the benefits of each, I realised that commercial feed had its share of chemical supplements added to it. So started the quest for some home-made feed recipe. Cooking huge quantities of rice gruel was cumbersome and I was just about to going back to readymade feed when our local vet came to our rescue. A mix of wheat bran, maize powder, gram-husks and oil-cakes was recommended and so began our sojourns to the huge rice-mill where sacks of these could be procured. The attendant at the mill looked askance as I read out the strange sounding names ‘Godi Bhoosa, Kadle sippe...”, I guess he expected this city-dweller to pick up some dainty packets of Basmati rice. After a long pause he said “These are available only in sacks of 50kgs”. When I replied that I wanted one sack of each he asked “Where are you from” followed by a barrage of the usual questions.....”Farm? .. from the city?.... Cows?.... Actually living here?.......

Well back to our bovine family – they loved the new feed slurped from their buckets with delight.

The other routine was letting the cows out in the mornings. They would be let out through a narrow gate leading directly from the shed, free to roam around in the grassy hillside adjoining our farm and they would all return late in the afternoon and wait patiently for the gate to be opened. One day Kaveri and Madhubala did not return at the normal time. We waited till late but there was no sign of them. Hoping they would return the next day, we waited, but several days passed. Our farm-hand Manjunath was quite sure that Madhubala would be soaking herself in one of the numerous ponds atop the hill and Kaveri too would be roaming around. Sure enough Manjunath’s wife spotted Kaveri close to the quaint Chitrapur railway station. Not sure whether she had any intentions of travelling really far from home, but we did not take any chances and she was brought back home. We stopped letting her free from then on as she was due to calve within a couple of months. So after the birth of Kalindi, Kaveri got her freedom again and would return home promptly to be with her little calf.

Kaveri and her newborn calf Kalindi

Madhubala was still enjoying her romp on the hillside when we decided to go in search of her. Manjunath led the way like a mountain goat – sure-footed and light of step, while we had to make quite an effort to keep up. Pond after pond we scanned, each one with its own group of buffaloes wallowing with blissful expressions on their faces. Finally we came to the road that leads from Chitrapur past Kembre farm having covered almost 4 kms. As we walked back along the road, we spotted yet another pond teeming with buffaloes on the other side of the road. We went near and stood trying to spot her amongst the numerous nostrils and eyes that were the only visible things above the surface of the water. Every now and then one of them would raise their head above water and soon enough we spotted her. She glared at us balefully. Manjunath waded into the water and shepherded her out. She walked morosely down the road while we were lagging behind calling out to the dogs when she suddenly took off in a gallop in the opposite direction. Thundering hooves and grunts – it took a lot of courage to stand with outstretched arms in her path flailing my dupatta. But she did slow down when she neared and Manjunath could catch up with her and together 5 of us including Misty and Phoenix forming a semi-circle behind her, managed to get her back onto the farm.     

After this episode we did not leave her free for several weeks, but she looked so forlorn when the others left each morning that we decided to let her out too. For the first few days she would return promptly and then the temptation would be too strong and she would wander off again to be brought back after a few days of freedom.

Now as I write this, Madhubala is still on the mountain, this time she is in a pond which has a superstitious legend to it – no man who enters it has ever survived – even if he is a good swimmer. So Manjunath will not wade into it to get her and Madhubala – the minute she sees us approaching, runs into the water. We are now planning to go there late evening after sunset as the buffaloes normally come out after the heat of the sun reduces.

The other cows are content to return home at sundown. Shabari has had yet another calf – the first male calf after we came here – he is Balaram – rich brown coat with a white head and perfectly placed brown spots over both eyes like a pair of sunglasses. He is the cutest. The cows all recognise us now and allow us to milk them too.

As for Madhubala, she is still enjoying the sunshine on her back and the cool water rippling around her.