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Amitava Chakrabarty

It was on a cool January afternoon in the mid seventies at the heart of Calcutta that I ran
the sprint of my life. I was only six then.
Came Xmas and our tender hearts would flutter in joy as we were let loose from the yoke
of our studies prior to the beginning of a new session. Annual examinations being over,
our poor mothers could savour their well-earned recess from their daily dose of coaxing
and cajoling our restive minds into books. Winter vacation to us was pure fun.
In those days Calcutta was less chaotic, resided by lesser number of people. In winter one
could enjoy an afternoon stroll on the pavements without being elbowed by co-
commuters busy on their cell phones. Or he could just board a stream and more around
the city without being flashed by vehicular emissions from the stagnant traffic. You
didn’t have to jostle against an unyielding crowd to get into a bus or to get a glimpse of
your favorite animal in the zoo on holidays.

So our parents made it a point to spend the weekends of winter with us visiting the
Victoria, the planetarium, the museums, the zoo, etc, while often our mothers took us to
the Maidan on the weekdays to play in the afternoon. This arrangement of visiting the
Maidan had twin benefits. While we could have our field day on the lush green expanse
with our games, our mothers could bask in the soothing afternoon sun and gossip over
oranges or groundnuts. We were not allowed to even come close to that congregation
where home truths were brought out with impurity. Those were hush-hush meetings
dotted by intermittent laughter. We could see our mothers and only hear their laughs from
a distance. Only when we were thirsty we were allowed to run into that forum, pick up
our bottles to gulp some water before rushing back to rejoin our team.

On the D- day, escorted by our mother we were unleashed into the lush green expanse of
the Maidan from the Fort William side. Out came rackets and bats, wickets and balls as
half a dozen of us ran to conquer the Brigade. Our mothers started unfolding old
newspapers upon the grass as make- shift sitting arrangements. Soon they settled with
their back to the sun. They hailed for the badamwalla, to initiate their adda.

Gossip and groundnuts are probably made for each other.

We started with badminton. My opponent, a cousin of almost my age, wore a black

jacket. I was dressed in a red pullover.

The game had barely started when all on a sudden I saw my cousin’s eye gaping in fear.
For a moment he stood still with protruding eyes looking onto something at my back. The
racket slipped from his hand. Within a second he regained his consciousness and scram
pled towards our mothers.
“Palao! Palao “ he yelled at me
Bewildered by his knee jerk reaction, I reflexively turned back. I saw with horror that an
infuriated cow was running towards me. My cousin has shown a clean pair of heels while
I was left stranded to face that monster alone. She was enraged and probably was out of
her mind. At least so was the disposition on her face. She rocked his head from side to
side, brandishing her two solid horns in air. Instinctively, my feet flung into action and I
was running the race of my life.

My cousin was lucky. He saw the cow early. Within moments he reached to the safety of
his mother’s lap while my mother screamed seeing his son in this unequal race. The
monster was gaining ground fast. My calf muscle strained and my body was running out
of my energy before I yielded to those solid horns.

I started to dodge once to the left and then to the right so that the beast could get diverted
but it was of no avail. She chased me with amazing obstinacy. I knew within seconds, I
would be tossed up and would probably die as a consequence. People around started
screaming in anticipation. My mother was so far off that his shawl was just a small speck
to me. Soon everything became hazy. I felt my heart would burst out.
“Bachao ! Bachao! oh Maa”, I yelled.

I knew she wouldn’t hear; too far she was from me. But nevertheless, kids call their
mother by instinct when they are in distress.

A coolie was enjoying his afternoon siesta on the soft green carpet with his gamcha ( a
long cloth napkin) bundled into a makeshift pillow under his head. Luckily, the clamour
and chaos made him to get up. Or probably, he heard my distress call in his sleep.
“Save me! Save me!” I cried.

He took me on his lap as I flung my arms around his neck with all my strength. Suddenly,
the man took the napkin in his hand and brandishing it charged towards the animal. The
cow thudded to a halt, bewildered by the counter attack, and after judging the veracity of
intent in my savior’s eyes, her madness weaned away. Turning around, as if she suddenly
realized that chasing a kid was below her dignity, she started to stroll away.

I sobbed uncontrollably in his arms.

“ Koi Baat vehin, beta, kiske saath aye ho ?” , he asked. By then my mother reached the
spot. Putting me back on the ground the coolie guided me to my mother.

Thus ended my tryst with a cow, the holy cow, the religious cow, the symbol of peace
and tranquility but the most controversial of all domestic animals in India.

Still today I ponder what made her to go berserk. Was it the colour of my sweater or was
it the act of some spoiled brat that might have picked its sensitive zones. Or was it furious
seeing too much of herself with her calf on the walls, lampposts and tree trunks being a
political symbol then. I don’t know even today.

All I remember was that on the next Monday, my mother offered lord Shiva a generous
helping for saving her kid.
(The author is a marine officer of Kolkata Port Trust and a freelance writer. He has
penned an anthology of poems entitled SOLITUDE)