Friday, October 12, 2012

Crash course in animal behaviour

I always envy people who live in the village; their lives seem simple, easy and at peace with everything around them and not difficult and complex as life in the towns and the cities. In fact it was out of this love for country life that I decided as a young boy on the course of my future life and chose the profession I love so much. I opted to be a minister in a church, because it involved visiting the churches in the different villages. I enjoy the pleasant breeze in the green open fields. I also love to watch the clear pristine waters that flow from the rivulets to the roaring river down below. For me the drive down the calm and traffic-less narrow road in the countryside is a spiritual exercise in itself. It is an opportunity to enjoy nature in all its grandeur, a hassle free drive where I can park anywhere I like and be overwhelmed by the splendoor of the green environment around.
Of all my visits to many villages in these beautiful Khasi Jaintia hills of Meghalaya, this one visit was the most memorable. Ksehrynchang is another beautiful village on the important road which connects Jowai in Meghalaya with Khainduli and Hamren in the state of Assam. I used to shuttle to and from Jowai to Ksehrynchang every now and then to perform my pastoral duties. It so happened that on one particular visit to the village I had to stay overnight to complete my pastoral duty the next day. I arrived in the evening just before dark and the night was indeed a magnificent moonless and cloudless night. I spent some time out of doors in the cold dry night sitting on a bamboo stool to enjoy the darkness which was illuminated by the light from the stars in the sky. The soft light from the starry sky dimly lit the nature around me. Even though it was mid December, the needle-leaves on the pine trees still looked fresh and green, the pristine water of the Mynriang river sparkled while it flowed on its course to join the Myntang river. When I looked around the open outfields surrounded by hills they looked so beautiful, everything was black and white, and I took beautiful black and white snap shots of the wonderful night with my mind’s eye.
I thought village life is simple and that I know almost everything that I need to know about living in the countryside. I was woken up by the mooing of a mother cow calling its calf which had somehow deserted her mother during the day. It was the onset of the post harvest season in the area and by tradition, after harvest farmers are allowed to let their animals loose in a tradition called “Dat-rai” in Jaintia hills and “pynlait-lan” in the Khasi hills. During this time of the year animals are allowed to roam freely without anyone tending to them. It is the only time of the year when the cowherds and goat- herds are given a holiday. The animals (cattle and goats in particular) will be shepherded back in spring before the sowing season.
The next morning was cold and crispy. I hesitatingly unchained my sleeping bag and got out up of bed and walked out of my host’s home, raised my hands and stretched them high to greet the rising sun. While standing on the portico of the house, I looked for a place nearby with patches of wood in it. I noticed a small hill nearby with plenty of standing pine trees and walked towards the hill to answer to nature’s call. On reaching the hill I noticed a herd of cows grazing in the frosty morning. I walked on the path and a young bull threatened me, lowering his head as if to hit me down. I shouted at the bull, which from the way it was blowing air from its nose, seemed to be in rage. I shouted at it again and we somehow avoided confronting each other. I continued to walk and went to finish my chore. I walked the same path again to return to the house where I was put up for the night. Not suspecting anything from the noble herds of animals, I heard the cows mowing but it meant nothing to me. I kept walking my way through the stranded herd of cows. Then all of a sudden a young bull which had threatened me earlier attacked me from the back and hit me on my right abdomen. I fell on the ground with my head still high becoming an easy target for another attack by the raging bull.
The second attack hit me on my right face near my right eye; the attack was so powerful that with a big thud I saw darkness and lost consciousness. Even after I fell on the ground, the furious bull was not finished with me; it went on hitting me and made me conscious again. While hitting me, it also made an angry call, which was answered by the mother cow nearby. The cow too joined forces with the bull to merciless attack me and fix me on the pine tree nearby. It was only by Gods grace that Khlanhiwot and Beitlang who accompanied me on the trip were close by. They, being villagers, understood the unusual call of the cows, went to see what happened and when they saw me being hit time and again mercilessly by the two cows, Khlan tried to shoo the cow away; but the cow paid no heed. He then took a long stick and started hitting the attacking cow to save me from the animals. Finally the bull and cow finally left me alone with bruises and pain all over my body. Khlan and Beitlang helped me on my feet and walked me down to the house. They told me I was lucky that it was the young bull which attacked me, because its horns are still too small to do any serious damage. When I reached the house I told them innocently that I always assumed that the cows are harmless animals. Then I asked them why it attacked me. They said it was because I was too close to the mother cow which had a baby calf. I was advised not to walk near the mother cow anymore. Thank goodness, my ribs are intact and I only had bruises on my face, but it would have been different if it had been an adult bull with full grown horns that attacked me.
Of course I also learned another lesson, but I learned the lesson the hard way. I call the incident a crash course on cow behaviour not because it is short but because it came crashing on me all of a sudden. I also learned another lesson and that is never to assume that village life is simple. It is in fact very complex and includes among other things, to know and predict the behavior of animals and the life cycle of different plants.

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