Ode to Bovines, Donkeys, Egyptian Donkey Trainers & Corona Virus


images-3For a long time, Preeti had not written on cows — not that it was her favourite animal — but definitely it demanded attention. Then she saw this picture on Facebook of an Indian bovine looking introspectively into an empty bus and putting a foot forward as if to amble into the vehicle for a ride. Then she saw another picture of a cow gazing into a car –maybe to ask for a ride too? She knew now the time had come for her to pick up her pen and write. Both were brown female cows because they lacked humps. She recalled the book she read to her son in kindergarten — about a camel called Alice having five humps. Female camels could have humps but not cows. Only bulls had humps.

This time she found fodder not on bovines, as they had become a source of controversies, but on donkeys. Remember, from Preeti’s earlier story — she lived in countries that were not cow friendly in their outlook but served veal for dinner.

A friend of hers had invited her home and cooked a scrumptious dinner. She was regaled with the story of a donkey ride in Egypt during the meal. These friends of hers did not eat veal, mind you, they were friends from her own country.

Then another friend of a friend who was a ‘pure’ vegetarian and ate rasam to battle corona virus, repeated the same story — a trip across the desert to a temple on donkey back… and unaccompanied. So, it seems this is what happened — to both the friends. (Preeti has decided not to disclose the name of the temple as it could deter donkey owners’ businesses in Egypt — and Preeti was a kind soul.)

It was truly necessary she wrote about it before it became a populist trend like denigrating a country for starting an epidemic.

images-8Friends, non – veg and ‘pure’ veg, went with separate groups at different points of time to check out temples in Egypt! They met some enterprising guides who offered them the choice of donkeys or jeeps to ride to the temples. Preeti could not figure out if it were the same guides. Both the parties opted for donkeys instead of jeeps — the reasons could be various, saving petrol, keeping the environment clean or maybe just pure fun and adventure — the reasons were not disclosed by both friends to Preeti.

They went to the donkeys. The donkeys did not have a proper saddle, but quilted cloth folded and placed on their backs. The tourists had already paid — so there was no backing off.

They had to climb the donkeys on their own. Only a four-year-old child was helped by the parent. The donkey trainers trained the tourists to turn the donkeys left and right by tweaking their ears (or was it their mane?) — Preeti had forgotten. And then the trainers gave a sharp whack to the donkeys back and the four-legged wronged animal started off at a trot — slipping on the desert sand occasionally. The only person having fun was the four-year-old — the adults were all in a state of panic because the trainers stood behind and watched the fun as they explained the donkeys knew the way.

The donkeys even took them across a highway with speeding cars and trucks and buses and more… without trainers…

Preeti did not satisfy my curiosity completely because she did not tell me about the donkey ride back from the temple — she forgot or was too polite to enquire! Or, had she been laughing too much?

Culturally, donkeys had been a part of the Egyptian civilisation from the Maadi period, 3500 BCE. They were tamed and used as beasts of burden and for rides. Despite that, they were not depicted much in Egyptian paintings of yore because they were said to be lacking in class and wealth — though they helped generate wealth! That was a time, long before man and animals encroached into each other’s territory, long before SARS or Corona Virus skipped over to human territory

In those days, the donkey or the Equius Asinus was a load carrier, plougher — much like bullocks in India— and transported people in Ancient Egypt. An Old Kingdom tomb-chapel relief depicts an official sitting on a wooden box hung between two donkeys — sounds almost like a bullock cart, except, the bullocks pull the carts that even now every now and then dot the highways of India.

A biography of the Sixth Dynasty reports that 300 donkeys were used as carriers across the desert…. Preeti always thought it was camels, but her research zoned in to the fact that Egyptians could not have done without donkeys as current day Indians without bovines. Further readings in Brittanica said that donkeys were first tamed in this region

 “The donkey, which was the principal transport animal (the camel did not become common until Roman times), was probably domesticated in the region.”

And yet, the unsympathetic ‘pure’ vegetarian and non- vegetarian friends of Preeti laughed and slighted the donkey and the donkey trainers— though when they were on the animal backs, they confessed they were praying for their lives. The donkeys were after all not cows from India, who needed to be venerated.

The importance of the donkey can well be understood in Egyptian cultures because when they don’t have zebras in zoos, they paint donkeys to look like zebras. A BBC report said so in 2018.

Preeti says they probably got caught because her research showed that the Zebra always has a black snout and parallel stripes whereas a donkey has a nose in keeping with the colour of his fur — so it could be brown, white or black or whatever. If I had to paint a zebra of a donkey, I would have chosen a black one or at least one with a black snout and then done the stripes. The other thing is donkeys have larger and more pointed ears. I do not know how one can solve that issue! But then, would one have a Zebra’s ear- dimensions near at hand to make a comparison? I would not know. Neither did Preeti — maybe, the Egyptian zoo owner did! I cannot think like an Egyptian zoo owner because I do not own a zoo in Egypt.

The other thing is donkeys can be found everywhere. Preeti had a friend in Italy who worked in a donkey farm and often posted pictures of donkeys on Facebook. Once, I even saw a donkey grazing under the Great Wall in China. He focused on the green grass, oblivious to the excitement he was stirring in my children’s heart so much so that my then four-year-old wanted to pull his tail. They had always lived in big cities where donkeys were uncommon, unlike cows in Delhi or Mumbai which can block traffic for miles on end if they decide to park themselves in the middle of a road, which they do occasionally. Donkeys on the other hand are not that common a site in Delhi or Mumbai. But one has to admit that donkeys are truly cosmopolitan— they have found a home in probably majority of the countries, eventhough they cannot easily be spotted in big cities.

What of cows and bullocks and camels?

Talking of camels, their South American cousins, llamas, have no humps and, according to Tin Tin comics, can spit if you tickle them under the chin and say kili-kili-kili (like Captain Haddock). I had seen llamas in California — they almost looked meditative like the Tibetan lamas as they gazed at a distance. They did not spit at us because, I guess, we never intruded on them and watched them from a distance, which brings me to a strange desire of Preeti’s — she wants to explore Egypt on camel back even though they came in as human helpers only in times of Romans, around 30 BCE. She does not know what it feels like to be on camel back — I did have a ride with my then four or five-year-old in Rajasthan. While my son was delighted, I felt my innards ride up to my neck and we swayed like a swing. I was wishing myself off it as soon as I sat on it. I told Preeti.

But Preeti is adamant and she won’t listen to me. She has now decided to postpone her Egyptian trip till the donkey trainers find camels to ferry visitors — though if they think of leaving the visitors alone for a tête-à-tête with the taller ship of the desert, I wonder what would happen!




Happy New Year



As I waited for the muse to smite me, I wondered what persona to take on while writing my first blog for 2019… Should I be a mother and shout out my kids achievements, or a poet and sing a paean to the beauty of the first dawn in the New Year, or a writer and do a story around the season, maybe something like Gift of the Magi, or should I just write what flows through my veins?

Two thousand and eighteen has been a year of learning for me.

I learnt to let my sons have more freedom to move around. I stopped trying to drop and pick up my teenager from all places. And believe me, to give children that independence; it takes effort, patience and trust on part of the parent, a tough thing for me to let go emotionally too. I let go my elder son much earlier because I had my baby to take care of. Now, my elder son is a confident young man who can sally forth anywhere in the world. It was more difficult letting go of my baby boy who now hates to be reminded he had a childhood. He is now a travelling teen who explores the world on his own terms, a difficult thing for an over-protective mother to accept.

To palliate my sense of anxiety, I have thrown myself more into writing. The resultant effect is this year six of my  pieces were fortunate to be among the top picks of a website I write for (https://kitaab.org/2018/12/30/blog-the-best-of-kitaab-2018/). It was a lovely surprise!

Other than that my first translation to English from Bengali of well-known Bollywood scriptwriter and writer, Nabendu Ghosh, was published as part of a collection of short stories in May this year (That Bird Called Happiness, https://www.amazon.com/That-Bird-Called-Happiness-Stories/dp/9387693619). I translated the story, Full Circle. Now I am translating a novella about thugees, by the same author. It is a unique experience as one discovers what poverty can do to people, how cults can create a culture that can annihilate morals and alter humanitarian values, how religion can be misinterpreted to justify violence and murder. To me, it is sometimes a microcosmic depiction of the world exposed by the media, especially in India. I did enjoy doing a spoof on issues highlighted by the media in my blog (https://432m.wordpress.com/2018/02/15/and-the-cow-jumped-over-the-moon/). I can never get enough done on cows, which despite being prominent in the Indian political scenario, never cease to terrify me! If you have not yet been chased by a cow munching meditatively at a garbage dump in Delhi or ambling through the streets, you will merely laugh and mock at me! Perhaps, I should put a halt on the cow front and steer to more serious subjects.

I learnt to try to steer clear of controversies. While some friends supported the Me Too movement, others threw brickbats at it! A mentor suggested I do a spoof on Me Too. Terrified that I would be ostracised by the Me Too fans, I squirmed my way out of it. A friend, threatened by ostracism, was forced to put a post in support in the Face Book. Though I must say, that the women who spoke against the movement had a point too. Why were all the takers for the movement well-known, rich and educated? I saw a post where a Devdasi (young women who serve in temples, officially married to Gods and commanded by the almighty to service his male devotees) wanted to be a part of the movement too. I wonder if she made it… A friend asked me how much did the movement do to address the menace of street side Romeos who make a practice of toying with the honor of women in the open streets of India? Did it shake up their moms who brought them up to insult women and womanhood? Oops, what a faux pas in our thought process, moms are women and, therefore, not to be held responsible for their macho sons actions.

Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind (2014), shook me out of my microcosmic confusion, complacency and candor, to a larger world inhabited by the race of mankind. A book that is written to have people think of the future of the race of mankind at a macro-cosmic level is indeed unusual and unique. It has raised controversies which could give a run for their money to dystopian writers and Hollywood/ Bollywood junta, including his observations on the breakdown of families, religion and tribal behavior of Madonna fans, Vegans and Carnivores. There is much to be learnt from a book that asks you to redefine your perspectives for a future of your choosing.

As for earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunami, refugees, Rohingyas, Trump, Brexit May, minority groups and cows, they continue to be erratic factors in our day-to-day existence. They give a microscopic view of our future that contrasts with the macroscopic view mooted by Harari. I wonder if anyone could compare refugees to the nomadic herders of yore. They moved in quest of a home as do refugees, except during early migration of man, the countries had no borders as they do now and no angry citizens built walls to keep them out…

With its magic sprinkle, I hope the New Year will heal all breaches, bring us all brilliant luck and happiness and may we all soar into brilliant blue skies.





And the cow jumped over the moon…



One of the things Preeti discovered early in her childhood is that cows that wear bells were rarer on streets as they belonged to someone. It was always the cows without bells that were an issue. They were the ones who stood munching on the open rubbish heaps and gazed menacingly at her when she walked past. One day as she gingerly skirted behind their flanks, one of them turned around and chased her! She ran screaming, “ bachao, bachao(save me, save me)… guy(cow in Hindi) guy…” but there was no one on the vacant street. A cyclist zoomed past looking amused and the cow, realizing probably that Preeti was not a competitor for the trash heap, went back to munching stale banana skins and vegetable trash… maybe paper, cloth and what not…

Unfortunately, when Preeti recounted the story to her family and friends they could not stop laughing. She added, the white cow had a hump and horns. By googling one can see such a species of cow exists… perhaps the Brahman cow. But her descriptions held everyone in throes of humor. A friend even punned on the word ‘guy’, saying no doubt the ‘guy’ found her very attractive and therefore chased her!

Preeti even googled the cow to prove to her friend that a cow could have humps and horns. She found the Brahman cow was exported from India to USA and mated with various species and is noted for it’s presence on dinner tables as a premier steak! Could it be that they found their way back to India… or was it an unlisted species? Preeti could not fathom. Cows were mysterious for her. Ironically, the Brahman cow, she found was named after the Hindu Brahmins. Perhaps, not unjustifiably as in the fourteenth century Marco Polo noted that in the kingdom of Bengal, people drank milk and ate flesh and rice and had bulls the size of elephants. Vedic lore also gives out…


“Fifteen in number, then, for me a score of bullocks they prepare,

And I devour the fat thereof: they fill my belly full with food. Supreme is Indra over all.”

— Rig Veda X. 86.14.


And there are many more hymns that talk of Hindus of all creeds and castes devouring meat and beef. Her friend, a ‘pure’ vegetarian, still persisted in humoring Preeti. Preeti often indulged in silent cogitations on bovine creatures for her abject fear of them and of being seen as a disbeliever in their divinity that put them beyond the reach of the dinner table. She often wondered and researched on these matters as she lived in an area where the fight for bovine rights consumes not only pages of print but also occasionally, human lives. By and large, she tried to give all bovine issues a wide berth, including the creatures themselves.

Her next encounter with a cow drove it literally to the doorstep of her grandparents’ home. She was visiting and volunteered to open the gate for her grandfather who had driven her in his car to buy some groceries. What she did not notice in her hurry to get to the gate was that there was another cow ruminating near the entrance to the garden. The minute the gate was open, the cow rushed in and Preeti rushed out screaming,” Bachao, bachao..guy guy…” .

This time her grandmother and the housekeeper chased the cow… but not before the divine bovine had managed to snack on a rare flower that bloomed once every three years to indulge it’s taste for gourmet fare!

Cows manifest themselves all over India, on roads, in homes, between traffic, near rubbish heaps, off dinner plates and on the plates as steak or the Keralite delicious spicy beef ularthiyathu or beef vindaloo. People worship them, people chase them out of their gardens, get chased by them as did Preeti. They occasionally block traffic by planting themselves in the middle of a congested or uncongested roads as do elephants and their calves in Kruger Park (South Africa) but the elephant is protected from the culinary designs of mankind by laws and the cow is not!

Oops! In India it is… by howling hordes… when they feel it infringes on their religious sentiments. They have such a penchant for saving the divine bovine that they can easily kill a boy or a girl or a child for it. After all they are not cannibals but merely passionate protesters who go scot-free by being a part of a maniacal mob.

Perhaps, cow protection by law will soon come into effect in India.

Preeti eventually moved out of India and lived in various lands where cows are only seen as part of dairy or edible products on supermarket shelves or in farms. They do not really roam streets or temple grounds anywhere else. She did once see tigers roaming temple grounds in Thailand but never cows. Their freedom is much curbed.

However, whenever Preeti visits India, she has a special encounter with them. The last she saw of them was in Lucknow, not just amidst crowds and cars but also from her five star hotel room. They seemed to drift out of a fog on the grounds of a temple near the hotel. Were they real…she wondered initially. But then, what she witnessed convinced her that they were not a figment of her imagination. She saw a cow chase from her room. Only this time she enjoyed it, as she was not the butt of the joke…

As the cows ambled on the temple grounds, one of them strayed near the gate and looked philosophically out. The person who could be dubbed the cow caretaker decided to enter the premises at this precise juncture. The bovine mind decided to make a bid for freedom and took the opportunity to run out of the gate. The caretaker started to wave and shut the gate and chased his errant charge into the receding mists of Oudh…

It was like an episode from a silent film, as she could not hear either the caretaker or the cows’ voices. She did not know if the ambling bovines were trying to call out to their galloping friend in different harmonies of cow song… But, this time, she enjoyed and laughed out loud at the cow chase.

Despite the smile that was brought to Preeti’s lips by the frolicsome cow, she has not been drawn back to her homeland but continues to roam the world where bovines are not worshipped and treated as divines but rather as veal cutlets and beef. She has friends from all over the world who indulge their palate with meats of the divine. Despite the sacrilege, she tolerates them, like the government of India, which is the largest exporter of beef (even if they are said to be mainly water buffaloes) and unlike the maniacal mobs who are intolerant of atrocities on cows but not on buffaloes, women, children and men. They can kill their own kind for desecrating cows! But do cows cry for the loss of their male counterparts? A difficult question to answer, I guess, seeing how their devotees adore and adorn them…

Meanwhile, while Nostradamus projected the future of all races, he left one page unturned, untouched… the development of bovine intelligence. The Greatest of Holies, Holycowbaba, has predicted that as the years move towards the annihilation of the universe, in the land of cow worshippers, the devout will have taken to defending the divine bovine with their lives and laws and the cows will dwell in peace and prosperity with their followers. Then, the prediction continues, the bovines will be so well looked after and protected that they will decide to repay man by taking take a leap of faith and trying to make true the projections in Mother Goose’s poem, Hey diddle, diddle. They will compete to create a world record and be the first cows to jump over the moon!

And when that happens, cows can be ridden to the moon. The race of cow worshippers will be the first settlers on moon.