Of sacred and sundry bovines!


Friendly Fire

Khalid Saleem

MUCH like our neighbour to the East, this blessed land too appears to have been taken over by sacred cows. The species may be different but then sacred cows are sacred cows! The thing about sacred cows is that they are untouchable, so to speak. Whatever they do, whoever they hurt, they are above censure. This blessed land has been overrun by a surfeit of sacred cows. For the moment, though, let us talk about the bovine species. The other ‘sacred cows’ we leave for sometime later. The bovine species, somehow, keep on thrusting themselves back into the news. This is a trifle surprising since references to cows – sacred or otherwise – have generally a short shelf life. Or so one has been led to believe!
Apparently, this is not so. The international press, one finds, has been inclined towards the bovine species, in particular their peculiar habits. Let us take, for instance, the somewhat bizarre claim that cows have what has been graphically described as ‘regional accents’. News emanating from London a good while back had it that cows ‘appear to moo in regional accents despite their limited conversational skills’. According to a news report several summers ago in the Daily Mail, herds in the ‘West Country’ had been heard mooing with a ‘distinctive Somerset twang’. No less an authority than Mr. John Wells, professor of phonetics at the University College, London, was quoted as averring, “This phenomenon is well attested in birds. You find distinct chirping accents in the same species around the country. This could also be true of cows. In small populations such as herds you would encounter dialectical variations which are most affected by the immediate peer group”.
Going back a wee bit in recent history, one recalls that mad bovines had once made quite a foray into the international news headlines. The mad cow disease that reared its ugly head in the most unlikely places, though, is a subject one would rather not dwell on since the scare it created was hardly something to write home about. The tidings rather worth dwelling on happen to be about the ‘mad cow’ thing that emanated, a few years back, from Switzerland of all places. Perhaps a word of explanation here would be in order. Switzerland is a place which one has been brought up to equate with idyllic splendor – a place where people go to lap up all that is good and delectable in nature.
Mention, therefore, of such a thing as ‘mad cow symptoms’ in the same breath as Swiss chocolate and/or cheese cannot but rankle a wee bit. Be that as it may, nature has an uncanny habit of playing the dirtiest of tricks. It appears that things came to such a sorry pass that even Swiss cows failed to pass muster, so to speak. Not too long ago, Agence France Presse, datelined Geneva, had reported authoritatively that Swiss cows – horror of horrors – had “developed a mean streak since being left alone in the wild under a new rearing technique, thus raising the risk of attack for the unsuspecting rambler”.
To delve a bit deeper into this rather bizarre affair, it would appear that having been bitten by the bug of ‘environment friendliness’, the Swiss farmers had decided to “let their cows roam freely around the countryside with their calves and a lone bull (sic)”. Now, this is where, according to AFP, the nub of the story comes in. A Mr. Philippe Cossy, belonging to the somewhat murky organization named Service for the Prevention of Farm Accidents, had the following to say: “Inevitably the cow rediscovers her basic instincts, which are much akin to wild animals. She rebuilds self-defence mechanisms and becomes more distrustful and aggressive towards others, be they humans or animals”. There you have it in a nutshell, as the cliché goes.
By now the reader would, hopefully, be in no doubt about the interest that Mr. Cossy’s organization had in this whole murky affair. After all, how can you permit cows – even Swiss cows – to chivvy dreamy-eyed tourists all over the idyllic Swiss countryside? In the year 2001 (the news item had revealed), 501 Swiss farm workers had been actually attacked and injured by animals – including cows. Also at risk would be the “million or so ramblers” who, one was informed, flocked to the Swiss countryside every year.
If anything, what can be gleaned out of the aforementioned news item is the fact that the Swiss temperament is not to be taken lightly. In addition to being rather handy with money matters, the Swiss, it would seem, also take their cows very seriously indeed. In any other country, people would have taken such so-called farm accidents in their stride. Not so the meticulous Swiss! Not only did they take notice of the antics of their ‘slightly mad cows’, but actually also went so far as to set up a ‘Service for the Prevention of Farm Accidents’. This must certainly have added to the confidence of all those individuals who planned to be among the million or so ramblers in the Swiss countryside in the following years.
While on the subject of cows, one is loath to end this piece without mention of “sacred cows”. One refers, of course, to the genuine variety that freely roam around the thoroughfares of Indian cities, without let or hindrance – not to be confused with the genre that one finds oozing out of the woodwork in the Land of the Pure. Whoever has had occasion to visit India, must invariably have found the (sacred) cows peaceful, far from intimidating and, above all, minding their own business. One is left to wonder why? After all, a cow is a cow is a cow! One supposes the contrast may well be due to the marked difference between the Western and Eastern ethos. Does make one wish the human beings would take a leaf out of the way of life of the bovines. There must be a moral in this somewhere, though one is at a loss to pinpoint it.
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.