Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, November 26, 2009

When dreams come true

By Tareq Adnan

“Wouldn't it be nice if we were older?
Then we wouldn't have to wait so long…”

(Beach Boys)

There was a time when I wished my dreams would come true. A time when dreams still came in the dead of the night when I couldn't sleep in the crush of bodies, my mother's bulk as comforting as it was claustrophobic. The goal ghar permeated with the smells of hay, clean perspiration and the chill cold air of winter seeping in through the cracks in the crudely thatched walls.

Winter was always the season I felt alive in, for one I was born in winter. A young jittery calf with a plastered coat, unsteady legs only holding on because the master held me tight while he checked I was born okay. My memories were of being tethered to a pole.

Among the cows in the goal ghar the conversation was always muted. We were all mostly interested in chewing cud. I remember asking relentless questions, mostly about why I was tethered separate from the other bovine.

The realisation came soon though; I was one of those prized bulls, picked out to be taken to the Haat. I remember being very proud of that distinction. I thought I was special.

The women were always inordinately proud of the calves picked to be taken. My mother thought herself something akin to royalty, I was her third child to be picked, more than any other in the ghar other than that ghastly roan who'd had five picked. There was a discrete competition among the females. Something I found amusing.

The Haat was in the City. None of the other cows were able to tell me much. Just that the Haat was the Place to go. None of the bulls to go there ever came back, it was that good they told me. And by association to those who were picked to go, the mothers in the ghar settled their hierarchy. Funny isn't how complex even simple things like sharing a roof can be?

As a chosen bull, I was always kept separate during day. They fed me differently, they treated me differently. The master's children were always there for a petting. Being the youngest among the bulls I was privy to a lot of advice as well.

“The Haat is about respect, and honour, only the best among us go there. That is why we are kept here, away from the rabble, lest they taint us,” This from this huge gray beast, he'd already grown his two teeth and was going to the Haat that year. I was barely six months old then. His words left a profound effect. I grew arrogant.

My mother had a slew of advice as well. So did the roan, the one with the five picked. You could almost feel the tension when they talked to me, feverish almost. The Haat was an honour and any calf to picked and then unpicked was a disgrace. It had happened, those too unruly, those that resisted being kept separate. I never figured out what happened to them.

But my mother always insisted that that would not be my fate. It would be too much of a disgrace to her, she would be brought low in the ghar, as she said it. I took her words to heart.

I grew quickly, the master was most assiduous about our well bring. He would come every morning with the hay and grain himself. His children helped him of course and every now and then one of then would slip in something truly tasty like a carrot.

One of the biggest problems growing up were the chagols. Apparently they were chosen too' to be taken to the Haat. Here we were, the young bulls, chosen, and they had chagols accompanying us as well. Growing up, that was a serious issue of contention. I didn't like the hard footed little tramps, they ate almost anything and they grew fast too. What angered me most was that while we took time to reach the level of sophistication to be finally taken to the city and the Haat, the chagols always made it before us.

I was jealous. At least the chickens didn't have that privilege, not to say they didn't anger me as well. The master paid almost as much attention to chickens as he did us, and he had quite a few chickens. Apparently it was something to do with poultry farming which I didn't understand. I liked being special, I liked the attention, craved it, and I was jealous of anyone who had the same. In my eyes, only cows were worthy. I was young, I was a fool.

I remember the day when the master finally came for me, it had been a while since I'd grown the require teeth and I was growing worried that they might not take me after all.

It was winter, winter that had seemed to settle in the space of a night. Five others were chosen. My mother was exceptionally happy that day, and some emotion. I was leaving after all. I was her fourth child to be taken, you could see her calculating her position in the ghar, in comparison to the roan. I felt good that I'd helped my mother out in finding her place. My arrogance knew no bounds.

They walked me for miles that day. I had never had much exercise, but it felt good, the excitement growing in me. The Haat, I was finally going.

We got to The Road, hard black ground that was… different. There they stuffed me into a truck. A human contraption that belched smoke. Stuffed me into the back with so many others just like me. And I was finally taken to the Haat.

I'd always thought the Haat would be a place akin to utopia. Hearing the other cows talk about it, about how no one who went there ever came back, I suffered disillusioned dreams of grandeur.

Those dreams kept me sane and from rolling my eyes in the Truck.
Then I found out what the Haat was.

A meat market... we were bought and sold like so much cabbage. A listless black tethered beside told me that when we were taken away from here by the new masters who bought us, we went to a beautiful.

I had already lost hope by then. I've been bought already. They've dressed me up in baubles and shiny paper. Painted my horns. That brought back a little hope. Maybe it would turn out all right. No one ever did come back, it had to be that good.

“Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray it might come true...”
(Beach Boys)



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