Short Story: A CO(W)UNTRY ISSUE By V.N.Giritharan

Canadian Tamil Literature
English Translation From Tamil By Latha Ramakrishnan
Edited by Betsy Harrell (USA)

As it was Sunday the road looked less crowded than usual. No traffic jam, either. Ponnaiya’s Honda Accord was creeping smoothly along St.Clair West. Driving a car during Sundays or holidays was Ponnaiya’s passion, so to speak. With no tension and no worry about some one honking the horn behind, he could drive leisurely, indulging in sight-seeing and so enjoying the city. A pleasure, indeed. Alas, the point arrived where Sundays were no longer a day without the honking horns. The city was growing day by day. As it swelled, the people, too, were starting to lose their patience, so at times like this Ponnaiya would tell himself , “As fast as the growth of the city, people’s standard of living should also grow. Otherwise, problems are bound to multiply”.

Going past Old Weston road and also Keele’s intersection, the car meandered along. On the left side, the Beef Packers slaughterhouse has spread, occupying a vast space. A great, grand butcher house stood there where hundreds of cows were put to death and cut to pieces every day. By nature, Ponnaiya was kind -hearted. He would prefer to love one and all living beings. As long as he was in his native place he had remained a strict Vegetarian. But after coming here, he gradually changed. Yet for the kind of climate prevailing here, if man is not to eat meat he would be gone in no time!

Suddenly, the creeping traffic was disrupted. Ponnaiya looked at his watch. It was well past eleven o’clock. The Punjabiwallah had asked him to come by ten. The one garage that Ponnaiya knew to be fair was the Punjabiwala’s. There was a slight jerk in the steering of the car and ever since yesterday Ponnaiya had been anxious to take it in. But What is this untimely traffic jam? Wondering, he looked in front to find out what was the matter.

A crowd had gathered as if for a carnival. Ponnaiya reflected how in their bent for curiosity all men are one and the same. As there stood a huge Beef Packers’ truck blocking his view, he couldn’t see clearly. Looking at a chinese man who was standing at the road side watching what was happening, Ponnaiya called out. “Hi man, what is the matter? What’s going on?”

The Chinese with the help of the little English that he knew , said, “Beef..escape…slaughter.” A White man who was standing next to him laughed at his broken English. Ponnaiya also felt like laughing. Both had understood though. A cow had escaped from the slaughterhouse.

There arose in Ponnaiya some sympathy for the poor unknown cow that had a narrow escape from the jaws of death. Turning the car off the road and parking it in a corner, Ponnaiya got out to mingle among the crowd, which was watching the proceedings.

The cow stood on the street car rails, glaring at those who were standing around and happily watching it. Ponnaiya could feel the fear of death lurking in its eyes. Its pathetic sight touched his inner chord of human kindness and saddened him. Ponnaiya started worrying. “How long can you poor animal of five senses hold out? My dear, stupid cow. Can you compete with man and come out unscathed and successful?”

Another thought struck him. ‘What would this cow be feelings now? What had this lone creature suffered to escape and come this far?” He couldn’t help picturing the rest of the cows inside the slaughterhouse waiting for their turn to be butchered.

“‘Poor cow, it is not able to realize the tenuous nature of the freedom it has won, and that is why it is struggling with all its might to protect this freedom”. And he couldn’t help thinking of those in his native land. “How many are there who are exactly in the same situation as this cow? There are those who escape in a haphazard manner and then are caught again, and those who, unable to find any way, die where they are.”

Again his attention was drawn to the cow. Still it was vehemently challenging all those trying to go closer. Yet, when nobody was moving in its direction, it stood silently with a kind of helpless fear, looking like sorrow personified. From it eyes, slowly, drop by drop, tears were rolling down. ” What is the cause for those tears? What is it thinking about now, that makes it cry? Is it crying for its helpless condition? Or is it thinking of the way those villainous men lie in wait for its flesh and hide, and how its life to come to a standstill, trapped and soon to be guillotined? Why is the poor animal is shedding tears..?’

Suddenly a new thought rose in Ponnaiya . “What if I pay for the cow and so save its life? At home in Jaffna we could at least tie it in the backyard. But where could I keep it here? In the apartment? And even if I am able to save it, will saving just this one cow alone solve the problem of all the rest of the cows who are in the exactly same situation as this one.?”

Meanwhile, someone must have informed the police about the cow causing a traffic jam. With emergency light flashing and ever-wailing siren a police car rushed to the commotion. Two policemen alighted from it. Making a lasso with a rope, they struggled for some time. But could not move the bovine, which stood its ground determination. A large crowd of reporters and T.V.crews had gathered with cameras.

‘The cow is involving in a life or death struggle, fighting to save its life. There’s one part of the crowd to overpower it and do away with it, another part to enjoy watching the excitement, another to photograph it, and also fourth that is indifferent or impotent to do anything!” To think that he was also one among this crowd Ponnaiya couldn’t help hating himself. Seeing that their efforts were not bearing fruit, the policemen assembled together and discussed different ways and means of capturing the cow now. Meanwhile, a large number of vehicles had come to a standstill on both sides of the road, causing an enormous traffic jam. The drivers who were far away and unable to know the reason for the traffic jam began to sound their horns one after another. The policemen realized that the situation was going out of control.

At last the cow problem came to an end. The poor beast’s love for freedom was cruelly crushed by a the two-legged animal who shot it with a tranquilizer. It fell on the ground and was carried off to the slaughterhouse.

The traffic began to flow again. One by one the crowd began to move away. Thinking that the Punjabiwala was sure to scold him for being late , Ponniah leapt inside his car. The recollection of cow’s love and zest and heroic fight for freedom made him feel a kind of respect and reverence for it. You won’t believe this, but from that day onwards Ponnaiya once again turned into a strict Vegetarian.

[Editor’s notes: “You make a very nice contrast between the serenity of Ponnaiya ‘s Sunday drive & the dreadful episode which follows. You make a wonderful, moving comparison between the doomed cow’s plight & the situation of your own Tamil people in Sri Lanka. You often express powerfully, e.g., ” a great, grand butcherhouse where hundreds of cows are done to death and cut to pieces every day. Your final sentence is perfect!”-Respectfully,Betsy Harrell (USA)]

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