I slammed my alarm shut and rolled about in bed. I gave a punch to his pillow and settled comfortably. Outside I could hear the familiar sounds of water poured into the big cement tub. The familiar pungent scent of cow dung hit my nostrils; I glanced at my alarm clock whose neon coated dial flashed 5.10AM. I sighed. Time to get up; He grabbed his toothbrush, squirted some toothpaste and walked outside. I had about ten minutes before he had to collect the fresh cow dung and take it to Valli akka next door. I leant against the back door and looked at his grandfather.
Kannaiah bustled around carrying a stack of hay to feed the cows. His dark skin glistened in the early light, the rays reflecting through the drops of sweat that moistened his skin, creating a faint aura about him. At sixty-five, his body held the scars of a lifetime of hard work and battles toned down by the delicate web of wrinkles that covered him all over. His tuft of white silvery grey hair was barely visible through the red bandana that covered his head. He turned around to look at his grandson and his eyes crinkled with a smile.
“Hurry up, lad! “He mused with enthusiasm. “Tomorrow is a big day.”
I tried to hide my resignation behind a small frown. Tomorrow was Maatu Pongal. My grandfather will be spending his whole day today with our Mookkan. He would give him a thorough bath with his ash powder and Lifebuoy soap. He would paint the stud bull’s sharp horns with a bright blue paint and adorn it with yellow ribbons. He would spend the whole evening bugging our vet and preparing a jasmine garland for our Bos indicus. And just like the last couple of years, he would sit staring at the wall all day tomorrow, hoping against hope for an announcement.
We couldn’t talk him out of it. It was a routine of twenty odd years of him, and it was the 200-year-old heritage of my family lineage. Generations after generations we have been proud owners of the Zebu stud bulls that won a record number of bull taming competitions. They were our proud brothers who resembled the epitome of virility and sheer strength. And every one of them left behind a herd of male off-springs that upheld the whole economic stability of our village, and every one of them was named Mookkan honouring our forefather who lived two hundred odd years ago.
I tagged along with my grandfather to the separate shed were Mookkan tied. The black humped animal shuffled its legs restlessly and stamped his hoofs. All the rage of being confined into the small shed glowered in his bloodshot eyes. With the Jallikattu ban, the farmers of the surrounding villages were slowly training their bulls to take up domestic chores. Our grandfather was hell bent against the idea.
“Mookkan is a Sallikattu kaalai, and he would be that till he dies” he had said.
He walked up to the bull and started murmuring gentle coaxing words to it. He went about the routine of decorating Mookkan, knowing that this usual habit gave my grandfather solace. He finished tying the yellow ribbon and took the kum kum box from him. His fingers trembled as he placed a big dot of bhindi of the stud’s forehead. He took back a step and viewed his handy work, he touched the animal’s forehead in a soft caress; and he fell.
“Grandpa! Wake up!” I shook him gently. He was trying his level best to fight the void that was threatening to engulf him. The doctor advised us not to have any high hopes. After two days of unconsciousness my grandfather resurfaced to reality, he absorbed the concerned faces around with a sad smile. He motioned me to sit beside him. He looked at my father and signalled towards the rickety wooden cupboard. “Salli mootai” he murmured. My dad rushed to the closet and came back with a large pouch made of a mouldy yellow cloth. I recognised it at once. It was my grandfather’s possession. It was the pile of silver coins that he won in his last ever Jallikattu match. He thrust the pouch in my hands. “Take care of Chinna Mookkan,” he said, “And uphold the tradition” he breathed. He looked one last time all around as if trying to memorise all the faces, he closed his eyes one last, and he was gone.
I brought in the unruly little calf where its father was tied just two days back. Mookkan had passed away within two days of my grandfather’s death. Maybe he sensed the loss of his beloved owner.I let out a deep breath and caressed the calf. My phone vibrated in my pocket. There was a WhatsApp message.
“Protest against Jallikattu ban at Alanganallur machan! Come and join!” the message read. I straightened my shoulders with a sense of purpose and gave one last pat to Chinna Mookkan. “We are going to play” I murmured and strode back to my home