JAISALMER: Eyebrows were creased at the Bawliyanwala post of the BSF on the Rajasthan border. Hira came in from the desert and turned her nose up at the clump of green grass offered to her by the soldiers. She didn’t look well. Had she eaten a poisonous cactus out there? The vet is called but he won’t be here until tomorrow.
The border is a hard man’s posting wherever it is, be it Kashmir or the northeast. But here in Rajasthan, the border is not one that bristles with tension. It is tedium that’s the killer here. For a trooper standing a post surrounded by the desert on all sides, any kind of diversion is welcome, even if it is the stray cows that come in to keep the soldiers company.
In this land of nowhere, the sight of a hard-boiled feeding and milking cows is an odd one. But it’s a chore welcome to the men. At least it’s something to do, and it’s a happy reminder of home.
“There are 35 cows here at the moment. Stray cows keep coming in all the time,” said a BSF jawan.
The soldier-cow commensalism here on this edge of the desert is not a new-found form of cow love egged on by saffronistas. It’s been there for decades, dating back to a time when the border was open and cattle went where there was a clump of grass to be found. Since the border was fenced, the only change has been that these desert cows forage laterally along the fence and have learnt to adopt these men clad in camouflage clothes.
An impromptu dairy has developed at the posts. The cows have to be fed and milked. The yield of tandurust pure milk (10-12 litres) is passed around, and paneer is made. Fodder is ferried by tractor from Tanot, a village 20 km away. A vet’s on call too. Over the years, cow sheds were constructed and water is made available throughout the year.
The cows need some keeping though. Temperatures soar to 50 degrees in the summer and it’s a herculean task to keep them safe. “When this place turns into a furnace, we splash them with water and ensure that they drink more water. Like humans, cows like it when the weather is bright and sunny and only then they can give more milk,'' smiles the soldier.
“What better than pure cow milk, ghee and paneer in this part of the country?” he added. “Some of the cows you see here have been with us since they were calves.”