CHENNAI: Most rural villages in Tamil Nadu have one reservoir for cattle and the other for humans. Often, you’ll find both next to each other. While most cattle roam freely on farmlands and graze to their heart’s content, the story in urban cowsheds is different. There are no grazing grounds and the animals live most of their lives within the shed — revered and nurtured. CE visits private cowsheds in the city only to learn about their celebrity status in their habitat.
A private Pongal
“We have around 232 cows in our shed. The routine starts at 4 am. All the cows are rounded up from the courtyard, where they are left between 6 pm to 4 am. The cows are given a bath and fed before being herded into their respective sheds to be milked. We only supply milk to EA Hotel, Kapali Dasa and some private homes. Our customers pick up the milk directly at the shed. We do not deliver. The milk is fresh, unadulterated and sold for `64 a litre. Our cows produce around 300 litres in one milking; we milk them twice every day,” says Rajkishore Yadav, manager of Express Newspaper Cow Shed, behind the Express Avenue mall in Royapettah.
Every Maattu Pongal, some of their loyal customers come to the shed to offer prayers to the cows. “We don’t allow the cows to leave the premises. We bathe them and paint their horns blue and green. A few of the Tamilian boys who work with us also perform puja. We have a veterinarian, who visits the shed and vaccinates the cows once every six months. These cows were born here and will die here. We bury our dead cows in a graveyard at Alandur. A few of our old cows are adopted by rehab centres, where they stay till their last day,” he shares.
Urban cowsheds are of different types. Some function privately like the Express Cow Shed, while most sheds in the city are small and are attached to homes. Most of these house around two to four cows each. The shed is often just a metal sheet supported by wooden poles. Srija’s house is one such with an attached cowshed. “Around five generations of our family have been living in different parts of Royapettah. My father-in-law built our house 16 years ago. He supported his family by selling the milk from his cows and sweets made by my mother-in-law. My husband works as a peon in a hospital. He also sells milk in the morning. Many houses in the area buy milk from us,” she says.
The shed in Srija’s house is a massive contrast to the large, private-owned ones. Built into the side of her house, the shed is open on all four sides. “We have to bring the cows inside the house whenever it rains. Sometimes if it rains heavily, the metal-sheet-roof gives away and falls,” she says. The animals are fed hay, pulses and vegetables. “We take them out to all the houses on Maattu Pongal. All the cows are bathed. We paint their horns in bright colours. Sometimes we even attach bells to them. Our cows are the healthiest in the area and everyone does puja to them. Many of our customers call us to their homes so that they can do puja,” she says.
Not too far away from Srija’s house, is Murali’s. Quite popular for his unadulterated milk in Kilpauk, he ensures that his two cows are healthy and fit. “We have always had cattle in our home. At one point, we had five cows. One died during childbirth and we had to give two away because we couldn’t afford to take care of them any more,” he says. Revina has the same set-up in her house too. “My husband is a carpenter. We moved to Kottivakkam two years back because of his job. This house we have is on rent. To pay it off, I keep cows and hens, and sell milk and eggs. We built the shed and chicken coop by ourselves,” she says. The shed covers a 12 X 6-foot area. The cows are tied to a wooden pole on one side of the shed. On the other side of the pile, Revina keeps buckets of water for the cows to drink. During Pongal, our house is very lively. We decorate it with kolams. Many people in the area, including friends and family, come home to seek blessings from the cow,” she says. She feeds her three cows a mixture of green gram, rice, jaggery and dry fruits on Pongal. “They love it and finish it in one go. It’s good for their stomach too,” she says.
The only time Chennai’s focus shifts to urban cattle is during festivals like Pongal when they need to be prayed to. The rest of the year goes by watching these animals inhabit garbage dumps and traffic signals. Their cud filled mouths, always chewing, make us believe that the animal must be well taken care of, but are they really?