I’ll make my stand like a buffalo, / Make my way to higher ground. Ted Nugent.
In one of my recent missives, I had occasion to bemoan the fact that our media, be it print or television, generally tends to provide us with an overdose of ‘same old, same old.’ You know what I am talking about. Politics and everything else like Elections, Covid or Cricket generously peppered with political overtones. Or even undertones, come to that. Not that I can tell the difference. I had also been at pains to dig out information of a more interesting and entertaining nature that abounds in a brilliantly variegated country like ours, but goes largely unnoticed under the media’s selective glare. Some of the human-interest tidbits, now and then come to light much to our delight, in spite of our communication channels’ reluctance to air them. As indeed was the case when I was riffling through my daily a few days ago.
It was a strange tale of what happened at a suburb of Ahmedabad recently. Alcohol, as anyone who has tried to get a drink in Ahmedabad (or anywhere else in Gujarat) will tell you, is banned in that state. Home of Gandhiji, Modiji and all that. Which is the surest way of ensuring that a flourishing underground industry for the banned product grows by leaps and bounds. I am also advised that some establishments may offer alcoholic refreshment in Gujarat if you can produce a doctor’s certificate prescribing the intake of said libation for medical reasons. Incredible as that may sound, it is true. Cross my heart and hope to die. Brandy, from time immemorial, has been a highly recommended specific for those feeling a bit under the weather. As you would expect, the topers take undue advantage of this liberating license, often feigning sickness. ‘May I have another large brandy please, preferably neat,’ groans the malingering patient weakly from his sick bed. For the most part, however, those sorely in need of a quick one, can be seen loitering about the towns and cities of this prosperous (some might even say preposterous) state, their tongues hanging out wondering where the next large peg or cold beer is coming from. It is precisely to cater to such misguided nirvana seekers that the more enterprising and savvy operators obtain all kinds of liquor from sources of a very dubious nature. The black or red label might say Johnnie Walker, but the brown liquid in the bottle could be anything from locally produced arrack or something even more spurious like denatured spirit or methyl alcohol. ‘10 die of liquor poisoning in remote village’ is a headline we have become quite accustomed to.
To get back to our story, a bunch of entrepreneurial and well-heeled brothers who were throwing a party at their cottage somewhere on the outskirts of bone-dry Ahmedabad, had stashed away hundreds of bottles of the stuff sunk in a small pond just outside their home, away from the prying eyes of the law. It is conjectured that many of these bottles, which were probably hurled into the pond in a hurry to evade the approaching police vehicles, were broken and the flowing liquor got nicely mixed in with the natural water, giving this watering hole a yellowish hue, to say nothing of the heady odour that emanated from it and wafted for quite a few metres around the vicinity.
As it happened, a small family of three buffaloes and a calf happened to be grazing close to the pond, ‘lowing here and there’ as the poet had it, unmindful of the fabulous treat that awaited them nearby. The steady intake of dried grass had given the bovine creatures a right, royal thirst as they ambled up in a gentle gait to slake their parched throats. As they got closer to the pool of water, a strange odour assailed their olfactory senses. The buffaloes found the smell not entirely unattractive. ‘What ho, what ho,’ exclaimed the senior male buffalo. ‘Looks like our thirst-quenching pond is offering us something more than just H2O. Let us investigate further, shall we?’ So saying, the adult buffaloes avidly lowered their heads to the refreshing liquid and slurped as never before. Not to be outdone, the little calf joined the party with gusto. All they needed was a few plates of cocktail canapes and spongy dhoklas (a speciality of Gujarati cuisine) and the animals’ cup of joy would have been overflowing.
Having generously partaken of what was pleasantly offered in their ‘poisoned well,’ the buffaloes began to feel quite happily drowsy. Before you could say moo to a cow, the buffaloes were all horizontal on the ground, dead to the world but still in the land of the living. If that was all it was, things might have been all right. They would have woken up after a few hours, wondering why they seem to be afflicted by a sore head, hunted around for an empty foil strip of Alka Seltzer or Gelusil, and contentedly gone about their favourite pastime of chewing grass (or foil), their tails swishing this way and that. However, the dumb chums had to learn their lesson the hard way.
When the domestic staff of the manor awoke the next morning, doubtless in search of the buffaloes to milk for the household’s morning cuppa, they were greeted by a bewildering sight. The three adult bovines and the little one were found jumping up and down making strange noises, not consistent with the standard ‘moo’ that one knows and loves, if one is a bovine fancier. Clearly something was amiss. The local vet was sent for. When the good cow doctor turned up, astonished to see the buffaloes performing Salome’s ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’, he could make nothing of it. Muttering to himself that now he has seen everything, he proceeded to approach the extremely difficult task of administering anesthetic injections to the inebriated animals. It is never an easy task to plunge a needle on to the rump of a dancing buffalo, but the vet managed it. Soon the animals were all sleeping peacefully, and he was able to conduct his examination. After about twenty minutes, he was ready to pronounce his verdict.
The brothers who were responsible for this tragi-comedy of errors were called in and the vet grandly announced that the household cattle family had gone on a massive binge, having imbibed more alcohol than is normally recommended for your average adult buffalo, to say nothing of the calf. Naturally, the siblings correctly jumped to the conclusion that the hidden alcoholic treasure at the bottom of the pond was at the bottom of all this. Not wishing to bother the vet with needless incriminating information, they paid him handsomely and sent him on his way. The domestic staff, who knew exactly what had transpired, were told to seal their lips on pain of flogging. The pond was cleaned immediately, the bottles destroyed and no more was heard on the subject, leaving the local gendarmes deeply suspicious but clueless.
The buffaloes took a few days to recover and get back to their normal routine. There is however a twist to this strange tail, or rather, tale. During the following days, the animals were taken to the pond but flatly refused to drink the clean, clear water. The leader of this small pack, if buffaloes do hunt in packs, was heard murmuring to his fellow bulls, ‘I demand that we be provided with the same water we drank a few days ago from this pond. This water is tasteless, colourless and odourless. Let them come for their milk early morning, and our ladies will show them what’s what. They want a bullfight, I’ll give it to them.’ So saying, he shook his head in an aggressive fashion, showing off his horns like his Spanish counterparts do to their matadors. The staff tried telling the bulls that’s how clean, drinking water is meant to be, but the bulls went on an indefinite strike. ‘If you give us odourless water, we shall remain udder-less,’ they seemed to be saying.
Moral of the story – if you are told buffaloes don’t like a stiff drink, that’s a lot of bull.