My Dad, having grown up in a village, had this vision of having live stock, buffalo’s in particular. Then and now, in regions of Andhra and Telangana, cows are few and far between. Bulk of milk production is from Buffalos. When a farmer who was working for him, offered a buffalo in exchange for a loan he could not repay, my father said “yes” without any hesitation. My mother also went along for the experience. Thus the buffalo came into our lives. We never had any dogs or cats growing up. We were normal people, we only had buffalos for pets.
The day it came home is still vivid in my memory. What is weird is that I can remember the visual, the person leading the buffalo into home, but not what we named it. I am not sure. I rack the collective brains of the family and we kind of conclude that it was “Lakshmi”. I know it is sad that for the first and the only pet we had, we do not remember the name. My parents debated whether we needed a shed for the buffalo or not and finally decided that we will build one after a few months. Initially the buffalo will just be outdoors. After all, they roam in the wild without any sheds. So a temporary clearing was made for the buffalo between the Guava tree and the Neem tree. We had a cement pole there for tying the buffalo.
First was getting the feed for it organized. The farmer who sold it was asked to get the feed delivered regularly. It was the dried up rice stalks and were stacked in our verandah on a corner. Next was getting a cowherd to take it out for feeding. This town still had the rural vestiges and finding one to take it out every day was easy. So once its food and entertainment was taken care of, next came the productive task, that of milking the buffalo. As I told you, my father, grew up on the farm and claimed to have all the expertise required. And since it was mostly his idea to get the buffalo, he took the task on himself.
It grew dark by time we got the buffalo and got everything settled down. The farmer volunteered to milk it for the evening. We had some half liter of milk that evening. And my Dad, showed us how it was warm and made us drink the milk straight up without boiling. We did not really enjoy it and even threw up immediately. He regaled us with stories that evening of his days in the villages. He recollected how he would go with the buffalo’s to the rivulet and come back sitting on the buffalo back. He talked about the buffalo races they had. He was transported to his younger days and was all nostalgic as I am doing now here.
Anyway, all of us gathered around the buffalo the next morning for the first our own milking session. By this time, the fact that we had a buffalo had registered around and the neighbors also gathered around. Most of that generation still had some connection with farms and live stock so we had to hear a lot of – when we were young stories. Dad, took a bowl of water and cleaned the udders first. Lakshmi, was quite reluctant. It was very fidgety and did not allow him to come near him. Some suggested giving him feed to distract and it was promptly done. He again started, and this time, the buffalo went from fidgety to agitated. Some else suggested holding a stick and standing in front. Having done that, we proceeded again. Either the stick or the feed or Lakshmi just gave up fidgeting. It did allow the udders to be washed.
On starting to milk, Dad realized that he had lost practice. And that he never actually milked them much. He was around to see his mother or the farm hands doing it and did the milking few times. So it took a while to get the hang of it. At the end, we were rewarded with another quarter liter of milk. The farmer who sold it promised a litre in the morning and a litre in the evening. Now we were having only quarter instead of a full liter. So it was concluded that we should not stop buying the milk.
The milkman suggested that we have to get the feed right. That is get something called “toudu” which is nothing but the powdered rice husk. That is mixed in water and given to the buffalo. Then into that mix the left over rice and cooked vegetables were added. It is called “kuditi”. And the buffalo’s drank them by the gallon. Even the neighbors leftovers made it to the bin. If you want to tease someone about their gluttonies drinking – there is a phrase “kuditi taginattu” which referred to how the buffalo drinks everything from that bucket by the gallons. When the milk production did not increase, we were asked to feed “palli chekka”. The peanut seed cake residue after extracting the oil.
By now Dad got frustrated with the small volume of milk which is indirectly proportional to the amount we were spending on the buffalo. Once when he had to go out of station, he taught mom to milk it. The milk production went up slightly from quarter to half liter, no where near to what was promised. Dad resumed once he was back. But on the very first attempt, it started kicking. Once the buffalo got used to the gentler ways of mom, it did not take lightly to Dad’s sterner ways. It went so far as to stop giving milk as soon as it saw any white dress. Dad wore white pancha/lungi – a kind of night dress worn in India. So now mom was the official caretaker of the buffalo. Dad lingered around for some time around it while milking but gave up within a week.
Getting the buffalo to go with the cowherd was another story. Being a mining town meant lot of open spaces for grazing. The cowherd would come around 7am in the morning and hit on the gate with his stick. One of us who were around would have let him out. Whenever I opened the gate and let him out, it would never come back in the evening with the her. It would go grazing into some other direction and get lost. Or it would stray into someone’s property or some other thing happened and never made it home on time. After getting back from work, my father had to go around on his scooter looking for it. Initially we did not notice the pattern. But when it happened couple of times after I let him out, I never opened the gate for it.
One evening, my parents had to go for dinner. On these occasions, we siblings would stay back at home and my parents locked the front door from outside and went. We had paddle locks and not the door locks then. Before we go any further, I need to explain the layout of the house first. It was a row house, that is the front and the back were open to the outside. We did not have side entrances into the house. We had a small verandah/porch in the front, where Dad parked his scooter and we kept our shoes. This was not locked. Trying to think, it was around 10 by 12 square feet. So when my parents had to go out in the evening, they would lock up in the front, give us one key thru the window and keep one key with them. We still could go out thru the back door. This was a common practice in all homes then and was not something that would warrant another mention or a raised eye brow. I think there is a name now for this – the latch key kids.
Anyway, on this occasion, they went out locking the front door as usual around 6.30 pm. It was rainy season. Half hour after they left, it started drizzling. We just noticed it and continued with our usual activities. Then it started to pour. Thunders and lightening followed. As it happens in any small/large rain, power was switched off. After a while we started worrying about Lakshmi. Peering thru the window, we noticed that it was just standing still. I do not remember any other day it poured like that. We started worrying about the safety of the buffalo. What if lightening strikes it? We siblings now decided we will go thru the back door, cross the block of houses, go the front and access the situation. Armed with umbrellas we set out.
We then decided that it was not safe for the buffalo to stand out in the rain. As the verandah was empty and had enough space for it, we decided to get it into it. Now, the buffalo was used to being led out and not into the house. The entrance to the verandah was steep and cemented. After years of use the cemented incline was smooth and slippery. And the heavy rain made it worse. Lakshmi gave us a fight. One of us had to drag it from the front with two pushing from behind. It took a good half hour to get it in. By then we were completely wet and dripping and muddy. Of course Lakshmi was bewildered and did not understand what was going on. And as soon as it got into the verandah it dropped a ton of dung.
Satisfied that we would be commended at our handiwork and quick thinking, we trekked back into the house from the back gate changed and waited for the kudos to come. When they came my parents did not even know what was going on. There was no place to park the scooter. Rain had subsided by then. They came and somehow managed to open the door. We did get some scolding and we were told that the buffalo’s do not really feel anything. That is how the phrase has come about – “Dunnapotu meeda vaana paddattu”. Translated – as nonchalant as a buffalo in a rain. It was a nightmare to get the buffalo out of the verandah to the open. The place was a mess and it was stinking. We had to close the windows and sleep as they opened into the verandah. The next day Mom had to clean up the whole place and wash multiple times with the strongest Phenyl available. It is hilarious to recount the experience now, but that night, it was a night mare.
After six months, we bid adieu to Lakshmi, richer with experiences, poorer with the cash. That was the experience of our first and last pet – “Lakshmi” the buffalo.