Arjun – Caretaker
Ammu was delivered on a bed of straw one summer night. Lulled by the sound of the sea roil the shore and warmed by her mother’s breath, she slept soundly.
Ammu has grown into a good natured cow who unfortunately has been unable to give birth to calves. Instead, she lies next to a cow that had just calved, earnestly trying to claim it as her own. The other in the herd, most of whom have gotten fond of Ammu, indulge this particular eccentricity of hers.
Ammu and her friends, Kunju and Pandi are Vechur cows, a rare breed, smallest in the world in terms of size and valued for the prodigious quantities of milk that they produce. Vechur cows once lived in sizeable populations in Kerala until the 1960s, but started to become rare when native cattle were crossbred with exotic varieties, until, at a point in time they were faced with imminent extinction. The milk and clarified butter from a Vechur cow contains anti-microbial properties and are used in the Ayurveda spa at Xandari Pearl.
“Don’t be taken in by her calm exterior.” Arjun, in charge of animal husbandry, says, pointing to Ammu, contently nibbling grass under a tree nearby. “Underneath, there is a boiling mass of emotions? Now, this Kunju, she can be tiresome at times. She will deliberately do things to annoy me, swinging her tail in my face when I milk her. She does it on purpose: and looks at me out of the corner of a large eye when I scold her. She has beautiful eyes. Now, I keep a twig nearby.”
Arjun smiles indulgently at Kunju, who rubs her snout against his arm. “We were toddy tappers once,” he continues, “I have climbed trees since I was a kid, I have fallen five times and injured myself, now, my children do not want me to go up anymore, even though I want to. I came to work here….and found the cows and goats in my care today, in a mess.”
A goat butts him in the stomach, demanding attention, to which he laughs indulgently, pushing back against its horns –“Meet Kurumban.”
“If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.”
– JAMES HERRIOT
A cow with a speckled hide, large patches of black and white, purposefully strides towards us…..and Arjun says “Ah, this is Pandi, a dominant woman, one who will push her way to the front of the queue, bully and intimidate her demure friends.”
Scratching the back of Pandi’s ears in turn, Arjun continues “I love it here. My children have their own lives. These cows and goats are my children now, we often talk to each other. We have a couple of dogs too, that have made their home here. All these animals live in peace. The management at Xandari has built this amazing space, and they are supportive of every demand that I make. I clean the pens, disinfect, bathe the animals….feed them, until they retire for the night. My entire day is spent caring for these animals, who otherwise would have no voice.”