The garden looks sleepy; the plants weak. “We cannot get cow dung,” my brother said. No cow dung? In Kerala?
* * *
I wake up to the sound of the broom on the rough ground. I know what follows next. Lakshmimuthi would pick up the vessel with the cow dung-water and sprinkle it all around the house.
Some days, I wake up early enough to see her making the mixture. She would go to the cowshed and gather handfuls of the dung. While doing that, she would chat incessantly with the cows and push some inconvenient rumps around.
“Will you just move?
“You used to give me five liters, now what happened to you?
I would squat there, carefully clear of all the muck as I was instructed, expecting the cows to reply, watching Lakshmimuthi gather and mix the dung. The water in the large aluminum vessel would turn green with stuff floating. Then she would carry the vessel, asking me to keep clear, as she staggered under its weight.
I never thought of the dung as refuse. It was something that smelt nice. If she would let me I would have gladly done the mixing myself. I always wanted to see if I could make it lather. I never realized it then, but the soft cushioning provided by the daily accumulation of the dung layer around the house, probably protected my knees and cleared away the little grazes as if by magic.
Whenever I accompanied her anywhere, and she happened to spot a fresh heap of cow dung, she would immediately stop to pick it up. As I grew up, I began to find it a little demeaning to walk with her carrying dung on her head. I would hurry on ahead, pretending that Lakshmimuthi was not with me and that I had nothing to do with the disgusting old woman right behind me. She would catch on and chide me. “This is precious; this is holy. You are now a big city boy. You will not understand,” she would mumble.
* * *
Now I do, Lakshmimuthi.
Recently, I read about Natwar Sarangi of Odisha. He uses “gobar, natural pesticides and labour” to harvest bumper yields of local varieties of rice. Right now, in Kerala, we are short of all three— labour, cow dung and natural pesticides in that order. We “import” our rice (and almost everything that we eat) from the neighboring states.
My brother says he is often tempted to stop his car, step out and scoop up the occasional dung he spots on the roads. He cannot be sure of the origin of the dung. And think of the spectacle he would make! In any case, what do cows eat these days? Garbage? Off-the-shelf artificial feed?
On my way back from Kerala, I pass paddy fields that have turned into huge bungalows, most of them occupied by lonely old couples. I cross rivers that have turned into a collection of small, dirty pools thanks to brazen mining of sand than global warming.
I am way too early to catch my flight, but where extreme awareness of rights has long buried duties and civic consciousness, a flash strike or a threatening roadblock can stop me anywhere, any time.
Lakshmimuthi had described it as holy and purifying. If she is right, please dunk us in dung, God! That is probably the only way you can save your own country from us.