It was devastating news, in the early morning of 2 May. A shaky voiced Sattar was on the line, Chameli had just died.
She was a beautiful Sahiwal, partly cross bred as purity in Indian breeds is now only in the history books, but as good a representative of her line as I am likely to find. We bought her in September 2012 from a cattle fair in Muzaffarnagar, and since then all of us at Aman Bagh had got attached to this gentle giant – the star of our little herd. She gave a stable 8-9 kg of milk a day, had not fallen sick for a single day till now, she ate everything offered, heartily and greedily, and loved her neck being massaged. The moment she saw me come in, she would move towards me, put her head down inviting me to rub her down – which I dutifully did each time, and rewarded her for my efforts by feeding her bananas or gur (jaggery).
She was pregnant, and was due to deliver 4 May. Her 9 month pregnancy was uneventful, peaceful and happy – Aman Bagh has warm and caring caretakers, a clean and hygienic cattle shed for the winter, sufficient shaded areas under massive Jamun & Bargad trees for the warmer weather, enough healthy green fodder and hay grown on our land, additional feed of lentils and oil cake, vitamins & minerals as supplements, and fresh clean water. Chameli was in fine fettle, and we were all hoping for a female calf knowing the ancestry was strong.
On the 28 April, she stopped eating and chewing the cud, and became listless – first sign of distress. We called the local government employed vet assistant Dharamvir, who treated her for 4 days for what he called foetal complications. Antibiotics, glucose, Liv 52 – I had little idea what was needed, but we were hoping he knew what was going on inside her. This is where the problem lay, as she grew steadily worse and collapsed and died on the early morning of the 5th day of treatment. He appetite never came back, she seemed to perk up a bit but only to revert to listlessness with her head down. She chewed the cud a bit, but only to slow down again. The vet assistant kept rushing in and out to administer this or that injection, and we paid out Rs 2,500 over these brief 4 days.
The evening before she died, I rubbed her down and spoke to her for some time. Halfway through she did what I never saw her or indeed any cow do – she licked my hand, and repeatedly did so many times. Cows are not supposed to act like affectionate dogs, you know. Thinking she wanted to eat, I quickly offered her gur but after one small bite she turned her head away. I left then, and that was the last I saw of her. I can only imagine that she knew she would not see me again, isn’t that why she thanked me for looking after her ?
Dharamvir is the issue at the operational level, and he also represents the systemic rot in the state of cattle health in Haryana. He is one of two assistant vets for a large area under the government run Pali cattle hospital in Faridabad district 10 minutes by road from Aman Bagh. For every visit he makes to treat our animals he takes Rs. 500 to a 1,000; depending on which ‘tika’ he gives to the animal; he brings semen from the hospital and charges Rs. 1,000 for each shot. I learnt yesterday that Dharamvir is reputed to earn Rs. 15,000-20,000 a day. Yes, a day. He is always on the road on his motorcycle, not really knowing what medicine to give, not really connected to the animal, just bothered about his fees. He doesn’t want to get posted elsewhere, and has stymied his transfer from Faridabad multiple times in 20 years. The last time he was sent elsewhere was in mid 2013, when he told me he stopped it went directly to Deepinder Hooda. We have no choice, as it seems the other assistant vet is even more venal and greedy.
It all clicked over these past 3 days – he was protecting his illicit little ‘business’ ! Little did I know that his greed and the systems apathy would take the life of our cow. How many more cattle has he killed till now? I am told many, and people from the nearby village of Dhauj have complained but he shut them up with bribes.
How many more cattle die each day in Haryana due to the lack of knowledge of these half baked vets? Why are there not enough Veterinary doctors in an agricultural state like Haryana? Why do I have to pay private doctor fees to a government doctor? Does the government know he takes semen and sells it at a fees? And what do I do now? I cannot call him back, but the other vet assistant option is worse. There is one “Class IV” employee – not even a vet assistant – who it seems is less venal, and we have been advised to use him. Am I not acquiescing in systemic corruption by agreeing to pay Dharamvir and now this new quack? No easy answers in real life, only doubts and fears.
Life surprises, kicking us when we are up and lifting us when we are down. It requires effort to maintain equanimity, samata, in the midst of so much churn.
Our other gentle Hariana breed cow – Dhanno – was impregnated on the same day in August 2013 as Chameli. Sattar just called with happiness in his voice – Dhanno has given birth to a female calf. We have named her Chameli.