Kadavale! I couldn’t even ruminate in peace. Profanities gushed out from the mouth of the old hag like water from an irrigation pump. My only solace? They were directed at Chappani, her good-for-nothing grandson.
Chappani! A boy so thick-headed I wouldn’t wish him on my worst enemy.
“Do you have any shame?” she glared at the boy. “You have failed your final exams for the fourth time! Is this why I raised you? To see this day?”
I reminded her of the grating noise that nincompoop made while tracing thamizh alphabets on the slate. But what came out was a moo.
The hag continued, “Listen, boy! This is your last chance. Study well. At least get pass marks. Otherwise….” she paused.
“Drown him in the pond,” I prodded, chewing my cud.
“I will send you to tend grazing cows!” she hollered.
Oh no! Was she mad? Chappani? The one who whiled away his time gaping at space. The genius who stuck his tongue out while calculating a complex problem – like four plus four. The audacity of the hag! Didn’t I, Moodevi, deserve better?
When I walked, my tail swishing like a Bharatnatyam dancer, I was the cynosure of all eyes. The villagers gave me the name Sridevi, after the heroine of 16 Vayathinile. But I wanted my own identity. Once, I overheard the old hag scolding her daughter-in-law.
“Get lost, Moodevi!” she screamed.
That was it. Moodevi. I thought it suited me. Who wants to be boringly goody-goody? And I do moo, right? How apt.
I didn’t hear what Chappani mumbled to the hag. I burped, praying that the imbecile passes his exams this time.
The sunlight filtered through the leaves of the banyan tree. Mangathamma limped towards the cowshed. The bucket in front of the cow was empty. Nodding her head, she turned back. A gawky boy stood before her. His eyes were downcast, but his toe drew random designs on the muddy ground.
“Welcome, you useless creature!” she screamed. “It’s indeed my privilege that I could set my eyes on my royal grandson before he goes out to inspect his kingdom.” She put her hands on her scrawny hips. The cow mooed. Ignoring it, Mangathamma glared at Chappani. The idiot had flunked his exams for the fourth time. To make things worse, this didn’t seem to perturb him one bit. She gave him an ultimatum. Pass with a decent score, or tend to the cows! With that, she entered her house like a victorious soldier. The cow burped.
“Look how happy she is!” she murmured. The haughty cow had the attitude of a cat, the grace of film actress Sridevi, and the looks of, well, a docile cow.
Kadavale! The fodder tasted like sand. Chappani had not only failed in his exams, he had been kicked out of the school by the headmaster himself. I, the glorious Moodevi, found myself staring at my inglorious fate. This idiot would now tend to me, as I nibbled on succulent grass in the fields. I had to do something about it.
The week that followed was agonizing. Worse than the hag’s refusal to kick the bucket and leave me in peace. Her grandson walked with me to the fields, while I simmered in embarrassment. Would Sridevi have liked it if she were paired opposite this imbecile?
Finally the day arrived. Chappani dozed off as usual under the banyan tree. I shook my head vigorously. The bell around my neck went ting ting. The fool woke up and looked around. He rubbed his eyes, stifling a yawn.
“Is something bothering you?” he asked. Did he really believe I could respond to him?
Scratching his head, which I was sure was infested with lice, he came towards me. He patted my head. I fervently hoped that the sluggish creatures didn’t make their way to my beautiful hide. Chappani’s hand slid down, until it rested on the bell. He gave it a slight tug, loosening it. Not bad, I must admit. He has brains.
He then returned to his siesta. I resumed my grazing, occasionally raising my head to look around. He would be here anytime soon. He had given his word to me.
I lowered my head. The bell slid off gently downwards and landed on the grass. Chappani was snoring. A rustling sound yonder made me look up. My heart rejoiced like Sridevi in Moondram Pirai. I wanted to run. But I had to restrain myself. I took a step forward. And another. And another. And another.
Parattayan nuzzled my lips. I rubbed my face against his. He then started to walk in the direction of the dried-up lake. I followed him. We would soon leave this village. I would finally be free of Chappani. I, Moodevi, could chart my own destiny.
Chappani rubbed his posterior. His face was red like an overripe tomato. The headmaster had read aloud his marks in front of his giggling classmates. Not that it needed any effort from the old man. What was the trouble in uttering the word zero? But the usually affable man had kicked his behind like Pele.
Mangathamma kept her promise. Chappani was entrusted with the task of tending the cow on the fields. An easy job, if one could say that.
The week went by in a haze. Chappani walked with the cow, took his place under the banyan tree, and slept. He would wake up before sunset, and return home.
Why was tending grazing cattle associated with punishment, he wondered? It was an easy job.
It was just another day. A soft tinkling woke him up. He got up, scratching his lice-infested hair. Going to the cow, he loosened the bell. Feeling happy at his act of kindness, he went back to resume his nap. The bull’s moo didn’t raise any doubts in his already exhausted mind. He continued to sleep as his cow scampered away with the burly bull.
Tending cattle was indeed like a stroll in the fields.
Kadavale – Oh God
16 Vayathinile – A Tamil film *ing Sridevi, Kamal Hassan & Rajnikanth
Moodevi – Goddess of Misfortune, Elder sister of Sridevi (not the aforementioned actor)
Moondram Pirai – A Tamil film *ing Sridevi & Kamal Hassan. Remade in Hindi as Sadma.
P.C – Deepak Kumar from Unsplash