A Cow, A Trans Person And Six Biharis: A Real-Life Fable

[  Huffington Post has published this article of mine today, 3/2/2016.Link is at : http://www.huffingtonpost.in/aparajita-mohapatra/quit-labeling-quit-judgin_b_9066938.html?utm_hp_ref=india ]

“It’s hypocrisy of men makes these hills grim.” — Jack Kerouac

The cow, the trans community and the state of Bihar have been much in the national news of late. This is a tale of all three. It took place in the most religious month of the Hindu calendar, Magha, in the holy town of Puri in Odisha.

My sister runs a small, boutique hotel called Oyster Bay Beach in Puri. Running a hotel is a tough business, with success or failure largely contingent on the competence of the staff. My sister went through a spate of managers who didn’t quite meet the mark in either competence or integrity. Until one morning, Mr X walked in. The staff, including the “Pujari Panda” responsible for taking tourists to the Jagannath temple, smirked and giggled.

My sister saw a middle-aged man with a desperate expression on his face. He also happened to be wearing a beautiful pink Lucknavi chikan kurta…

“When did the skin on our bodies, the difference in our voice, or the direction our heart takes us decide whether or not we should have human rights? — Isabella Poretsis

My sister saw a middle-aged man with a desperate expression on his face. He also happened to be wearing a beautiful pink Lucknavi chikan kurta that complemented his perfectly manicured hands. To my sister’s unbiased eyes, he presented a picture of courage and sincerity.

Despite a landmark apex court judgement regarding equal employment opportunities to the third gender, a highly conservative and rigid Puri town is still beset by homophobic intolerance. Thus, Mr X had remained without a job for quite some time… after being asked to leave his house by his family. The obese resident hotel cat, Felu Da, with a penchant for snacking on finger chips 24 x7 and treating visitors with disdain, surprisingly meowed and rubbed his feline love handles on Mr X, signalling his acceptance. My sister hired him on the spot. We strongly believe that nothing can be fundamentally wrong with a person whom an animal certifies!

The hotel soon started running smoothly. Mr X is not only dead honest, but he pays personal attention to the guests, making them comfortable and happy.

One evening recently, a SUV packed with six tall, swarthy men arrived at the hotel. They were dressed flamboyantly, with thick gold chains, numerous rings on the fingers, open shirts and gamchas around their neck. They spoke loudly and even a request for rooms seemed intimidating. “They are from Bihar,” said Mr X to my sister, quailing at the onslaught of alpha maleness and aggressiveness. The guests occupied three rooms and drank throughout the night, laughing raucously and playing music loudly. None of the staff, including my sister, slept that night.

“He was very religious; he believed that he had a secret pact with God which exempted him from doing good in exchange for prayers and piety.” — Jorge Luis Borges

No one thought of helping the “sacred cow”. Yet, perhaps they would think nothing of lynching a person who might be rumoured to have eaten beef.

Early next morning, the plaintive and pitiful cries of an animal woke up my sister. An emaciated stray cow was in the vacant plot next to the hotel. She was in the process of giving birth, with half of the body of the calf jutting out. Stray dogs encircled her, barking menacingly. Crows circled above, sensing prey. The poor cow was in severe pain and desperately tried to protect her calf. Religious minded people who had come for an early morning holy dip in the sea before going to the Jagannath temple did not spare a glance at the cow. An ISKCON group, frenzied in their adoration of Lord Krishna, passed by too, without a second glance.

My sister rushed to the spot and shooed the dogs and crows away. Then she realised that no one was going to help the cow from amongst a crowd of curious onlookers who had gathered by then. She herself wasn’t capable of extending any medical help alone.

“What labels me, negates me.” – attributed to Søren Kierkegaard

In that desperate situation, my sister heard two of the Bihari guests speak in Bhojpuri dialect, “Arrey, gaiya ke turant maddat chahi! Chal, chal, daud ke ( The cow needs immediate help! Rush!)” They told my sister that they were very familiar with such situations thanks to their rural background. She was not to worry. Meanwhile, Mr X joined the team, helping out by heating huge amounts of water, arranging towels and basic first aid. He made a hot, energy-giving gruel for the cow in the hotel kitchen. He gently rubbed the calf after it was born and took it to the mother. (Later, the cow and her calf were shifted to a gau shala.)

Soon the crowd of onlookers drifted away. No one thought of helping the “sacred cow”, our “gau mata“. Yet, perhaps they would think nothing of lynching a person who might be rumoured to have eaten beef.

We tend to label people and give in to stereotypes. But, definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.

We tend to label people and give in to stereotypes. But, definitions belong to the definers, not the defined. It’s rather stupid how we can’t live with the things we can’t understand or don’t attempt to. How we need everything labelled and explained and deconstructed. A transgender person showed courage and compassion that was lacking in both “normal” men and women in the crowd. A group of supposedly “anti-social” Biharis helped an animal in distress.

Perhaps, some will consider this a sacrilegious post and find it a tad offensive. But here, I have spoken about a true life incident which questions “hypocrisy and double standards, gracelessness toward ‘sinners’, high-minded judgmentalism, straining at gnats and swallowing camels, externalization of faith in religious ritual, and not being pure in heart, among other things.” (Hugh Halter: Sacrilege: Finding Life In the Unorthodox Ways of Jesus).

Every morning when I look at the news papers, I can’t help but think that ethics is not really a part of our social conduct, these days. I wish we had more advice/agony aunt columns like Abigail Van Buren of Dear Abby fame: “You could move,” she advised a reader who complained that a gay couple was moving in across the street.

The only thing that makes me wonder (as a heterosexual woman) about a man marrying/living in with another man is who picks up the damn dirty socks and wet towels? Having studied in JNU, I have a lot of friends from Bihar; my office is also infused with Biharis and their loud proclamations sometimes, during lunch hour, of “Saale ko, kambal odha ke marrenge” (Let’s wrap himin a blanket and beat him).” etc. I smile now… Most of them , I am sure, are softies under that tough exterior! To hell with stereotypes and labels!

It is fitting that I end with the words of Audre Lorde, so relevant to the times we live in:

“Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives here. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.”

Or better still , let’s all:


Chocolate is the panacea to all evils!



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