By Emil van der Poorten –
It is essential that the picture that accompanies the text of this column is published and I expect It will. Otherwise, I’m sure the text will not see the light of day and legitimately so!
For the uninitiated, the picture appearing here, not deliberately “gussied-up” by fallen yellow Tabebuia flowers by the way, is of what, appears to be the front leg of a bovine. Judging by the size of the limb, the animal had to have been a largish calf.
That this was only recently severed from the animal which it adorned until only recently was evident from the lack of anything resembling putrefaction of the meat under the skin and the fact that the hair on that skin was not in the process of being shed. Finding something like this in one’s front yard could be considered unusual even in rural Sri Lanka in the 21st Century except under the most ghoulish of conditions.
A safe guess would be that our “rice hound” of indeterminate parentage but unusual intelligence had found this somewhere in the neighbourhood and brought it home for display as some kind of a prize as she is often wont to do. But then, you don’t find calf limbs lying around our neighbourhood or most neighbourhoods for that matter. Someone or some animal had brought it within reach of our dog which doesn’t stray too far from home base at any time. The guess was that it was a member of the several packs of feral dogs that had brought it within our dog’s reach. The next question is, “Where would a feral dog (or dogs) find such an object to begin with, starting this strange relay?” We have very few cattle anywhere near us and none within a couple of miles and, in any case, cattle don’t go around shedding their limbs! And inquiries from those known to have a cow or calf in our neck of the woods drew a blank in the matter of a lost calf, leave alone one that had been slaughtered. The most reasonable explanation for the presence of the bovine limb in our yard went as follows:
“Rustlers” had stolen someone’s calf and brought it into the secondary jungle that Hector Kobbekaduwa’s “land reform” had created out of what was previously agriculturally-productive rubber and cocoa plantation. Thereafter, the animal had been slaughtered under cover of darkness, the meat cut up and taken away for consumption and sale some distance away from the improvised slaughterhouse and the bovine detritus probably consumed by the carrion eaters such as water monitor lizards (“kabaragoyas”) that are common enough in the neighbourhood, leaving no noticeable odour except in the immediate vicinity. The stray dogs in the area, including a couple of feral packs, would have assisted in this endeavour and an educated guess would be that one of them brought the detached limb close to our gate from where our canine transported his prize for display on our premises!
As unusual as this is, what adds to it is the fact that stolen cattle could be brought into our area, slaughtered and the meat removed with no one seeing any of this process when it is something that is certainly not possible in the blink of an eye. The fact that the owner of the dead animal had not come in search of his lost calf, or, in fact, that there was no apparent loss of a sense of peace and tranquility, such as it is, in our neighbourhood only added other dimensions to the narrative.
One doesn’t have to be a Presidentially-employed soothsayer to arrive at a few basic conclusions. In fact, one doesn’t have to “arrive” at conclusions that are thrust on one to begin with.
The discussions around this unusual occurrence were conspicuous by their brevity. Few, if any, of those I sought to engage in conversation over this occurrence were, in any way, shocked by the discovery with most, treating the discovery of a detached calf limb in the garden as if it was a daily occurrence!
The fact that no one was in any way disturbed by the discovery is symptomatic of the resignation of people, at least in rural Sri Lanka, to the fact that cattle being illicitly slaughtered hardly merits extensive discussion. While a seemingly endless anti-animal-slaughter chorus never ceases to assail one from every corner of the land, something like this passes with very little comment. Is this simply because even human slaughter has ceased to be something alien to the 20th and 21st Century Sri Lankan experience?
Viewed in the cold light of day, this attitude of resignation permeating Sri Lankan society is, to say the least, disturbing. But then is it surprising given that all kinds of violence, particularly that visited upon those least able to defend themselves such as “street people” and the indigent is viewed with a detachment bordering on cynicism. The additional tragedy here is that these very people, in another time, would have been more than horror-struck and would have made no secret of their feelings.
The traditional guardians of peace and law-abiding conduct are unbelievably silent about violence against which the illicit slaughter of a calf, no matter how disgusting, would pale into insignificance. So why would one be surprised? What goes beyond surprise, though, is the fact that these very people, these self-appointed guardians of decency and good behaviour, would be only too ready to parade in defence of some political “principle” if that “principle” is so designated by current “fashion” and if such posturing was completely risk-free!
Indifference by the general populace to violence and law-breaking is bad enough. However, when criminality is met with the same level of indifference by those whose day-to-day task is to uphold those principles, this country and any other in similar predicament is, as that colloquialism has it, in “deep do-do.” But then, who cares because “what can we do about it?”