Eau d’buffalo

May 15, 2010

My neighbour, Olive Oil, one of a number of ‘characters’ who reside in this mountainous neck of the woods, decided to spring clean her obnoxious buffalo this morning.

The blue-eyed beastie bellowed in ear-splitting frenzy just after dawn, as it does every single morning come rain or shine. Knowing from long experience that the buffalo would only revert to silent mode once she had been milked and tethered out to graze, I wasn’t particularly disturbed, until ‘it’ hit me. Eau d’Buffalo! Eau d’reeking buffalo wafting unerringly in my direction as Olive Oil set about cleaning out the buffalo shed immediately on the other side of the wall.

Like the good ‘femivore’ she undoubtedly is, she studiously mucks out the airless, windowless shed once a month and always but always performs this chore when I have chosen to spend the day at home, psychically knowing I have plans for throwing open doors and windows to let invigorating clean air freshen the interior atmosphere.

Plus, I suspect she coordinates the event with an appropriate wind direction for maximum impact. We don’t always see eye to eye as you might have guessed! Knowing the ropes, I am certain of what comes next and, naturally, it does. She vigorously tosses the strawy mass of shovelled out heap in the general direction of the existing manure pile on the opposite side of the narrow track, reserving as much pure muck as possible to squeeze and flatten between her hands to form ‘patties’ that she will plaster on my sun-facing retaining wall, a facility she doesn’t have.

She intends to leave them there until they fall off, an indication they are ready to fuel her cooking fire, and Eau d’Buffalo will penetrate every nook and cranny of my little house until the task is done. Prior to this important step though, as she dexterously slaps the patties into shape, she will have set the actual refuse heap on fire to drive the flies away so that she isn’t pestered while she works.

This noxious smoke will also drift lazily in my direction and, depending on weather conditions combined with smouldering capacity, might continue for up to three suffocating days. Another penalty for living next door to a buffalo are the daily 30-minute thump, thump, d’thump sessions morning, noon and night as one of Olive Oil’s two daughters-in-law wields a humungous cleaver to chop up grass for the stupid animal to eat. Unlike most other masticating beasties, buffaloes — don’t ask me why — need their food chopped into bite-sized pieces before they can eat it; short grass they can nibble but anything a little long or a little tough has to be methodically chopped.

This makes one wonder why on earth the awful creatures didn’t become extinct generations ago. Surely there has been a major hiccup in their evolution. As mountain milk machines they aren’t all that hot either. The volume of fodder they require in order to produce two or three litres of milk per day — and Olive Oil’s specimen rarely manages even that — far exceeds the volume a reasonable cow produces on less grazing which it can consume all on its own. Buffaloes cost an arm and a leg too.

At last count a youngish milking buffalo comes in at around Rs 60,000 – 70,000 whilst a good cow can be had for half this amount. Aside from the smell factor, buffaloes regularly display an assortment of what can only be called anti-social habits. First and foremost it is lethal to walk anywhere near them if you have a dog on a lead. They stampede, not away from you but directly at the poor defenceless animal, who they aim to annihilate. Secondly, if you are heading homewards from the distant bazaar with a loaded basket over your arm you are in dire trouble indeed.

Baskets, to them, mean buffalo food and again the nightmarish beasties come thundering in your direction tossing their heads in anticipation and kicking their heels with delight. If you are environmentally-unfriendly enough to carry your supplies in plastic bags they will, however, placidly ignore you. Demonstrating the ultimate in naivety by brandishing both a basket and a dog in front of these drooling horrors demands a fate worse than death. I’ve been there… I know! Like most other members of the animal world buffaloes have a sixth sense about fear.

They literally sniff the air the moment they spot you with their beady eyes and, if they get even the slightest whiff of this particular emotion, they rumble towards you, blowing through their noses, tossing their horns and creating a miniature earthquake as they come. Buffaloes are not stupid — they display an amazing level of intelligence when they put their minds to it. They have taken to lurking in the bushes, camouflaging themselves in the dappled shadows spilling beneath forest trees when they hear, from over a kilometre away, the rasping sound of me opening and closing the rusty garden gate, gleefully waiting to terrorise me when I try to sneak through their territory.

The damn thing even succeeded in devastating my little world two afternoons ago when I was in the process of writing this column. Mountain life often being a matter of making do, the lineman, in lieu of poles, has strung the two-kilometer long phone line through the branches of convenient trees, some of which happen to be on the buffalo’s favourite look-out spot; this single line droops down like strands of soggy spaghetti every so often and he has to come and loop it back up.

On this occasion he hadn’t done so. Being determined to infuriate me one way or another, the buffalo had hooked the line on the curve of a twisted horn. It pulled, then galloped, pulled some more and bingo… you have one victorious buffalo and one furious internet junky who hates buffaloes more than ever.

Published in the Express Tribune, May 16th, 2010.

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