On Cacophony and Cape Buffaloes

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Cacophony. By definition a loud, harsh or strident noise.

There are some words and phrases whose true meaning can only be understood through personal experience. Splitting headache, mortified, anguish, lightheaded, running tummy and cacophony.

Thanks to a road trip through rural Bihar, cacophony in my mind will forever be synonymous with India’s roads. For the complete immersion experience, throw in being driven by a man with a deep and unending relationship with his car horn. His reason for using  of said horn apparently had a variety of definitions – I’m coming so get out of the way, I want to pass you so get out of the way and look at me I’m here!  I was unable to discern the difference between the short blast, the interminably long blast or the pip-pip-peeeeeep and kept wondering if I had landed in a version of the Twilight Zone inhabited only by mad horn dependent men.

Within an hour the appreciation of the undulating rural landscape faded on account of the now resident splitting headache (again with the personal experience…) brought on by the constant hooting of every vehicle on the road. So imagine my surprise when after a few hours of this seemingly-unending-personally-targeted torture in my hired vehicle (yes, I was actually paying for the production of said cacophony) I see a vehicle in front of us with Horn Please blazoned across its rear. I asked my traveling companions what it meant and it turns out that it wasn’t our driver who was overly horn dependent. Apparently Horn Please is an invitation to ditch the conventional use of indicator lights or other such “normal” traffic etiquette and instead use your horn to let one know you’d like to overtake them, or alert them to your  mere presence whether your’e tailgating or not.  So everyone goes overboard (in my humble opinion) on the use of their horns. Its a wild symphony of communication in language I had never heard. Perhaps we should call it Ki-horn-o-blasto. I suddenly began to understand the bemused look of my traveling companions that signaled ‘overly sensitive foreigner, what’s up with her?’ that came about whenever I dropped yet another epithet on account of the constant hooting.

This seemingly normal thing made me start reflecting on a whole host of other things that are normal in this part of the world but that would be strange in mine. Case in point – buffaloes.

Where I come from the last animal you ever want to come across is a lone buffalo. Its a mean, hardened, no nonsense, perpetually angry beast and you pray you will never encounter one, especially if not within the safety of a four by four vehicle. In India however, every rural home aspires to have a buffalo, of the domesticated water variety that is.

These docile and very distant relations of my Cape buffalo are treated as kin, to the extent of having their own room in the homestead. A special feed is prepared on the family cookstove and they clearly hold a place of honour in la famille. After traipsing around a few villages, one realizes why. Not only does the buffalo provide the rich and fatty milk that ensures a steady supply of milk, paneer, ghee and butter for the family. The dung of the buffalo is regularly collected, mixed with dried maize husks, shaped into patties, dried on any available surface, on the ground, on trees or walls and then used as fuel for the homemade cook stoves.

A bit of a messy and unhealthy affair if you happen to be the one on dung mixing duty, but talk about zero carbon footprint. This version of normal from Bihar’s rural homesteads holds many a recycling lesson for a so called pro-the-planet urbanite like me. Now just to figure out the small matter of how to milk a Cape buffalo…

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