In Spain, which has had a history of genocide and civil war, bull fights are common means of entertainment for the masses. Villagers pay hefty sums from their tattering wallets to view this voyeuristic form of entertainment. They bet aloud for the bull to win; in their drunken stupor they know not when they have been ripped of their few coins. They get to the tavern, swaying and signing aloud, either for the cash prize they have won or for all that they have been drained of. Winners and losers alike sway together, singing songs of yore, of love and betrayal and wars and martyrs. They sing of the dead – the people buried under meager shrouds, and the bulls that bleed gallons of liquid rust and finally cease to huff. They sing with hope to win the bet for the next bull fight, and then falter onto a wooden bench, and wake up in the morning shivering.
In our own country, we have our own share of voyeuristic forms of entertainment. No, I am not referring to a television show where people harbouring dreams to make it big in the filmdom live together with similar aspirants, and then made to connive against each other by the show producers. No, I am not even talking about the way tabloids and news channels describe every detail about how an American student gets gang-raped in her drunken stupor by her Indian friends. I’m talking about the voyeuristic games similar to bullfighting, but the entertainers in question are not four-legged – aren’t, after all, cows and its family members worshipped, and then sacrificed too, as part of that veneration? In fact, the entire central region of the country is called the ‘cow belt’ – an apt pseudonym for the reliance on this animal for purposes of subsistence through various ways.
So instead of four-legged beasts of entertainment, we have a bird which dutifully wakes us up every morning. The hen and the cock, besides their morning duties as unofficial alarm clocks, give us eggs that provide protein, and of course, keep a farmer’s home cheerful. And the cock satiates the huge ego of the farmer, by being the collateral martyr in cock fights. No wonder the slang for the phallus justifies the name of the ego-boosting game – the ‘cock fight’.
If Fridays and Saturdays give the urban male the delicious chance to go a la mode and win some femme attention at a mall’s posh night club, Wednesdays are those ego-boosting days in Dantewada, a southern district of Chhattisgarh. It was a Wednesday on December 30 when people from nearby villages around Dantewada flocked to the town centre, dressed in their fineries and with wide smiles on their faces. It is a day of the local market where each family gets to display its stock of vegetables and wares. And then there are those lanky old men who don’t give a damn about dressing well for their Wednesdays. They come to the market with a resolution to win some money and thus go home a little more drunk with some extra gulps of the local ambrosia, mahua. No, they don’t carry a golden goose that could make them rich and happy. We are talking about a war zone where the state’s defence forces steal even the last cock and hen from an emaciated farmer, to cook some spicy chicken curry in the forest. So, shift the bulls; shift the golden goose; enter, the red-headed cock which is pitted to fight against another. The farmer knows that Wednesdays are dangerous too – his warrior may become an unsung martyr and his ego will remain prostrate and flaccid for quite some time, yet the farmer is hungry for something more. He is as hungry as the Armani-clad head honchos of MNCs. It is all about the cock – the phallus or the ego-nurturer.
So the farmer gets his cock into the battle field. It is behind the main market area, where everything, perhaps human flesh too, is traded. Adjoining the maidan is a line of mahua sellers’ makeshift stalls. And no, women are not coy here when it comes to getting their share of mahua, unlike the urban femme who will contemplate several times before stepping into a wine shop to get herself some Smirnoff. The womenfolk in rural India don’t give a damn about the most insecurity-inducing characteristic – the image. They don’t care about who is watching and how they look when they laugh out aloud or grumble; they need the mahua, they just ask for it as blatantly as the men. Perhaps that’s the reason why the aura around the mahua stalls near the cock fight maidan is equally interesting to absorb.
But we enter the battlefield, where the warriors have no gear to save themselves. Sharp blades are tied to their yellow feet by their owners, who are hysterically excited to enter their cocks into the ring. A huge crowd, meanwhile, surrounds the maidan on all sides. An audience of not less than 1,000 has to therefore be well fenced, lest they enter the battle ring. One man guards the wooden gate into ring; the gate and its beams have thick red patches. And inside the ring are the masters seated in a circle with their cocks firmly in hand. Suddenly, you realise there is no compassion or love in the eyes of the master, who had been lovingly feeding and fattening his cock all this while. The farmer’s eyes burn with hunger.
The betting has begun; currency notes of denominations of Rs 10 and Rs 20 are only visible. Some men climb on trees to watch the match; others climb onto a row of toilets whose tin roof is on the verge of a loud smash. Yet, this seems like an Indo-Pak cricket match played in Dhaka, where you don’t know whom the audience is cheering for. But it is time for action, and two men will rise up to pit their warriors against each other – the men face each other, hold their cocks high up in the air, and then thrust them towards each other. Some birds look angry; others seem to be plain cowards. However, the moment two heads knock each other hard, they are dropped onto the red Earth. And the fight begins. So does the loud betting, with the enthusiasts yelling out their favour for the “red one”, “white one”, “black one”. About two-three matches take place at one time and everyone’s eyes are glued to the fighting pairs.
The cocks, meanwhile, have to fight it out well. If it appears that they aren’t aggressive enough, the banter from the crowd dies down and moments later, the masters swoop down to pick their warriors. They don’t waste time in contemplating if the pair can be compatible enough for a good bloody fight. Time is money, and it surely cannot be wasted.
And more such cocks are pitted to fight until a winning match is visible. A winning match is also a bloody one, and the loser lies on the ground like an obscure patch of ruffled feathers and dripping blood. A match is won and the master swoops down again to pick his injured cock. The cock is breathing heavily, bleeding heavily. It is instantly forgotten by the audience that was cheering for it. Of course, nobody wants to think of the bet money lost on an injured cock. So the audience shifts attention to another cock, hoping for a new win.
Meanwhile, the injured cock’s blades are hurriedly undone, while his master tries hard not to lay his fingers on the fresh oozing blood from his martyr. Since the birds jump short heights as their legs are tied but are driven by an angry pursuit for reasons they themselves cannot fathom, they end up injuring the other cock in any part of the body. But the master is no more concerned about his cock’s deteriorating state – it unties it, carries it towards the periphery of the ring near the gate, and often leaves it to bleed to death. It is instantly forgotten.
Tribals across the world, and I can vouch for the ones trying to stay alive in Chhattisgarh, are like those abandoned and forgotten cocks. Birds that can live and sustain on their own are first domesticated – much like the tribals who are told that they need a government, under the pretext that their lands need to be protected, while in reality a system of government is established to maintain power play here. The birds are then well-fed, giving them an illusion that their master truly cares for them – the government announces various schemes for the benefit of the already-content tribals, which confuses them but they choose to be indifferent. The birds are then pitted to fight against each other, just so that the master can make some fast cash – the tribals are pitted against each other, with the formation of groups like Salwa Judum, which rape, mutilate, behead their own brethren. The bird’s master lusts over the cash that he will take home if his cock puts up a bloody good fight – the government lusts over the fat commissions it will get under the table from MNCs that eye the tribals’ lands, and thus their survival. After the match is over when the blades have slashed enough, the dead loser is abandoned – the tribals resist forcefully, yet their bows and arrows are no match to the guns in the hands of the Salwa Judum, a vigilante militia meant to crush the Maoist rebellion, which was born four decades ago as a resistant movement. The bird’s master goes home with the stash of cash and enjoys his night with some more mahua – a government fat with people’s taxes and millions earned in bribes forgets its people and erects statues of those who have thrown the gardens open for New Year parties.