Of The Lost Era of Rustic Charm And Kindness…
Adventures, lessons, and ruminations from a rural upbringing
I was eight when I trapped a goat and squeezed its udders.
Our neighbor’s small flock of goats wandered by themselves in search of rural forage all day. I sometimes followed them, watching what they eat and drink. My grandmother — the wisest and kindest woman on earth — had told me that there was rarely a green that the goats would not eat. I had to see it for myself.
The goats loved to drink a broth of rice starch from an aluminum vessel that their keeper left for them. When they finally lifted their heads, they came up with the empty pot around their heads as their short horns got caught in the relatively narrow mouth of the pot. Panicking, they moved backward involuntarily with comic effect — in an attempt to get rid of the pot.
I was wise enough to keep away from the bulls. They were smelly, sturdy, and wore an attitude. Just about anyone was a competition to their winning ways with the girls. They had strong horns and were intent on using them to effect. They made a spectacle of themselves going behind the she-goats with their upper lips curled.
Then, there were kids!
Taking after their mommies who munched on green leaves, they tugged at the odd leaf and made a great impression of chewing. They picked a tiny twig or leaf and nibbled on them with great seriousness and purpose, only to spit them out with hardly a tear or bruise. I always stretched out leaves or fruit or just my bare fingers to draw them to me. They did make a fuss over chewing but my fingers never hurt. I thus inferred they had no teeth. I also discovered that they nibbled on pretty much anything — including the sleeves of my shirt.
Playtime involved fighting with siblings.
Standing up on their hind legs to strike a threatening pose, they emphatically landed on their forehooves with bowed heads, knocking their playmates with pretend-horns. Playing also involved sudden and uncontrolled hopping and jumping sideways, often ending in a fall.
When they grew tired of all that they ambushed their mother — going on their knees and tugging at her udders. It was clearly a bother. The goat had been stopped on her way to the next plant, barely having finished chewing a bunch of leaves or grass she was working on, with her kids pulling her down to an awkward sitting position.
And yet, she didn’t mind it. She knew when to move on — after the little ones had had enough. For it was clear from their demeanor. After a refreshing dose of nourishment, they looked eager for another round of mischief.
They were a great mystery to me. I was curious and wanted to touch them. But I dare not try that in front of my watchful neighbor, or any bystander. It had to be discreet. And then, the perfect plan, an elaborate scheme was ready.
The goats rested on the staircases leading to an abandoned shack near the well. I sat on the lower stair blocking any escape for the she-goat that sat against the door of the shack. I then proceeded to touch the udders — gingerly at first, and gaining courage, went on to squeeze a teat.
They were soft to the touch and felt warm. The goat wouldn’t stand this molestation anymore and managed to wriggle out of my control.
My goat saga doesn’t end here.
A few years later we moved to a different house, with an open garden. It had a modest collection of rose, jasmine, Indian basil, and a small vegetable patch. We had visiting flocks of goats that were a threat to the baby plants in our garden and had to be shooed.
On an eventful day, I heard some snickering and rushed out of the house only to see the goats feasting on basil. I looked around and picked up a stone and threw it in the general direction of the goats to chase them. The stone struck one of the kids on the leg.
I have never heard a more debilitating and heart-wrenching cry.
The kid almost went down on its knees, with the goats gathering around. I fled inside, locked myself in a room, and cried my heart out. Did I really intend to hurt them?
My grandmother returned home and I confessed to the crimes — of losing the basil plant and the hurting of an innocent kid. And how scared I was to venture out, not bearing to see a crippled kid goat and more importantly, an upset keeper of the goats.
She assured me that the goats were just fine. And I had no threat to my wandering about the neighborhood. I was to threaten and scare them off by all means but to never ever hurt. She was fine with the basil — it would survive. There is such goodness in the variety of greens the goats eat that heals them well, she told me.
My grandmother must be right, for she was the wisest. And the kindest.