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September 3, 2008 / calebdresser

Of loss and livestock

Bvijay was late to work today. I was sitting at a lab bench when he arrived, intent on the delicate process of weighing dessicated root samples, and said my “namaste” without looking up. He stood and watched me work for a minute, normal behavior for any of the curious field crew. Leaning closer, he said “Your house – in sadness. Tomor- ne ne in yesterday dead. My in sadness.” His command of such things as prepositions, gendered pronouns, and any words involving the past or future tense is scattershot at best, so I assumed he was once again trying to comfort me about my grandfather and nodded sadly. He paused, no doubt in frustrated contemplation of the insensitive foreigner, and must have decided I did not understand. He repeated himself, this time adding some Hindi from which I caught only the word “bacche,” which means child, and the name of his village. The prospect of a dead child got my undivided attention and clarified the continent on which the tragedy under discussion was taking place. Abandoning my task and looking up, I suddenly realized that I was speaking with a deeply unhappy man. The wrinkles around Bvijay’s startling blue-brown eyes hung in mournful sagging folds, and his normally erect posture was slouched and weak.

The story, when I sat down with him to listen, was not what I had feared but still represented a tremendously sad event in his life. On returning home the previous evening, he had found his two-year-old calf – his “cow child” – lying motionless on the ground. Bvijay’s brother was called – he has completed the one-year degree in veterinary medicine and serves several villages in that capacity – but even the injection he administered did nothing. Bvijay learned from his neighbors that a snake had bitten the cow child on the lip while it was grazing, killing it within a matter of minutes. They buried it earlier this morning near a little river behind the sugar-cane fields.

After I had done my best to console Bvijay and silently vowed to be more careful in the high grass near our rice-fields, the magnitude of this disaster began to dawn on me. Bvijay’s family now has only a bicycle, an elderly milkless cow, a water buffalo, and less than a hectare of sugar-cane left to their name. Sugar-cane prices are bad, cost of living is rising, and even at a well-run, well-intentioned place like IRRI, wages cannot change fast enough to keep up with India’s inflationary economy. Thus, aside from sadness over a life lost, the death of his young cow is a major economic hardship. He hopes to get married this coming February – its high time, for a few grey hairs already show in his beard – but that requires money and assets and a stable income. Bvijay has been very excited since he met with a girl’s father in early July and began arranging a marriage, but in combination with other economic troubles, this disaster may delay that indefinitely.

Before he left to spray herbicides and I returned to my work, Bvijay said something that left me without words. Eyes full of compassion and his own pain, he turned as he was going out the door. “In your family, in me, in same sadness problem.” The comparison shocked me at the time – a cow and a grandfather are hardly on the same level – but I’ve had time for reflection at my air-conditioned desk reading emails from beloved friends and family on my $800 laptop. That cow was one of the foundations on which he is struggling to build a future and perhaps a family. With it gone, he may lose months or years that he should by all rights be spending with a woman to love and children to cherish. Cow or grandfather, it hurts. It matters. It can change your life. So, Bvijay, though you will never read this and though neither of us speaks enough of the other’s language to ever really explain, I think I understand. Yes. Same sadness problem.



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  1. Margaret McCandless / Sep 3 2008 6:14 pm

    Could you tell us, if you would, what does a two-year-old cow cost? Bvijay’s bride-to-be and he, they need a cow. Some things in life include irreparable loss and sorrow, maybe wonderful memories, maybe a long time to accept. Maybe some other things in life can have a hopeful turning.

  2. becky / Sep 5 2008 3:25 pm

    I want to buy this man a cow. It won’t be the same cow-child, I know… still, I’d like to buy him another one, to help his sadness problem. How much would it cost?

  3. Margaret McCandless / Sep 8 2008 2:39 am

    George suggested we could try Heifer Project. Maybe we can ask Heifer Project to let us fully fund the cow, if they will provide an appropriate and healthy one for Bvijay and his bride. We could do it entirely outside of Caleb’s relationship through the lab, so as not to throw that world off balance. Heifer Project should find that Bvijay is reliable, knowledgable, with land enough, and in need. We need to know Bvijay’s contact information, so Heifer could reach him….

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