Sunday, Nov 16, 2003
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By K. Balchand
"Gift" is a euphemism for a semi-underhand deal to get around the law. The government did not know whether to allow elephants at the fair this time. But it is impossible to think of the Sonepur fair without the jumbos at the confluence of the Gandak and the Ganga.
Tradition has it that Vishnu rescued the pachyderm from the jaws of the crocodile. (In the south, the religious equivalent may be `Gajendra Moksham'.) The 25-day fair, held in the month of Kartik, has gained a religious connotation. It starts each year with lakhs of people taking a dip at the confluence on Kartik Purnima.
The absence of elephants, in any case, would have robbed the fair, one of the prime tourist events outside the Buddhist circuit, of its main attraction for the foreign visitors. Most of them enjoy a jaunty, trundling ride atop the pachyderms.
There are quite a few elephants around and, if you go by claims, their owners have reversed the principles of modern economics. The owners of these giant animals, worth several lakhs of rupees, each have overnight turned magnanimous enough to give them away for free to total strangers.
The government officials seem to be comfortable about registering the transfer of ownership as donations. But as anybody else, they too know who sold which elephant to whom. After all, it is an age-old tradition. This is not to say that the owners of elephants are pleased with the Forest Department officials. "We have ownership certificates. Then why can't we sell them openly? What will happen to these creatures if our financial situation does not let us take care of them any longer," asked one of them.
As ever, the horses are a big draw. While they are put to gallop, the traders refer to their stock in caste terms. The distinction is made based on their build, colour and temperament. The `Brahmin' ones are tall, attractive and white, with broad manes and a sober deportment. The `Kshatriyas' are those that are tall, brown with a broad chest and big ears, aggressive yet obedient. The ones with thin legs and long necks are the `Vaishyas'. The short, black ones, which consume more food but work less than others are the `Sudras'.
There are oxen in large numbers, but apparently the demand for buffaloes and cows exceeds supply. The ban on transportation of cattle by trains has meant that the presence of good breeds from Punjab and Haryana has shrunk. Even the local varieties are not here in large enough numbers, though buyers have come from Assam and West Bengal. If the floods in northern Bihar are cited as one of the reasons, the success of the White Revolution in Bihar might well be another reason. People do not want to sell their cows; they want to retain them for their milk, which has a ready market. The milk cooperatives are active and the returns are handsome and certain.
On the other hand, there is great demand for the Rajasthan variety of goats among the peasants and the landless people who are now keen to rear the better species for more meat or milk. A fair, perhaps, reflects the changing face of the economy.
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