The traffic on the narrow city road came to an abrupt standstill.
In the centre was a driver painfully negotiating a U-turn -- in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
There was something very striking about his vehicle. It did not have a reverse gear.
It was a bullock cart.
Heavily loaded and with worn-out truck tyres, it was powered by an unhealthy bullock, which was white in colour once upon a time. The animal's long horns showed signs of dull red and blue paint. Its ribs stuck out.
It was exercising every iota of its strength. The thick nylon string that passed through its nose was attached to the rope in the driver's hands. Every time he pulled it and the long cane in his hand fell on its back, the bullock wriggled in pain and passed water on the road.
It obviously did not have the least idea what its master wanted. And the master probably lacked the wit to understand the animal did not speak his tongue.
The bullock was frothing. Its eyes bulged out, back curved down, tail straightened at an angle to the body, mouth took horrid shapes and tongue came out way too often, as it tried to reach for the pain in its nose. The head turned at impossible angles.
It was an unbearable sight. Extremely disturbing.
But around us it was business as usual. The waiting motorists were becoming more and more impatient. They kept on honking and someone shouted at the cart driver to speed up.
No one cared for the wretched beast. No one saw its eyes popping out. No one wanted to notice its misery.
The torment ended only after the cart achieved its U-turn. And when it did, I am sure I saw relief in those bovine eyes -- no more torture, just routine pain and punishment.
What I saw was painfully different from the glorified concept we have in India of carts pulled by a healthy white pair of bullocks, trotting with the bells around their neck ringing in perfect synchrony to their shaking heads. We are used to that popular image, thanks to everything from children's comics to mainstream movies.
But this was so different. This was reality.
And it is happening across our great country, which reveres bovine life.
I remember reading about those who wanted to ban cow slaughter, those who want to protect the Holy Cow.
I wish they would walk through our streets before they pushed ahead. And see how we 'respect' in life the animal they want to save from death.
Every animal has a right to life. If you can't protect it, at least don't block its way to eternal freedom.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh