Suddenly, there appeared, on the horizon, a big red-brown cow with horns painted blue and yellow on the east of the house, munching gaily on the foliage. We noticed her only after our morning meal. Bother!

All our thoughts immediately led to our neighbour Annamalai. Rogue Annamalai.

One always makes an effort to think the best of the other however difficult that may be, and since the cow was in the opposite direction to where the Rogue’s land lay, we transferred our suspicions onto the other Annamalai: Nose-cut Annamalai.

Sunder hastened towards the cow, followed by the boys, and seized the dangling rope and tethered her to a nearby tree. I could see all the proceedings from the kitchen window. Thankfully, the cow was of a peaceful disposition, and she continued munching happily on the new patch of grass. We waited to see who would come to claim her.

No one did, and for quite a long time. The day wore on. We went on to our next meal and soon it became teatime. Then, I was just idly looking out of the window to check on the cow once more and to my utter shock I found she was not there. She had simply vanished! The other thing that vanished with her was a long fallen branch of the Villeri tree (Dodonaea angustifolia) that was lying next to her!

It was all quite exasperating. Every time this intrusion/theft happens we are left with this recurring question of — How does one respond? With violence or non-violence?

The latter requires great creativity and great self-restraint. Dramatics, voice modulation and even a change of costume, as has happened once! All without the luxury of rehearsals, mind you! And we have to repeat to each other, reminding ourselves each and every time, never to let the conversation degenerate into any sort of abuse. In speech or in stance. And so it has been all these years.

As for the former, a great urge to stick a feathered arrow onto a rear end or a nice smart ping with a catapult still remains, suppressed with a firm hand, for the time being.

The way the whole episode happened, the sneaky way, confirmed that it must be the Rogue. Nose-cut would have at least come to say Hello, even while acting innocent.

Then an idea formed.

The next day I went over to the west of the house. The outcrop of rock there had over the years become quite a shady spot. A result of Sunder’s intensive tree planting one drizzly July several years ago, when I was busy with my parents who were visiting then. This was the surviving population.

With the trees and the shade and a lovely view of the hills far away, we could turn it into a nice spot to sip tea, I thought. Moreover, it would stop our neighbours from intruding. For this spot provided a good view of their cowsheds. Rogue Annamalai’s as well as his two half brothers. We could maintain a ‘formidable presence’ from our vantage point. A win-win situation.

Just then, I noticed the Rogue’s little set up looking quite neat and pretty, — The cowshed, the haystack, the trimmed grass, the neatly stacked wood…and then there he was, the man himself. The Rogue! Trimming a long piece of wood, which to my eyes, definitely resembled our Villeri! There was the cow too, with blue and yellow horns! I hailed him and straight away went to the point.

‘Is that our villeri maram you are hacking?’ I shouted out. He looked up, smiled and pretended he couldn't hear.

Enna Ma? Puriyale
 I repeated my query.
Enna Ma? Puriyale, this time cupping a hand behind one ear.
I beckoned to him to come closer. After he did, I said,
‘Your cow was on our land you know!’
‘My cow? Oh, no, no, it must have been someone else’s. Theirs (meaning his brothers’)
‘No, it is your cow. This one here with yellow and blue colours on the horns.’
Not being able to contest that, he said,
‘Oh, oh that, what happened was, it was here and then it went round suthi poyirukku and must have landed up at your place.’
‘And you took her back without even meeting us, why? It is not nice at all!’
He wasn’t able to say much to that, so nodded non-committal fashion and grinned.
‘And you took the villeri too?’
That got his goat and he defended aggressively saying,
Ille ille naan ille twisting his face, and hacking at a bush nearby.
After a pause, during which I noticed his greying hair , I continued,

‘How many cows do you have, Annamalai?’
‘Only one’
‘And goats?’
‘Only one now’
‘Did you sell the rest?’
‘Yes Ma’
He started hacking at a pala indigo tree and then a lantana bush.
‘Is this tree and land yours?’
‘No, my brother’s.’ How cool. I then told him to put the lantana on the stone wall dividing our lands to keep his animals from straying. Which he did reluctantly.
‘Do you have any mango trees or any fruit trees?
‘Only one mango tree and we didn’t even get any mangoes this year’
‘We didn’t either’ Then we both chorused out almost in unison as if rehearsed,
‘No rain, what to do‽’
‘Annamalai, your kaadw (farm) is looking very pretty, azhaga irruku
‘I said your kaadw is looking very azhaga.’ He looked very confused and surprised… almost simpering bashfully. With another ‘Uh’ and a slight smile he turned around to look back at his kaadw as if discovering it for the first time.

Just then I saw his wife (The roguess), wending her way up. I thought it was a good time to leave. Can take only one of them at a time.
With a poitu varen and ‘make sure your cow and goat don’t stray’ I exited.

My reward for the day: I offered him a ‘truth’ which he had to bashfully acknowledge and there was the prospect of a nice tea-sipping spot to look forward to.