Gaede (female water buffalo) was the most important animal in almost all houses of Andhra villages in 1980s and 90s. This animal was the main source to villagers for milk, ghee and other dairy products. Thanks to gaede’s mercy, very few people in my grandfather’s village used to buy milk. In villages, farmer’s day starts with milking the buffalo manually with hands (between 5-6 am). Some rich farmers could afford servants to look after their cattle and milking cows and buffalos.
I heard and saw an interesting phenomenon with this milking process. Some of the buffalos only give milk to their owner or a particular servant. They get very angry if someone else touches them. Sounds like these animals form a trust bond with their owner or care taker.
A responsible farmer would be very careful with the wellbeing of his gaede. He would provide healthy food, clean the body in a village pond with dry rice grass as scrub. Farmers who can afford would build a separate facility to house their gaedes, poor farmers have to tie them under the trees in their backyards.
Apart from milk, villagers found ways to make use of gaede’s dung as a cooking fuel. Villagers collect its dung and mix it with rice husk and press it against a wall or tree trunk with their hand to make pidakalu (dung cakes). These air-dried pidakalu are excellent source to make fire. The ash that comes after burning it would be used as dish washing powder, the coarse texture of the ash is very effective to clean dishes.
Milking gaede and looking after its well-being was man’s responsibility and women would process the milk to prepare coffee, tea, yogurt, buttermilk, butter, ghee etc. Selling milk to neighbors was also a profitable business in villages and the money that come by selling the milk and other milk derived products would serve as pocket-money for the women, usually men won’t use this money.
It’s amazing to see how many people used to get benefits in a number of ways from this humble animal. Sadly, having gaedes as a domestic animal is no longer a viable option in villages today (2011). In my recent visit to India, farmers expressed the concerns that it is getting difficult to maintain them. So, villagers are now relying on commercial dairy milk. Villages that nurtured hundreds of gaedes are now backing off. Commercial cattle farming may be a choice to fulfill the needs but that sweet mysterious bond between the gaede and the farmer and his household will soon be disappeared.
Photos from: Kamal Vas Narayanam (Gaedes in the pond and pidakalu on the palm tree).
Gaede Miliking: http://www.adventureworldtravel.com/