India - Holy Cow, by Ralph Glazer (1964)

Delhi's Palam Control Tower called us:

‘BOAC? We have a problem: there is a cow on the runway. We’ve tried to get her to move, but it looks as if she has decided to stay where she is.’

'And if she doesn’t move?’

'Then you will have the problem. Your Boeing is due in forty -five minutes.’

‘Any thing I can do?'

‘Well, please be careful’.

Not very helpful, but what else could he say?

I borrowed Engineering’s Mercury tug, a scaled-down tractor designed to tow lightweight items about the tarmac, and set off for the cow, who was relaxing on the centre line of the runway, and so as not to alarm her, I stopped three yards away, and had a good look at her. My, she was ugly! Off-white, a hefty pair of horns, large, floppy ears, a loose dewlap of skin beneath her lower jaw, and a pronounced, narrow hump between her shoulders Yet millions of Hindus venerated her and her sisters as sacred animals, docile providers of milk, enjoying the bovine equivalent of diplomatic immunity, allowed to roam at will in the streets of cities, mingling with traffic, sometimes causing chaotic traffic jams, and helping themselves to produce from market stalls. (Stallholders considered themselves honoured to provide food for them)

But our Boeing was getting closer by the minute: I had to get the cow off the runway. Keeping my distance so as not to alarm her, I tried a short burst of engine revs – a growling, rasping noise. The cow, who had been contemplating something in the middle distance, lifted her head and looked at the tractor, but did not move. So I tried two more bursts of engine revs, and this time she stood up slowly and started to walk, thankfully in the direction of the runway threshold. To keep her moving, and in the same direction, I followed her at a discreet distance, correcting any tendency to lie down or to change direction with bursts of engine revs.

And so we progressed until we reached the runway threshold, and I kept her moving up to the airport boundary fence, where we were met by the driver of the Control Tower Jeep, who had brought a passenger – the cow’s keeper, who was overjoyed to be reunited with the animal.

The keeper had brought a purpose-made halter, which he fitted about the cow’s neck. The cow stood up, and the pair of them walked off into the setting sun, apparently engaged in deep conversation.

At this moment, our Boeing landed on the now cow-free runway.

I returned to the office to a hero’s welcome. As I parked the Mercury tug, the BOAC Ops and Traffic cow worshippers, joined by the Air Traffic Control staff standing on the balcony of the control tower, gave me a rousing cheer, which I scarcely deserved;  the true star of the show was surely the cow herself. While her sisters had occasionally brought whole cities to a halt by causing a monster traffic jam, she had closed an International Airport, simply by lying down on the runway. No other cow had ever done that.

Other pages:

This is the text-only version of this page. Click here to see this page with graphics.
Edit this page | Manage website
Make Your Own Website: 2-Minute-Website.com