No, not Orlando Gibbons’ anthem of John the Baptist, but another John who served his community in Sri Lanka for 15 years and what happened to him next.
Who was John?
John was a bullock, large, gentle and cream coloured. Much bigger than the fellow in the picture.
He pulled the cart filled with fire-wood and made daily deliveries throughout the south of Kandy. Many people still cook with wood stoves and need regular supplies.
What’s John’s destiny?
It became known that John was no longer ‘fit for purpose’ and the familiar bovine was to be dispatched to the abattoir.
Now this is a Buddhist country and one of the five precepts of Buddhism is to kill no living thing. Our friend and neighbour, Anorca, was horrified and asked if she could have John.
Yes, she could have him for 30,000Rs (£150).
Dear Anorca is bringing up two teenage girls and that sum is probably a month’s wages for her husband. Undaunted, she began an appeal in the local shops and supermarkets and very quickly got the money.
Meet John – the world’s most mellow bullock
How would you feel if your wife came home with an elderly bullock called John?
Koliti, her husband, suggested John be tethered in the forest at the back of their house. So it was and we used to say hello to John as we passed on our way to work. Anorca would go up to chat to him and stroke his big head every day.
John seemed utterly content in his bovine way. He had food, shade, water and a wonderful view over Kandy. He tolerated visits by wild boar, porcupine, monkeys and feral dogs and other forest dwellers.
A year later we were in Kandy again and heard that poor John was ill. We went to see him and Anorca.
We found that John was off his legs and could not rise to reach his food and water. The vet had advised euthanasia but Anorca could not entertain that idea. The vets bills were mounting up.
To save money, the vet sent a boy up with a syringe full of tranquilliser but Anorca had no idea how to inject a bullock.
What are the five precepts of Buddhism?
- Tell no lies.
- Kill no living thing.
- Be sober at all times.
- Do not steal.
- Do not commit adultery.
“Help, doctor, help!”
Anorca was so pleased to see me; she knew I am a doctor and can inject people. What about a bullock?
I spent my early years on a farm and had injected cows before. Poor John lay in his jungle patch, awake but drowsy and seemingly pleased to see someone. He did not flinch when injected and was soon peacefully asleep.
He never awoke.
Anorca’s troubles were not over. She had to hire 5 labourers to dig a grave for John at a cost of 4000 Rs. Then, above the grave, she planted a bread-fruit tree. Unfortunately John’s forest friends, the wild boar, came along and dug up the tree.
Another year has passed and John’s grave is still a peaceful spot in the forest. Anorca still speaks of him fondly and Koliti has almost recovered financially.
There is a new and quite young bullock pulling the cart now; it will be some years before his fate must be considered.
Post Series: Dispatches from Sri Lanka, by Mike Sedgwick:
- Dispatches From Sri Lanka
- Kandy Lake vs Chandler’s Ford Lakes
- Self-Employment In Sri Lanka
- Sri Lankan Wedding
- Sri Lankan Food
- There’s Some Corner Of A Foreign Field
- The Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka
- This Is the Record Of John
- Tuk-tuk: My Transport Of Delight
- Life On The Road
- Commonwealth Games In Kandy
- A Temple For A Tooth?
- Dawn Train Down The Mountain To Colombo
- Traditional And Modern Medicine in Sri Lanka
- Ancient Vedda Tribe Becoming Extinct