Occupation – Karavakkaran (one who milks cows for a living)

It’s 4.30 p.m. when Udayakumar returns home to Malapparikonam, near Powdikonam, empty milk pails rattling and his scooter piled high with hay for his cow Paru and its calf, Manikutty. “My work for the day is done,” says Udayan, a karavakkaran (one who milks cows for a living). He looks tired despite the beaming smile. “Being a karavakkaran is a tough, strenuous, demanding, 16-hour job that one must do come rain or shine, Onam or Christmas… or as is today (January 15) Mattu Pongal. Cows just have to be milked every day, twice a day, without fail. Otherwise, they can get an infection or abscesses in their udders really quickly,” he explains.

Udayan’s day usually starts at 2 a.m. and his first shift goes on till 8 a.m. He and his assistant, Sasidharan Nair (who is presently recuperating from an operation) go from house to house, 17 in all, some near and some as far as Marappalam and Kuravankonam, to milk the cows. Their second shift starts at 11 a.m. and goes on till at least 4.30 p.m. “The technique to milking lies in the strength of the thumb and the index finger. Each cow that I milk, most of them Jerseys, usually yields 15 to 20 litres of milk. I’ve heard that certain other exotic breeds even yield up to 30 litres but I like working with Jersey cows because they are dependable. I also buy the excess milk from the owners and sell it at a slightly higher rate,” says the 40-year-old who has been in the trade for the past 23 years.

Udayan was taught the trade by his late maternal uncle, Krishnakumar. Due to financial circumstances, Udayan could study only till class seven. “My father died when I was three years old and as soon as I was able, I had to work to support my family,” says Udayan. He did a few odd jobs as a head-load worker before turning to milking full time. “They say that milking is not a viable profession. But I disagree. I lead a comfortable life and (after incidentals) earn at least Rs. 500 a day. I even bought land and built a small house with the money I earned. The catch to the job is that you have to be willing to do a lot of hard work – back-breaking work – which, I feel, is the real issue that prevents youngsters these days from taking up the job,” says Udayan. “In fact, we are so much in demand that even if we want to add new customers and cows to our rote, we just don’t get the time to cater to them,” adds Udayan, as his wife, Sindhu, serves frothy, piping hot tea made with fresh milk from Paru. Delicious.