The dingy room inside Palpandi’s house in Mettupatti is cramped with an iron cot and almirah, a grinder and an electric mixer. “My son won all these in Jallikattu,” says his mother Rajamani with sadness writ large on her face. “Wherever he went he came back with prizes. All the items I gave away to my daughter in dowry.” Palpandi, once a famed bull fighter, now exists only in a photograph hung on the wall with a dusty plastic garland adorning it. Rajamani fears the dangerous sport. She has vehemently stopped her four younger sons from taking part in jallikattu.
The loss of a member has made Palpandi’s family hostile to the sport.
“Historically bull fighting was considered heroic, but no more. It’s seen as an addiction that impedes the growth of rural youth in the present times,” says Thangapandi, the younger brother of Palpandi. “My brother was hailed by the entire village. But, the euphoria did not help him move further in the social ladder. His passionate involvement in Jallikattu cost him a dignified existence as he was denied jobs and finally it took away his life.”
“These days, bull fighters are ridiculed as loafers and no one even give them brides in marriage. The sport has also become more commercialised. There is favouritism and rivalry involved and it is not a fair play anymore,” rues Natarajan, the father of Palpandi. Families that once encouraged their sons to participate in Jallikattu, have now stopped them from even watching the event.
“There’s a general misconception that bull fighters are rough and arrogant in behaviour. It’s being viewed as rowdyism,” says Muthupandi, the third brother. Though there is a blanket ban from the mother, it is hard to resist the male members from taking part as bull owners. The family rears two well-grown bulls. The older of the two is named after Palpandi and now it continues to fetch prizes for the family.