Spotting the performing animals in urban locales has become a rarity

Ten-year-old K.Gnanesh, a Class VI student of a private school in the city, says that he has often heard his mother draw analogies between him and a ‘boom boom maadu’ (an ox that nods its head on the instruction of its master).

But ironically, he has never seen such an ox in action, for the performing animal has become a rarity in urban locales.

The colourful cloth with which the ox is decorated, the sound of its anklets, the violent shake of its head for questions posed by its master and the “kiss” it gives by rubbing its mouth on the cheeks of those who dare to go near it are unknown to many urban dwellers, especially children like Gnanesh. The ox also grabs the offerings with its mouth and passes them on to its master.

A community of people earning a living by making the oxen perform at public gatherings is concentrated at Sakkimangalam here. Once a ubiquitous lot that went on door-to-door collection of alms by making the animals nod to the drum beats – mainly the eerie ‘boom boom’ sound created by the rubbing of sticks on the drums hung on the shoulders – they are now very few in numbers.

“I remember the days when my mother used to feed me loads of food by scaring me that I would be handed over to the ‘boom boom maattukarar’ (owner of the performing ox) if I do not oblige. The very thought of the ferocious ox and its oddly dressed owner used to send shivers down my spine. Unfortunately, my schoolgoing children have so far not even seen the animal,” says S.Janakiraman, a businessman.

R.Kaliappan, a 29-year-old owner of a performing ox, says that the number of performing animals and their owners has dwindled in the last few years due to a lack of patronage. “People in cities are flooded with entertainment avenues. Not many are interested in watching an ox nod its head or kiss a human being. It has cost us dearly for we know no other job than making the ox perform,” he laments.

Another ox owner, P.Ganesan (27), says after having stopped door-to-door collection of alms, they have now begun to travel far and wide to eke out a living. “We go to different public gatherings in other districts for more than 25 days a month, earn as much as we can and spend the rest of the five to six days with our families before embarking on the next journey,” he adds.

Stating that they would probably be among the last set of ‘boom boom maattukarars’ in Sakkimangalam area as most of their children do not want to continue with the profession, an ox owner, S.Pandi (32), says: “Our aim now is to obtain Adi Dravidar community certificates so that our children would get some concession in education and employment while competing with the children of doctors and engineers.”

A group of performing oxen owners petitioned Collector L.Subramanian on Monday seeking early grant of community certificates and it was no surprise that they paraded their decorated oxen too to the Collectorate to grab the attention of the officials.

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