Palamedu wore a deserted look at 9.30 a.m. on Sunday morning. The calm sat uneasily on the village: Alanganallur, 10 km away in Madurai district, had resolved to keep out none other than the Chief Minister of the state.
Children unleashed their spinning tops on to the dry bed of the stream on which the village's jallikattu is played. Behind them stood the region's oldest permanent vaadivaasal, a two-storeyed structure.
“Is the CM coming here?” asked a policewoman posted at the village, aware of the rumour that the government was desperately looking for alternate venues to organise a jallikattu event. The government never looked like it contemplated Palamedu; the village already had a sit-in by residents near their bus stand on the outskirts, blocking the road to Alanganallur.
Over the course of the day, Palamedu's sit-in would undergo a radical change. The spark came from elsewhere and brought along lessons learnt over the past week across the State. This then, is the story of how a movement for jallikattu arrived at one of the villages that the sport calls home.
O. Panneerselvam may not have made it, but a hired white sedan with five youngsters did, from Coimbatore. “We have been participating at the jallikattu protests there. I'm in fact from Chennai and met the others in Coimbatore only six days back, at the protest site,” said S. Sivabhaktan.
When they felt that jallikattu was close, the other four - inspired by the stories of Chakravarthi, who had participated — decided they had to try taming the bull. “We reached Alanganallur to find blockades into the village and concluded there would be no jallikattu today. So this was a pilgrimage to the Mahalingaswami Koil here to seek the deity's blessings,” said S. Vivek, correcting his initial to Sa. immediately, to reflect the Tamil spelling. He introduced himself as a NIFT-alumnus and a fashion designer.
The boys decided that it was not right that the vaadivaasal — the ceremonial gate of at least 50 years through which bulls enter Palamedu's jallikattu arena, which is the stream's bed itself - remained unoccupied and began gathering youngsters and children for a sit-in before the structure. It was rudimentary, with the only instruction from Coimbatore's Tamilai Vetri being, “Let's protest silently, peacefully.”
Mr. Vetri would break his own rule soon, once the 15-odd boys settled. He stood up, half turning towards his fellow protestors and the other half, to the police personnel resting on plastic chairs under the shade of two concrete jallikattu balconies to the right of the vaadivaasal. “You know, the police cannot arrest us if we are peaceful,” he said in his raspy tone, sharing a discovery of the past few days.
One of the Palamedu youngsters produced a single-page printout, in Tamil. “The jallikattu committee did not want to approve this, so consider this a demand on behalf of the youngsters of this village,” he said. Like fellow protestors across the state, they wanted a "permanent" solution to the jallikattu ban. They didn't want Jersey cows, to the extent that they wanted cows allegedly imported to be sent back to the country of their origin. They wanted to ban soft drinks; they did not want polythene bags.
Calls, messages and WhatsApp voice memos were being sent to protestors in Coimbatore in the hope that they would inform reporters in Madurai about the events at Palamedu. Members of the local unit of the Hindu Munnani, miffed that the Jallikattu committee had not supported them during their brief police detention for protesting at the bus stand on Thursday, threw their support behind those in front of the vaadivaasal. “We have some 95 women attending who are part of our unit,” said president R. Veluchamy. By noon, women -sitting to the left of the vaadivaasal — outnumbered the men.
The official protest of the village at the bus stand were fast losing members. Vaadivaasal had had a public address system and a partial tent. Mr. Vetri held court: he invited a boy to display his Silambattam skills; he reminisced about goli soda, gone missing over the years; convinced a group of women to ululate and described how the people of the cities bought expensive dog food for their foreign breeds while ignoring Rajapalayam and Chippiparai. At one point, a resident - on his way to the tea shop - stopped, took the microphone from Mr. Vetri, thanked the five boys for initiating the protest and walked away.
By 4 p.m, the vaadivaasal even had packets of lemon rice and water ready for all. The protestors had finally managed to convince the reporter of a news channel that dodging the multiple roadblocks an route would be worth his time.
Abruptly, drums sounded and pallbearers of the symbolic remains of PETA approached the vaadivaasal. If large groups of people streaming in to the protest site were not chaotic enough, the children began dancing to the sound of the drums.
By the time everyone realised that those who had been protesting at the bus stand had joined the vaadivaasal protest, the microphone was in the hands of A.V. Parthiban, dressed in khadi whites of shirt and dhoti. "He is not with any political party but is politically influential," said.
Mr. Parthiban was angry. He had to stop for drinks from a water packet someone held out to him and he almost choked on it. "Pardon me, but who are others to say that the people of Palamedu have not protested? We have, at the bus stand," he said.
Mr. Parthiban's staccato speech blamed PETA, cattle traders of Kerala for buying native breeds for slaughter and the government for trying to have a say in how Palamedu's Jallikattu should be organised. By the time he was done though, the five boys from Coimbatore looked deflated.
The funeral procession for PETA proceeded towards a nearby cremation ground. Mr. Parthiban walked off to the largely-empty village market. At the vaadivaasal, the men had largely lost focus and began to wander. The boys prepared to leave. Villagers approached them, almost physically restraining them. "Don't leave yet. We want you here for an overnight sit-in," he said.