Jeyabal Chinnathevar is delighted. His favourite sport – jallikattu (bull taming) – will be held on the 1st of February. ‘I fasted for three days in Alanganallur, fighting for the ban on the sport to be lifted,’ he tells me over the phone. I was speaking to him after many months – having done a story on this farmer-cum-swimming instructor
Back at work today – at the heritage hotel in Madurai, where he teaches swimming – Jeyabal tells me that he will be going to Alanganallur, Palamedu and Avaniapuram [famous venues in Madurai district] on 1st, 2nd and 5th Feb, to watch jallikattu. [Jeyabal had participated in the protests across the state of Tamil Nadu for over a week in January 2017, asking for the state and central governments to amend the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals act and hold jallikattu, which was banned by the Supreme Court in May.]
In April 2016 when I last met him, he told me that the ban on his favourite sport drove him insane. ‘I caught bulls as a young man from 1996 to 2002,’ he told me wistfully. ‘Six glorious years!’ he said, explaining in a rush of Tamil, the thrill and rush of the arena. Successive drought years and a new family forced the then 22-year-old to to give up on his passion and return to farming as a livelihood. ‘I abandoned jallikattu, although I still went to watch it every year after Pongal. But every January after the ban I have felt depressed. What is there to look forward to?’
Why is so important, I asked him. ‘It brought me fame. Who would know of me in Dindigul and Madurai and Virudhunagar districts if I was an ordinary man? As a jallikattu champ, all the bull keepers knew me!’
I asked Jeyabal about the drought in Tamil Nadu. This year, with so little water – the monsoon had failed spectacularly – he says he has raised just half the paddy crops he usually does. ‘There is a little water in the pond, but it is not enough.’ He divides his time, as always, between his fields and the full-time job in Madurai. In the coming weeks, he’s got one more thing to do – participate in the jallikattu events. But he doesn’t seem to mind. ‘Why don’t you come down for it?’ he asks me before I hang up. I’m moving house, I tell him. He is disappointed. But says he will ring me with updates later in February.
This is Jeyabal’s story. Do read?