If you are assuming Kadaknath to be a desolate place in the upper reaches of Uttarakhand, somewhere near Kedarnath, and this story could be about how I conquered it in my underpants as a tribute to that eccentric Dutch man Wim Hof who walked up Everest in just his shorts, you are in for a surprise.
Kadaknath is not a place in Himalaya. It’s not even a place. Then, what is that? Kadaknath is a chicken. A breed of Indian fowl having black flesh with a Turquoise glow – Kali Masi or black chicken or of course, Kadaknath! This story is about how I happened to bring a live Kadaknath chicken to my apartment one day and the events that followed.
I come to know about ‘Messi Farm’ via a friend. When the name is Messi, being a football fanatic, I cannot show disinterest. So, with the entire family complete with two dogs, I land at the gate of Messi farm totally expecting a Messi fan owner and walls adorning the football icon’s murals.
The gate opens and a grand old man who wouldn’t ever have heard the name Messi waves us in. The walls feature splashes of cow dung. No sign of Messi anywhere.
We venture inside. It’s a large farm and as substitutes for the missing Messi, the place has other exotic beings; Gir cows with drooping ears, a motley collection of goats and jet-black chickens.
I cast my eyes on the chickens. Kadaknath’s meat is said to be high on nutrients and rumoured to offer mind blowing body-transforming health benefits, although I doubt one would gain the ability to fly by eating the black meat of the kadaknath. I decide to try anyway.
One chicken will cost me Rs. 800, I’m told. I agree. But there’s a problem. I will have to catch the chicken myself as the farm employees are on holiday – probably sitting in the bushes behind the farm with a bottle of rum and roasted Kadaknath.
I’m let loose inside the chicken enclosure with a big bamboo basket. My job is to approach the chicken slowly and trap them by dropping the basket over them. Easy enough, I guess. From over 500 chickens in that enclosure, capturing one poses a lowly task-difficulty-rating of 1. I should be able to catch a chicken without breaking a sweat.
But soon I’m running like a mad man – feathers stuck to my head, huffing and puffing and profusely perspiring – after the chickens. Constant threat to their lives has made these chickens master the art of tactfully evading the big bamboo basket flying in on them from above. It’s like a war zone. Chickens running and flying all over the place with throat-tearing waling sounds.
The difficulty rate scale is quickly tipped to 4, and I’m nowhere close to successfully completing the task. The old man passes instructions and by the time I cotton on to the technique, I’m close to passing out. Realising that I’m going to suffer a crushing defeat against the chickens, the old man throws himself into the ring to help.
It takes less than a minute for him to trap one. Thug-life stuff. He has my admiration. I take a moment to think about the chicken thieves back in the day. Chickens were the easily available option to steal that offered some value. I remember my grandmother often moaning that her chickens were stolen in the night. It takes some serious skill to catch chicken swiftly and without it making a sound.
Now that the chicken is caught, a second problem arises. There’s no one to butcher the Kadaknath. The old man says we can get it done in any chicken shop for a small fee. On the way home, we stop at many shops, but none would agree because it’s a Sunday and they are too busy to deal with a chicken which is not theirs. At last, we arrive at a conclusion without a lucky dip lottery system that I will be that lucky man tasked with the job of killing, plucking and eviscerating the chicken.
In fact, I’m an experienced hand at this. For every Christmas and Easter, my mother-in-law awaits the arrival of The Butcher from Bangalore to end the lives of a couple of her chicken and make a feast out of them.
Driving home with two dogs and a live chicken presents its own problems. With drooling mouths, the dogs wait for a chance to pounce on the Kadaknath. The frightened Kadaknath cries like a woman in labour pain being rushed to the hospital. A police jeep crossing us slows down to contemplate if we are kidnapping someone. I don’t know what makes them think we aren’t.
We get the chicken home without anybody noticing us. Then, as I start to sharpen the knife to get on with the business, my wife takes pity on the chicken and her sympathy grows into love.
“Isn’t the chicken so adorable? Look, the feathers are glowing. Can’t we keep her alive? Look, we can use the cage we bought for the lovebirds”
I immediately disapprove the idea, but she has already set her mind on letting the chicken live.
My daughter jumps in to support her mother’s plan. The dogs are happy too. They are optimistic some day they will get their chance to rip into the bird.
The cage is readied and in goes the kadaknath. If this not mistake enough, she keeps the cage in the balcony. The wailing of the chicken alerts the society. I see heads popping up in the neighbouring balconies. I hide in the cover of our thick balcony garden – some say it’s not a garden but a forest.
Time ticks away. The wife realizes that it has been a grave error from her side. She picks up the cage and runs into the bathroom. With the sharpened knife, I follow her.
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