Thursday, October 13, 2011


Death, I’m told is inevitable… But what if it is imminent?

If I knew I was going to die, what should the colour of my death be?

Should it be the pale white of a clinical death, away from the eyes of onlookers, on a tiled floor smelling vaguely of disinfectants mixed with a sudden terrified burst of faeces and an impending sense of doom, and the sudden cold touch of death as the lights go out? Or should I choose a deathstreaked with vermillion… the colour of blood and sand and the setting sun… the colour of a life, short though it be, but one spent in the pursuit of passion… Taunting fate, venting hate and even in death, becoming great... There is pain in this death, but there’s pride too… And even though my corpse is dragged through the sand leaving a trail of blood and gore in my wake, there is a strange dignity in dying as more than just a mere hunk of meat…

Dead though I am, in which death do I find more of me? Which should I choose to be my destiny?

Pacifists, humanists and animal rights activists all over the world are celebrating the death of the bullfight in Catalonia, but I wonder if the bulls are joining in the celebrations. The question is – does the Catalan ban on bullfighting make life any easier for the bull? Those well-meaning activists who are celebrating the end of what is an indefensibly barbaric spectacle need to ask themselves that question, and the answer cocking a snook at them is ‘no!’, for the bulls, if anything, are now doomed to an even bleaker future.

To understand why that might be the case we need to account for two things, the first being the bull’s perspective, and the second its alternate fate. For the first, let me borrow from Death in the Afternoon, Ernest Hemmingway’s seminal classic on the corrida. Hemmingway described the fighting bull as a wild animal unlike any you might hope to meet on a farm. He, the bull that is, descends from the same ancient stock of wild cattle that once roamed the plains and hills of the Iberian Peninsula. It is a creature whose magnificence was shaped by natural selection of his desire to roam, to fight, to mate and to protect his herd. It does not stoop to the toils of farm work, nor bend and bow to the huts and tuts of a cartman or his yoke. It just lives to be free and to fight for it, if it’s not. The Spaniards find both, nobility and beauty in its form and in its fierce spirit. Perhaps, that is why they pay to see a fellow man dominate this force of nature. Incidentally, the best matadors or bull-fighters, like Jose Tomas, used to be right up there with Real Madrid and Barca’s soccer stars in terms of popularity, endorsement deals and salaries not too long ago. And even now, they might still rank ahead of cyclists, golfers and tennis stars in their home country. The fighting bull, Hemmingway would insist from his grave if he could, would happily choose to go down fighting in the ring than meet his end in a meat factory. You might say Hemmingway was an aficionado and he loved and found inspiration in the life-and-death drama of a bull fight. But allow me to insist that I’m not an aficionado, and for the record, a vegetarian by choice (except for the odd portion of fish which my mother and my wife made me promise I would taste if they cooked it or when I’m out at or by the sea where procuring a vegetarian meal might increase my carbon footprint far more than if I was to consume what’s locally and immediately available…Makes sense? Do say so if you think it doesn’t for I’d happily give this up and just do the ‘right thing’) and yet I too must agree that given the limited choices, most living beings, including you and me, would choose a death in the afternoon over death for an afternoon’s meal.

And this brings us to the question of ‘what next for the fighting bulls of Catalonia? What does the future hold for them?’ Do they now get to live out their lives munching daisies in the sun while making love to all the cows in their harem? The sad truth is that they will perhaps get to live even shorter lives, sold to the butcher for veal and steaks. At least the bullfight gave the bulls something to die for… a chance to go down with honour, with dignity, expressing the full might of his genetic potential, as a near equal to the man in the ring and with a chance to take his killer down with him. In the old days, bulls that killed the matador were allowed to live and fight again, but they became too good for the man in the fight for they learnt from every fight. So, we changed the rules. Now, even if the bull wins the bout, he is put to the knife in the corrals. So much for our sense of honour.

But that really isn’t the point here. The question is, how does it matter if bulls are killed in a fight or in a factory as long as they are killed anyway? If anything, the tradition of the corrida allows a bull to be true to its nature, or even some perverted version of it, even if for a few moments, that life on an industrial farm as a tenderloin steak on legs would never allow it. If a battle is to be fought, it must be fought for the bulls and to better their future and not merely to protect or titillate our sensibilities. This ban serves only our motives and not the bull’s.

So what do I suggest, you might ask... And so I dare to say that before we talk of ending blood sports like the bullfight and even horse racing, we need to first create a world that refuses to confine and consume animals for mere sensory pleasures. Otherwise, these animals would only get condemned to an even bleaker and shorter life. I don’t want to drag you into a debate on vegetarianism in this issue but would want to reiterate that if we are celebrating our victory of rescuing the bulls from the ring only for them to end up in the pot a lot sooner, then that’s no victory at all.

Of course it would be ideal if every animal in man’s service could be set free to roam in an eden that could give them food, freedom and shelter, but that is a utopian dream that would take long to come true.

Instead, until such a day when bulls are free to roam without worrying about ending up as ribs and chops, instead of destroying cruel traditions that engage man and beast, we should perhaps look to modify the terms of engagement and make life richer and better for both. To understand what I mean, let me introduce you to Bushwacker, one of the happiest bulls in the world. Bushwacker is one of the top-ranked bulls in the Professional Bull Riding circuit. Unlike Spain’s bullfights, bull riding is a sport that evolved from the cowboy culture of the Americas. The goal for a bull rider is to try and last as long as possible on the back of a one tonne bull that is bucking and jumping for all it’s worth – a test of skill and control over raw power and gravity-defying agility. Man and beast meet as equals and part ways after battle, with respect in one heart and relief in the other. Blood might be spilt, bones might be broken, but neither by design. The riders are sporting celebrities and the bulls are as prized and feted as racing thoroughbreds. And until such a time as we can find space in our hearts and heartlands to allow fellow creatures to just be, that’s the way bullfighting should have gone. The sport should be modified to retain the art and the spirit of machismo without necessarily ending in death for either man or bull. And that’s a bullfight worth fighting for...


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