THE VILLAGE OF KANNAPURAM lies in western Tamil Nadu, along a highway that runs across the middle of the state, from Coimbatore to Tiruchirappalli. For most of the year, it is a largely anonymous place. But for a week or so each spring, anyone passing by cannot help but take notice of it.
On the morning of 10 April, I visited a sprawling complex of temporary shanties stretching along either side of the broad, smooth highway. By 10.30 am, it was scorching hot. Hundreds of men sat in slivers of shade—under their shacks, beneath scrawny trees, beside a water lorry—with their dhotis or lungis hoicked up and towels fashioned into turbans. The only women, besides me, were a few running food stalls. All around stood thousands of cattle—drinking water, chewing cud and sending flies packing with their flicking tails. Almost all of them were of the Kangayam breed, which is indigenous to western Tamil Nadu, with soaring humps, sweeping horns and hides of black, white and gray.