The dark, dreary stretch to the cow and goat mandi sharply contrasts with the hubbub of the mandi itself. There are lights — lots of them — quite a few cameras and enough action to keep the lens clicking. The main actors of course, are the herds; their owners and buyers, part directors, part extras.
In recent years, the annual cow/goat mandi on Super Highway, Karachi, has become a veritable picnic spot for families. Spanning over hundreds of acres, it draws crowds in thousands. They are not there just to make purchases; some only drive over to ogle at the animals on display. There are the VIP stalls where the price of a cow begins in the high six and seven figures. These are, of course, a cut above the rest, bigger in size, beautiful in colour, and adorned in flashy mohras, with an air of better breeding that only comes with good food and regular shampooing. No surprise then, that they draw the largest crowds, although few of the gawkers can afford them.
Then there are the ordinary mortals who, in various sizes — but just as suitable for sacrifice — stand in the non-VIP section of the mandi. Unlike their cattle-farm bred counterparts, these animals — mostly cows — live on basic food, their bodies muddied by sitting on sandy ground. However, for all intents and purposes, when it comes to the actual buying, most people flock to this side of the market.
Most sellers bring their sacrificial animals from their villages, while some are bred on farms close to the city. The retailers begin trickling into the mandi and exhibiting their wares a few weeks prior to Eidul Azha, the pace picking up closer to the festival. According to the owners, just the transportation charges saps up significant resources, not adding the feeding and other miscellaneous costs.
“I’ve brought 28 cows, and the total transportation and additional cost came up to around Rs50,000,” claims Allah Ditta, who brought his cattle from Pakpattan, Sahiwal District. “Even though, the space allotted in the mandi is for free, I paid Rs1,000 per animal for transportation, plus the police wallas charged a certain amount at different check posts. Then, of course, there were other expenses like diesel and food. And then customers complain that we charge them high prices for our animals,” he grumbles.
Few of these retailers are actually involved in breeding; many simply buy animals one or two years before they plan to sell them. They choose the healthiest and, of course, the prettiest, and then begin to fatten them up. Generally, the food comprises dry bread, grass, mustard oil and ghee. The sellers are careful to bring sizeable stocks of cattle food with them to the mandi, since buying the same food in Karachi can easily burn a hole in their pocket.
However, judging by the food ‘served’ to the cows in the VIP stalls, they seem to have lived in the lap of luxury. If cattle farm owner Mohammad Mushtaq is to be believed, the day begins for the cows with a full meal of wheat, green and dry grass, and lentil bread. They are fed ghee, mustard oil and butter every 15 days. The same diet is repeated in the evening; milk is served during the day. And what happens if the animals get indigestion? There’s always pickles and garlic chutney!
“We spend around Rs25,000 a month on each animal’s upkeep,” says Mushtaq, who has been putting up a stall in the mandi for a few years. “Just do your math and imagine what it comes up to over a period of over two plus years, which of course completely justifies our demand for high prices.”
The ‘large’ amount can range from Rs300,000 for a small cow, to Rs1,400,000 for a mammoth size. In most cases, looks become the decisive factor: the prettier the cow, the higher price it fetches. Many of the animals are of mixed breeds, that is, part Australian, part desi.
“Generally, we buy the animals for Rs500,000 to Rs600,000 each, depending on their looks, build and breed, and then after adding the cost of maintenance and upkeep, we add a profit of around Rs50,000 to Rs100,000 on each cow, and price them accordingly,” explains Mushtaq.
Retailer Imtiaz Sheikh is candid enough to admit that he keeps a margin of 30 to 40pc over the profit he expects to achieve.
“For bargaining,” he explains. “I know that my customer will never agree on the quoted price, so I just quote a few thousand rupees higher, and the settled amount is closer to my expectations.” Like many others, Sheikh has also positioned his prized cattle at the entrance of his brightly lit VIP stall to lure both customers and onlookers.
Goats enter relatively late into the scenario. They begin dotting the mandi just about three weeks before Eid. Significantly cheaper than cows, the economy of goat-selling is also largely dependent on looks, size and build. Similar to the case of cows, their owners buy them young, and then work on the build. A goat can be had for as little as Rs15,000 and the price can go up to Rs70,000 to Rs80,000 according to sellers.
“We also spend a hefty amount on transportation — each truck charges Rs10,000 and carries Rs28 goats — plus the kharcha pani, so why should we sell on loss?” demands Ghulam Qadir of Mirpur. “You have to keep in mind that we don’t just have to make profit; we have to make enough profit to buy animals for next year as well.”
For customers, buying an animal for sacrifice is not very different from marching across the length of Tariq Road for that perfect dress for Eidul Fitr — and the market is almost as crowded. With days simply too hot to venture out, people invariably turn up after dusk, and the later it gets, the more crowded it becomes. On weekends in particular, the mandi is alive until the wee hours of the morning. Buying an animal is now a family affair, and serious buyers would travel the length and breadth of the mandi before zeroing in on an animal that fits their budget, besides filling the criteria of their ideal sacrificial animal. With prices sky-rocketing, buyers have to spend a lot more time before they can make a purchase that doesn’t burn too big a hole in their pocket.
“It took us four to five hours before we took a decision,” says Izhar, leading his just-purchased goat out of the mandi. “We did a market survey, and then bargaining took time. But eventually we brought down the price of this goat from Rs30,000 to Rs21,000.”
Eid is one festival that is celebrated with a gusto rarely witnessed in this part of the world. While Eidul Fitr has always been a party affair, beginning from shopping to late nights in bazaars, of late, Eidul Azha has taken the same tone as well. Animal buying is no longer a dull business, and one visit to the mandi proves that.