El Corrida dè Toros

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Augustin stomped his hoofs on the dusty ground and glared balefully at the mounted torero unfurling the red cloth. In blinding rage, he snorted once, lowered his head and charged towards the offending cloth, wishing to impale and gore it mortally with his polished and honed great horns. As he reached the waving cloth, he felt the tightening of ropes on his back and haunches and was pulled back by a number of banderilleros, who dug their heels and were straining at the taut ropes with all their might against his brute strength. Like all bulls, four years old Augustin was color blind and the world was just a montage of various shades of gray. But, he could decipher the colors by their different shades and hated this particular shade of gray, which represented red. The capote was associated with painful memories and it always filled him with blind anger.

He was born in a rural ranch near Navarro, Barcelona. At the tender age of ten months, he was selected by the state committee of Corrida dè Toros, which controlled the state bullfights. Augustin was a beautiful specimen of a real bull. He was taller for his age and had wide shoulders and a narrow hip. He was glossy black with white underbelly. His wide forehead and large eyes gave him a formidable appearance, which belied the gentle bovine spirit, which just needed a lot of rest with as little excitement as possible. The selectors were impressed by his looks and strength, but the thing which clinched his selection was his sharp intellect, quick reflexes and a murderous temper. He was selected to be doomed as El Toro. A lifelong training for a single fight, which would culminate into his death. All that for the pleasure of few aficionados and the royalty of Spain. Augustin was carted away to the state ranch for training.

The training was an interesting affair. His handler pulled him out in a small ring and tethered him with ropes. One of the toreros rode far from him on a horseback, holding a folded cape of red cloth. He unfurled and waved the capote and another torero poked him with a sharp, harpoon ended stick of three feet in length called banderillas. Augustin lowed in pain and fury. Slowly, his dull mind associated the unfurling of the red capote with the sudden pain, which always followed it. After the training, he was led to his stable and allowed to rest till the next session. His world was fine and comfortable, except his nemesis – the red and waving capote, which was the harbinger of that brutal pain, which always rocked his infinite strength and stamina. How he hated it! In one of his training sessions, he found that he’s not tethered to the pole as usual. His dull vision saw the distant torero, who flagged the capote. Augustin lowed in anger and rushed towards it in rage to avoid the sudden pain. He couldn’t reach the capote as was hampered by loose ropes, which tightened as soon as he reached closer to the waving cloth. Today he didn’t feel that searing pain and learned a valuable lesson. He realized that if he attacks that waving red cloth as soon as possible, he can avoid that horrible pain.  His handler was very happy while leading him into his stable. Today he was given additional bran as a reward. Things were very comfortable today. Augustin understood that for his own comfort, he has to kill that terrible waving cape. He was content  as he had found the key to his happiness. He didn’t know that after the run, he had graduated from ‘A Bull’ to ‘The Bull’. Une Toro to El Toro. He was four years old and a full bodied alpha male. Strong, mild but ferocious looking. He was ready for the bloody sport of Corrida dè Toros. Now he was allowed to graze in the rolling pastures and laze away his time: an ideal Taurean dream! He still had to chase away that damned capote once a week, but otherwise he was on velvet. Life was good.

Then one fine day he was loaded in a wagon and carted away to Madrid.

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The dusty streets of Madrid were decorated with buntings and flags. A grand fiesta had been organized in the honor of Ferdinando, the Royal Prince of Madrid. No fiesta could be complete without an encierro or the bull run and the Corrida dè Toros. Among the numerous events celebrated during the festival, it is traditional to have an encierro which typically occurs early on Saturday morning and later the same day a corrida dè toros. Manuel dè Cervantes y Esperanza was a famous matador dè toros, a veteran of 78 bullfights, and was scheduled to perform in Saturday afternoon in the famous Plaza dè Toros Las Ventas.

On Saturday afternoon, the plaza was crammed full with aficionados. The Corrida began with a trumpet sound and the toreros were invited for an honor march in the plaza. The entire group of matador and his six assistants marched proudly and bowed before the Royal Box to pay their respect to the Royal Prince.

The first of the three parts of a bullfight, the Tercio dè Varas, began with a fanfare of trumpets. Two picadors on horseback took their positions while weighing their lances or varas. The matador stood at the far end of the arena, with a capote. The gate of the cage was opened and Augustin stepped out in bright sunshine. He took a minute to get his bearings and was bewildered by the noise and crowd. This was a totally new experience in  his hitherto quiet and peaceful life. Once his eyesight adjusted, he was incensed to see the cursed red cloth fluttering in distance. He snorted, pawed the ground in anger and charged like an express train towards the capote.

Very few things in the world are as majestic and frightening at the same time as a strong and arrogant bull charging in anger. Watching the 600kg mass of bones and muscles racing with a liquid grace and with such a blinding speed is breathtaking. As soon as he reached the fluttering cloth, the cloth flew over his head and was behind him. He felt a searing pain in his neck muscles. Augustin was surprised! This was against the rules in past, when he could avoid the pain by simply chasing the cloth in anger! This made him more angry. The matador had waited till the last second and then pirouetted on his heels, causing the bull to miss him by inches, while one of the riding picadors thrust his lance, opening a deep gash in the bull’s neck. The crowd screamed ‘Olé!’ in appreciation.

The same steps were repeated. The matador conducted few more passes to understand the behavior of the bull in stress, using his capote and the picadors gashed Augustin once more on the other side of his neck while he was charging. Augustin was bewildered. Initially he tried to attack the riding picadors, but the horses were too swift for him. Also, due to the gashes and blood loss, he was unable to raise his head higher. The tercio ended with another fanfare of trumpets and accolades from the crowd.

The second tercio, the Tercio dè Banderillas was announced. During the interval, Augustin was searching for his nemesis, the red capote. The crowd was appreciative to see such a lively bull, who in spite of being so badly hurt had not lost its fury. Augustin saw that red cloth again in the hands of the matador. Once again the matador started his passes. Bulls are very stubborn naturally, and anger makes them more so. The enormous pain and blind anger had made Augustin more focused. Instead of racing blindly at anything that moves, he focused on the waving cloth and attacked again. The matador gracefully spun around and the bull passed him like a freight train. One of the banderilleros stabbed him with a sharp and barbed banderillas just behind his hump. Augustin bellowed in pain. His primitive mind was unable to comprehend the reason for this torture. Based on his past experiences, he was astonished that the pain didn’t stop and is more than ever! This made him more angry. A Taurus always has a fixed notion in its mind and gets upset if things don’t go according to its will. His blinding rage made him turn and race again at the guy with the red cape. His red and gold costume infuriating him further. The matador was dressed in the Traje dè luces, a gold and red body fitting costume worn by Andalusian matadors during the 18th century. Calm, resplendent and handsome, he fearlessly stood in the middle of the arena, facing the raging bull like a Greek god facing some mythological demon – daring it, mocking it. The second tercio ended. Augustin was unable to focus now. He had six banderillas trailing from his shoulders and back, and the gashes in his neck were bleeding freely. But, he was hellbent on killing his tormentor. The crowd was frenzied.

The third and the final part, the Tercio dè Muèrté or the Third of Death began. Augustin was restlessly searching around in the arena. The crowd was jubilant to see such a valiant bull. Usually, the bulls become listless after the second  round and have to be goaded for the last one. Suddenly he found himself alone, facing the matador with a smaller cape.  The matador had the red cape in one hand and a short steel sword in another. With the grace of a dancer, the matador extended the cape and unfurled it. Augustin had learnt from his mistakes and didn’t charge blindly. Neither he had the strength to do so. His vision was blurred due to weakness. The earth was red with his blood. He staggered a few steps, focused with difficulty and charged suddenly. The matador spun away without striking. Augustin stopped at the end of his run and turned around. He was disoriented for a second and then saw the matador taunting him with that red cloth. He roared in anger, a mournful and blood curdling bellow, and charged again. The matador tried to spin away, but his feet got tangled in the edge of the cape. He tripped and fell. The 600kg bull raced towards him while he tried to scramble away, his eyes wide in terror. Other toreros rushed in the arena to assist the matador, but the bull hooked the cape in his blunt horns and raced away, the terrified matador scrambling away hastily. He stood up and waved to attract the bull, but Augustin didn’t care. It was the culmination of his anger. He trampled and gored the red cape. It was a vent to his lifelong frustration.

The aficionados were appalled at the display of such raw fury. The matador had confronted many violent bulls in his profession, but even he was awed by such explosive anger of such a docile specie. He stepped up to perform the coup dè grace using the short sword in his right hand, but stopped as the crowd exploded and waved white handkerchiefs, petitioning His Royal Highness to grant an indulto or a pardon to the brave bull, who in spite of being mortally wounded, didn’t give up. It would be a waste to slaughter such a brave fighter, who didn’t give up till it had strength. It should be allowed to return to its ranch and can be used for breeding, so that it can pass on its bravery to its future generations. The bull will never fight again anyway, as no bull with any experience can ever be used more than once, because they learn from experience and would become too dangerous next time.

The matador hesitated for a second, his sword poised over the shoulders of the snorting bull, so that he can pass it through its shoulder blades and to its  heart, and then he stepped back, took out his own white handkerchief and waved towards the Royal Box. It’s not everyday that one encounters such exemplary bravery in the arena!

Augustin had torn the cape to ribbons and was trampling it. His honor satisfied and his anger sated, he tried to walk away and staggered. Then, he collapsed due to weakness and loss of blood, all his reserves of energy exhausted.

Prince Ferdinando stood up and the crowd became silent. In the hushed silence his sonorous voice echoed:

“Concedo el indulto a este toro bravo!”

The crowd went wild with excitement while the matador bowed before the Royal Box in gratitude.

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14 responses to “El Corrida dè Toros

  1. Oh! I missed this one! 😮

    Wonderful narration! I fail to understand what satisfaction some human beings derive from torturing an animal. The tauromachian culture has a long history and often considered as a part of tradition and heritage. So many tales have been written on the valour of matadors, but you’ve given this story a voice of humanity, by interpreting it from the station of Augustine.

    Slaughtering of animals in the name of sports and religion- perhaps we would never be civilized enough to stop this!

    Liked by 1 person

    • During the late eighties, when I was in my teens, our lovely DoorDarshan used to televise a Russian show in Sunday evenings, which used to showcase cultures across the world. I saw my first bullfight then and was mesmerized. I liked the grace and bravery of the matador, but my love and loyalty was reserved for the turbine of raw power- the bull. I remember that I was hoping in my heart that the bull would toss the damned peacock out of the ring, but it ended as it ends. I didn’t know then that the bull was already doomed to die. Even before the fight. Once I learned this, my perception of el Corrida changed.

      After the advent of internet, I watched a lot of Corridas, online of course, and found that like those Greek tragedies, where you know from the first line that the protagonist is going to die a miserable death, the bullfights are really poignant. People consider the matador aa a valient Greek god, but in fact, it’s the bull. Ten times stronger and heavier than its graceful tormentor, it dies without any fault. It’s indeed a tragedy and not a sport!

      We will never learn! 😦

      Like

    • We are known to show various forms of looniness in the name of bravery and traditions. Gladiators, Corrida, encierro, boxing, cockfighting, Buzkashi etc are example of that. May be, it’s some primitive sadistic hunting instinct, which dominates us at times and makes us enjoy cruelty to others. Even I’m guilty of this. Sad, but true!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Indrani! Bullfight is indeed cruel, but you cannot deny the grace with which it’s presented. The raw strength of the bull overcome by the sensuous grace of the matador…

      Like

  2. Rakesh, I hope the story makes people see such festivals from the animal’s perspective. Somehow I can’t fathom what kind of enjoyment people derive from such festivals where animals are tortured, though these are prevalent in different parts of the world. Buzkashi in Afghanistan and the recent hue and cry over ban on over Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu being a few examples. Wonderful narration again.

    Like

    • It’s a tradition and not a sport. How can it be a sport, when the bull doesn’t have a chance? The bull is nearly always killed, unless it’s granted the indulto. The president of the Corrida reserves thr right of the indultado.

      To tell you the truth, I read ‘Death in The Afternoon’ by Ernest Hemingway after I wrote the story. Am still reading it. I tried to write this story dispassionately but later found out that Mr Hemingway had already set a benchmark, to which pygmies like me can keep trying to beat! 😀

      Buzkashi is another of sports, which fascinates me. Tribes of loonies kill each other for the glory of a five yard of cloth, which is awarded!

      Sometimes I believe that after being civilized, we Homo Sapien Erectus lost our marbles! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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