FEATHER WEIGHT: Cock-fighting is a cruel sports in which the defeated bird loses its lifeAs the opponents glare at each other, it’s evident that a no-holds barred battle is on. Having just been thrown into a make-believe ring, the combatant seem to know what is at stake.The little spurs on,FEATHER WEIGHT: Cock-fighting is a cruel sports in which the defeated bird loses its lifeAs the opponents glare at each other, it’s evident that a no-holds barred battle is on. Having just been thrown into a make-believe ring, the combatant seem to know what is at stake.The little spurs on their right legs are sharp, brutal reminders of what it’s all about. One bout of cheering from those around and they are literally at each other’s throat.They are good at this sort of thing, that’s why they are here. Their eyes bloodshot, their feet nimble, their every move calculated as they watch, swerve and strike. Within minutes, however, it’s all over.One of them has got the better of the other. The vanquished runs off leaving a bloody trail behind, ending a round of instant thrill at its perverse best.No sooner does the cockfight draw to an end than the winner’s master readies to take it all. The stream of compliments apart, there’s good money to be won here, the money that he had wagered on his bird before the game. And, of course, he takes the loser as well, its meat a privileged treat in these parts of Kerala.Although a banned sport, cock-fighting is a craze in the villages of Meenakshipuram, Kozhinjampara, Moolathara, Ozhalapathy, Vadakarapathy and Chittur in Kerala’s Palakkad district.From rich landlords to the poorest of toddy tappers, the villagers invariably raise “fighter cocks” at home to be used for the duels. And nothing, not even surprise raids by the police or the heavy losses the gamblers suffer during the game, can make them give up the practice.advertisementThe police seized 48 roosters and arrested 65 persons from a coconut farm at Moolathara near Meenakshipuram during Diwali. But many others managed to flee-and resume the game elsewhere.In Chittur, when the first class judicial magistrate court auctioned the cocks seized during Diwali, villagers turned up in big number and were willing to pay as much as Rs 1,000 a bird.It is during such festivities that cockfights are at their peak. Thousands of people gather in Palakkad’s favourite pockets to witness and take part in the jousting. They come from faraway districts on foot, cycles and motorcycles.Some go back richer, some poorer, but it’s all part of the game. Says K. Radhakrishnan, a wealthy landlord in Meenakshipuram who owns 100 roosters and bets up to Rs 25,000 a game: “It’s not the money that matters but the thrill.”Even the impoverished toddy tappers vouch for that. Subramonian, a tapper from Ozhalapathy, for instance, was heavily banking on the single fowl he had raised against all odds.But the bird let him down when it fled from its opponent. He lost Rs 100 and the bird, a big setback for a man of his economic standing, but that didn’t stop him from buying another rooster.Raising a fighter cock takes about Rs 100 a month. But it’s considered money well spent. There’s effort involved as well. To begin with, the birds, which belong to a breed typically found in Tamil Nadu, are carefully chosen when they are eight to 10 months old, a time when they have just reached maturity. They are not allowed to mate and are instead sentenced to a solitary life, the benefit being a nutritious diet comprising ragi and cereals.Soon their training as fighters begins in earnest. They are thrown into water tanks with their wings firmly tied. The struggling cocks have no option but to put their legs to use in staying afloat.This is a crucial phase because it is here that they gain the required strength. Within a few months, the roosters develop spurs at the back of their legs and weigh around 5-8 kg, as against well-grown broilers which tip the scale at 3 kg.The practical lessons involve actual fights as well where the birds are pitted against each other. A three-inch long, thin double-edged razor is fastened to the rear claw of the right leg in due course of time.As Radhakrishnan explains, “Once the knife is firmly tied to the leg, the cock knows that it is armed. It knows that it has to attack fast or die.”Some owners even give their birds a few drops of arrack before a fight as it is believed to make them more aggressive. It may seem cruel but there’s only one thing that matters to the gamblers. And that’s the heady aftermath.