Deepa Mehta began showing me her range of block printed sarees on Mull. There were owls, weighing scales, rams, fish and other quirky zodiac inspired designs. I immediately asked her if she had a saree with a bull print. A saree with a print of this strong-willed, determined creature would be fun, I thought. For those days I want to feel bullish, charged and powerful and celebrate the Taurus in me.

“Do we have the bull print?” asked Deepa to her colleague.

“Yes, in the suitcase that came yesterday”, she replied.

“You’re in luck! We have one piece.”

Out of the box came a blood-red Mul with the head of the bull printed in black all over the body. The pallu had embroidered highlights in bright yellow and green, with a thin green-gold brocade border running all through the length of the saree.

“Great! I’ll take it!” I said, excited about my very own Taurus saree!

I decided to take it along with me on my vacation that was due to begin later that week. With Europe going through a heat-wave, Madrid was a blazing 40+ degrees all through. I didn’t get a chance to wear the saree once I got there, though. A couple of days later we went to Sevilla, the Andalusian city with an impressive history of 2500 years.

One thing that stood out for me, though in Sevilla was Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza, the oldest bullring in Spain. Having read ‘Ferdinand, The Bull’ (Munro Leaf, 1936), the little bull (he’s Taurean too, so mother-son bull-fights are quite routine in our lives!) in our family wanted to go see the place Ferdie was taken to. The place where he didn’t fight. While we knew we didn’t have the stomach to watch a real fight, we could always go visit the ring. And that meant the Taurus saree could be worn!

Upon entering the imposing Baroque style building, we were taken to the place where it all happens. Looking out into the huge ground covered with ochre sand and surrounded by bright red barricades, I imagined the stands to be full of jeering spectators shouting “Olé!” as the matador swings his muleta from side to side, inching closer and closer to the el momento de la verdad (the moment of truth) when he goes in for the kill.

In Greek mythology, Taurus was sent by Jupiter to protect the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters from Orion, who coveted all of them. They say that’s why in the night sky you can see Orion fighting Taurus, raising his club to strike the charging bull while holding a cloth as a shield to protect himself. Perhaps, it is the same contest that plays out in the bullring each time. As our guide recounted the stages of the fight, I could not help but think about how this 500-kg beast, the epitome of bravery, strength, power and solidity was now just a toy for the Picadores, Banderilleros and the Matador. Such a paradox!

Somewhere in a school, a young boy trains to be a matador. His waking hours are spent practicing and perfecting his ballet-like moves; he is taught to look fear in the eye; he knows if he makes one wrong move, he could be gored. The margin for error is zero. And it is not just once that he lives with this thought, but everytime he enters the arena. Dancing with death is routine. His goals are simple: to be successful and to be the greatest.

A bull grows up somewhere in a ranch; it is fed, taken care of very well by its breeder and lives a carefree life, all the while, not knowing its fate. Suddenly one day, it has to prove itself. It has to show the world the qualities it stands for. It has to be brave, powerful, majestic and strong, all at once. Its goals are simple too: to survive.

On the day of the fight, the bull comes charging at everything, unpredictable in its movement, angry and violent in its approach. It runs, butts its head against anything that moves, charges repeatedly, gets hurt, goes again and doesn’t give up easily. The matador has to make a spontaneous assessment of the situation to determine his strategy. He has team to help but he is the one who faces the most danger. Within 20 minutes, he and his team have to slay the beast. The matador runs too; only, he has to be graceful and look artistic while doing it.

In effect, whether it’s a bull or a matador, life is the same. Running all the time. The running could be a stylish art form or it could be a wild, earth-shattering trample. It doesn’t matter. This is somewhat true for us too. We’re matadors in a bullfight without realizing it. We’re chasing dreams or dreams are chasing us. We love to take the bull by its horns. We love to kill the competition. We callously make decisions knowing it might hurt the other – sometimes in relationships, sometimes in work. We love to fight; we love the adrenalin rush it gives us. We want to prove our greatness at every step. We want to be called achievers. We want our children to be called super-achievers. Just survival won’t do. But ask a bull and it will tell you that survival is its biggest success.

I’m not sure I’m articulating this very well. If the visit to the bullring stirred something in me, it is this: it’s so hard to stay in the middle. To say “I have enough.” To say “I’m content”. To stay grounded. To slow down. The very ideals that Taurus stands for.

Perhaps, in the days ahead, I will wear this saree to calm me down, to help me stop running and smell the flowers like Ferdinand did.

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