Thursday, September 2, 2010

Holy cow!

Cows to the left of me, cows to the right of me, cows in front of me, and cows behind me.

And cow manure everywhere, as a consequence. As if the streets weren't filthy enough, with the open sewers (quite literally, people ahem, ablute directly into them on the street – if only the cows themselves could be that precise) – the sheer quantity of cow dung takes some getting used to.

I have so far managed to avoid any messy disasters, but I can't say the same for the Southern Belle, who has put her foot in it.... so to speak, three times now.

But the cows themselves, they are something to behold. They're Brahmins usually, the cow with the hump on its back, which is named after the highest Indian caste of Brahmins; and part of the reason they became holy to the Hindu faith over time is because it was illegal to hurt or kill a Brahmin's cow. Brahmins were the governors, politicians and priests of ancient India, so they were pretty important. You didn't want to go messing with a priests' cow.

Hindus believe that the cow is an embodiment of Mother Earth herself. They provide food in the form of milk, they provide butter and ghee which are used both in every type of cooking as well as in sacred Hindu ceremonies, they provide fuel in the form of their dried manure (which is still used to this day) and they are herd animals – the ultimate mothers.

So it is sacrilege to hurt or kill a cow - In India, McDonalds doesn't serve beef, just chicken, fish and vegie burgers - and that's why they wander the streets even in modern cities like Jaipur, where I am right now, and why everybody just leaves them to their business and goes around them.

I'm sure when little calves are born their mothers say to them "Don't worry dear, you just do what you like, because we have the run of the place. You want to sleep on the traffic island? That's fine. You want to lie in front of a shop and block their doorway? That's fine. You want to curl up like a cat in a hotel's garden? No problem."

In the street outside right now there are at least twenty that I can see, and a group of them have formed a little coterie in the middle of the road where they are no doubt discussing the upcoming elections and reviewing the latest restaurants.

I'm sure there's some kind of cow bulletin that goes out about the best garbage dumps to eat at, too, because that's where you often see them, snuffling through the rubbish in search of something edible. Of course cows are grazers and should eat grass, but there is a dearth of fresh grass in urban India (and even in rural India too), so they end up eating all sorts of stuff they shouldn't. Like plastic bags. They can eat up to 36kg of undigestible plastic, which sits there making them feel as though they're full, which of course they aren't, and then they die slowly of starvation.

Plus, shopkeepers will feed them chapati – flat bread - which isn't good for their stomachs, so they bloat up like malnourished babies with all this bulk in their tummies; but their ribs show through their skin and their hips stick out like a teenage anorexic's. It can be very sad to see.

I think I said in a previous post that being headbutted by a cow is meant to be good luck – but still, I mean, it's being HEADBUTTED by a COW. I have the bruises to prove it. Some of the cows are pretty massive creatures, and when they lumber up to you in the street it can be a bit confronting. I try to keep a reasonably wide berth now.

But the best cow event yet has to be the one yesterday in Udaipur, where the monsoon was exploding out of the sky and all the cows were standing on the shopfront ledges trying to keep dry. One cow had even gone INTO the shop and it was hilarious watching the shopkeepers try to shoo out this massive animal that had no intention of budging. Heh heh. Cows always win in the end.

And that leads me to the unanswerable question. I asked my driver this: if you're driving, and something bad happens and you cannot avoid killing something no matter what choice you make, and on one side of you is a man and on the other side is a cow, which direction do you go in?

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