May 27, 2017

Holy Cows

If the Chicago Cubs’ legendary baseball play-by-play announcer Harry Caray had ever visited India, I have no doubt the first two words out of his mouth would have been, ahem, “holy cows.”
This cheeseball joke aside, I was intrigued the first time I saw a herd of cattle roaming traffic-congested roads in New Delhi and Gurgaon without any apparent sense of fear or concern.
This just runs contrary to my Canadian upbringing, where any large animals on the road – for example, moose or deer -- are considered a danger to vehicles, people, and the animals, and we corral cattle lest they become bovine roadkill.
Yet, here in India, cattle freely amble around and even command their own passing lane on busy roads. They can go anywhere they want, even in dense urban areas. Cows are also welcome at open air markets, garbage dumps (a food court for them!) and they generally lounge wherever they want--to chew cud, watch what’s going on, and just “be what they wanna be.” Cows are one of those special cultural symbols that exemplify India’s quirks writ large.
At this point I should mention the religious element. Hindus revere cows (female cattle) and consider them sacred animals because they produce life-sustaining milk. Cows are worshiped and decorated during the many festivals that occur throughout the year. Needless to say, UN FAO statistics indicate that Indians have the lowest rate of meat consumption in the world for the aforementioned religious as well as economic reasons. Local Muslims, not so much: they dominate the meat industry here. Recently, in many Indian states, the slaughtering of cows and selling of beef has been either restricted or banned. I have read many a hysterical news article describing Muslims being lynched or beaten to death for alleged theft or transport of cows. Consequently, cows have become a focal point of inter-faith conflict. I am not sure what the views are concerning bulls or oxen—the forgotten, ignored, disempowered male cattle. (Insert fake outrage here.)
So all this superficial insight into the social intricacies of religious legacies, caste and how they impact on modern Indian society all comes from a thought of how cool it is that cows rule the roads. And that, my friends, is one example of why I enjoy living overseas…you never stop wondering “why does that happen?” and my thirst for figuring things out never gets quenched.

As for the Rising Daughters, from time-to-time we freeze food we know we will not eat and feed it to the local grazing cattle. It just feels like a positive thing to do. 

But, I’ll tell ya, that first sniff of the putrid breath of the big, aggressive bulls, that first sandpaper rasp of the cow’s tongue across your hand as they snap the food out of your palm—those experiences are unforgettable.
Clop on, cows in India, clop on.

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