When the author Shoba moves
back to Bangalore from Manhattan
with her family, she befriends the
woman she buys fresh milk from
every day. Over time the two-from
vastly different backgrounds-bond
over not only cows but also family,
food, and life.
When Shoba agrees to buy the
woman a new cow (why not,
she needs one and Shoba can
afford it), they set out looking for
just the right candidate. What
was at first a simple economic
transaction becomes much more
without a hint of slapstick. When
Shoba starts dreaming of cows,
a little ayurvedic medicine is in
order (cow urine tablets, anyone?).
When Shoba offers her neighbours
fresh cow’s milk, we learn about the
uses of milk in our culture. When
house, the spiritual and historical
role the animal plays in India is
explored. And when the newly
purchased cow has a male calf,
Shoba must find it shelter.
In this delightful true story, readers
are treated to an insider’s point of
view of India and the special place
cows hold here. Equally, The Cows
of Bangalore offers a window into
our universal connection with
food and its sources, the intricacies
of female friendship, and our
relationship with all creatures great
Sarala, my milk woman, needs a cow. She tells me so when
I chide her for giving me less milk one morning. It is
7 a.m. The school buses have left. I am standing outside
my Bangalore home, waiting in line for fresh cow's milk.
Sarala's youngest son, Selva, squats nearby, milking his
mother's favorite cow, Chella Lakshmi.
I have known Sarala for ten years. I see her when I
cross the road in front of my house to buy milk. She asks
me for many things but, so far, he hasn't asked for a cow.
Sarala is not sure how much a Holstein Friesian cow will
cost. She thinks it will be Rs 40,000 or so. She has it all
worked out. She will repay my loan through a supply of
free milk-two litres daily, which cost me about Rs 40 a
day (Rs 20 per litre at that time. Now two litres costs Rs
70 in Bangalore). Within a year, 'or two, give or take', the
loan will be repaid, she says.
When I look dubious at her rate of return, she offers
an explanation. 'I need you to buy me more cows. How
will you do that if I don't repay your loan?' she asks.
Then she lays it on thick. 'You know, the family in
the apartment below yours wanted to buy a cow for us.
They like to do that, these Jains. But the timing didn't
"set". When they were ready to buy, I didn't have space
in my cowshed. When I had space in my cowshed, they
didn't have the money. It didn't work out. You are lucky.
Else why would I approach you instead of them when I
need a cow?'
As a kicker, Sarala gives me naming rights to the cow
that I buy-as long as the name ends with Lakshmi, the
Hindu goddess of wealth. Otherwise, she says, the name
If someone had told me years ago that I would write a
book about cows, I would have rolled my eyes. If someone
had told me then that this cow story would come to me,
I would have laughed in their face. Not unkindly, but
laced with a scorn I wouldn't have been able to conceal.
I would have said that waiting for stories to come to you
was passive and fatalistic.
I am older now and I don't have the boundless
confidence of youth, the eternal sunshine of the unsullied
mind. I realize now that opportunities sometimes present
themselves in forms that you don't initially recognize as a
story. I didn't plan to write a book about my relationship
with a cow. It literally walked up to me.
Cows are a cliché in India. They make headlines and
are displayed on billboards. Sometimes, they even eat
billboards. They are the subject of parodies and politics,
and like most stereotypes, epitomize an underlying reality:
Cows are indeed holy in India.
The cow in India is a quagmire of contradictions and
controversies, and also symbol of the country's sometimes
polarizing politics. Having said that, this is not an explicitly
political book. It is more of a personal journey. It isn't,
and doesn't wish to be, a magisterial work on all aspects
of the cow. Well, it sort of wishes to be a magisterial work
on all aspects of the cow, but isn't one.
With these caveats, read on.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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