Cows in India are a thing. They are everywhere.
What’s that sticking it’s ass out of a doorway? Ah, it’s a cow.
What’s that nudging my leg and leaving a lovely, large bruise the next day? Ah, it’s another cow.
What’s that large beast of an animal ripping into a plastic bag to eat the contents inside? A dog? Ah… oh wait, it is, of course, a cow.
Cows which frighten you by how close they get to you. Cows which chill on the roads, pavements, in traffic, remaining forever unmolested despite you yourself getting rammed into by a tuk tuk or vegetable cart at least every other day. Cows which are decorated for festivals. Cows which are fed daily despite so many other animals and humans left without.
Cows, this sacred, holy animal, are part of the reason why India is so beautiful.
On my second night in Jodhpur I nearly got mowed down by two cows who were running (literally running) up the street near the clock tower. For that split second before I dashed away, I thought I would meet the same end as my mum, who was chased by a cow when she was growing up in Guyana: she had mooed at the cow, the cow took it offensively, and a fierce chase ensued which resulted in my mum slamming into a wall and scarring her eyebrow. She got away from the cow though, thank goodness, because have you ever seen a cow run? Those things can demolish you.
One of my favourite memories of cows in India however, was when I was in Pushkar walking back to the hostel after an afternoon of sun, shopping and good vegan food. A woman said I could feed the group of cows for 20 rupees and after paying her, she gave me the greenery and stood back. Now, what I thought would happen was this: I’m alone, the shrubs of greenery in my Mehndi covered hands. 20 cows or so stand surrounding me, staring. Then, in a blink of an eye, madness. Cows everywhere, trying to snag some food, bellowing and bleating (do cows bleat?) as they tried to crush me to get food. A nightmare. But in reality, what happened was this: I’m alone, the shrubs of greenery in my Mehndi covered hands. 20 cows or so stand surrounding me, staring. Then, in a blink of an eye… calm. Two or three cows at the most approached me for food, and they were polite about it. The others merely watched on and waited for the other women with food. It was pleasant.
Yet for me, nothing tops this story. On the bus to Pushkar I witnessed a man staring intensely at a cow standing beside him. He was staring at the cow how I would stare at a cow – because you want to stroke it and you’re trying to assess the situation. He looked at this cow for about one minute, before slowly lifting his hand and stroking it’s grey, rough cheek. Queue me going ‘aww’ and trying to take a photograph of the scene before the bus pulled away (yeah, I got a pretty shoddy, blurry photo that’s worth nothing). But one reason this scenario stood out for me, was that because I had seen so much indifference towards animals in India, it was refreshing and downright wonderful to witness this act of kindness. So kudos to you, lovely man, it’s something I hope never to forget.
A cultural, historic and spiritual part of India, the cows are something I’ll surely miss. They make me grin even if all they’re doing is smacking their lips with good food, and I can’t imagine crossing a road once I’m back in London without them being in my way.