Saturday, December 27, 2008

Happy Moo Year.....हम्मा , हम्मा, हम्माहम्माहम्मा, रे हम्मा

I don't know if it has anything to do with the recession, the economic downturn, BIG folks feeling the pinch ( and I mean financially BIG), but in all the wild stuff going on around me in the name of infrastructure development, one has suddenly stopped seeing cows.( As they leisurely strolled through the middle of the main road, totally oblivious to honking folks in buses, fancy cars, and yes, helmets and motorcycles..., giving looks, like a politically secure minister, may give his detractors in Parliament.)

I live in an area ,in the suburbs of Mumbai, which was once considered god-forsaken, back-of-beyond, jungle-like etc etc, by those who thrive on fancy 4-wheels and fancier 5-stars. About 600 acres of wooded area, where stands today, the premiere Engineering Institute in India, since the last 50 years. Bordering on a lake, the early residents of the area, besides technical humans, were leopards, cows, wild dogs and monkeys.

While one occasionally sights leopards (they have moved still further back into the park area after the engineers happened), the cows, wild dogs and monkeys, have managed to make their presence felt, in a sort of defiant way. Quite understandable , since they were there first; and there isn't any reason, that any Act of Parliament to start such an Institute, , signed with a flourish by a Prime Minister, should suddenly make them go, particularly since no rehabilitation plans were discussed.

Whats more , no one did any protests on their behalf, and got any prizes.

The academic area has a covered corridor, that runs by all the departments. My earliest memories of going to work, include those, of dodging groups of these cows and bulls, sort of strolling confidently through these corridors. Heads down, pointing horns, a disdainful sneeze, followed by the shake of the head, or a wild swish of the tail, and one of the cows would give a dismissive glance towards the Electrical Engineering department, before traipsing ahead to the next. The security personnel would rush with their sticks to drive them off.

Sometimes this would result in an interesting stampede , as we all moved to the side, and these cows galloped past. Gardens were developed outside departments, and the cows had one more reason to wander. It wasn't uncommon to see a beautiful garden with a flower bed, and a cow sitting dangerously close to it, ruminating, chewing the cud, probably cursing the days the bipeds trespassed on her scene.

Occasionally , a single cow, probably a senior woodizen, would walk in an important manner , all by its self through the centre of the corridor. Whoever decided that cows Moo, never heard our cows. They do more of a loud deep throated "HMMM", similar to that done by a outraged grandparent , after observing what the world is coming to today. Most of our classrooms have open windows and in the monsoon, it was quite common, for some of the cows to take shelter in the department doorway, and loudly moo, as a Data Structures class got over, and the Cream of India's youth, emerged to face and desperately dash across the actual creator of cream, so to speak...

Very often a group of cows would be out on campus for a stroll with their calves, familiarizing them with the terrain , so to speak, and it was amazing to see how they protected them.
I learned it the hard way, when I happened to change gears on my two wheeler as I passed them, and triggered an immediate violent reaction in the elders. Heads down, horns ominously pointing towards me, folks on the road were treated to a bunch of angry cows at a gallop, as I accelerated for dear life, and hoped for an open building gate that I could enter and close. From then on, regardless of which vehicle was used, we avoided changing gears near a group of cows and calves.

Our Institute cows roamed the campus far and wide, but come evening, they gave a new meaning to "coming home in the dust at dusk". We had a surfeit of meadows on campus, and the cows really didn't think of it as special, in the evenings. Our roads were paved, and so dust wasn't really an issue. But several times, in the darkening gloom, one would see a huge herd of cows, about 50 of them, sitting right in the middle of the main road that cut across our campus. Which reminded me of political meetings. They were oblivious to polite requests, honking, lights switching, verbal shouts , but mostly responded to security rushing around with big sticks, which again confirms my suspicion about their meeting resembling a political one.

Maybe , they were political.

Our Institute was initiated through a Russian government collaboration, back in the days of the Comrades. Breznhev actually planted a tree on campus. Occasionally delegations would come to visit, and the corridors which were hitherto strictly out of bounds for any vehicles, would be thrown open for the guests , who drove through them , in, Ambassador cars. Maybe this was to keep them away from an interested bovine population. It wouldn't do, for the education minister of Russia, to be greeted by a cow with her special campus Moo, as he queried someone about how the Russian computer was doing. However, grasslands on the sides of the corridors, occasionally ensured that the Russians got a dedicated view of our campus cows, performing, through, as they say, both ends of their body.

They are cutting a lot of trees now, to facilitate the construction of new buildings and infrastructure. The arterial road widening outside our institute, has also resulted in the complete destruction of a shady belt. Not surprisingly, one has not been seeing the cows , in the numbers, that one saw earlier. The new generation of students are missing out on the most unique aspect of studying here. There was something to be said for a bunch of cows quietly grazing away, watching all the going ons on Convocation Day, as yet another set of students who had , over the years, rushed by them to class, in mismatched chappals, now stood about in kurtas, and uttariyas, , all set to go off to a country, where children still thought that milk came in cartons and bottles and not from cows.....

Maybe we have little value for our cows although we culturally idolize them.. Some good souls, create go-shalas, and set up places where the cows are taken care of well. We treat them as a nuisance on campus that interferes with our "vision" for the place.

Maybe we need to know about Roger Federer.
His Canton/State, presented him with a cow, to celebrate his Wimbledon win. He named her Juliette, and Juliette later had a calf. Federer stood proudly next to Juliette in photographs.

Amidst crores of Rs being declared as prizes by various states to the Nations performing sportsmen, one never hears of anyone being presented with a prize cow or bull.

I yearn to see the day when we see a picture of the Indian cricket team . or say, Tendulkar or Dhoni, standing beside a prize Cow, maybe even doing the victory lap , the cow sprinting ahead of them, as they cajole her in typical cowherd shouts.

And, of course, we wont speculate on a possible name for the cow......


  1. I LOVE this post Suranga. I'd heard about your culture and cows and have always thought the way they are treated as rather wonderful.
    I see your campus is a little more offhanded however, and that's fine too!
    I do understand that other animals in India have not been so fortunate.
    In Australia we have behaved very badly towards our precious animal species. Or, at least the land clearing/developer types and their hangers-on have.
    So many species are now endangered or even extinct - tragedy.
    We are beginning to wake up and put up barriers before those who would destroy - but I fear it's too late for many.
    I remember sitting outside at dusk having a quiet wine on my patio perhaps ten years ago. We used to watch many thousands of ibis cross the evening sky towards a woodland where they had a rookery.
    Now that is all gone and replaced with a housing estate. Just a small example of what can happen.
    June in Oz

  2. Which is this beautiful campus where you see mountains in your backyard and cows at the zebra crossing? How lucky to be a part of all this.

    With so many cows there on the campus someone should start agnihotra ..:)


  3. Cricketers posing with cows? not unless one of them starts endorsing milk.

    In my building, behind my ground floor apt, there was a cowshed with cows and calves and gobar and everything else, and there was this "aji" who took care of it, an old lady who was as sprightly as us kids with a tongue that could launch a 100 ICBMs a minute and she also went around distributing milk (or selling) when there was excess milk, took care of the cows. Later, it was turned into a garage.

    This post refreshed some childhood memories.

  4. Hmmm !

    Cows for company !
    Cows for company for cricketers !

    Maybe that will be incentive enough for them. But then, will they still appear in ads saying 'Boost is the secret of my energy?!?" !!


    Yes. I noticed the trees going down. And it pains me. Immensely. And i notice the children thinking milk bottles and cows are pictures in a zoology book. We are hurtling far away from reason & practicality in our education system. And something needs to be done !!

    As usual, a post that makes me ponder !

  5. You post made me laugh out loud in rememberance of things gone by, very pleasant memories of growing up in India.

    As a teen, I used to come to the IIT campus in Powaii to see my boyfriend who lived in a dorm on campus. Yes, very forward for a desi teen girl over 20 years ago...I know... hehehehe.... yeah well but my parents didnt know, so it was all good!

    Well, with all the self absorbtion and vanity of a hip young girl in Mumbai, I would wear my highest heels and brightest lipstick when I visited. All this just to sashay past the boyfriend's gawping dorm mates and make him a bit jealous at all the attention I got from the fawning men.

    Well, one day I got the attention of a bunch of cows instead and they chased me down the road from the main gate. I was running, flying down the road, heels smacking and breaking against the tarmac, in tears, hair in disarray until I spied my gallant knight on his rickety bicycle, racing to meet me at the rickshaw/bus stand outside the main gates.

    In tears and hysterical, I hopped on his bike front bar and was rescued from the cows who were bent on atleast destroying my carefully arranged hair! It was like a scene out of a Rajesh Khanna, Sharmila Tagore movie except Rajesh had stopped acting by then and I was not feeling much like a dimpled Sharmila!

    The boyfriend has been replaced for a long time with a lovely husband (delightfully, boyfriend and I still remain best of friends) but I am glad the cows stayed on to chew the cud some more on that campus.

    For years afterward, every time I was behaving little cocky, friends would sneakily mention the word "cows" sotto voce. It was enough to keep me in line!

    Have the rickety bicycles on campus been replaced by more jazzy forms of transportation?

  6. Fascinating as always to read and learn more of your culture -- knew about the cows, but not in as much detail and I loved this! Thanks so much for sharing your life, your country, your culture! Hopefully, the more we learn about one another the more appreciative we can be of different cultures and hopefull, too, we can begin to build common goals on the similarities rather than focus on the differences. Have a Happy New Year, Suranga!

  7. June thank so much for your comments. I suppose whats happening is to be called "progress".....but I have been on campus for the last 35 years, and the cows have been a great part of those......

    Vinitayes, where we are, it doesnt feel like hot, sweaty, crowded, Mumbai, but thanks to "progress", we are getting there :-(

    As for where I am, have a look at "another Kiran's" comment..:-)

    The Comic Project Its all in the money. But someone needs to be large hearted enough to PAY the cricketers to advertise cows and milk. (I see them doing that for eggs. This is simpler). I thought Dhoni was an ideal candidate. But those motorcycles really spoil everything :-)

    Kavi Thank you for the comments. When all the highways are built, flyovers constructed, trees cut, and temperatures enhanced, I hope the cows remember, that there was someone who rooted for them....:-)

    Another Kiran in NYC Your experience of fleeing in front of a set of galloping bulls/cows, distinctly rings a bell. Except, I was on a two wheeler, taking my 4 year old son to kindergaarten on campus. Unfortunately he was sitting back-to-back, and so actually faced the galloping cows.

    Things have changed here. In between the chaps had motorbikes. Cycles are still around. But now there are electrically charged vehicles operating various circular routes on campus throughout the day. And these are greatly used by students and residents alike.

    Come by next time you visit. We may still be able to organize a cow chase :-)

    Sylvia K Thank you for your comments. I have been watching these cows for the last 35 years, and they have CHARACTER !....:-)

  8. Post the recent agitation of the MNS cadre, the North Indian ones have run away!! That may probably account for the disappearance. Jokes apart, there is a disdain and a look of utter contempt in their interaction with us poor human beings. This would be evident from the way they sit right in the middle of the road while vehicles try their best and get them moving. At the point of being repetitive, a superb blog once again.

    Wishing you and your family a very happy prosperous and a safe new year. Looking forward to reading many more such blogs in 2009.

    Warm Regards


  9. As the humans go on their expansion overdrive....

    poor animals are facing a reduction of space on this planet !!

  10. I love learning more about India from your stories. Thank you for a trip to your country - it is fascinating.

    Our complex was built where deer, coyotes, and an occasional mountain lion used to roam. We took over their habitat and now we see one of them coming back for a visit.

  11. Unfortunately they've possibly been rounded up and sent to the slaughterhouse, which is the reality with most of the missing cows these days, those who used to wander the streets. India has scant respect for her sacred cow, and beef is consumed everywhere, while the slaughter industry--though still illegal in all states but two--thrives. So much for the sacred cow, huh? Kinda makes things like the Taj incident a little easier to understand. Unless of course India is on wholesale reject mode, and has thrown karma outta the mix as well....who knows these days?

  12. Partha Thank you, and wish you and your family a very happy new years too.....your blog seems to be stuck in 2008....

    hitch writer so true...

    Darlene Thank you. And its so nice to see you back blogging after your surgery and stuff. Hope you have a safe and happy New year...

    "....India has scant respect for her sacred cow, and beef is consumed everywhere, while the slaughter industry--though still illegal in all states but two--thrives. So much for the sacred cow, huh? Kinda makes things like the Taj incident a little easier to understand."

    Someone who has travelled the length and breadth of India will realize the errors in making the above statement.

    You cant live in a particular pocket of India and make general statements , as may be possible in western countries due to the inherent homogenity in their society.

    We have, as you are doubtlessly aware, numerous religions, various religions ban or allow beef/pork/meat and so on, and this being a secular country , you will see beef being served /eaten in certain pockets. Like all countries, India suffers from economic compulsions, many having to do with farmers/rural folk, who do not have the resources any more to maintain livestock. Cows are sacred to Hindu's and will remain so. A few days spent wandering in , say Mumbai, Pune, etc will make that amply clear

    And I do not want to include folks here who may be Hindu, but more 5-star/western, so much so that roast beef meals take priority in their lives. We have folks like that in all countries. And one doesnt generalize based on that.

    And please. Don't involve the Taj in this. This is like intellectually involving the aborigines in the decision to send Australians to fight with Bush's army. No connection.

    We are a country that has remained secular and democratic by all norms. Despite a host of problems. We have riots and things. Some are religious, but this is to be expected in any multireligious society NOT ruled by a dictator. Pakistan has ruled by the sword, hardly been democratic, was once part of us , and the Taj stuff has had to do with economic, islamic, and political compulsions of Pakistan, as well as the fact that India, with all its shortcomings, was not having such a bad time in the current economic environement.

    My blog was about the environment being affected due to the proposed and ongoing development in our area. Cows were a part of it. Some cows , still are. There on campus.

    In a country with so much diversity such as India, one needs to be careful before jumping to conclusions......

  13. Wrong, sorry: I've travelled the length and breadth: I've just decided to settle here. But I see generalities are something you're fond of: " may be possible in western countries due to the inherent homogenity in their society." That's not a generalization?
    You seem to have missed the connection with the 5-star lifestyle and the wholesale slaughter of the country's sacred symbol. I'd say it has a lot to do with the modernization and a loss of values that you spoke of in your post. You are the one who mentioned 5-star hotels and lifestyles, yet you do not accept the "reasoning," however faulty, of those who inflicted the horror of the Taj upon that city? How on earth can you make that statement after mentioning the 5-star lifestyle?! You may have expressed it more eloquently, but from this viewpoint, you're saying the same thing as they are. And as me. If all you saw in that was generalizations and think that I'm so stupid as to make them, well...what can I say except you're missing a lot.
    I often get emails from Indians who read my blog and are so put out that I have the "nerve" to make a comment about some aspect of India or its society/culture, as if they have so much more knowledge of or right to say things than me, a *mere* intruder into your unimpenetrable and obviously unknowable country (unless I have brown skin and am born here, I guess). But none of us are the sole proprietors of knowledge and fact-based statements in this country, or any other. And I'm not some empty-headed, arrogant visitor who thinks they know it all, my friend: I have lived here for years and travelled this country and love it like I have never loved another country. My contribution to this country and my status as a resident give me rights to express my viewpoint. Thank you for being so open to allow them in your comment box.

  14. Hi......
    Your blog is really interesting... Keep posting.... Wishing you " A Happy New Year''

  15. Okay, I am genuinely bewildered how terrorists at the Taj are related to the sacred cows of India. Can someone explain? I must be in the midst of an "above 40 year old almost nearing senior" moment!

  16. I remember reading about your cows in India when I was in school and being fascinated by the fact that they were allowed to roam the streets there. We have a lot of wildlife in Kentucky. It is not unusual to see deer in the yard around here and we have wild turkeys. The deer have become a nuisance eating up gardens and flowers and anything else they enjoy eating. Great post. I found it very interesting.
    Hope you have a wonderful, healthy and prosperous New Year.

  17. It’s still common in Switzerland to give the gift of a cow to dignitaries, politicians, and so on. I gave my brother and sister in law a prized bull to their wedding, and my brother gave 2 cows to my sister as a wedding present. The year Lech Walesa received his Nobel Prize my father named a calve that was born the same day Danuta – it’s meant as a compliment.

  18. Femin Susan thank you

    Judy This tussle between nature and development will always happen. The question is how peacefully and naturally it happens. Most of the time it doesnt. But one needs to learn...

    Fida No wonder Switzerland has these wonderful meadows all over, which you see when you travel by train. This concept of gifting a cow seems like a great thing, though I suppose it is easy there to have a set up in place that makes it easy to take care of the cows... And I think your father's idea of honoring Lech Walesa was absolutely brilliant. I wonder if you can do a blog on this custom of gifting cows at weddings and stuff ?