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Holy Cow and My Tale (standard:other, 2760 words)
Author: JuggernautAdded: Nov 20 2010Views/Reads: 1792/1121Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
A tale about holy cow in a Hindu land.

Click here to read the first 75 lines of the story

secret. Just after few minutes of chewing, I felt dizzy and started 
throwing up. He said I shouldn't have swallowed the juice and the stuff 
was not for kids like me. To tell the truth, he was scared to death 
when he saw me throwing up since my father would kick him out of the 
house if he knew about this incident. This event did not relieve me of 
my duty of following him around. 

Shivarao and I once went out for a walk in the neighborhood. Like most
others, he spitted out the red colored saliva generated in his mouth 
while chewing paan, everywhere; on streets, sidewalks, or on private 
and public building walls. The public never took notice of warning 
signs such as “ No spitting please,” “Stick no bills” (advertisement 
posters), “Beware of dogs,” or “Please do not urinate or defecate,” 
displayed everywhere. 

Our neighbor Panda, the owner of the cows, was a habitual paan user. I
never saw him feed his cows at the street corner. Most of the time, his 
animals roamed the streets for waste papers or wall posters, competing 
with goats that belonged to a fair-skinned Muslim woman who lived down 
the street. 

The expression “Holy Cow” comes from the animal's sacred status. The
cows on street are like roaming temples for most Hindus. People touched 
the cow's butt with the palm of their hands and then carefully drew 
back the palm to touch their foreheads, as if receiving some kind of 
blessing. It is kind of a prayer in slow motion- to touch the butt of 
moving animal. I was tempted to do this once, during test-taking time 
at school, and being nervous about my math test. I was timid to touch 
the animal's butt with fear of being hit by its tail, or worse, get 
caught up at a time when the cow may start to defecate on me. Besides, 
only older people and women receive cow blessings this way. So, I kept 
away from the cow's butt altogether. 

The cow dung is also sacred when it comes to house-blessing (warming)
ceremonies in India. The owners bless newly constructed homes before 
occupancy. The blessing ceremony (unlike the house-warming ceremony in 
the United States) is strictly religious, long, and complicated. Cows 
(never bulls) play important roles in house-blessing ceremonies. A 
family friend built an expensive house and invited us among others for 
his home-blessing ceremony. A cow was allowed first into the house 
followed by the Hindu priests chanting prayers for continuing 
prosperity of the owner. If the cow defecates in the foyer, it is a 
good omen. Since homes have either terrazzo concrete or marble floor, 
cleaning is no problem. Our friend was very superstitious about 
ceremonies of this nature. He insisted that not only the foyer but also 
all the rooms in the house should be blessed with cow dung. It was 
unsightly and even gross to some of the invitees unaccustomed to this 
tradition, and they became restless while waiting for the animal to 
pass the dung in each and every room. Luckily, the priest knowing our 
friend's psyche brought another cow along to double up and finished the 
job of soiling the floors with cow dung. This was a classic case where, 
what is dirt (cow dung in this case) to somebody is gold to others. 

Donating a cow is perhaps the holiest gift one can give to a priest.
Very few can afford to buy and donate them. Besides, it is impractical 
to haul a cow to high-rise apartments or even to single homes to make a 
donation to the priest after the Puja or religious ceremony. Therefore, 
the priest brings a small idol of cow (made up of clay or dough) and 
lets the people donate it back as a symbolic gesture. This does not 
mean the people were off the hook to pay the price of a cow. As 
symbolic as the transfer may be, the priest expects to get dakshen or 
monetary gift equivalent to cow or whatever the people can afford. It 
is a kind of trading Futures in Livestock that takes place on Wall 
Street; where no actual transfer of pork bellies or live cattle take 
place, but only transfer of funds. It appears that Hindus were in the 
business of trading cattle futures long before anybody albeit-clay or 
dough cows for live cows. 

While most families buy milk from street vendors, we bought fresh milk
at our doorsteps. Rajamma, the milk lady, brought her cow to our front 
yard early in the morning to milk her cow and supply us with fresh 
milk; a luxury only few people could afford. Rajamma belongs to Golla 
caste. For centuries, the people of this caste dominated the dairy 
business. Hindus believe that Lord Krishna belong to this caste. My 
mother assigned me the duty of watching Rajamma so that she won't mix 
water to the milk while milking her cow; dilution is a simple solution 
to improve her profit margin. Rajamma was tall and slim, as opposed to 
many South Indian women who are short. She was cunning in many ways in 
duping people. For example, she starts milking into a container already 
containing some water in it, or will hide a small can containing water 
nearby to mix with the milk or will hide a separate can of water in the 
hay bales she brings with her to feed the cow. I figured out all of her 
tricks while on duty guarding her. I used to sit in our front porch 
watching like a detective. Sometimes, she would ask me to fetch some 
water for the animal or something like that to distract me. But, she 
had a tough time cheating while I was guarding her. We boiled the fresh 
milk before use, a kind of sterilization since it was not pasteurized. 
Even today, pasteurized milk is boiled unnecessarily in many Indian 
households for the taste. Centuries old habits diehard. 

One morning Rajamma didn't turn up at our house, so we bought stale milk
from a street vendor. Our servant found out the bad news; Rajamma's 
husband committed suicide by jumping into a well. He was a middle-aged 
foreman and used to work in a naval yard. Months later, it was rumored 
that he killed himself on suspicion that Rajamma was sleeping with her 
stepson. We never saw Rajamma again; I am not sure what happened to her 
or to her cows. 

It was obvious to many that I belonged to Brahmin caste, even to
strangers. My meek physical appearance and the clear pronunciation of 
my native language “Telugu” distinguished me from people of other 
castes. This was the case at least when I was a young boy in the 
fifties, when much disparity existed in education standards between 
Brahmins and other caste people. The educated Brahmins occupied the 
respectable positions. Those who took priesthood worked in Hindu 
temples or earned their livings by conducting religious ceremonies and 
weddings. Some took up jobs as professional cooks, specializing in 
vegetarian cuisine. And the very poor Brahmins worked as undertakers in 
Brahmin funerals. While upper-caste Hindus in India eat meat of all 
kinds but never beef since cow, the symbol of Lord Krishna is the 
source of beef. Brahmins, particularly in South India did not eat meat 
or even eggs at all, as it was a religious custom not to eat these 
products. So I grew up without eating any meat or even eggs. 

Plain Yogurt, perhaps disliked by many, is the favorite item in any
Brahmin meal. Without yogurt and ghee (clarified butter), no meal is 
complete in any Brahmin household. My mother made ghee at home by 
slowly cooking the butter. At the end of clarification, the clear 
butter oil is ghee, and the brown sediments collected at the bottom of 
the pot is called Godavari, named after the sacred South Indian River 
that deposits nutrient rich sediments on the banks of the river. People 
eat Godavari by mixing it with steamed rice and little bit of salt. I 
tasted this several times and it was good, though very greasy. We 
stored Ghee for weeks without it getting rancid in our warm climate. 

A bit of melted ghee poured over steamed rice mixed with vegetable curry
was a delicious and everyday meal at our house. Some priests got fat 
bellies from eating too much ghee served freely in religious 
ceremonies. My grandmother told me that her father, a priest by 
profession, ate so much ghee in one sitting at a ceremony, he abstained 
from eating meals for several days after. In some ancient Brahmin 
houses, concrete benches were built in their verandahs for men to lay 
flat on their stomachs and roll to digest their belly fat, a kind of 
modern-day fat-burning exercises in slow motion. 

While the cow is sacred and enjoyed the godly status, its male
counterpart remained at the opposite extreme. Except for a very few 
bulls, which have the full-time occupation of mating with cows, the 
majority of males are castrated and put to work. I did not know the 
difference between a bull and a bullock until I went to agricultural 
college. I was taught at the college that a castrated animal or bullock 
is easy to control and works hard whereas an uncastrated animal or bull 
is only interested in fooling around with cows. 

On the route to my school was an oil-seed grinding-mill that depended
entirely on a bullock for its power source. The bullock walked round 
and round, hour after hour, non-stop, a yoke on its neck connected to 
grinding rollers at the center. A man sitting on the top constantly 
poured oil seeds into the center of the rolling gears for grinding to 
extract oil. On the way back from school, I used to stand by the 
curbside and watched this man at the mill pouring the seeds. He was 
always angry and waved his hand at me to move on. Sometimes, he shouted 
at me to go away, although I was not on his premises. The animal was 
blindfolded all the time. Later in my life, I understood a common 
saying in my language “ganugadhu chakeri,” or life of a bullock at the 
grinding mill, an expression to describe if somebody's career was stuck 
and going nowhere; like the man at the grinding mill who was always mad 
at me. 

The main road in front of our house was opened to all traffic such as
bicycles, autos, rickshaws and even bullock-carts. The road was uneven 
and had a steep incline. The bullocks had a tough time pulling the 
carts, particularly if the loads were heavy. The men sitting on the 
carts beat the animals with sticks or whips and shouted at them to push 
forward through the steep incline. Sometimes, kindhearted bystanders 
helped the animals by pushing the cart from behind. All these animals 
developed hard scar tissue on their humps from carrying the heavy 
wooden yokes. Cow, an eternal god, symbolizes Lord Krishna, and the 
bull is born to perform menial jobs or worse a slave, beaten to death. 

A few old bulls or bullocks were used for entertaining people at the
street corners; these were the lucky ones. Some people trained these 
animals to dance to music and used them for making a living at 
sideshows. In the fortune-telling show, the handler would allow 
customers to ask a question, for a fee, about their future and the 
Gangiradhu or dancing bullock would shake its head or raise its foot, 
if the answer was positive. The handler secretly would send signals to 
the animal, using his own hand or head when to shake its head or raise 
its foot (like hand signals used in baseball). People loved the whole 
far-fetched show. The animals were clothed colorfully, and decorated 
with bells and whistles to make them attractive. 

Eventually, the old animals die from natural causes to become food for
the poor people, “a grand farewell at last for the poor beast and a 
feast for the poorest of the poor people.” 


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