Home > India, Indian Economy, Indian education, Indian media, Social Trends > The cow chronicles: Does it take a woman to understand India?

The cow chronicles: Does it take a woman to understand India?


An operating view of Indian society. Even as India changes, it still retains Indian elements. For how long?

Homer's struggle with Indian cows. Simpsons comes to India - and Homer successfully manages an out-sourced nuclear plant at Bangalore.

Homer’s struggle with Indian cows. Simpsons comes to India – and Homer successfully manages an out-sourced nuclear plant at Bangalore.

Sarala needs a cow. She tells me this when I chide her for giving me less milk that morning. It is 7am.

I have known Sarala for five years. I see her everyday when I cross the road to buy milk from her.

The milk squirts into the large iron bucket. Bubbles hive the top. Selva brings the bucket to the culvert. We crowd around like bees. Rookies in khaki half-pants and white banians (vests) show up from nowhere. They thrust their cans to the front of the line. A fight threatens to break out. Sarala soothes everyone, speaking in Telugu, Kannada, Tamil and Hindi by turn. She pours out 1 litre for me but doesn’t give me the complimentary extra “kosuru” that she usually does. That’s when I complain about less milk.

“What to do, ma?” she says in Tamil. “One of my cows got hit by a corporation lorry.”

Once again, the casual tone in which she describes mortal tragedies shocks me. How will the happiness studies that put India low on their lists explain the resilient matter-of-factness of India’s poor? Take Shafi, the flower man who delivers strings of jasmine every day. He is always smiling. He was smiling when he told me that he couldn’t deliver flowers for a week because his brother died. Was that a reflex; or is that his nature? Or Sarala, for that matter. It is clear to me that Sarala loves her cow. Yet, the way she deals with her cow (and livelihood)

Is grief a luxury that the Indian poor cannot afford?

I ask how it happened. It was a month ago, she says. I had not known. I had talked and laughed with her. Life had gone on.

I make clucking noises, borrowed from the rooster nearby. You must be feeling terrible, I tell Sarala.

She nods. “My mind is all bejaar (messed up).”

We talk daily, Sarala and I, about brides and recipes; cows and corporation lorries; babies and bath water, in no particular order. On that Monday morning, Sarala approaches me with a proposition. She wants me to buy a cow for her. She is not sure of the cost but it would at least be Rs. 40,000. She has it all worked out. She will repay my loan through a monthly supply of milk and some cash to supplement it. Within a year, the loan will be repaid. “I need you to buy me more cows,” she says in explanation. “How will you do that if I don’t repay your loan?”

When I look doubtful, she lays it on thick. “You know, the Marwari family next door wanted to buy a cow for us. They like to do that, these Jains. But it didn’t work out. You are lucky. Else, why would I approach you instead of them when I need a cow?”

It is compelling logic. I agree. Next week, we plan to buy a cow.

via The cow chronicles: a loss and a replacement – Columns – livemint.com.

From cow-worshipping to car-worshipping?  |  Cartoonist - Rustam Vania; May 18, 2012; Image source & courtesy - downtoearth.org.in  |  Click for image.

From cow-worshipping to car-worshipping? | Cartoonist – Rustam Vania; May 18, 2012; Image source & courtesy – downtoearth.org.in | Click for image.

I have known Sarala the milk lady for six years now.

The thought of getting organic milk with zero carbon footprint appealed to me. My family was dead against it and took a year to convert. To this day, I am the only person in my 70-apartment complex who buys milk from Sarala. The rest buy Nandini milk in plastic packets.

After Sarala asked me to buy her a cow, my main concern was whether she would consider me a sucker—an easy touch for “advances”, as loans are called here.

I can afford to give Sarala a Rs. 40,000 loan but I don’t want her to think that I can. I don’t want her to view me as her sugar daddy, or mummy in this case. So I exaggerate existing alibis: home loans, defaulting payments, ageing relatives. “You have your jewels with the pawnbroker. I have a home loan that is hanging like a noose around my head,” I say.

She smiles sympathetically. “Everybody has problems,” she says. “You have bungalow-size problems. I have hut-size problems.”

A week later, Selva, the son, approaches me. This continuous back-and-forth was “not setting” for them, he says. Would I or wouldn’t I buy them a cow?

When Selva tells me that our discussions are not “setting”, he means that I need to decide. I can no longer hide behind husband’s permission. I tell him that I will buy his cow.

We set out in an autorickshaw— Sarala, Selva and I. Sarala wants us to make this trip on an auspicious day, preferably Tuesday or Thursday, but she doesn’t want to add an astrological complication to an already volatile situation. Selva and I have been bickering for days because he springs trips on me first thing in the morning. “Shall we go today?” he will ask as I collect milk. I need notice, I say. I can’t just drop everything to go cow-shopping. Then, he says that he will go on his bike to scout out potential cows and take me in the end—to pay the money and seal the deal. I insist that I want to be involved from the very beginning. If I am putting up Rs. 50,000 (by now, the amount has crept up), I want to make darn sure that it is a good cow. We go back and forth, Selva and I, squabbling like children.

Selva has a surly demeanour. He rarely smiles and doesn’t encourage conversation. He is, in fact, a kind soul. Unlike Sarala, Selva is hard to figure out.

Finally one morning, they summon their friend, Kuppa, who owns an autorickshaw. We drive to Thanisandra village near the airport, where a cow is on sale for Rs. 55,000. Selva walks the cow around, peers into its mouth, and discusses how much milk it would give. it is an Indian breed: a red Sindhi cow. Selva is bent on buying a Holstein-Friesian, or HF, cow, valued for its milk fat. They cost more but they give more milk. That is the assumption anyway. I try arguing with Selva that Indian breeds are more hardy but our discussions don’t “set”.

via The cow chronicles: the price just doubled – Columns – livemint.com.

holly cow By Liviu Stanila  on March 16, 2008  | Religion Cartoon | TOONPOOL  |  Click for image.

holly cow By Liviu Stanila on March 16, 2008 | Religion Cartoon | TOONPOOL | Click for image.

We are on a country road in search of a cow to buy for my milk lady, Sarala. Three of us, Sarala, her son, Selva, and I, sit in the back. Muniappa, our broker, takes us to a mango orchard nearby. We see the cows—a dozen of them—grazing underneath trees laden with green mangoes. Sarala is thrilled. Selva too is suddenly animated. There is only one problem. Their owner, Nanjappa, doesn’t want to sell them. He only wants to outsource the milking process. He is fed up of waking at dawn, squatting beside a dozen cows, and taking the milk to the local cooperative to be weighed and paid. He wants a younger man to take over and give his arthritic knees a rest.

India is the world’s largest producer of milk. Much of this comes from “milk unions”, or rural dairy farmers. Bangalore has more than 1,845 milk societies under the Bangalore Urban and Rural District Cooperative Milk Producers Societies Union Ltd, with the inapt acronym, Bamul, in honour of Amul, the nation’s first milk cooperative, founded in Gujarat in 1946, before India’s independence.

Karnataka has 2.13 million independent milk producers—such as Nanjappa—who have joined together to form 11,443 dairy societies, according to the Karnataka Co-operative Milk Producers’ Federation Ltd (KMF). The state rates high in milk production—it is the largest in south India—something that soon becomes obvious to anyone living in Bangalore. Milk producers such as Nanjappa deliver their milk to the local KMF (Karnataka Cooperative Milk Producers’ Federation), and sell their milk for about Rs. 14-18 per litre depending on how rural the location is. The milk is mixed together, taken to rapid cooling plants, homogenized, and poured into sealed plastic packets for delivery to Bangalore city the next morning. The average consumer pays Rs. 26 per litre for Nandini milk. Dairy farmers like Sarala sell their milk for Rs. 25 a litre, but have to cultivate a customer base.

We get back on the auto, the four of us. By now, it is 1pm. We are disgruntled, starving and thirsty. We see a man selling tender coconut water by the side of the road and stop. Selva offers to buy us all tender coconut water. As the vendor chops off the tops of the coconut, we continue bickering, Selva and I, about the wasted morning. Why wouldn’t he phone first and check with the sellers if they were indeed selling their cows, I ask. He responds by blaming Muniappa, who blames Nanjappa, the elderly gent. “That old man told me that he wanted to sell the whole herd,” says Muniappa. “He must have seen this pant-and-shirt Madam and changed his mind.” They all look at me accusingly, which irritates me because I am in a salwar-kameez.

“You want a cow?” asks the dusty, thin coconut vendor.

We look up.

Turns out that the coconut vendor has a cow that he wants to sell for Rs. 85,000. He promises to throw in her calf. Where is the cow? we ask sceptically. The coconut vendor waves at the palatial green mansion in a distance, standing like a neon gingerbread house amid the fields. That’s my home, he says. Just walk down this path and find my wife. She’ll show you the cow and calf.

We stare at each other, jaws agape. They all speak together in rapid-fire Kannada. At the end, Selva seems satisfied that the coconut vendor indeed has a cow.

Sarala and I can’t stop talking about the coconut seller. We are wonderstruck that this dusty, bony man who is selling coconuts by the roadside not only has a large mansion with fields all around, but also saleable cows to boot.

“Why would a man who owns this giant green mansion, fields and cows want to sell coconuts by the roadside?” I wonder aloud. “He must have seen all those coconuts on his land going to waste so he probably thought, ‘Why not stand on the road and make some more money?’” says Selva.

We walk single file in between the fields and go to the green mansion. An old man comes out. He is, indeed, the coconut vendor’s father, who has the leathery skin of a man who has spent his lifetime under the hot sun in the fields. When we ask about the cow, he points to the field and says that we will find the animal there, with his daughter-in-law, a woman clad in an orange sari. Had I passed her on the road, I would have put her down (correctly) as a farmer’s wife. I would certainly not have imagined that she was the owner of the green two-storey bungalow spread over 10,000ft of virgin Bangalore land.

The coconut vendor’s wife leads her cow out. Selva does his thing with examining the teeth and tail. As we walk back, he tells us that he is going to negotiate it down to Rs. 75,000. But he is not hopeful.

We motor back to the coconut vendor. Predictably, he refuses to lower the price. “I didn’t even plan on selling my cow,” he says. “Just because you people came here with such distress, I thought I’d do you a favour by pointing you to my cow.”

via Cow chronicles: the coconut vendor’s offer – Columns – livemint.com.

A few points stuck me as important: –

  1. How advances fund and lubricate the economy.
  2. How people take ‘mortal tragedies’ with ‘matter-of-factness’. Is that the reason why India has been No.1 on global Optimism surveys now for the last 50 years. Unlike India’s Westernized-Educated-Urban (WEUs) who can find 50 things wrong with India, before even stopping to take a second breadth. Of course, only they, the WEUs and their type can save India. Otherwise, without the WEUs, India is doomed.
  3. How the WEUs see this approach for advances a con-trick – which comes from not being plugged into India.
  4. The most amazing thing was how egalitarian India can be. Dress up a man in a dhoti – and everyone looks, feels, thinks and behaves the same. No brands to show that I am superior; no cachets that will prove I can spend more for the same thing.

All of us would instantly recognize these aspects.

Thought would share this rather perceptive view of India.


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  1. July 8, 2012 at 7:45 pm

  2. Sridhar
    July 9, 2012 at 5:36 am

    Lovely ! It is this India that Govt. must ensure it thrives… or else we will be doomed. All your western beliefs, economic wisdom and business acumen, keep it in your respective countries. Cows and the raw milk industry, the agriculture, the small business are the lifeline of any nation, not the Afghan war, the Greece loans or the Libor scandals. It is these big things that cripples nations and they have to return to these basic strengths and turn the corner. Higgs, Bosons or Life in Mars or not, lives must be lived and for it we need these basic things. Period !

    But the GoI’s priorities are all in the wrong place. 35 Lac toilets for Planning Commission, Mega doles for Coal India and Doles of coal mines to Industries, GAAR bonanza, 100 FDI in retail will only take way these basic elements of economy and if allowed, the monopoly and oligarchy will turn the small businesses into suckers for money. Already in the name of microfinance the financial industry is trying to milk blood off the poor. RBI must not give them any room to charge any interest more than what is charged by the Gold loans+maximum of 2% (to take care of defaults because it is unsecure loan) but in reality I think it is double of Gold loan interest rate. It will turn entire poor into suicidal society.

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