Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Delhi Street Cows

Cows roam free on the streets of Delhi, like enormous street dogs with an aura of absolute calm. This quiet confidence is because to Hindus, cows are sacred and are to be respected at all times (so it is the cows who have right of way.) In groups or alone, they dawdle down the busy streets and laneways, completely unaffected by the utter mayhem that surrounds them, oblivious to the congestion their bulk causes in the tightly packed thoroughfares.

The closest these beasts ever seem to come to experiencing hostility is from the odd cyclerickshaw driver, who will slap their rump and yell at them when they block the path, but apart from that, they live a blessed urban life. Shopkeepers seem to really like the cows. On one particularly hot day, I saw one man pouring water over one beast that was splayed out in front of his shop’s entrance. The cow was completely blocking anyone’s path into the store, but the clerk repeatedly returned inside to refill a glass with water before emptying it over the sacred animal’s head. Actually, perhaps this was his non-violent way to try to get the cow to move, but whatever his motive, the animal obviously loved this trickling reprieve from the heat.

On another night, I was inside a shop chatting to the owner, when a cow lumbered past. The man quickly said something to one of the clerks, who then grabbed a bag of chapatti (bread) and chased off down the street after it. He returned minutes later, a little deflated. Apparently the cow had refused to eat the bread. ‘She didn’t want it. Everyone feeds the cows’ the owner told me, smiling.

Of course with all these well-fed (but possibly malnutritioned – there is not a blade patch of grass to be seen anywhere) cows rambling about the place, a mess is inevitable. The ineffective ‘cardboard on top of it’ method of dealing with such unpleasantness is usually employed, and then the rains fall and the circle of life continues. In the heat preceding the cleansing precipitation however, the clotted, viscid odour of curry-fed bovines mixes with the smells of spices, cooking oil and leatherwork, giving the streets their unique, sickeningly pungent atmosphere.

No comments: