Photo Essay

The Secret Life of Cows

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Recently, I spent time filming in India. Colors, odors, faces and a surprising order in the eternal, daily chaos were mesmerizing. The creatures that really left a lasting impression on me, however, were the Indian cows. Much has been written about the role of cows in Hinduism, the sacred mothers, indispensable pillars in the landscape of everyday life in India. I was fascinated because of the absurd reversal of things; in the West, cows and their milk have been demonized in the last decade like no other animal and product; every second of the day, they are hung up by their feet, torsos slit open with knives and cut down to the last bone, their milk poisoned with floods of antibiotics given for the sake of mass production. Unthinkable in India.

And yet... although cows are indeed the most sacred animals, and cow shelters can be found all over the country where they are fed, cared for and revered, the gruesome struggle for survival in this vast subcontinent doesn't halt before sacred cows either. Many of them wander aimlessly in the streets; eternal vagabonds on the road to nowhere. Silent observers, often with a pitiful, sad appearance and yet an authoritative look in their eyes nevertheless. Watching us, watching the world go by. Participating only through their divine presence.

Standing by the roadside, these vagabonds live off chewing on plastic and garbage. Although most Hindus make it a practice to decorate them with garlands and throw them greens in the morning as an offering and a good deed, few can survive on that. Considered 'gods' and yet too expensive to properly look after, crowds fume for revenge when a lone cow is hit by a car on the road, while the same people display a mind boggling indifference for a starving cow in labor nearby. Oddly enough, many Indians even seem afraid of them too, but bring up just enough courage to touch their feet for a blessing.

I have always loved cows. I am acutely aware that the majority of Westerners think they are utterly stupid. I don't agree. Several times I found myself crouching down near another sewer in some dirty, smoggy city to have a 'silent' chat, wondering what they are thinking, what their role in the big picture is..

4 responses

  • Michael Billert

    Michael Billert said (13 Dec 2013):

    Very well done...mjb

  • Saroj Swain

    Saroj Swain gave props (14 Dec 2013):

    You are absolutely right in your narration. Though cows are treated as sacred in all respect in India still the street cows are uncared. Great narration and I apreciare Anika for your story. The funniest thing is that the same street cows are worshipped on "Rakhya bandhan" day and fed properly by many.If you visit any rural India, the cows are being taken care even if they are old but not sluttered. As you know India is multireligious country and cows are being sluttered daily for other religion for meat.But for Hindu it is really painful in all respect.

  • Wayne Jarus

    Wayne Jarus said (16 Dec 2013):

    This is an interesting story. I learned something new about India today.

  • Indra Widi

    Indra Widi gave props (30 Apr 2014):

    nice story

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