Free Press Journal

The Cows of Bangalore: And How I Came to Own One by Shoba Narayan- Review


Title: The Cows of Bangalore

Author: Shoba Narayan

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Pages: 281

Price: Rs 350

Sitting here today, I wonder if I had read this book earlier, I would have been able to understand the significance of cows better when we sheltered a herd of them at my home years ago. An unforeseeable journey through a bovine world, The Cows of Bangalore is not just about diversity among cows, but an insight into their feed, the milk they give and even the connect between the nature of milk and the mood of the cow.

Shoba has just returned to India from the United States with her husband and two daughters. On the street outside, when Shoba meets Sarala, a woman selling fresh milk soon becomes friends with her. “Having only drunk pasteurised milk from plastic containers for 20 years, I am nonplussed by the earthy, grassy smell of fresh milk.”

Because in no time Shoba is convinced to buy fresh milk every day from her and, thus, their friendship starts growing and eventually, she discovers the lives of dairy farmers and their cows. And this, in turn, becomes our journey too. We realise that cow shopping is no joke and it takes a great amount of effort to do so; how cows that have been a part of the family for generations are extremely sensitive to whatever happens in the house – if someone is ill, the cow eats a particular type of grass so that her milk cures the sick person.

Besides this, cow dung has healing properties and the cow urine absorbs the radiation from the sun and spreads positive energy. “Just think about it,” says Nambi. “A cow eats all these medicinal herbs and grasses and gives us all these wonderful things through its milk. That is the magic of cow’s milk. That is why we worship this animal.”

Who doesn’t know about the Bhopal gas tragedy? But there is also a lesser known fact, even though thousands died, there was a place where no one collapsed. Because every house was smeared with cow dung. Another fascinating fact is that the predecessors of cows were wild aurochs, who appeared in Indus Valley two million ago. They were the size of a truck, nine-ten feet tall and absolutely wild.
Meanwhile, Shoba and Sarala are connecting over not only cows but also family food and life. They become so close that Shoba decides to buy Sarala a new cow, so they set off looking for just the right heifer, and what was at first a simple economic transaction becomes more complicated, though never without a hint of slapstick.

It is not only a thoroughly researched book, but also a breeze to read. There is a lovely beginning where a cow is forced into an elevator so she can go to the third floor and walk through an apartment to shower some blessings. On the other hand, there are moving moments when the author talks about her dog, Inji, (means ginger in Tamil), named so because their labrador was the colour of a ginger, who passes away at the end.

This book immerses us in the culture, customs, myths, religion, sights and sounds of a city in which the 20th century and the ancient past coexist like nowhere else in the world. It is a true story of bridging divides, of understanding other ways of looking at the world, and of human connections and animal connections, and an adventure of two bold women and the animals they love.