We set out in a rickshaw—Sarala, Selva and I. Sarala would like us to make this trip on an auspicious day, preferably Tuesday or Thursday, but by this point, she doesn’t want to add an astrological complication into an already volatile situation. Selva and I have been bickering for days because he suggests trips first thing in the morning.
‘Shall we go today?’ he asks as I collect milk. ‘I need notice,’ I say. ‘I can’t drop everything to go cow shopping.’ Then he adds irritation to my impatience by saying that he will go on his bike to scout out potential cows and take me for the final bidding. I only need to come to pay the money and finish the deal.
But I insist that I want to be involved from the very beginning. If I am putting up Rs 70,000—the price of the cow has somehow increased in the intervening week—I want to make darn sure that it is a good cow.
We go back and forth, squabbling like kids. Finally, we agree upon a day and at 10 a.m. we are standing outside my building, waiting for their friend Kuppa, a rickshaw driver, to show up. A few phone calls later, we are on our way to Thanisandra village, close to Bangalore’s new airport.
We take a turn into a narrow lane from a bustling main road and suddenly the vibes are different. People walk slower. Courtyards have green cow dung splashed over them with kolam designs as decoration. Cows stand outside buildings. Women in housecoats lay red chilies out to dry.
We drive to a home where a cow is on sale for Rs 55,000. It is a brown cow with a slight hump. The cow is of medium build and kept in a nice room inside the house. Selva walks the cow around while discussing how much milk it will give.
Muniappa, the seller, clad in a white dhoti, shirt and turban, says that the cow gives twenty litres per day and then quickly modifies it to seventeen litres per day. It almost seems like we have come to an automobile store to buy a scooter and he’s asking the salesman, ‘Kitna deti hain?’ But this, I know, is a barefaced lie.
The average Indian cow gives four to eight litres per day, tops. In the past, says Sarala, when they bought cows that would come during milking time just to make sure that the cow was giving the milk that the seller said it would. Nowadays everything is too far away and everyone is too busy.
Selva can tell a cow’s health simply by looking at her teeth and tail. ‘Cows should wag their tails,’ he asserts. ‘That’s how we know they are relaxed.’ We walk away after some time.
Selva tells me that he doesn’t want this cow. It is an Indian breed; a reddish brown Sindhi cow. Selva is bent on buying a Holstein-Friesian, a hybrid. They cost more but they give more milk. That is the assumption, anyway.
‘Then did we waste time looking at this cow?’ I hiss. ‘Just because you want a polyester sari doesn’t mean you cannot look at a Kanjivaram silk,’ replies Sarala. Selva has another, somewhat shocking reason: manners.
‘We can’t just glance at a cow and walk out,’ he says. ‘It is disrespectful to the animal. Even if I am not going to buy it, I have to at least give it the courtesy of a thorough inspection.’
This from a guy who is uniformly surly to all humans. I guess his parameters of what constitute good comportment are different for cows.
(Excerpted with the permission of Simon & Schuster India from the book The Cows of Bangalore: And How I Came to Own One by Shoba Narayan releasing March 6. You can buy the book here.)