Eight months in
Contrary to popular images of
The Mumbai heat, the slow traffic of closely packed vehicles of various sizes, the dogs and these swarms of people give the feeder roads the feel of a river just about to meet its sea. And it meets the sea near the railway stations, where the traffic slows down to a snails pace. Like a river delta, everything comes to a grinding halt, the river becomes wide, pavements and shops merge with the traffic, people from the river move slowly past people coming in the other direction from the sea waves. I love the shops at this delta, a place which reminded me of my childhood: cheap goods, simple toys, lemon soda, loose shirts, belts, purses, vada pao. What’s better than the sight of a small child with his parents choosing among cheap toys, her face beaming and restless, touching all the toys and chattering continuously with excitement? At the junction of the road and the train line, the dogs disperse, vehicles on hire stop, and some take a brief rest and then take a turn back.
As for the cows, they can be seen at two kinds of places across Mumbai. In the suburbs, one comes up against small cowsheds by the roadside where up to a hundred cows or buffaloes are arranged in four to six rows facing each other, chewing cud. A muscular man can be seen next to a crude booth in the cowshed, a banner above his head emphasizing the freshness of the milk from the shed. He sells this milk and offers the strong smell of cow excreta for free to the millions who pass by. The other place where a westerner may find the eternal cow on the road in Mumbai is near a roadside Hindu temple. Here a fat cow can be seen tethered to the temple tree, a person squatting nearby to sell balls of cow-feed and strands of grass to devotees, who offer these to the cow for instant gratification. The cow eats gracefully throughout the day; as if it has taken upon itself the responsibility to rid the world of its human sins, and the only way it can do it is by eating without prejudice. When will some scientist be kind enough to make low-calorie cow-feed for temple cows?