A couple of years ago, I was conversing with a British student of my age who was asking me all sorts of questions on the Hindu Dharma and what he believed were ‘illogical’, right from the caste system, to having ‘Many Gods’. At some point, as expected he raised the question, “Are cows God to you Hindus?”. Quite frankly, since I had no working knowledge of what my scriptures said about this, I approached the question in a unconventional manner. I asked him, “You have a pet cat don’t you?”. “Yes I do”, he responded. I then suggested something seemingly peculiar, “I hear cat meat is very tasty. When your cat gets old, how about you kill it and eat it?”. He naturally was a bit alarmed, “Why on earth would I do that?”. I then responded by saying, “Just like how you have a love for cats, Hindus have a special place for cows. We grow up drinking the cow’s milk, raise it as a part of the family and thus we give it a motherly status. Using it for meat is just as inhumane to us, as killing a pet cat is for you”. While this response is a little different and maybe even appealing to some, I have a confession to make- As soon as I returned from school (where I had this conversation), I felt unsatisfied. Unsatisfied because, although I potentially convinced this skeptical boy, I wasn’t sure if I had given him the authentic answer.
About a year later, I got the opportunity to go to the ISKCON gaushala when I went to my grandparents’ place in Bangalore over summer. The experience is what I wish to share you all through this blog.
I vividly remember the first day: early in the month of July, my cousin sister took me to the newly built ISKCON temple (which was right next to our place), early in the morning. After listening to a discourse on the Bhagavatam, we were making our way out of the temple. All of a sudden, a funny smell hit my sensitive nose! Coming from Dubai, I was unexposed to such smells; so I naturally inquired as to what it was. My cousin responded by telling me that there was a gaushala in the temple, but also due to a shortage of time, we couldn’t do much of goseva (interaction with cows) then. And so, I ran back home, as fast as I could to seek permission for more time from my grandparents. After minutes of begging, I saw myself running back all alone to the temple, to finally do some goseva! There I was on my own, in the colourful temple, cool breezes hitting my enthusiastic self and a peaceful, positive atmosphere all around me. Upon several directional errors, I finally got to the goshala. I asked one of the Prabhus (priests/workers in the temple) if I could feed the cows. Luckily, I was just in time for their breakfasts!
And so, I grabbed a stack of grass to feed the least ferocious looking cow, out of the whole array of seemingly-aggressive ones! However, when I had held the fresh grass near the mouth of the cow, it didn’t touch it. I tried to get the grass in its mouth, but it was reluctant. As a Prabhu (who fed the cows everyday) took the same grass into his hands, the cow began to eat away! The Prabhu smiled and gave the remainder of that stack to me. Yet again, I tried to feed the cow; yet again, it refused to eat. Disappointed, I left that stack of grass near it and walked to another cow. Immediately, I saw that the unresponsive cow viciously grabbed the juicy grass. My attention shifted back to it and I patted its back in a friendly manner. “Perhaps the cow doesn’t mind me!”, I told myself. And so, I held on to another thin stack of grass and this time, as it was remotely near its mouth, the cow tore the grass apart in full enthusiasm and even began to lick my hand with its rough tongue. I was delighted to see that the cow that didn’t seem to care for my presence, was now beginning to show its affection towards me. I then walked to the cow next to it and to my surprise, the cow that I had been feeding turned towards me as I was walking and staring at me, with its shiny eyes: a beautiful sight for those who are on the receiving end.
I started to walk around the cow protection area, just to look at all of them. Suddenly, I had come across the cutest creature that I’d ever seen- “Surabhi” was the calf’s name. As one of the Prabhus hugged her, she too was cuddling him with the affection visible in her eyes. That image always will stay close to my heart: it was the first time I realised how human-like these animals were. I went on to feed all the cows and develop a special rapport with all of them and in totality, spending four hours there! It was only when my grandfather came to the temple to hunt me down, that I realised how engrossed I got in the activity! I swore to myself that I’d come the next day, to meet my new friends again.
The next day, I hurried my darshan in the temple, to get to the gauseva along with my cousin this time. No amount of words can describe how overwhelmed I was, to see all these cows look at me as though they knew me for ages. I went on to greet my new friends by feeding them the grass. The best part though on a lighter note, was when they didn’t care about my cousin and only responded to me! I continued to do this for every day that I stayed in Bangalore and I positively state that I have never connected as easily with anyone, as I did with the gomatas.
While people criticise Indians for respecting cows so much, I take it as an honour that my culture has been so understanding of how human-like they can be. Those who still disagree with me should consider spending some genuine, quality time with cows and then tell me whether their initial impression stands. It is not my job to speak of whether or not the ban was a good decision. But all I’m saying is that if one spends a good deal of time with these lovable animals, irrespective of their religion, they will lose the urge to eat beef and even deem it to be repulsive. Although, I am a vegetarian, the thought of people eating beef, seemed fine by me until I spent time with the cows. After my experience, I definitely would be disgusted by the thought of any cow in that shed being eaten. Likewise, should cows outside that shed be eaten? That’s a question I’d like to leave the reader with.
But let me just say that even now, I can’t wait to go back to Bangalore, to see how big Surabhi has become!