Sunday, March 29, 2009

Cow Shadowing

Back to the cows, and a long way to go to catch up. The dairy family didn't release the cows right away, so Lee and I waited. Finally we asked when they were going to let them out and they said they wouldn't that day because a dignitary was in town and the authorities were enforcing the twice-a-year enforced law against allowing cattle to move freely on the streets. This was like Guiliani clearing NYC of homeless people for the Republican convention, or me picking up the house for a party. Cattle caught out would be loaded onto a truck and moved to a huge parking lot where they would be held until the owner paid a fine/ransom of 1,800 rupees. That's around $36 U.S., and a lot of money in India. So we thought the day was over. Then they let them out, anyway, and we took off after a group of 5 or 6 cows that Lee liked. Nothing like a group of cows to run interference through heavy traffic. The cows moved with a purpose across one of the busiest streets in our town, and straight down another one. We kept up.

The photo shows my feet at the end of a day of cow shadowing.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Front Page Photo: Foreigners Play Holi

Yes, we've made the paper again. This time we were captured playing holi, the holiday involving bonfires and dusting with brightly colored powders. The ritual purpose is to drive out evil, which I needed, so good can triumph. It's a Hindu spring ritual. That's our friend Gregg Jameson, an archeologist Fulbright student scholar, who's here working on his dissertation project. It turns out he needed to have evil driven out, too. I'll leave it to the other members of our family to comment on personal evil removal.

360 Million Deities

Earlier this week, Lee and I spent a full day, sunrise to sundown, following a group of cows. We set our alarms for 5:2o, and by 6 a.m. Wendy, Lee, and I made it to the milking pen. Lee had come up with the idea to film a day in the life of a free range, holy street cow for a school project. These cows are all over Baroda, and even the buses make way for them. We learned a lot that day, and it will take several posts to tell the story.

Wendy and I had stumbled across this livestock market neighborhood early in our stay here. It's a few blocks from the Ginger, the silly minimalist hotel we stayed in while we looked for an apartment. We were glad that Ben and Lee weren't with us on that walk, because we hadn't eased into India, yet. The vision would have shocked them. Barbed wire, chickens in tiny cages on the backs of transport rickshaws, goats and goat pellets everywhere. It smelled bad.

We kept going back, and slowly got to know some of the people who live there. The Hindu family that owns most of the cows lives next door to close friends, a Muslim family. A young girl in the 11th form at school, a member of the Muslim family, speaks English well. As we drank chai in the street, a gesture of hospitality from the Hindu family, the Muslim girl told us about the cows and the neighborhood. The two families serve as god parents to each other's children. I guess that means the Muslim family got the better deal - more deities. It was interesting to drink chai made with fresh milk from cows which had been eating garbage on the streets a few hours earlier. But Hindus believe cows contain 360 million deities, which should technically provide some basic filtering.

When we came back for the project, the Muslim family was outside in the dark working and Lee started shooting using night vision on the video camera. The sky gradually lightened as the family filled buckets with milk.

Monday, March 2, 2009

the Invention of India

Yes, Dr. Seuss invented India. The grinch seems to have had a strong influence: I saw some guys sleeping on the platforms of their food carts last night. This on a street where we saw lots of rats cleaning up after the vendors. The guys on the carts were better off than the guys sleeping on concrete a few feet away. Across the street we found a low dive with music. The band backed a series of profoundly disinterested female vocalists who would disappear from the room after a message was placed on her music stand. We figured it out: working girls. Very creepy place. No photos allowed. Good musicians. Two of us got very sick the next day. Something bad in the drinks or the snacks. Dr. Seuss! And Ben played a dj show last night in a club called The Underground in our hotel complex. He's probably going to play there again on Wednesday. We're in Kolkata.