Friday, March 13, 2009

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.

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