The three cows occupy the space of one roadside car park and the adjoining yet-to-be concreted footpath. Shielded from the scorching sun by a natural canopy, they are tied to tree trunks and grills, wherever the rope goes around, lest they wander off. It is past 11:30 a.m. and Sangita and her twelve year old daughter Pooja are packing up for the day. Pooja studies in Std 7 and soon it will be time for her to go to school. This has been her daily routine for the past couple of years. Mornings on the road with mom and the cows, home for lunch and then off to school.
Sangita’s family is from Pandharpur, a small temple town located on the banks of the River Bhima in south Maharashtra. “People are very poor there. We came to Mumbai so that we can make a living”, she says. Her husband and two older children are also with her, as are lots of relatives. “Down the road you will find people with some more cows. They are from Pandharpur too.”
Sangita’s three cows were given to the family in Gau daan (Cow alms/donation). “When the cows get a bit old, people give them away. We need to feed them proper food. And one of them is pregnant and needs extra care.” Taking care of themselves itself is a challenge, and here they have animals to look after too! This is where the ‘business model’ followed by Sangita and many others all over Mumbai and other parts of India comes in.
The food for the cows consists of seed and grain, carefully rolled into balls. “We also give them grass at home, but these grains keep the cows healthy. Sometimes people donate it but often we have to buy.”
“Feeding the cow and taking its blessings brings good punya (fortune). There are some people who will not leave to their offices without coming here first.” Many give the cows a passing touch as they hurry off after slipping a coin or note into Sangita’s hands.
Those who visit for feeding, buy the balls of grain made by Sangita and then give them to the cows. “We ask the people to feed this food only. We do not encourage the food that is not made by us because we are not sure what it might contain.” If the cows are milking cows, what they eat is definitely important. “Two of them are too old to give milk, and the one that is pregnant will deliver soon and the calf will need its milk. We do not sell the cows’ milk”, she clarifies.
So the cows are Sangita’s. She needs to feed them. She makes their food. You pay her money to feed her cows with her food. And you get the cows’ blessings in return. Sangita says she earns Rs 100-250 every morning. During festival times like Sankranti, devotee traffic is high and earnings soar.
“Do you get bothered by the municipality and local police for occupying the footpath?”, I ask.
“Never. Instead, they also give us money and things to eat. No one will worry you when you have a cow”, she says confidently. “However, before we leave, we collect the dung and sweep the place so that it is clean.”
“Are you a Hindu?”, she asks looking me up and down, trying to figure out for herself. “Even if you are not, feeding the cows will give you good luck.” A good saleswoman too!
“One can measure the greatness of a nation and its moral progress by the way it treats its animals. Cow protection to me is not mere protection of the cow. It means protection of all that lives and is helpless and weak in the world. The cow means the entire subhuman world.” Mahatma Gandhi