Thursday, April 21, 2005

35. Cute, Bored, and Dangerous

Fig. 35-1: Cute, Bored, and Dangerous

There are cows everywhere in India.

Short of being worshiped, as is their reputation, cows are more or less just left to their own devices—which is to say that they walk around, eat plastic bags and food scraps alike, sip at puddles, and generally go where they please and do as they like, within the bounds of society continuing to function in their presence. When they’re not sticking their noses in things, cows just tend to stand around, and in the process of doing so, manage—at least partially—to block the flow of both human and vehicle traffic.

While a cow in the road seems generally aggravating to drivers, the relationship is pretty much one of mutual indifference, as the organic nature of traffic simply assimilates the cow as yet another thing to navigate around, and the car’s large and threatening nature seems to be a sufficient deterrent to any act of frustration on the part of the cow.

Pedestrians, however, don’t have it quite as easy—while humans are clearly smarter than cows when it comes to the use of common walkways, there is a serious deficit in the human-to-cow size differential, and the placement of a large-enough cow in a small-enough old city street is enough to completely hold up traffic, not to mention that on occasion, cows will charge at people as they pass.
The fact that cows occasionally attack shouldn’t be blown out of proportion, however, as it’s far more common for people to hit cows than the other way around, and cows don’t tend to budge until a hand (at the very least) is raised.

Also, to do justice to the cow in this scenario, it is far more often that people jump skittishly out of a cow’s path than a cow will actually show any sort of aggression, though the implication in the public’s reaction to passing cows is that there is a very rational justification for this fear.

After watching this pageant play out over and over again, however, I got a firsthand lesson in what the hesitation was all about one hot afternoon in Udaipur, when I just barely managed to avoid the business end of a cow’s horns, as it saw fit to come charging after me for no discernable reason. This attempted charge was startling, and certainly vindicated the caution that I felt when passing random cows, but it was nowhere near as disarming as in Jaisalmer, when I absentmindedly turned from a sign that I was attempting to read, to run head-on into a cow that was just standing in the middle of the narrow street, attempting to mind its own business.

At first, I felt a little weird for having so blatantly hit one of these supposedly sacred animals, and perhaps even a little guilty after I had spent so much time questioning the intention of every passing cow, though I’ve since decided that it was simply my way of evening the score, despite the fact that this conclusion simply means that it’s now my turn to watch out for what the cows might do next.

Fig. 35-2: Cow on Cow Violence is the Saddest Kind of Violence




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