Monday, February 27, 2017

Couple milking cows, Birbhum, West Bengal

I have been travelling in rural Bengal, and have visited many villages. I saw and learnt many things, and I hope I can find the time to post at least some of the pics. Here is the first one. In a little village in Birbhum district, about 4hrs from Kolkata, I came across this couple and their cows. 

As soon as you drive away from Kolkata, you start to see women wearing cotton instead of the hideous synthetics that dominate city markets. I loved the contrast of her pure white taant shadee, against the skin and the brown hay...isn't it lovely? And here still, the British imposed modesty of the blouse has not made its way to the older generation. I wish we could all be like this, but now that Victorian prudery is well established, there is not much hope. Strangely, the modern Indian woman seems to be going back to the choli-less state! With halter necks, thin straps etc! But we are yet to see in the city memsahib, the casual nonchalant grace of this woman.

I always thought cows were milked at dawn, but I came across this couple a little after noon (as you can see from the shadows). I realised that the milk is probably being used for their own consumption, and they are not taking it to market. That's why they have the flexibility to milk at any time.The cows here don't have the oversized udders which you see in commercially reared cattle. A more natural state, perhaps.

From what I can tell, these are the indigenous Gir breed of cattle. There is some misguided effort by the government to cross-breed these with foreign breeds for higher milk yields, but it's a myopic policy. By improving feed and care, the same Indian breeds can produce much more milk, and they are in fact, doing so very successfully in Brazil.

Cows and bullocks are valuable and are usually housed in little sheds. On this shed, we saw the harvest of masur dal (red Bengal lentil). Bengali Comfort food = rice and pyaj diye moshur dal :)

Some people earn their livelihood by taking animals to graze. The man in this photo doesn't look like he is the owner of these calves; he is probably on some kind of wage.

Every village you visit has walls decorated with cow-pats. Cows provide much of the fuel used for cooking.
And of course, no meal is complete without some milk sweets! On the menu: a sort of bread pakoda, bread dipped in an egg wash (duck's eggs, because the Brahmins here don't eat chicken), two types of milk sweets (sandesh), a ghugni with motor (peas), and a delicious salad of cucumber tomatoes and onion.
Dr. Sarah Lamb is an anthropologist, who spent 2 years living in a village in West Bengal. We were on a nostalgic visit to meet one of the families. What a lovely day.

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