Developing the Sacred Cow

During the summer of 2017, I tagged along with three animal scientists from India’s National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources (NBAGR) on a field visit to one of their institutional partners, a gaushala (cow sanctuary) in the town of Jundla in the northern state of Haryana. Under the auspices of the NBAGR, the Shri Krishna Gaushala was actively involved in breeding desi (indigenous) Hariana and Sahiwal cattle and tracking their performance in terms of milk yield, feed conversion ratio, and the characteristics of by-products—such as, dung and urine—that are relevant to their onsite manufacturing of Ayurvedic therapeutics, from eye drops to diabetes medication. The Shri Krishna Gopal Gaushala also accepted abandoned crossbred cattle, those no-longer-milking hybrids of “Indian” and “European” breeds, reared as part of national dairy development programs looking to boost milk yields.

In Jundla, the crossbreeds were kept, fed, and groomed separately from the desi cattle. Gazing across the expansive courtyard, I noticed that the Hariana and Sahiwal breeds—striking for their respective hides of bright white and velvety red—resided in centrally-located, airy shelters through which visitors like myself could wander to make auspicious offerings of jaggery (cane sugar) to favored cows. By contrast, the crossbred cattle were kept in more cramped quarters that were noticeably out of the way. In asking the managing staff of the gaushala about the rationale for the breed-based separation, they responded in reference to matters of economy, ecology, and the requirements of the NBAGR’s conservation project that recapitulated the points above. When my face perhaps betrayed a certain restless that such tidy explanations left me with, the local swami, dressed in a white cotton mundu, smilingly added in Hindi: “desi gay gaumata hain, lekin crossbreed mausi hain” (the desi cow is cow mother, but the crossbreed is auntie).Scientists and his followers together laughed heartily as I clarified, “mata aur mausi?” (mother and auntie?). Jovially, the group agreed, “haan” (yes). I smiled along with them and asked no further questions.

Read the full article with Anthropology Now.

India's Changing Dairy Sector

In 1970, the Government of India embarked on a landmark dairy development program known as the White Revolution. The White Revolution spanned three decades and has generally been accepted as a monumental success: There has been a fivefold increase in the rate of national milk production and a doubling in the availability of milk for consumption (World Bank 2007). In 2014, India became the world’s leading producer of milk with a national output of 146.3 million metric tons, valued at ten billion US dollars (NDDB 2015). This has been done without a shift to centralised industrialism in the form of intensive animal farming. Instead, through the introduction of infrastructure for collection and bulk processing, ‘Operation Flood’ formalised new and existing dairying communities into a network of cooperative societies. Today these societies make up much of the formal sector. They encompass approximately 70 million households in possession of an average of 0 to 0.008 square miles of land and one to two cattle (Babcock Institute 2006: 13, Government of India 2006).

This article provides a review of the dairy cooperative system. It looks at its inefficacies and injustices, as well as the unexpected ways it has, at times, made alternative relations between humans, animals, and the environment possible. That is, it looks at the possibilities that arise in interstices of industrialisation beyond the privatised factory farm, arguing for the need to account for more subtle forms of intensification and stratification in late capitalist food ways.

Read the full article with Seminar Magazine.

The Self is a Habit

In January 2018, one week after my thirtieth birthday, I travelled from Toronto to Ottawa to stay with my grandparents, Bob and Elizabeth, for a month. With the culturally requisite emotional baggage of officially being old in tow, I boarded my delayed Via Rail, accepting the complimentary cookies the customer service representative was handing out as apology. I was heading to Ottawa with the intent of filming a short documentary about my grandparents.

I’ve always been proud of my grandparents, or rather, proud of being of them. I tell mentors, friends, and lovers of all that they do. With the palpable hope that it might rub off on me, I would recount the miles my grandfather still bikes every day—in rain or snow, he sets up the stationary bike—or my grandmother’s research in never-before-seen archives kept across the cloisters of France, a feminist history of nunneries, if you will. This was research she embarked on after raising seven children. Look at me, doing it now. But who could resist, really? Both above ninety, Bob and Elizabeth cut a striking portrait of thoroughgoing ability that does not seem to wane over time. What a tantalizing thought, that we mortal humans might, in fact, be able to just not stop or slow.  

Get the full story in the 2018 issue of Ephemera Magazine.

Preserved

I arrived at Ananya’s house on Saturday morning. She was in a colorful cotton sari patterned with polka dots and flowers. Her hair was tied in a low bun and her best gold jewelry hung from her neck and ears. She had dressed up for me, her lunch guest, but also for Ganpatti, elephant-headed god and remover of obstacles. It was July in Maharashtra, a time leading into a month of offerings and celebrations made in Ganpatti’s honor by Hindus. “Come, tai (sister),” she genially ushered me inside, “I made kokum kadi.” She smiled as she showed me a shallow silver bowl of kokum swimming in their juicy dark purplish-red pulp. To be sure, it was also the season for kokum.  

Kokum: Sweet, sour, and when they get stuck in your teeth, they are tart enough to make your cheeks pucker. It is a small, indehiscent fruit of Garcinia indica tree, found throughout the coastal regions of the Western Ghats mountain range of Maharashtra in central India. Kokum is used in a variety of dishes specific to the Konkani coastal regions, including dried fish, chutneys, vegetable-based curries, dal (lentils) and kokum kadi, a digestif of sorts made from the juice of the kokum fruit, fresh coconut milk, green and red chilies, cumin, kadi (curry) leaves, and garnished with fresh coriander.

Get the full story in the 2017 edition of Ephemera Magazine.

Between the Country and the City

While training with a veterinary sciences group in Pune—the second-largest city in the Indian state of Maharashtra—I often accompanied a woman named Sangeeta, a livestock health worker, on her rounds, visiting different farmers and shepherds who would call with health-related queries and problems. One such day, we bumped our way through the Western Ghats mountain range on city buses, auto-rickshaws, and even a children’s school bus. We administered surveys, took notes, and provided medicines. Day became dusk as we drank sugary cups of chai made with raw milk and had long conversations on illness and injury, exotic animal breeds, and the recent rains that had punctuated the unrelenting drought.

We returned to the city pleasantly fatigued and with growling stomachs. Sangeeta told me that she was not only an animal health worker, but also a vada pav vendor. She worked alongside her husband, Vilas, behind the grill of their food stall, moving with the reflexes of an expert, frying up pakora-like bhajiand vadas to perfection and with lightning speed. I was sitting on an upturned bucket when she came and perched next to me with heaping plates of food. “Eat!” she genially ordered me, and then pointed to the sauces with a smile and noted: “Those are my chutneys.”

Read the full article with Roads and Kingdoms.

Kadi

I press you in my book

and flip the pages back

and forth, I know even if you stay

your sweetness will soon fade.

You will fade like sand, like waves,

like sugar into tea.

But for now, I've held you in pages,

your fallen brothers

incensed with the oils of you. 

And I can taste "time when".

I can taste gold flecked with black,

a bitter pan fry.

He once said I was marble.

But how different you are

from a scratch in marble

Your trace is gone before you are.