100 Days in India Project

Sleeping with the Cows

5/ 100 Sleeping with the Cows

As I mentioned yesterday, cows are all over the place in the ancient Indian town of Varanasi. They are usually found hanging about the narrow streets hunting for scraps of food, sleeping in a shaft of sunlight or, just like everyone else using the pathways, trying desperately to avoid the maniac motorcycle riders who prefer to channel the protective powers of their chosen God rather than simply slowing down. Apparently there are accidents aplenty, although the local police make out that it isn’t a problem. The young son of the owner of a local cafe we liked to visit was killed by a motorbike just a few years before our visit.

As the sun sinks below the horizon, a view that’s tinted a particularly deep orange colour by the plentiful cremation smoke, and the few muezzin have chanted their final call to prayer from the minarets of the mosques, the streets begin to quieten down (sort of – see day 2). Most of the people are gone, but the cows are still there and a nice, warm, ruminating cow has its uses. On these chilly winter nights these great lumbering beasts turn into giant radiators.

On our night time forays we would often see a wonderful, whilst at the same time thought-provoking and deeply saddening, symbiosis. In the dimly lit streets young homeless children would light a small fire made from scraps of wood and the copious amounts of litter strewn everywhere. The small campfire would simply be in the road or path. The children would huddle around to keep warm which, in turn, would often attract a cow, some dogs and maybe a goat (who was probably wearing better clothes than the children).

By the time the sun rose through the haze over the far banks of the Ganges the next morning the fire had gone out, but the children and all the other homeless creatures were still there. The dogs were usually sleeping heaped up on the still-warm embers of the fire, while the children were usually sleeping nestled against a cow for warmth.

I didn’t make any photographs of the sleeping children. I like to show the interesting and thought provoking things I’ve discovered on my travels but I felt so much pity for these young children that I wanted to leave them in peace. I hope to visit India again soon and engage more with these homeless children to hear their stories.