100 Days in India Project

Cows in the Cafe in Varanasi, India

49/ 100 Cows in the Cafe

As I have mentioned a few times before, India is not the place to visit if you have a phobia of cows, dogs, monkeys, cats, goats, water buffalo or pigs. They will be there, walking and living alongside you for much of your trip unless you are in one of the very fanciest districts of a big city (but they are boring so we didn’t spend much time there).

I was constantly fascinated by the way the animals were just a part of life there. If a cow was found on Buchannan Street in Glasgow it would be some kind of national emergency and it would be headline news the next day. In many ways there was a symbiosis of sorts, with the animals providing something in return for food or safety. Cows are sacred to Hindus, so having them around was handy when you wanted a quick blessing. You simply placed your hand on its rump as you squeezed past in the narrow street and I noticed many of the cows had dusty handprints on their bums.

In Varanasi there was an extra-sacred cow that actually seemed to have an owner (a rare thing there). This particular animal had earned a higher status than the others by virtue of being born with an extra little leg, high up on its back. A man would walk this cow around and accept money in exchange for the opportunity to touch this extra appendage. He absolutely forbade any photographs so I don’t have any sadly.

The pigs ate a lot of rubbish in the pathways and the goats were pretty efficient rubbish sorters too. The dogs often provided company whether you wanted it or not. I am sure the monkeys played their part too, although I couldn’t see what that might be other than to entertain with their antics. Perhaps they traded the jeans they stole from the rooftops with market sellers in exchange for bananas?

Our favourite place to eat in the ancient city of Varanasi was Jyoti cafe. Santos, the owner, was a bit of a culinary saviour and provided us with just about anything we wanted to eat as long as it was vegetarian and Indian. He even went so far as to cook up delicious meals specifically to relieve some of our cold symptoms at one point (it really helped too). A very gentle and kindly man, his open-fronted premises usually contained equal numbers of animals and humans, despite his best attempts at keeping the non-paying creatures out. Dogs regularly slept on his tatty square of doormat and cows would literally wander inside the cafe looking for food.

Today’s photograph was taken from just inside that very cafe. The cow waited quite patiently there, with a dog that was trying to eat itself, for about 10 minutes until Santos went and fed it with some chapatis. He left the remainder of the food on the top of his display counter and, sure enough, the little cow decided that waiting to be fed was taking up too much of its evening so it stepped into the cafe, grabbed the lot with its slobbery tongue and left a little more satiated than when it arrived.

Santos always shooed the cows and dogs out but he was never bothered that they came straight back and treated them kindly. The late evenings were always particularly peaceful in his place. He would sit on his chair, wrapped in blankets chatting about all sorts of things whilst dogs of all shapes and sizes crept in and huddled on his floor for safety. I’m pretty sure he let them sleep there at night.

We visited his cafe again just a year later and discovered that his young son had been killed by a motorcycle that was racing down the very narrow path outside, not long after our first trip. He seemed completely bereft of spirit and all his joy had been taken from him. Covid hit the year after that, in 2020, and I worry for him greatly. There are recent reviews for his cafe on Google so hopefully he’s OK.