The darkness wraps us in its quiet arms as we cross the street to the park. The silent stillness is palpable, punctuated only by the occasional headlights of late travelers. It is difficult to believe that this place, just a few hours earlier, was a swirling mass of traffic, people, and dust. As we enter the park, I see him in the shadows, a great hump resting on the grass, chewing slowly as if hadn’t a care in the world. He knows that he is king in this Hindu land. I feel somehow that I am an interloper, that I do not belong here in the quiet where even the slightest movement seems unwelcome. After the bustle of the day, the neighborhood is trying to rest and rejuvenate, in preparation for another traffic onslaught tomorrow. We are invading her privacy and his…
The first cow I saw in Kathmandu was standing on the sidewalk outside a open-faced small grocer’s shop and reaching for a bunch of greens from one of the boxes at the front of the shop. The owner was madly waving his arms and shouting as he came running from the interior of the small shop, leaping over the boxes that separated him from his unwanted guest. But he was too late, the deed was done. By the time the shopkeeper reached her, she was happily munching on the prize. Perhaps he has forgotten that, in Nepal, the cow is considered to be an incarnation of Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity.
Since then, I have seen many cows, walking along the sidewalks, or down the middle of the road. Every time I do, my mind does a little “double take”, trying to adjust its understanding of what is normally found on a sidewalk to include what actually is on the sidewalk. I mean, why shouldn’t there be cows on the sidewalk of a city? Or donkeys, or any other critter, for that matter. Why do we only expect dogs, and less frequently, cats? The categories by which we perceive the world are based upon what we are used to seeing. Change the scenery and the mental categories, aka cognitive constructs, struggle, trying to stretch one way or the other to fit the strange piece into what was previously a well-worn, completed puzzled.
I mean, there IS a cow on the sidewalk next to me, so something is clearly wrong with my understanding of the world? You see, my mental construct for sidewalks includes people, outdoor displays, storekeepers, dogs, possibly a cat, but not cows. Simply not possible… until now. I try to visualize a cow on the streets of New York city, or walking along one of the roads in my Florida retirement community. Well… I guess it is possible there. I mean we stop for sand cranes there, why not cows? I smile at the thought of my neighbors in their golf carts careening around the wandering cow, and my goodness, what would he do to our meticulously manicured lawns?
As if the attack on my psychi regarding what is found on an urban sidewalk is not enough, there is the question of what to do about the cows on multi-lane main roads with cement wall center dividers, like the ones we have on certain U.S. freeways. Freeways contain cars, and perhaps the odd pedestrian or policeman along the outside edges. Maybe a work crew occasionally. But cows walking down the middle, while cars and motorbikes careen around them like race cars avoiding obstacles? Impossible. Any why do they look as at home in the middle of a traffic jam as if they were in a field in Vermont? Maybe they think that the vehicles are a herd of some weird-looking species of cow.
Okay, so I can handle passing cows on the sidewalk on my way to the bank. I can accept that swerving around them in the road is normal, but….what’s with those four cows napping against the center divider while traffic whizzes by? How did they get there? Perhaps more importantly, why would they want to be there at all? And taking a nap no less?
Our ghostly evening acquaintance in the park has short horns. Lakshmi thought it would be fine to march right up to him and have a sniff. Perhaps she figured that an incarnation of the goddess after which she is named would welcome the curious nuzzle of another Lakshmi. I wasn’t so sure. I kept my eye on him while she tentatively crept her way closer, pulling me along since I was on the other end of her leash. At this point, Lakshmi has not had obedience training. More often than not, it is she who walks me rather than vice versa. Still, as immense as our sleek furry giant friend was, I was pretty sure that we could run far enough away in the time it would take him to stand up as long as we took off the minute he started to get to his feet. His shear bulk most certainly would take a few minutes to bring upright, at least that is what I was betting on. But, to be honest, I know even less about bulls than I know about dogs.
Dog are not the only street animal in Kathmandu. Contrary to what I originally imagined, the cows that I see wandering the streets, or napping in our neighborhood park do not belong to anyone. They are street cows, fending for themselves somehow in the urban jungle of Kathmandu.
Apparently, the reason why everyone driving avoids dogs and cows is because a severe punishment is exacted upon any driver who collides with street fauna of any type. I did find this handy little manual for how to help a cow in need. I attach it here in case anyone reading this blog should ever find themselves in a position to help this magnificent avatar of Lakshimi –the cow — and, like me, not have a clue about how to going about doing this.
Personally, I admire the practice of letting cows run free on the streets. Better off there than where I hail from, where cows are raised in tiny pens and turned into burgers behind closed doors. Still, there are accidents and abuse, even in the Kingdom of Nepal, and our cows need help. Despite strict punishment to drivers that collide with street fauna (and probably because of it) there are quite a few hit-and-run cases where urban livestock have to live with serious wounds. Many are left to rot on the side of the road. So for all of us, here is a short user’s manual on how to save a cow:
1. If you see a cow in trouble, don’t ignore the problem. It is not about to go away.
2. Enlist the help of others, as cows are generally heavy things and cannot be lifted into a rescue vehicle alone.
3. Secure adequate transportation. A Maruti taxi won’t do as the cows won’t fit in the back seat. A flatbed truck with folding sides works best. Offer the driver expenses as petrol is becoming harder and harder to find these days.
4. Using a blanket or other strong material as a makeshift gurney and gently roll the cow into it. Then, with six or more helpers, lift the cow into the vehicle using the blanket. Sometimes cows use their god-like prerogative to struggle or bellow but don’t be dissuaded, as talking calmly to the cow in Nepali and being firm will do the trick. (However, do stay clear of flailing horns and hooves.)
5. Transport the injured or sick cow to the SPCAN Vetinary Hospital in Sifal. A veterinarian will be called and the cow will be cared for. Now you can relax, knowing you have done a deed that will have the gods eternally shining down their appreciation on your kind soul.