Imagine this: A dark new moon night. On a machaan, tourists hold their breath in anticipation, waiting for a sight of the majestic creature that is the symbol of New India. The distant sound of crickets pierces the rustle of a desert breeze as it meanders through the shrubs and bushes of the Rajasthan sanctuary. And then, at last, patience is rewarded: A cow ambles across.
It is easy, of course, to dismiss the initiative of the Rajasthan government’s Cow Welfare Ministry as, well, pointless. How, one may ask, can a “cow safari”, set to begin after Janmashtami, provide any thrill? Or even that the point of a safari is to see animals in their natural habitat. For the domesticated bovine, the ubiquitous quadrupedal materfamilias, its natural habitat is the farm, and as anyone who has stepped into an urban conglomeration in India will tell you, it has taken over the city streets too. But these criticisms miss the point. The bullock-cart rides across the Hingonia Gaushala on the outskirts of Jaipur are meant to display the best of all possible worlds, a utopia where the “mother” is the centre of all, both divine and accessible.
As it encourages tourists to milk and massage its charges, the Cow Ministry must be careful that its initiative is not taken in the wrong spirit. Progeny, ungrateful as they are, sometimes want to buck the yoke of mamta. “She’s everywhere!”, they will cry. “Don’t we see enough of her every day? Safaris are for tigers.” They might not care that the gaushala houses 15,000 cows. Some disrespectful whipper-snapper may even claim that if you’ve seen one cow, you’ve seen them all and doing so from on top of a machaan does absolutely nothing to enhance the viewing of cud-chewing. The mother, the Rajasthan government must keep in mind, just pushes kids away the more she smothers.