Today I am loving India

by francine Hardaway on November 29, 2005

Today I am loving India again. Dwarko-ji took us to a plantation about ten miles outside of Bodh Gaya where, having been given 70 acres of land twenty-five years ago, he built a “school for life.” Here, the village children he takes are not poor “townies,” but rural, almost tribal foragers. The parents have no concept of upward mobility, and do not even see a reason to send their children to the school as boarders, the way the people in Bodh Gaya do.

However, these rural forest dwellers spend the day in the forests looking for food, and they have begun to see the school, especially the kindergarten, as a safe place to drop the kids for the day. So there are 90 “boarders” and many other “day students.”

This farm, which is large enough to be self-sustaining, uses biomass (cow dung) for cooking gas, exists without electricity, and doesn’t even have bathrooms. The plowing is done by a man walking behind a team of oxen with a wooden plow. I’d never seen this outside a book; it is an innovation from the Middle Ages.

On the farm, the children learn how to work the generator that drives the well, how to irrigate and farm, and how to take products to market. This is part of Ghandi’s program of “village development,” whereby you help the village by educating the children. India is full of this concept, on every level. On the higher levels, it’s why Bangalore exists: generations of Indian parents have educated their children to a better life. On the poorest level, in rural Bihar, it’s teaching the children to graduate from hunter-gatherers to farmers.

But the children also become literate in this school — at least the boarders do. Like all Indian children, they sit patiently waiting for the teacher, with their little chalk boards in their hands. They are wearing uniforms. Literacy, uniforms, farming — these are great steps forward for these children.

So the farm is self-sustaining, while the ashram school, in the town of Bodh Gaya, is not, because it is only two acres. This is why Dwarko-ji wants to start the cow project, to produce medicines (both Ayurvedic and allopathic) from cow urine.
So yesterday I bought him the first cow of twenty he thought he would need.

We went to the cattle market. I found it hilarious: the cows are wearing fancy decorative headpieces and leashes as they are paraded around for sale. They are brought from all over the region to this market. It’s like the cow prom. The Indian cows are different from the others, because they have big humps behind their necks. I think they are all ugly, but Dwarko wants one of these because they give better urine for medicine (supposedly). Just in case you think all this is crazy, I remind you that cow urine is a well-known antiseptic and antibiotic ingredient. Made into pills, it’s not recognizable :-)

There are also Jersey cows, and Dutch cows at the market, some of which are much more expensive than the cow we choose. There are also lots of calves. The calves remind me of puppies.

The ashram people are not stupid; they pick a cow they think we will buy, put a deposit down, and come back the next day to milk the cow three times before consummating the purchase. We have our eyes on a gray cow; if they buy her, she will be named Francine. We hope she will urinate often, just like the original Francine.

Half way through the cattle market, I come to my senses and go back to the air conditioned car, realizing how unsanitary the conditions are, between the dust, the flies, and the animals. When I get back to the hotel, I take a shower (or rather I let the water run out of the wall in my bathroom into the plastic bucket, and then take the small plastic bucket, fill it, and pour it over my body. I use the Ayurvedic, non-foaming soap. I emerge new, and ready for dinner.

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