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Cows and cars – the old and the new in India February 1, 2014

Posted by therealtinlizzy in India.

This post stems from one of our final assignments for the Global Future Physician course: a 250-word (at least) blog post centered on a single photo from our time in Mysore.  Hey – I didn’t go entirely overboard, my submission was just a hair under 500-hundred, how’s that for some uncharacteristic brevity? 🙂

My phone camera, while mostly adequate for providing a me reference for posterity, didn’t begin to effectively capture the dimension and vibrancy of the sights I viewed in and around Mysore. However, amid the clunky, blurry, badly-lit, and finger-in-frame photos I’ve found some surprising gems, like this one:


Mysore cow decorated with turmeric water to celebrate Sankranti

The photo above was taken on the final day of our three week sojourn in Mysore, along Sayyaji Rao Road and just outside of the Karnataka State Arts and Crafts Emporium, a few blocks down from the Devaraja Market. Not captured at that precise moment in the photo, beyond the parked autos in the background, was the deluge of buses, autos, bikes, motorbikes, and auto-rickshaws darting, bullying and honking past on their way into or out of the city center. While I became well-acclimated after three weeks to the ubiquitous free-range bovines present even in what seemed the unlikeliest of places, including urban palace grounds and improbably-trafficked chaotic intersections and roundabouts, I never lost my capacity for bemusement at the frequent and mostly unrestricted intermingling of (what I would normally consider) rural with the utterly urban. Hence, a goodly number of my photos capture cows, oxen, water buffalo and goats navigating traffic, trash, temples, and such. The cow in the above photo, dyed with what I understand to be manjalthanni (i.e. turmeric water) and managing a rather impressive, if unintentional, color-coordination with the parking barrier, is additionally illustrative of the practice of decorating cows and cattle for Sankranti, or the winter harvest festival, underway at the time.

This photo also embodies for me a theme I found recurrent in different ways, across a broad spectrum of lectures, site visits, observations and interactions during these three weeks: the juxtaposition in India of the traditional and the modern. Lectures on Hindu religious beliefs and Indian literary epics, as well as visits to numerous temples and sacred sites, demonstrated an India grounded in culture and tradition, while lectures on Indian medicine, healthcare, politics and economics, along with field trips to locations such as hospitals and local waste treatment facilities provided a glimpse into an India very much pursuing modernity. A number of our lecturers discussed different facets of Ayurvedic medicine (traditional Indian medicinal practices dating back two millennia), which many Indians use in complement with Western medicine. Other lectures asserted that while there remain some significant gender-based inequities, much of which is borne out of eons tradition and religion, Indians are by and large in favor of a broad range of family planning methods, considered to be rather modern by Western standards.

I can’t claim to have absorbed nearly enough in my three weeks in Mysore (nor do I perceive that 1.2 billion Indians are anything like a homogenous population) to speculate whether or not this coexistence of old and new is an easy, comfortable prospect for Indians. However, I did come away with an overall perception that not unlike the modern autos speeding and darting around, or sometimes having to yield entirely to, the cattle ambling ponderously through the streets (such as my yellow friend above), the Indians I had occasion to meet and observe, both rural and urban, seem to have established a sort of duality between contemporary pursuits and that which is very much traditional.



1. Stefanie - February 5, 2014

Sounds like a fantastic trip!

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