After Holi we went to stay in another village with a family that had five daughters, one son and eight cows. The entire extended family lived in the house and each of the three matriarchs had her own indoor kitchen and outdoor cooking stove where they taught us how to make chapati – a flat whole wheat bread that Indian’s eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The family’s cow complex, wich they call, “the resort,” was the first stop on the tour of the village. The resort included a large garden that grew garlic, onion, dill, several kinds of greens, and barseem – a kind of clover. The fresh greens are mixed with a shredded dry feed that each family prepares themselves with a huge shredder. Dry feed includes corn stalks and bran. I was impressed with the care these cows received. They weren’t free range, but they ate well and with the exception of the poorly looking cow I milked, the rest of the cows were healthy. I could also tell that they were treated well because they were very curious and friendly.
The next morning we rolled out of bed at 5:45 to learn how to milk a cow. By the time we arrived at the resort at 6 a.m. and they were almost finished with milking. Fortunately, the last cow tolerated our clumsy attempts to milk her. Like many other activities, Indians forgo using a stool for milking and prefer to squat. Whether they study yoga or not, Indians are better at yoga than Americans.
The family produces more milk than they need, so every morning and evening they take ten kilos of milk to the milk collection center, which is a two kilometer walk from the house. Steve and I joined the men taking the milk to the center to see how milk gets from the cow to the consumer in India. The experience was a little disturbing.
The milk collection center was located in a small shop in a strip mall by the side of the highway. This happy man tested the fat content of the milk immediately upon arrival, which determined the price people were payed for their milk. The people before us had water buffalo milk: 6% fat. Our cows’ milk was only 3% fat. The family was payed 14 rupees per liter for their milk. This means they made about $1.25 for almost 4 gallons of milk. This is one of the reasons that milk is cheaper to buy than bottled water in India.
The milk is then poured into these unrefrigerated containers. There were several dead flies floating on the top of the milk in these jugs, and these were just the flies we could see. Who knows what else was lurking beneath the opaque depths.
Some of this milk will be delivered directly to local residents by a milk delivery man who delivers fresh milk door to door on his motor scooter. The rest of the milk would be left in the jugs unrefrigerated until a Mother’s Dairy truck came to collect the milk and take it to a processing facility to be “toned” – turned into pasteurized, homogenized milk available in six different fat percentages. We were not given a clear answer when we asked when the refrigerated truck would come, only, “soon.” “Soon” can mean a lot of things in India. While we were there the milk delivery man was ready to leave the collection center and start his rounds, but before he hopped on his bike he sloshed his hands around in the milk for some time. I’m still trying to figure out why he did this, possibly to send more flies to their milky grave. Maybe I don’t want to know why.
The visit to the milk collection center put a serious dent in my chai consumption for the rest of my trip. All the milk consumed in India is boiled, so it is somewhat sterile, but there are so many ways that milk can be contaminated in India. This includes what the cows eat, in some cases garbage, to how sanitary or unsanitary hand every villager’s hand milking procedure is. Plus there is no way to tell how long milk has been left unrefrigerated, and then, there are the flies and god knows what else that can find their way into open containers. It is unfortunate that everyone doesn’t provide the excellent care of their cow that this gracious family does. The rest of my time in the village with this wonderful family was delightful.
These kind and intelligent girls were more than happy to share the feminine arts of Indian women with us. They gave us beautiful henna on our hands and arms – they call it mindi – and taught us how to wear a sari. After wearing a really beautiful sari for about fifteen minutes, the idea of cooking, farming, or using a squat toilet in one of these still mystifies me, but millions of women here do it every day.