The Milk Lady of Bangalore:
An Unexpected Adventure
Algonquin Books January 23, 2018
Fascinating intermingling of culture, religion, and well, cows.
*An advanced reader ebook copy was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*
A book about cows may seem a bit odd. However, as someone who grew up around American dairies it doesn't seem too out of left field. I grew up in Chino, California, which had numerous dairies and cows back in the day. My extended family would joke about the smell driving in; my immediate family couldn't even tell the difference. After a rainy day the town smelled of an earthy animal funk. I'm so used to it - it doesn't even phase me now. Several of my friends growing up lived or had families that worked at the dairies. My parents I lament the fact that some many of the farms and field have been developed into suburban neighborhoods.
I tell you all of this to provide the context of what I brought to Shoba Narayan's The Milk Lady of Bangalore: An Unexpected Adventure. Narayan, a writer and cookbook author, writes about her life, her milk lady Sarala, and the history and culture surrounding the cow in India. I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir discussing a country and traditions that I'm not as familiar with.
Here's the synopsis from the publisher:
"When Shoba Narayan, a writer and cookbook author who had lived for years in Manhattan, moves back to Bangalore with her family, she befriends the milk lady, from whom she buys fresh milk every day. These two women from very different backgrounds bond over not only cows, considered holy in India, but also family, food, and life. After Narayan agrees to buy her milk lady a new cow (she needs one and Narayan can afford it, so why not?), they set off looking for just the right cow. What was at first a simple economic transaction becomes something much more complicated, though never without a hint of slapstick. When Narayan starts dreaming of cows, a little Ayurvedic medicine is in order. (Cow urine tablets, anyone?) When Narayan offers her surprised neighbors fresh cow’s milk, we learn about the place of milk in Indian culture. When Narayan wants a cow to bless her house, the spiritual and historical role that cows play in India is explored.
In this charming true story about two women and the animal they share, readers are treated to an insider’s of view of India. The Milk Lady of Bangalore is also a window into our universal connection to food and its sources, the intricacies of female friendship, and our relationship to all animals."
I loved reading Narayan's unique perspective on Indian culture. Though raised in India, Narayan spent 20 years in the U.S. before moving back with her husband and two children. Thus she can see Indian culture as both an insider and an outsider. I think this provides a great access point for readers like myself who are not Indian or Indian American. She can switch between her experiences as a child in India to the Western influenced perspective from her time in the U.S.
I love the cultural and historical tidbits provided throughout. Narayan seamlessly ties together her everyday interactions alongside the Bhagavad Gita, the Vedas, and Ayurvedic medicine. I never thought I would read about cow excrement and urine let alone their alleged curative powers. Gomutra is the term refers to the usage of cow urine as a remedy for a number of ailments. Despite the odd sound to Western ears, it was fascinating to learn about Gomutra and other alternative remedies and Narayan handles it with both knowledge and a touch of humor. Not only does she provide information about Hindu principles and practices, Narayan introduces the reader to Sarala, her milk lady. Sarala and her family have several cows, which they milk and provide their customers with fresh raw milk. One of the most endearing parts of this book is the friendship that develops between the two women. Sarala teaches Narayan, and thus the reader, a lessons about live and cows.
This booked sparked my interest in learning more about Indian culture and Hinduism. I love when a book makes you want to read even more books. I would highly recommend this fun, informative, and quick read!