Lima Duarte (Brazil): As we were driving down to this small, scenic village in the state of Minas Gerais in the southern part of the country, a story I had read a few years ago kept coming back to my mind. The story was about a cow in Varanasi. The stray cow was operated upon by the doctors of BHU medical college after she was found bleeding and writhing in pain on a street. The doctors operated on the cow and removed a ‘tumour’ in the stomach, which turned out be a bloodied bundle of 50 kilograms of polythene. The poor cow had been living on polythene for years. In the holiest of the holy Indian town, the cows’ staple diet is polythene, which they find in hundreds of open garbage dumps all over the city.
We were off to a small farm house in the heart of Minas Gerais, which can be compared to Punjab. It’s green and prosperous. It’s an agricultural belt with farmers growing dozens of different crops and raising cattle and living life to the full, eating the best food and drinking the best liquor. The reason I kept thinking about the Varanasi cow was that we were going to see "Indian" cows at a beautiful farm owned by Marcos, who is a middle-level farmer by Brazilian standards. In India, Marcos, who owns some 40 cows and huge tracts of land on which he grows corn, sugarcane, many vegetables and fruits, would be considered a big farm house owner.
Anyway, coming back to the cows, my interest was to see the Indian cows, called ‘Gee’, on Marcos’ farm. How the Indian cows reached Brazil is an interesting story. Soon after Vasco da Gama found the sea route to India in 1498, the Portuguese arrived in Brazil in 1500. While in India they were happy with just establishing trading posts on the western coast, the Potuguese began to colonise parts of north-eastern part of South America. As they began to settle down here, they brought cows from Europe. Due to the heat in the tropical climate of Brazil, the European cows could not survive and the Portuguese turned to India for cattle. For two centuries, hundreds of thousands of cattle were brought from India – mainly from Andhra Pradesh – to Brazil. Over the years, many of these cows were mixed with Dutch cows. Though Brazil has a large number of mixed-breed cattle, almost 90% of the cows here still carry Indian genes.
MEET A FARMER: Marcos with his 'Indian' cows at his farm
That’s where the similarities end. The cows at Marcos’ farm give 40 litres of milk every day -- 20 litres twice a day. Though many of these cows are of mixed breed, some of them have strong Indian features. Though they look like Indian cows, they produce milk almost 10 times more than the poor Indian cows. Why? As we walked around the farm, I got my answer. The cows here eat a healthy diet – corn, sugarcane, herbal grass and clean drinking water. They live in clean, airy sheds. They are given baths twice a day. They are examined and vaccinated by a veterinary regularly. And they have green pastures on which they spend hours, chewing the cud.
SACRED ANIMAL: A farmhand treating a cow for a wound
Marcos sells the milk produced at his farm to a cheese factory nearby. The factory collects the milk stored in a huge, refrigerated tank. The cheese made at the factory is known throughout the country, but is sold and consumed in the nearby towns and small cities. That’s how the local economy works here. And this economy has lifted all the people in the area.
Marcos lives in a big house with all the modern amenities. Though his life as a farmer is tough, his lifestyle is as good as the rich in India. The four men (farm hands) who work for him live a decent life too. As per law, Marcos pays them good salary, paid vacation and medical benefits. Though they live in smaller houses, they have access to all modern amenities. It’s impossible not to compare this scenario with country life back home. Of course, we have very rich farmers in Punjab who live in mansions and shop at Oxford Street in London, but the people who work with them -- the Bihari migrant labour – still live life cattle class. The so-called tide of the Indian economic miracle hasn’t lifted all the boats. It might have sunk many.
VILLAGE LIFE: Marcos having dinner with his family
Spending two days at Marcos’ farm was an experience. It was nice and comfortable and we tasted the best food in the world. But there was a lesson too: farm owners, farm hands and animals and can live together in harmony, with everyone taking care of the other. It’s because of this attitude the Indian cows in Brazil produce so much milk. They are not abandoned or left to fend for themselves. They are taken care of. In almost all Indian cities, abandoned cows – thousand of them -- can be seen competing with street dogs for food in rubbish thrown on streets.
Some time back, we had a debate in India about holy cows and cattle class. Tragically, the whole discussion was about ministers flying business class. Holy cow is just a metaphor. So is the cattle class. The fact is we do not care about our cows nor do we care about the people in cattle class.