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We are on a country road in search of a cow to buy for my milk lady, Sarala. Three of us, Sarala, her son, Selva, and I, sit in the back. Muniappa, our broker, rides with Kuppa

in the driver’s seat. He takes us to a mango orchard nearby. We see the cows—a dozen of them—grazing underneath trees laden with green mangoes. Sarala is thrilled. Selva too is suddenly animated. There is only one problem. Their owner, Nanjappa, doesn’t want to sell them. He only wants to outsource the milking process. He is fed up of waking at dawn, squatting beside a dozen cows, and taking the milk to the local cooperative to be weighed and paid. He wants a younger man to take over and give his arthritic knees a rest.

India is the world’s largest producer of milk. Much of this comes from “milk unions", or rural dairy farmers. Bangalore has more than 1,845 milk societies under the Bangalore Urban and Rural District Cooperative Milk Producers Societies Union Ltd, with the inapt acronym, Bamul, in honour of Amul, the nation’s first milk cooperative, founded in Gujarat in 1946, before India’s independence.

Milk ilk: Dairy farmers like Sarala have to work hard to cultivate a customer base. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

We get back on the auto, the four of us. By now, it is 1pm. We are disgruntled, starving and thirsty. We see a man selling tender coconut water by the side of the road and stop. Selva offers to buy us all tender coconut water. As the vendor chops off the tops of the coconut, we continue bickering, Selva and I, about the wasted morning. Why wouldn’t he phone first and check with the sellers if they were indeed selling their cows, I ask. He responds by blaming Muniappa, who blames Nanjappa, the elderly gent. “That old man told me that he wanted to sell the whole herd," says Muniappa. “He must have seen this pant-and-shirt Madam and changed his mind." They all look at me accusingly, which irritates me because I am in a salwar-kameez.

“You want a cow?" asks the dusty, thin coconut vendor.

We look up.

Turns out that the coconut vendor has a cow that he wants to sell for 85,000. He promises to throw in her calf. Where is the cow? we ask sceptically. The coconut vendor waves at the palatial green mansion in a distance, standing like a neon gingerbread house amid the fields. That’s my home, he says. Just walk down this path and find my wife. She’ll show you the cow and calf.

We stare at each other, jaws agape. They all speak together in rapid-fire Kannada. At the end, Selva seems satisfied that the coconut vendor indeed has a cow. We get back into the auto. Kuppa makes a U-turn on the highway and we go in the face of speeding oncoming traffic till we suddenly veer off into a side lane.

Sarala and I can’t stop talking about the coconut seller. We are wonderstruck that this dusty, bony man who is selling coconuts by the roadside not only has a large mansion with fields all around, but also saleable cows to boot.

“Why would a man who owns this giant green mansion, fields and cows want to sell coconuts by the roadside?" I wonder aloud. “He must have seen all those coconuts on his land going to waste so he probably thought, ‘Why not stand on the road and make some more money?’" says Selva.

We walk single file in between the fields and go to the green mansion. An old man comes out. He is, indeed, the coconut vendor’s father, who has the leathery skin of a man who has spent his lifetime under the hot sun in the fields. When we ask about the cow, he points to the field and says that we will find the animal there, with his daughter-in-law. Selva walks into the tall sugar-cane field, whistles a bit, and comes out.

In a few minutes, a woman clad in an orange sari comes out. Had I passed her on the road, I would have put her down (correctly) as a farmer’s wife. I would certainly not have imagined that she was the owner of the green two-storey bungalow spread over 10,000ft of virgin Bangalore land.

The coconut vendor’s wife leads her cow out. Selva does his thing with examining the teeth and tail. As we walk back, he tells us that he is going to negotiate it down to 75,000. But he is not hopeful. “These sellers may lower the price by 10%, but no more. The cow is young and healthy. Plus there is a calf. The seller is not in dire straits," says Selva, waving at the green house. “Why will he lower the price?"

We motor back to the coconut vendor. Predictably, he refuses to lower the price. “I didn’t even plan on selling my cow," he says. “Just because you people came here with such distress, I thought I’d do you a favour by pointing you to my cow."

By now, it is 3pm. None of us has eaten. Selva buys us some peanuts from the roadside. On the ride back, I discuss the plan of action with Selva. “I’ll call around and see if anyone has any cows for sale," he says. “Shall we go again tomorrow?"

I nod. The lad is learning. He has at least given me a day’s notice.

Shoba Narayan took Sarala and Selva’s permission to write the four-part cow chronicles—this is the third in the series. Although this incident happened in December, it’s written in present tense for writerly effect.

Write to her at thegoodlife@livemint.com.

Also Read |Shoba Narayan’s previous Lounge columns

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Updated: 06 Jul 2012, 09:01 PM IST
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