Monday, December 20, 2010

Book Review : Holy Cow : An Indian Adventure

Title : Holy Cow : An Indian Adventure

Author : Sarah ManDonal

Publisher : Random House

ISBN : 978-0-553-81601-3

Twenty one years old Sarah MacDonald visits India and to say the least she simply hates her experience in the country and vows never to step her foot on this land again. But destiny does bring her back after 11 years, making an Indian beggar's prophecy correct about her. This time she comes to India leaving her dream job in Sydney for the love of her life, who happens to be posted in New Delhi.

Claiming to be an atheist, she finds herself in a totally alien territory where faith, belief and religion define a part of who people are and not just that, there is so much more to India and the people than she could ever have imagined or expected. She embarks on the journey to unravel the mysteries of India and Indian-ness and flows with what each day unfolds in front of her.

Being in the most polluted city, observing people very closely, she wonders why so many foreigners keep trying to figure out India when in fact this whole exercise is pointless, India is one country which is beyond any understanding, any statement, for anything one states about India, the opposite is also true. It's rich, its poor, spiritual and material, cruel and kind, angry and peaceful, ugly and beautiful, smart and stupid. It's all the extremes.

She observes, experiences and tries to understand the faiths, beliefs and religions of different people and what these mean to an Indian. To immerse deeply and to partake all flavors, she first takes the calming Vipassana course in the small town of Dharamkot, pays visit to the Vatican of Sikhs - the Golden Temple, travels to Kashmir and closely observes the Muslims and their ability to surrender and sacrifice, spends some days in Buddhist Monastery, gets introduced to beliefs of the Jews and Parsis of India, marvels at the unbelievable simplicity and self-perfection of Jain faith, gets awed by the orderly organisation of Sathya Sai Baba anshram in Bangalore, appreciates the Hinduism for showing innumerable ways to divine and peeks into the lives of Indian Christians. After having experienced faith from different angles, she realizes that she has made a start along the path to personal transformation and inner peace.

The charm of India was such that despite having to endure a lot of irritants like - the unending trail of beggars which gets exceptionally bigger behind a foreigner, various people charging exorbitantly for the basic services, lecherous gestures of men, to just name a few - while leaving India this time, she is glad 'to be reborn as a better person, less reliant on others for her happiness and full of a desire to replace anger with love.' And, she has gained another home - the home of her spiritual rebirth.

I really liked the author's play with words - simple and perfectly apt, witty and intelligent. To give a slice of her writing style, just a few pages into the book she writes about the Indian traffic and the road sense -

'Pedestrians are on the bottom and run out of the way of everything, bicycles make way to cycle-rickshaws, which give way to auto-rickshaws, which stop for the cars, which are subservient to trucks. Buses stop for one thing and one thing only. Not customers - they jump on while the buses are still moving. The only thing that can stop a bus is the king of the road - The Holy Cow. '

On a personal note: I guess being Indian, we see such huge diversity right from the moment we open our eyes that we have always considered it as part of who we are without consciously registering as much, but actually if we watch India from afar, not as someone part of it, I think India is too intriguing, overwhelming and awe-inspiring and has been a complex topic for many people. The fact is, India is beyond all definitions and statements and that is precisely the uniqueness of this country.


  1. this book has been sitting on my self for almost 6 months.. i should get it out.. the quote about the vehicle food-chain was apt too.. thanx for the review.

  2. I agree with you and there are many such interesting analogies and quotes throughout the book. I liked the writing style of the author.

  3. Hi Vibha ..Great blog.. I was put off by a review I read about this book a while ago. Will try to get hold of the book.

  4. Hi Shweta,Thanks for visiting the blog and your lovely comment. Do read this book and let me know what you think about it.


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