A Cow Thinks Generously {Book Club}

A Cow Thinks Generously {Book Club}

This week’s section of The Milk Lady of Bangalore starts out with happiness. I was curious about the World Happiness Report and looked it up – in futility as it turns out as there was way more information than I could handle. But, as soon as I started reading (in the book) about India’s standing on the list, I began to think about how happiness is defined and experienced differently in different cultures. I wonder how many of the higher ranking countries have cultures which emphasize the power of positive thinking, may consider happiness a virtue or a right, and thus would overrate their level of happiness. Shoba seemed to suggest that Indians may intentionally rate their happiness lower because you wouldn’t want to put yourself too high on the ladder and then fall off, would you?

She cites other surveys which contradict the findings of the World Happiness Report and says that acceptance and contentment can keep us off the “hedonistic treadmill.” What does it mean to be happy in your cultural context? Should happiness even be a virtue in the first place?

Something I found while googling about happiness was a report from 2017 called “A Neural Link Between Generosity and Happiness.” (Summarized here) It says, “Generosity makes people happier, even if they are only a little generous. People who act solely out of self-interest are less happy.”

And that just brings me back to Sarala’s cows. I am impressed by her faith in cows. After the death of one of Sarala’s cows, Shoba made so many suggestions to try to help. In response to the mention of insurance, Sarala said, “For poor people, God is the only insurance.” I don’t know what god she is referring to, but it’s clear that she has no worldly safety net, only faith.

She ascribes every positive trait to cows, and to her, they have no character flaws. “Indian poetry uses the cow as a metaphor to describe speed, fertility, maternal instincts, and a nurturing benevolence.” Shoba contrasts this with the western expression “until the cows come home” and the idea that cows are languid creatures.

Things really got interesting when Shoba observed people trying to catch cow urine. Since it seems to be in such high demand, she asked Sarala about selling it. She couldn’t fathom that. How could she turn a profit on something given so generously? Something received from a generous cow should be given with the same spirit of generosity. Or in the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:8, “Freely you have received, freely give.” Sarala said, “A cow is the most generous animal in the whole world…Every part of her does good for humans.”

And “every part” includes even cow dung. I had to laugh when Shoba’s uncle said, “We have immersed ourselves in cow dung for five thousand years. If it was bad for us, you think we would be the second most populous nation on earth?” He makes a good point! I really appreciated the discussion on how ancient practices may have gotten started. Even before the scientific method was developed and agreed upon by modern scientists, even before peer reviewed journals, people experimented and discovered what worked.

Let’s talk more in the comments. What do you relate to in this section? What sparks your interest? I’ve tried to think of a parallel in other cultures that would be similar to the Indian reverence of cows, and I haven’t come up with anything yet. Is it purely unique? What do you think? Would you be game to try medicinal cow urine or dung? I’m not sure I would do that!

Here’s the reading schedule:

Sept 15: Ch 12-16

Sept 22: Ch 17-Post Script

In October and November we’ll be going a little slower and digging into Beyond Colorblind: Redeeming Our Ethnic Journey by Sarah Shin. Here’s a summary of the book:

“People say they don’t see race. But this approach has limitations. In our broken world, ethnicity and racial identity are often points of pain and injustice. We can’t ignore that God created us with our ethnic identities. We bring all of who we are, including our ethnicity and cultural background, to our identity and work as God’s ambassadors.”

Photo by Monthaye on Unsplash


  1. Terri September 8, 2020

    What a tremendous difference in thinking of cow dung. When Rick was a youth minister in a small town, we had a young lady in the group that was punished with the ‘collecting’ chore from the field. They used it to fertilize other fields.
    Perhaps she should have counted it a blessing!

    1. Rachel Kahindi September 9, 2020

      A blessing freely given. 😛

  2. Amanda September 8, 2020

    What struck me most in this section was Sarala’s convictions related to cows and life. In some ways they seem ridiculous and grounded in everything but science or reality, but Shoba chooses to support her and try to get to know her world instead of dismissing her beliefs or trying to convince her otherwise. As a missionary, there are so many times that I have faced someone who held firm to beliefs that seemed absurd, but in interest of advancing the Gospel and getting to know them better, I just listen to them. Also, many of my practices are just as strange to them!

    1. Rachel Kahindi September 9, 2020

      This is such a good point. What is absurd is totally a matter of perspective.

  3. Phyllis September 9, 2020

    Even here in urban Ukraine, when we complained to our landlady that there seems to be mold growing on the wall, she said that it can’t be, because they mixed plenty of manure into the clay when they built it.

    1. Rachel Kahindi September 9, 2020

      That’s interesting. I’ve known of other people groups who use cow dung in building, but I have never heard that it is supposed to prevent mold!

  4. Sarah Hilkemann September 10, 2020

    The concept of happiness being culturally defined was really interesting to me. The author made a comment about those who are in poorer conditions being content because it is what they know, and they’ve learned to adapt. It made me think of growing up as a dairy farmer’s daughter. I didn’t know until I was applying for college grants and scholarships that my family had been living below the poverty line. We had what we needed, and although I did see friends and other kids who had bigger houses and cool toys, I also knew that they didn’t have the wide open spaces to run like I did. My siblings and I used our imaginations and had SO MUCH fun creating games and acting out stories. I was loved, and read to, and fed well, and safe. I was happy, even though my family was “poor”. Happiness can depend on how much you compare yourself to another’s situation, I think.

    1. Rachel Kahindi September 11, 2020

      That’s so true about comparison. Trying to achieve someone else’s lifestyle is a sure way to discontentment.

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.