The Milk Lady of Bangalore By Shoba Narayan

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The Milk Lady of Bangalore will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about cows in Bangalore.  Shoba Narayan writes about food, travel and culture.  This is an account of the return to her native India with her husband and two children.  She and her husband studied in the U.S. and began raising a family.  They decided they wanted their daughters to know their Indian relatives and experience Indian culture.

The story opens as Shoba and her family are moving into their modern apartment house.  At the elevator of her building, Shoba meets a woman leading a cow .  She discovers that the woman is on her way to bless an apartment.  Since the cow is already in the building, Shoba decides to see if she can negotiate a price with the woman for her own home to receive a blessing.  The matter is settled, and it is the beginning of an unusual friendship.

Narayan discovers that Sarala not only blesses homes with her cows, she also sells fresh milk right across the street.  The women develop a bond around food and family.  There lives are very different; Narayan is very privileged compared to the struggling Sarala.  As I read the story, it was clear that the influence of class differences was more obvious to Sarala than to Narayan.  It seems to be true that the underclass, out of necessity, usually understands more about those in the upper classes than vice versa.

Much of the story centers on cows.  It was fascinating to try and imagine an ancient culture living within the borders of a modern city.  Cows roam the streets freely and are highly regarded.  Every part of a cow is honored; cows are revered in Indian culture, customs, myths, and religion.  When Shoba agrees to buy Sarala a new cow, the two women work together to make a purchase building an ever deepening friendship along the way.  The book is full of humor and real-life struggle.  The love of animals is common to both women.  I was amazed at how much there is to learn about cows–especially those lucky enough to live in India.

3 comments on “The Milk Lady of Bangalore By Shoba Narayan”

  1. Hi Barbara ~ what an intriguing story! Is this non-fiction or a novel? I love what you say here: “It seems to be true that the underclass, out of necessity, usually understands more about those in the upper classes than vice versa.” Hmmmm… this is definitely something that makes me think about- and wonder- how we interact within the different levels of society. Not just how we think of each other, demographically or politically, but how we actually see each other- in terms of friendship and human interaction. Thanks for the great review, and something to ponder over my Sunday coffee..

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    1. Hi Meredith, This is a true story. While the women develop a real friendship, it was interesting to see how class differences played out. To me, this was most evident in the way each woman handled Narayan’s gift of a cow. The “Milk Lady” was definitely the cow expert, but Narayan was supplying the money. On the whole, the book was fascinating to read–the cows in India really are lucky!

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    2. This comment about class makes me think of a piece I saw on television. A musician described a sobering experience he had outside a homeless shelter where the symphony was giving a special one-time performance. He noticed a man glowering at him as he walked by with his instrument, and asked the man what was wrong. The homeless man said something like “You come down here and play for the poor homeless people so you can feel good about yourselves and then go back to your nice homes and forget about it.” To the musician’s credit, he took it to heart and has since recruited people to come and stay–to really understand and to help.

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