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Don't forget the sacred cows

Old Delhi Sikh temple, Shish Ganj Gurudwara

INDIA | Wednesday, 27 May 2015 | Views [47] | Scholarship Entry

My tuk tuk pulled up to Shish Ganj Gurudwara, right next to a cow that had positioned its bony behind at the foot of the steps to the Sikh temple.
Here in Old Delhi cows wander the streets at their own pace forcing buses, cyclists, scooters, tuk tuks, and white 1970s vintage taxis to weave around them. Considered sacred, if you kill a cow you can actually face up to three years in jail.

I’m told that, along with cricket, the one thing that unites India is its lack of road rules. There are none except, it seems, to avoid the cows. There are no lanes. Well, to be more accurate, there are lanes painted on the roads but no-one adheres to them. That’s what the horn honking is for.

Getting out the tuk tuk, the smoggy sky was zig-zagged by dozens of power lines stretched between the buildings on either side of the street. They formed an indecipherable mass of knots and hanging wires. The street was buzzing, overflowing with jostling people. Through the crowd I glimpsed a towering headdress. Dark blue cloth was piled up almost half a metre high on a gentleman’s head. He had an orange strip of fabric woven through the blue, with silver beading draped around. I’m told he’s a Sikh leader and this extra height makes it easier for people to seek him out for a conversation.

Heading into the temple, you’ll want to cover your head with a scarf which you can pick up from the kiosk next door. Wash your hands in the taps out the front and slip off your shoes before stepping through the water trough to rinse your feet.

The horn honking faded away into drumming and singing; the smog was replaced by golden walls and orange cloth. It’s worth taking the time to sit quietly to observe the religious proceedings. Then wander out the back for what I found most unexpected.

A metal vat was filled to the brim with chopped vegetables. Machines were whirring and pumping out roti bread. Women crouched down, pounding dough, squashing it into small circles and flattening it quickly into even more rotis. Two men stood to stir another cauldron of steaming curry. It seemed to be a highly efficient, organised process, far from the chaotic horn-honking and weaving crowds outside.

Each day volunteers here feed an astonishing 6,000 people from the local community who might otherwise go hungry. They welcome new faces. If you have a spare morning, offer up a callous-free hand to stir the pot and flatten a few rotis. And I suggest you sneak one out to give to the cow on your way out.

Tags: 2015 Writing Scholarship

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