Scriptures mandate that before taking meals a small portion of the meal should be kept aside for the local deity, cow, dog, and crow. Perhaps the message is to keep the deity pleased by our remembering him, the cow has immense significance in Hindu religious rituals besides being a useful animal particularly in a rural milieu, the dog is rewarded for his loyalty ( he rarely bites the hand that feeds him unlike humans ) and the crow in the hope that he will carry a good message to our forefathers.

This is in the spirit of saying Grace before meals ( St. Luke 11.11: And he ( Jesus ) said to them; When you pray, say, our Father art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy Will be done, as in heaven, so on earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we shall forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not in temptation but deliver us from evil. Amen.: ). The Hindus have amplified this ritual to give wider practical connotations.

I had seen my father following this ritual every time before taking meals though limiting it to an offering to the deity. I have been amiss in observing this ritual, maybe because of the influence of western thoughts that treat desi rituals unnecessary and redundant.

My daughter was, however, observing this ritual, in a way, albeit surreptitiously. So here the story starts…She was a forsaken cow past her prime. In her daily itinerary, she made it a point to visit around noon time the backyard of my house where daily refuse was dumped. A wicket gate, equally old and emaciated in appearance, was the only hurdle she had to contend with for making a forced entry into the backyard. For a few days she, like a curious onlooker, would stand near the gate, look over by stretching her neck across the gate, assess the quantum of booty, contemplate and reluctantly move on finding the gate shut. She appeared to be a docile and law-abiding cow!

My six-year-old daughter Nandini, who despite cajolings of her mother and my stern admonitions, refused to participate in the afternoon siesta ritual observed by the household; would often sit during this time in the balcony overlooking the backyard. It was she, in fact, who used to report to us in detail of the daily visits of the cow.

After a few days, however, the daily reports were not forthcoming. We did not pay much heed thinking that the subject had either become too monotonous for the child or the cow had taken to green pastures. What, however, did happen for the last few days was that Nandini’s appetite had grown by a chapati or two. We were delighted that the skinny girl that she was and who seemed to have a congenital aversion to eating, had at last decided to put on some weight probably at the promptings of her school teacher ( Some school madams have better control over children ! ) What had whetted her appetite was, however, a mystery to us.

One day I woke up earlier than usual to discover that the girl was not sitting at her wonted place. I peered through the window and found the girl absorbed in watching the cow eating the chapatis that she had thrown over the gate at the lane outside. I quietly woke up my wife also to witness the denouement. The cow having finished her measly meal looked up longingly at the girl. Nandini, however, waved her on and rushed back. She came back on tiptoes, found us asleep ( which we were feigning ), re-assured, went back to her favorite place, and sat down nonchalantly.