The Holy Cow

It was in 1968 that the Malayalee and English writer and poet Kamala Das wrote a short story named ‘The Holy Cow’. Almost 50 years ahead, it reads out like a newspaper clipping of 2017.
Translated from Malayalam by K. Satchidanandan
One day a little boy picked up a banana peel from a garbage bin on the road. While he was eating it, a cow snatched it from his hands. The boy felt sad; he pushed the beast away. The cow ran along the street, mooing aloud. Some mendicants suddenly turned up from nowhere.
“Did you hurt the holy cow?” they asked the boy.
“I didn’t. I only chased it away because it snatched the banana peel I was eating.”
“What is your religion?” asked the mendicants.
“Religion? What’s that?” asked the boy.
“Are you Hindu or Muslim? Or Christian? Do you go to the temple or to the mosque?”
“I don’t go to any of them,” the boy replied.
“So you don’t believe in prayer?”
“I don’t go anywhere. I have no shirt. My trousers are torn at the back.”
The mendicants whispered among themselves, then turned to the boy.
“You must be Muslim. You hurt the cow.”
“Is that cow yours?” asked the boy.
The mendicants wrung the boy’s neck and threw him into the garbage bin.
Then they chanted together, “Om nama shivaya. Let thy holy name be praised.”
What has changed in these 50 years and what are the derivatives to measure progress?
In an interview at a University, I was asked why I was interested in Literature? The simplest answer that I could give was mostly about the relevance literature has to the contemporary times, regardless of the century or the decade it was written in. And today, this very relevance is pinching like needles in my consciousness. Countless have been burned or buried in the name of ideologies, but no lesson has been learnt. What significance must an animal hold in our religion that we place it above a human being. If seeing educated adults justify this barbaric atrocity wasn’t enough, imagine my shock and disbelief when I heard children giggle about another “pig’s death” and refer to “Gau-Mata being saved” in their afternoon games. Has the violence associated with this act been too normalized in our society that its another game the children will now play?
Its of significance that the boy in the story is from an impoverished background, indicating his position at the far end of the power struggle. The banana peel left at his disposal is from a fruit that many like him do not consume. The cow has been personified by its very act of ‘snatched it from his hands.’ The implication of the ‘beast’ is to establish a morality to this story, where by the cow renders itself at the very end of the moral compass, however ahead of the vigilantes only, who hunt the boy at the end. The conversation establishes the fact that it is in fact the supposed religion of the boy that is a problem. The clothes on the boy or the lack of it, are the evidence enough to establish his crime. The trial only lasts a few whispers and the neck is wrung like a chicken being butchered. The boy is flung into the garbage bin, exactly where he sought refuge from his hunger, in turn extinguishing the thirst (of blood) of the mendicants.


Its a still morning

my eyes are groggy

but the air feels cool on my skin

a woman in red is holding my palms


on top of hers


“I am sick of paisleys”, I tell her

but its too late

the colour is s l o w l y creeping into my veins

grabbing at my heart

His name adorns them

hidden somewhere between the folds of my life lines

I haven’t bothered to look-

“Has your man learnt his a-b-c’s?”

-I haven’t bothered to look

exactly where I am being branded

as if His new school notebook.




‘Chetna’ is a Hindi word which means consciousness. It is also a name given to girls in India. Many such girls are still married off at a young age in this day and age.


Jahaan aaj bhi gudiyaaon se khelti hoon mein.

Jahaan buzurgi mai khoobsurti dhoondhti hoon mein.

Jahaan Jhelum ke kinaare baith apna maazi jeeti hoon mein.

Jahaan zakhmon se karna bas mohobbat seekhti hoon mein.

Jahaan khoon se lipti muskuraahaton ko dekhti roti hoon mein.

Jahaan mustaqbil zaeef ki duaaon main dhoondhti hoon mein.

Jahaan kafan bhi zarbaaf ka bunti hoon mein.

Jahaan paaashaai mukhdoom ki parbat se dekhti hoon mein.

Jahaan khushboo zafrani hawaaon main soonghti hoon mein.

Jahaan mohammad ko sunn shankar se milti hoon mein.

Haan, uss ghar ko Kashmir kehti hoon mein.


Iram wrote this poem at her home in New Delhi through her pen of nostalgia after reading Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali’s poem ‘I see Kashmir through New Delhi at Midnight’.She reflects on the feeling called ‘home’ and her views through these contrasting elements.

Some Urdu word meanings and references :

Maazi- past

Mustaqbil – future

Zaeef – elderly

Zarbaaf – cloth similar to brocade

Paashai – Chhatti Paashai Gurudwara in Kashmir

Mukhdoom – Shrine of Mukhdoom Sahib in Kashmir

Parbat – Hari Parbat in Kashmir

Zafran – Saffron fields of Kashmir






Azaad kaun hai?

Azaad kaun hai?

Ek vaishya jo jism faroshi karti hai, 

Ya phir woh, jo libaas ka sahara liye khud ko dhakti hai?


Azaad kaun hai?

Ek parinda jo behadd ooncha parvaaz karta hai,

Ya phir woh, jo pinjarey mein beth daane ko nahin tarasta hai?


Azaad kaun hai?

Ek ameer jo keechadd ki chheeton se larazz uthta hai,

Ya phir woh gareeb, jo uss keechadd ke rang ko bekauf apne pairon se malta hai?


Azaad kaun hai? 

Woh kaidi jo apne mann ki kiye, salaakhon ke peechhe din guzarta hai,

Ya phir woh insaan, jo zeher ke ghoonth piye wahi gunah karne se katrata hai?


Azaad kaun hai?

Woh mehboob jisse kissi se bhi bistar baantney ki ijazat ho,

Ya phir woh, jisse khud ko kabhi bhi kamzor dikhane se hichkichahat na ho?


Azaad kaun hai?

Woh Kashmir jo khoon main lipta ek ke baad ek jaan qurbaan karta hai,

Ya phir woh Hindustan, jo besabri se bas behtari ki raah ko taktaa hai?