It was the early days of our stay at Brahmagiri. Food was a luxury and we had to constantly worry about what to cook, how to cook and what to eat. Ramesh had become an expert in cooking uppittu (a dish made out of broken wheat) and Devaraj and I had to become experts in eating it! Devaraj got so frustrated with uppittu that he cannot stand the sight of it even today. I remember his wife Jayalatha jokingly tell me when I visited them in UK, that the only condition Devaraj had laid before marriage was that she shouldn’t cook uppittu at all.
Tribals were not using milk or milk products. This meant that we too had no access to milk. One of the local farmers Papegowda had a cow and was kind enough to give us half a litre of milk everyday. Despite our objections (not so strong actually!), he would carry the milk himself and make sure that we got it each day and he didn’t charge us anything for it. This went on for a couple of months and then suddenly stopped. This was quite intriguing for us. We could not figure out why Papegowda who was so concerned about our welfare, suddenly stopped visiting us. Ramesh kept insisting that we do not bother about him and make our own alternate arrangements. Only much later did we understand why Papegowda was giving us the milk in the first place and why it stopped suddenly. Papegowda had figured that Ramesh could be his future son-in-law and was actually giving the milk to Ramesh and not to all of us! When he had raised this topic with him, Ramesh had politely declined and sent him off. Well, it was an expensive ‘no’ as far as Devaraj and I were concerned. We were back to square one with no milk or curds anymore.
This went on for sometime and the only source of milk products became Swami Sureshanandaji. He would visit us regularly (once in 2-3 weeks) and carry with him milk, curds and plenty of bakery products. We would eagerly wait for him, not for some ‘spiritual succor’ or ‘motivation’, but for the goodies that he would bring along! One day Swamiji told us that he had enough of the bad roads and the difficult travel and that he would have to reduce the number of trips he made to Brahmagiri, to keep his back healthy. He told us that he would gift us a cow and that would take care of our requirements.
2 weeks later, we had our cow and we fondly named it Lakshmi. It came with a calf and we thought that this was a very welcome gift. Ramesh, owing to his rural upbringings, was elected to take care of the cow. And he did speak like an expert! He was the one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind. After a few days, we realized that this cow would yield around 12 litres of milk each day and milking was something we were not taught in the medical school! It was quite a challenge to get the milk out from a not-so-friendly cow that was getting tired of our experiments. It was then that Ramesh had a grandiose idea. He suggested that we milk only the required quantity and leave the rest for the calf to drink. This way, we would not have to worry about the calf’s feeding requirements too.
The first two days were fine and suddenly the calf would not get up at all. She had severe diarrhoea and was nearly dead. Swami Bargeshananda, monk in-charge of the Ramakrishna Vidyashala Dairy, came and inspected the calf and said the calf would die if it drank so much milk and its feeding had to be modulated. We were back to square one with having to milk 12 litres a day. This was indeed fatiguing. Taking care of our small clinic with all the associated challenges seemed so easy now!
One morning, Lakshmi would not let us anywhere near her. She would not let us touch her udder. We noticed that the udder was swollen and red all over. We had in fact been unable to milk her completely and as a result, she had developed ‘Galactocoel’. Oh, how she suffered! It was Swami Bargeshananda to our rescue once again. He came along with Dr.Kaveriappa, a veterinarian and helped us in treating the cow. Subsequently, Lakshmi developed this problem once more and we realized that we would kill her if we continued to keep her with us. And finally, with a heavy heart, we returned her to Swami Sureshananda and Lakshmi found a very welcome home at the Vidyashala Dairy.
It was in the cowshed we had built for Lakshmi that we started our school for the tribal kids. More of it later.