Geetanjali Krishna / Business Standard, New Delhi August 05, 2006
Watch out!” I shouted stupidly in the crowded vegetable market, when a cow making off with a mouthful of stolen cabbage peed on my feet. Hopping with irritation, I looked around to see who the animal belonged to. There was no likely looking owner around, but an old vegetable seller was looking amused at my plight. “Don’t fret, there’s nothing dirty about cow’s urine!” said he, “and people say that it’s best when fresh.” I glared at him: I wonder if you’d have said the same thing if it had been you, not me, at the receiving end of the cow’s benediction.” The old man laughed and said, “you’re talking to someone who holds cow urine in great esteem — I use it as an antiseptic, as a treatment for fungal skin infections and for many other things!”
Cow’s urine, said he, was one of the five products from cows which the Ayurveda lists as being invaluable for health, the others being ghee, curd, milk and dung. “I heard that there is research going on about its role in curing diseases like cancer and diabetes,” said he, “that is why hygienically packaged cow’s urine is even more expensive than cow’s milk!” I shuffled my toes uncomfortably, desperate for a wash, but this conversation was proving strangely fascinating.
Did he have a cow of his own? I asked. “In my village in Eastern UP, I do. And it’s the most useful animal to have around. We use the dung to cake the floors and walls of our house to keep them cool and clean. It is also the best salve to cool burns and skin rashes. The urine, especially when it is fresh, is a better antiseptic wash for wounds and cuts and cure for skin infections, than any harsh Western medicine!” said he. This I could believe, for I’d recently met a motorcycle enthusiast who always carried bottled cow pee in his tool-kit, using it not just on cuts, but also to bathe his eyes during long trips on his two-wheeler.
Perhaps the old vegetable seller felt I ought to know he wasn’t alone in his appreciation of cows and their excretory products. So he told me that the Sangh Parivar had a huge programme to educate the masses about the value of cow products — especially the ones that cows themselves obviously didn’t want. “They make tooth powder from the ash obtained from burning cow dung,” said he with unseemly relish, “as well as body cleansers, incense sticks and believe it or not, after shave!”
He had tried the tooth powder, he said, and it was great. I edged a little further from the old vegetable seller and asked, “but surely men use after shave not only for its antiseptic qualities, but also because it smells good?” He shook his head, exasperated at the extent of my lack of belief: “Come with me, I’ve a bottle of cow’s urine behind my shop that I want you to smell!” I balked. He insisted. I balked even more. In resignation, he muttered, “How else will you understand it is completely odourless? To be exact, it does have a faint, not at all unpleasant aroma.”
I had had enough. “Is it also good to wash vegetables in?” I asked innocently. He thought for a minute: “I don’t know, I’ve never tried it. Come to think of it, it might prove to be an excellent rinse for raw vegetables.” he said, actually giving it serious consideration. I heaved a sigh of relief and said, “In that case, can I have a kilo of spinach please?”