On a recent trip to Switzerland’s Bernese-Oberland area, I was captivated by the Alpine scenery. Sheets of flowers draped the valleys, punctuated by singing rivers and framed by snow-clad peaks.
I was less captivated, more bemused, by the hordes of Indian tourists eating parathas (true story) on the summit of Schilthorn and pouting for selfies in every available meadow. The zeal of their selfie-taking was only matched by their enthusiasm for taking photos of cows.
I get it. Swiss cows are a thing of wonder. They radiate good health, from their lush, rounded bellies, to their glossy skin. The tinkling of the bells lovingly tied around their necks is the very definition of bucolic.
I found it ironic how Indian tourists seemed as transfixed by Swiss cows, as most Westerners are by the sight of Indian cows in city traffic. The cow is the thread that binds Switzerland and India, even as it underscores their seemingly irreducible differences.
Switzerland is India’s most obvious “other.” Orderly, clean, punctual and with stunning natural vistas unspoiled by overpopulation, effluents, or air pollution. For Indians, Switzerland is simply too good to be real. It is a dream.
I suppose that’s why it was the preferred setting for Bollywood “dream sequences.” For the uninitiated, the dream sequence in a Hindi movie refers to a romantic interlude, wholly separate from the plot, wherein the male and female protagonists suddenly find themselves transported to a “dream” land – often Switzerland – preforming their amorous fantasies through dance, song, and prancing around Alpine peaks in inadequate clothing.
The cow is as important to Switzerland’s sense of self as it is to India’s. Cow festivals in honour of the ascent (alpage) and descent (désalpe) of cattle into alpine meadows are a much-anticipated part of the nation’s annual calendar. Cattle are adorned with headdresses of flowers and other decorations and huge crowds gather to gaze upon the bovine processions. Cow bells take up a sizable portion of every souvenir shop in the country.
There are almost 20,000 dairy farmers in Switzerland and together they produce some 4 billion kilograms of milk annually. The Swiss milk industry generates billions of francs in revenue per year. In other words, cattle continue to be a mainstay of the Swiss economy. Swiss chocolate and cheese, need milk.
My family spent about five days hiking in the Oberland area, before taking a train to Zurich from whence we were scheduled to fly out. We chose the scenic route aboard the Panoramic Express train between Interlaken and Lucerne, as the first leg of this journey. Think floor to ceiling windows looking out on to parakeet-green valleys, separated by lakes the colour of blue that sets the heart singing.
And yet, I couldn’t stop my brain ticking to a bovine rhythm, as I caught myself wondering what I’d do if I had to choose between being a Swiss cow or an Indian one. I’d plump for Swiss, I concluded. Sure, I might be eaten one day, but in the time that I did have, the care I’d receive would be top notch. In Switzerland, cattle cannot be transported for more than six hours and there are studies to ensure the perfect decibel level of cow bells to minimize aural irritation. As a Swiss cow, I’d even be provided with a support bra for my udders if they got painfully engorged.
On the hand, as a cow in India, I might have vigilante gangs ready to murder random people they suspect of eating beef in my name. But I would also face the likelihood of being abandoned by owners for whom I am financially unviable to look after. Like the 5.2 million other stray cattle in the country, I would then be reduced to wandering urban streets, dodging traffic and foraging in garbage dumps.
My reverie was interrupted by our on-the-dot arrival at the station. Because another thing about Switzerland is that trains don’t run by the clock. It’s the clocks that are set by the arrival and departures of the trains.
Source : Moneycontrol