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We had some chapatis (Indian flat bread) and rice pudding left over from the previous day’s meal. Instead of dumping them in a garbage bin, I decided to feed the hungry stray dogs loitering outside our house.

I wrapped the food in a paper bag and went looking for them. Normally they are aplenty but that afternoon I did not find any. I stood on the roadside waiting for one or two to appear but there was no luck.

I moved ahead and found two malnourished street dogs curled up and resting outside a shop. As the shop owner was also sitting there, feeding the leftovers in front of him might have offended him. So waving the packet at them, I beckoned them in my direction. As luck would have it, neither of them responded. Maybe they did not hear my call. Instead, a roadside cow that was lurking nearby came rushing towards me and tried to snatch the ‘doggie bag’ from my hand. I was taken aback by its action and instinctively stepped back to avoid getting hurt.

As it lunged at me making another attempt at grabbing the food stuff, the bovine that was simply uncared for (and apparently starving), swung its horns as if to intimidate me to surrender. I was in no mood to put up a fight and very easily gave up. As quickly as I could, I took the chapatis out of the paper bag and threw them towards the cow making it clear that I was the loser. The food was quickly devoured by the hungry cow.

The dogs started barking loudly and rushed towards the cow. Clearly, the canines were upset that the food that was brought for them had been wrongfully gobbled by the cow.

- Lalit Raizada

I assumed that I was done with the job and quietly started walking towards my house. However, my travail was far from over. The scene was apparently being witnessed by the two mongrels that were so far resting and they quickly realised what had just transpired. The dogs started barking loudly and rushed towards the cow. Clearly, the canines were upset that the food that was brought for them had been wrongfully gobbled by the cow. I watched the commotion and upon turning towards them, I was horrified to discover that the cow was now rushing towards me. Perhaps it thought that I was hiding some more food under my woollen shawl. Fearing that the dogs and cow would hurt me, I literally ran for my life.

It was peak traffic time in the evening when I detest going out to crowded places. I did not know what more was in store for me in the next few minutes. Suddenly some five or six dogs from their pack joined and barked non-stop at the cow. I tried to walk as fast as I could while criss-crossing the narrow bylanes.

A barber, whom I frequent, saw my plight and quickly grabbed my arm to pull me inside his salon. Adding to the traffic-related chaos on this particular occasion, four-wheelers, rickshaw pullers and cyclists also came honking from both directions.

I was caught in a bind. The cow was not one to give up. It walked up to the salon with the pack of stray dogs barking at it from behind. As it slowly moved away from the closed glass doors of the shop, the animal paused briefly. It looked at me with a sadness I will never forget. It was clearly starving and I was its only hope at that moment.

The incident highlights the plight of innumerable famished bovines that roam about in India uncared for in a dispensation that claims to care for them.

Lalit Raizada is a senior journalist based in India.