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India’s Blessed Bovines When photojournalist Dave Gerow arrived in India for a month of traveling, he was anticipating all sorts of terrific tastes and stunning sights. The one thing he was unprepared for were the 300 million cows wandering the streets of India. Read on as TeaTime-Mag delves into the unique importance placed on cows in this country.

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hen I first arrived in India, I was looking forward to seeing the great sights of the subcontinent: The Taj Mahal, the Ganges River, the beaches of Goa. I was well prepared to experience a good deal of pushing and shoving in this country of 1.2 billion; I knew the streets would be jammed with cars, motorcycles, buses and tuktuks, all sounding musical horns. I was ready to endure the sight of thousands of mutilated beggars at traffic lights being turned away from the tinted windows of the world’s most expensive cars. Nothing, I thought, could take me by surprise during my travels in the world’s largest Hindu-dominated nation. But I must admit I was unprepared for one thing: the holy cows. I knew, of course, that India was full of cows. I had seen pictures of narrow alleyways clogged with cattle, traffic backed up by lingering bulls. Street cows have long been synonymous with India, but I wasn’t ready for the sheer volume of cows on the streets. There are nearly 300 million cows in India: That’s one cow for every four people! And in cities like Delhi, Kolkata or Mumbai, where the sidewalks are already jam-packed with

pedestrians, a few disgruntled cows can really upset the flow of traffic. Cows have long held a special place in Hindu culture. Lord Krishna, one of Hinduism’s holiest figures, is said to have walked the earth as a cowherd. Hindus see cows as wholly giving animals, supplying humans with milk and labour while asking nothing in return. Mahatma Gandhi, India’s greatest spiritual leader, suggested that respecting cows was “the most important outward manifestation of Hinduism”. Thanks to the famous cattle preservation laws, it is illegal to kill or harm a cow in six states in India – the same is true in neighboring Nepal, another Hindu-dominated nation. The slaughter of cattle in India is allowed with restrictions, such as the ‘fit-for-slaughter’ certificate which is awarded based upon factors like the age and gender of cattle, in fourteen states. This affects every aspect of daily life, from the commercial to the culinary. For example, McDonald’s restaurants in India bear signs stating that they don’t sell beef. Nor do they sell pork due to India’s substantial Muslim population; McDonald’s

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in India is mostly a fried chicken restaurant. And of course, religious festivals are often centered around cows. Milk is drunk by or poured on Hindus during high holidays, and all year round it is common to see cows with painted heads being led through the streets. Hindus pay a rupee or two for the privilege of touching these sacred animals to receive blessings. But despite cow protection legislation and the general social stigma around harming cows, most Indian cattle lead very unpleasant lives. Although Indians are not allowed to injure the cows, they are not obligated to help them either, so the cows on India’s busy streets tend to be malnourished and desperate. They can frequently be seen eating garbage from dumpsters, tearing open plastic bags to eat whatever may be inside, and very often ingesting the bags themselves. In my thirty days in India, I only once saw a person feed a cow. I smiled at her as I walked by and she very seriously said to me, “Cow is god.”

best helped from a safe distance. So if you ever find yourself face to face with a holy cow, be calm and respectful, and it wouldn’t hurt to have a pocketful of peas. INFO BOX -The cow remains a protected animal in Hinduism today and Hindus do not eat beef -Most rural Indian families have at least one dairy cow, who is often treated as a member of the family -The five products (panchagavya) of the cow — milk, curds, ghee butter, urine and dung — are all used in puja (worship) as well as in rites of extreme penance -The milk of the family cow nourishes children as they grow up, and cow dung (gobar) is a major source of energy for households throughout India

I myself walked around with bags of peas to distribute to the cows. I threw them out of tuktuks and dropped them beside me as I walked. I wanted to feed a cow by hand, but gave up on that dream when I saw a truly enormous cow have a minor mental breakdown on the street and ram another pedestrian against a wall (the man was only slightly injured). After seeing that, I decided that the cows are www.teatime-mag.com - Your English Language Magazine

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Barefoot Running A dangerous trend or the natural way to run? Millions of years ago, the ancestors of mankind evolved to have the ability to run. Running competitions were an integral part of the original Olympic Games, and today the sport is more popular than ever. However, a controversial new movement in running is changing the face of the sport.

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hen I think of barefoot running, the first thing I imagine is the beach. That’s basically the only time I would ever be caught dead running (or even just walking) without shoes. Being barefoot on the beach is a tactile pleasure. You dig your toes in the sand, the tide sways between your ankles, and your feet feel safe and cocooned in the silky warmth of the water. Anywhere else, the thought of being barefoot scares me. Imagining my precious toes crunching hard gravel, dirt, glass, and debris beneath me is not my cup of tea. But for some, barefoot running has evolved from a hippie trend to a mainstream ideology, which argues that our feet were made to run. Daniel Lieberman is a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University. He believes that humans evolved to run millions of years ago, and the arch and architecture of our feet are designed to absorb the impact of running. Lieberman says that padded running shoes may have actually contributed to the abundance of sport injuries

seen today by changing the way we run, causing us to come down on our heels instead of our toes. Lieberman recently conducted a study at Harvard where he examined three types of runners: those who always wore shoes, those who didn’t, and those who had recently converted to barefoot running. He found that those who wore shoes hit their heel against the ground with dangerous force, while those who ran shoeless had a springy step and landed towards the middle or front of the foot. “Barefoot runners have almost no impact collision,” the study says. “It might be less injurious than the way some people run in shoes.” Of course, barefoot running is not a new trend. Back in 1960, Ethiopian-born Abebe Bikila won the first of his consecutive gold medals barefoot. Charlie “Doc” Robbins won two USA National Marathon Championships in the late 1940s, and completed an astonishing fifty Thanksgiving Day Road Races in Manchester, Connecticut. During most of these races, Robbins was

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barefoot (though he would slip on a pair of socks when the temperatures dipped below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.) Michael Warburton, an Australian physical therapist and marathoner, brought our attention back to barefoot running in 2001 when he published an online research paper dedicated to the trend. In his section on the economy of running, Warburton points out that the extra weight of shoes on your feet is much worse than a couple extra pounds on your belly. Weight on your feet is subject to constant acceleration and deceleration (what runners call “strides”), which have a high energy cost. Obviously this type of research makes shoe companies anxious. Because of this, many sneakers have less padding than they used to. Take New Balance Minimus, NB’s latest line of running shoes. Their slogan is “Like barefoot, only better”. Nike has also gotten on board the trend with their Nike Free sneaker, which has a “barefoot like feel with excellent support.” Then there’s the strangest shoe of all: the Vibram FiveFinger shoes, which look like little aliens but are in fact similar to a rubber sock. I headed to my local REI (a large American chain that sells outdoor recreation gear, sporting goods, and other outdoorsy merchandise) to inspect the Vibram trend for myself. Once there I met Stewart Williams, an expert on running shoes. Williams explained that putting on the Vibrams can be difficult, and it was - my toes couldn’t

find the corresponding holes, and it took me a while to get one on. Once I did, the shoes felt so light and airy, and although they looked a bit strange, they were quite comfortable. I took a jog around the store (as Williams advised me to do) and immediately noticed a change in the stride of my steps. I felt extremely light on my feet, and I noticed my toes were doing a lot more work than they usually do. I could feel every little bump on the ground through the shoes, which was an interesting sensation. Williams told me that the FiveFinger shoes have become increasingly popular here in Las Vegas, but people sometimes have trouble adjusting to them. “One of the biggest problems people have is when their second toe is larger than their big toe. This is called Morton’s toe, and those people simply can’t wear these shoes, so they usually end up returning them.” Williams tells me he’s a fan of barefoot running, and would advise people to use a lighter shoe first, like the Vibram, before considering going barefoot. “It’s a completely different type of running. It can be difficult to get used to. I definitely believe modern sneakers have way too much padding in them, and that accounts for injuries like athlete’s knee.” Williams advises people to buy toe socks to go with their Vibrams because, as he put it “there’s an aroma” that happens when you have a sweaty foot in a rubber shoe. Williams gave me a pair of the special toe

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socks to try on, which resembled a winter glove. Once on, I could not get my feet back in the Vibrams. My toes felt bulky in the sock and would not go in the corresponding holes. “Yeah, that happens,” Williams explained. “Sometimes that sock makes things more difficult. You just have to get used to it.” Vibram FiveFinger shoes range from $80- $110 dollars, depending on the type you buy. Although they can be difficult to get used to at first, many runners swear by them.

changing your sneaker if it’s too padded to a lighter one, then perhaps trying out the kooky FiveFinger shoes, because they’re definitely the most barefoot-like of the bunch. If you are comfortable after that, I say, whip those shoes off and run like nature intended you to.

So should everyone immediately jump on the barefoot bandwagon? Not necessarily, cautions Michael Sandler, a running and walking expert from Colorado, whose book, “Barefoot Running”, is a stepby-step guide to easing people into the trend. “The question isn’t whether you can become a barefoot walker or runner. The question is, are you patient enough to start slowly,” Sandler says. Sandler coached athletes for almost twenty years before he got into a skating accident in 2006, which left him with a titanium hip and femur. They said he would never run again. Going barefoot changed all that. “Your body will become stronger than when you were relying on those crutches we call shoes,” Sandler said, “but it’s a gradual process.” In any case, it’s all about baby steps. I would recommend www.teatime-mag.com - Your English Language Magazine

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Irish Fairies and the Gift of the Gab When in Rome, do as the Romans do. We’ve all heard the saying, but when writer Elizabeth Nelson travelled to Ireland she didn’t realize that this meant she would be hanging out the third floor window of a castle, or craning her neck in the hope of kissing the famous Blarney Stone. Read on to discover the magical world of Irish superstition.

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his past summer, my two sisters and my cousin and I decided that we wanted to explore our Irish heritage. So we rented a car in Dublin and set out on a month-long adventure. The beautiful Irish countryside, so green and lush, was just like the postcards, with sheep blocking the road and pubs full of people willing to buy you a drink for a story or a song. My mother was born in Ireland but immigrated to Australia at the age of two. Though many aspects of her identity are now rooted in Australian culture there is one thing she carries with her that is a truly inherent link to Ireland: superstition. Growing up we were always reminded of this with such sayings as: “knock on wood” (to stop the devil from getting ideas from what you just said); “don’t paint the devil on the wall” (when you’re suggesting something bad that might happen); and “someone just walked over your grave” (when you shiver for no apparent reason). My sisters and I would never dream of walking under a ladder, opening an umbrella indoors, or breaking a mirror. So when we travelled to Ireland, I

was sure some of my mother and grandmother’s sayings would be heard, but I never imagined the extent of the superstition to be found throughout the country. Ireland is soaked with a sense of history. Each and every thing we visited had a long past, from the castles to the pubs and from the hills to the farmhouses. Superstitions and traditions of folk music, art and storytelling can be found in each and every little nook of Ireland. The colourful imagery that is evoked by the Irish phrases my mother often says is reminiscent of this. Superstition in Ireland can be linked to the historical pagan religion of the country that was adapted and moulded to become a part of the Irish Catholic religion. Evidence of this can be seen in many of the old churches where you can sometimes spot ancient symbols of the pagan gods hidden amongst the woodwork. This combination of earthy pagan rituals and ostentatious Catholic rituals made Ireland a ripe spot for superstition. Every small thing is given meaning and linked to ‘good’ or ‘bad’. People do – and don’t do – things for reasons they can’t explain. One such curiosity is the mystical “fairy mound”: ground that is

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raised and stands in the middle of a field so that the farmer must plough around it. I asked a friend from County Meath why the famer doesn’t just get it bulldozed over. He looked at me with full seriousness and said simply, “The fairies would get him”. Then he continued, “The last man to try shifting that fairy mound died of a heart attack that night”. I told him I thought he was pulling my leg and he offered me the chance to move a fairy mound. Now, being a good girl, brought up on a strict diet of fairytales and superstition, I told him I didn’t want to risk it, and neither did my sisters or cousin. “You see?” he said, “No one will move them, so there they stay”. Whether there is an old relic hidden under this hill or whether it is simply a mound of mud we may never know. But we do know that no one will shift this mound in the near future for reasons beyond scientific explanation. So the mound is left for the fairies. There are many fairy mounds scattered around Ireland, but there are even more castle ruins. The Irish countryside is littered with ruins of once magnificent castles. The majority of the castles are protected by the government and can be neither destroyed nor fixed. Many of them are covered in green moss and ivy, some with whole trees growing from the middle, and yet some, like the Blarney castle with its roof completely collapsed, are still sound enough to hold busloads of tourists. The Blarney castle is home to the famed Blarney Stone, which is simply a rock that was placed

in the castle. However, many believe that if they kiss the rock it will empower them with “blarney”: the gift of eloquent speech. So when I found myself lying down facing the sky with two men holding me and lowering me down so that I was upside down and leaning over the battlements of a three-story castle, I seriously wondered about the truth that lies in superstition. I wondered whether there is any truth in all the little fairytales, whether walking under ladders really matters. Then I figured that it doesn’t really matter if it’s true or not, as long as it makes a good story. So I stretched out my neck and did what I’d gone there to do: I kissed the icy flat rock in front of me, the acclaimed Blarney Stone, and secretly hoped there was something in the story and that I had gained the “Gift of the Gab”.

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Meet me at the mela! Everyone likes a good party and this is true the world over. In Brazil they celebrate Carnaval; in New Orleans, Mardi Gras; the New Years Eve celebrations in New York City are world famous; but do you know what celebration Pakistan is famous for? Read on to learn about melas and discover how these community events have spread to countries far across the world.

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ho doesn’t love a good party? I know that I certainly do. It is safe to say that all around the world most people love a good celebration. Good food, good music, and good friends means that everyone is happy. Sometimes these celebrations are cultural or religious and are held by families at certain stages of life: birth, coming of age and marriage. Even death itself is reason enough for some kind of a gathering. Sometimes these celebrations can be for a whole community. In South East Asia, these kinds of larger events or festivals are called melas. If you enjoy big events, the Kumbh Mela is celebrated in India and is of great religious significance within Hinduism. Many millions of people travel to the famous river Ganges during this holy time. This mela is held every three years in one of four different cities. Each city hosts once in the twelve-year cycle. Then, every 144 years, the largest Maha Kumbh Mela is celebrated in the city of Allahabad. There are special prayers, blessings, music, and most importantly, bathing in the waters of the Ganges. It is considered very holy to bathe in the river during

the time of the mela. Or perhaps something smaller is more your style? There is an interesting small mela held beside the Indus River, in Pakistan. Secular community melas often include some kind of competition, just to add a little more fun to the event. It may be more modern now, but in the past this mela was especially known for its riding competitions. The year I went to this mela, it was held near a small city, outside on the sandy flat riverbed of the Indus which was very low at that time of the year. I was living nearby and my cook, a local man, had assured me with confidence that it would be interesting, which it was. He also assured me that there would be lots of other women there to keep me company. This was not quite so true. In fact, the only other women there were my own three small daughters. All the other spectators and competitors were men. While we looked curiously at the horses and the horsemen, they all looked curiously at us. Many used the embankments as stands so that they could see the events better from high up. On the riverbed there was a long row of decorated tents overlooking the field. The tents were

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multicoloured with appliquéd designs. Behind the tents and the area where the competitions took place, there were food stalls, games and huge swings for rides. A lot of horsemen waited with their horses for their turn at the tent pegging competitions. This old sport comes from the days of inter-camp raids and is still practised today. Some of the teams were dressed in matching turbans, shalwar and cameez and pointed leather shoes. In their teams, the horsemen rode the length of the field carrying long lances. They each tried to pull a tent peg out of the ground halfway along and had to keep it on the end of the lance until they crossed the finish line. It was very difficult and not many men were able to do it successfully. There were also dog races and wrestling matches. It was all fascinating to us and I think we were fascinating to them! All in all an interesting event, just as my cook had promised. As people move around the world, they always bring their best traditions with them. That is why after centuries of emigration and immigration, melas are now held in many other countries, including England, Japan, Australia and Canada. These melas are for those with South Asian ancestry to celebrate their heritage, and also for anyone who enjoys new cultural experiences. In England, the first London Mela was organized in 2003 and it is getting larger each year. It includes music, singing, dancing and great food as well. Outdoor concerts with famous singers always draw large crowds. Spiritually, religious melas

can have a lasting effect on one’s thoughts and beliefs. Secular melas are considered an excellent way to strengthen cultural ties within communities. These festivals bring people of different cultures together and create understanding in a nonthreatening way. Economically, melas are a great way to increase tourism to a city or region. For me, the mela was a window into a different culture and I have never forgotten it.

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