Holy Cow! by Sarah MacDonald

I received Holy Cow! An Indian Adventure as a birthday gift, having expressed an interest in travelling to India (which, sadly, remains on my to-do list almost a year later). Even my birthday dinner was Indian themed and involved sarongs fashioned into saris, home-made curries, store-bought samosas and bindis drawn on with lip liner.

Having recently taken on the imagination tour de force that is Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (which I’ll save for when or if I feel I can do the Booker of Bookers justice), I was delighted to sit down with my shiny new paperback copy of Holy Cow!

After all, here was a book written by a fellow young Australian woman – a journalist based in Sydney, no less. So while Rushdie sent my head spinning with his eccentric characters, intricately weaved plot and fantastical vision of his own country, Sarah could take me there like an old friend gossiping in a coffee shop.

And like the coffee gone cold, or the phone hot against my ear, I couldn’t put it down.

Having vowed never to return to India after travelling the country as part of her “middle class rite of passage” backpackers adventure over a decade earlier, Sarah finds herself back in the over-crowded, pungent place of her nightmares in the name of love: Her soon-to-be husband has taken a work placement there as the ABC’s (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) south-east Asian correspondent.

The bulk of the book covers Sarah’s search for spirituality in a country where mysticism and idolatry are available in bulk – and for a budget price. She spends ten days in silence at an ashram, and rather than preaching the virtues, her frustrated honesty is refreshing – and often hilarious. She spends hours waiting in sweaty, oppressive crowds to be smothered by the ample breast of a world-famous matriarchal guru and contracts a serious illness from the holy but filthy Ganges.

She calls herself a reformed atheist, replacing her steadfast views with curiosity. And fair enough – she went about it the wrong way. Atheism can only be founded in curiosity and is in fact a rejection of religion, which by definition discourages it. But that’s for another blog…

You can almost taste the stark contrast when she returns home to (what is also my home) Sydney, Australia, and relishes in the enormous blue sky and clean air, but you can also relate to her angst, her sense of something missing. Something like a connection with reality. This is why India remains at the top of my list of countries to visit. And I will get there one day, but when I do, I probably won’t write a book about it: The market for ‘young white person finds themselves in India’ has already been covered – and quite adeptly so – with this book.

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