Holy cow: An Indian adventure, by Sarah MacDonald

Well, one good think about tidying up the shelves here at the library, apart from being able to actually find things again, is stumbling upon something really interesting, or being re-united with a book you’d forgotten about.  When Holy Cow first came out in 2002 it was so popular it had a holds list a mile long. Anyway, I let it go, thinking I’d get back to it when I could borrow it for more than a week. Of course I promptly forgot about it, but was pleasantly surprised to find it on our shelves ten years later.

Now, I realise this is a non-fiction book, but trust me, you’ll absolutely love it. With its quintessential Aussie humour and hilarious anecdotes, it had me laughing out loud. The author, Sarah MacDonald, worked as a Morning Show host for Triple J (a cool Aussie radio station) before sacrificing her job to move to India to be with her fiancé. Having sworn never to return to India after a backpacking trip in her twenties, she begrudgingly returns 11 years later, fulfilling the prophecy of a beggar who predicted she would return to India for love.

MacDonald takes us on a mile-a-minute roller-coaster ride through two years of her life, as she dabbles in the plethora of available religions in a country that can only be described as beyond description. “It’s rich and poor, spiritual and material, cruel and kind, angry but peaceful, ugly and beautiful, and smart but stupid. It’s all extremes.”

For those of you who have seen Eat, Pray, Love (which I’ve heavily disparaged in an earlier review), well, remember that whole India section – the boring bit which could have been totally left out without having any effect on the rest of the movie, where she does yoga and bores everyone witless? Well, they should have used excerpts from MacDonald’s book instead, as it’s a whole lot more interesting, and shows some actual humility and a ton of humour.

Holy Cow may possibly be perceived as irreverent and politically incorrect at times, but MacDonald’s is an honest account, telling things exactly how she sees them. As she experiences, understands, misunderstands, and then almost understands again, we witness her mental and spiritual evolution as she embraces Indian culture and comes to terms with it in her own way, whilst balancing things with her own western upbringing.

In a determined effort , she grapples between western cultural values and the polar extreme that is India: learning the language, becoming vegetarian, trying out as many religions as possible, helping fellow travelers, meeting some very interesting characters, and coming away less angry than she was previously.

Part travelogue and part autobiography, Holy Cow is a most excellent read.


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