Her name was Priyanka. Tall, curvaceous and with silky black hair, she weighed a stunning 2,000 pounds. This was the buffalo I was supposed to milk. Had I ever milked a buffalo before? Not at all. Was I excited at the prospect of drinking her fresh milk? Absolutely.
My nerves got the best of me when I stood before her majesty but I had traveled 7,000 miles from a New Jersey suburb to this Punjabi village and I was not to be defeated. I was introduced to Priyanka, named after leading Bollywood lady Priyanka Chopra, late one winter afternoon. She had recently given birth to Little Prince, a baby buffalo that kept her company in the family barn. Thanks to Little Prince, Priyanka had an abundance of milk that was literally at my finger tips - if and when I worked up the courage to milk her.
The animals belonged to my in-laws who laughed the moment I declared I wanted to help mama milk the buffalo. Why would a new bride (an American nonetheless) want to milk a buffalo? For days, the family thought I was joking. They knew I was serious the day I followed mama to the barn. Using hand signals to communicate, mama waved at me indicating I should come closer. She sat on a set of bricks that had been strategically placed beside Priyanka. Crouched beside her I watched her every move. The technique seemed simple enough. Grab the teet, circle it with your index finger and thumb, apply pressure as you slide your fingers in and up and down motion. I touched Priyanka with a quivering hand not before apologizing for my inexperience. ''I'm sorry Priyanka, I don't want to hurt you.'' I had never once touched a cow - or a buffalo for that matter - so I was nervous about causing her pain. If mama could speak English, I'm sure she would have laughed at my apology. Nonetheless, I wrapped my fingers around Priyanka's jewels and squeezed hard. Nothing came out. I tried again. Zilch. What was I doing wrong? Mama repositioned my fingers and led my hand. Finally, a soft white stream made its way into the bucket. Success! I was milking a buffalo. I was milking a buffalo in a barn in the middle of nowhere in India. Would my family and friends even believe this story? As happy as I was about my first attempt, I had to be honest. Mama had done most of the work. I needed to become better and that could only happen with practice.
I googled techniques in milking cows, watched videos and tried to understand what I had done wrong. After a few days, I was ready to get back in the saddle. This time my brother-in-law Jay guided me. Instead of crouching before Priyanka like last time, I sat on a small wooden stool. It was the perfect height for milking a buffalo and relaxed my legs so I could concentrate on the bigger task at hand. Just like mama did before, Jay splashed Priyanaka's teets with water. ''We do this to clean her, to make sure the milk will be good.'' He then set the metal bucket underneath the buffalo. ''You can't be scared. Just grab her like this,'' he said while gently, but firmly, grabbing one of Priyanka's teets. ''You are going to apply pressure with your thumb as you slide your fingers down, ok? I nodded. Jay started to milk her and I watched for a few seconds. I can do this, I told myself.
Grabbing Priyanka with much more confidence than before I did just as I had been told. My index finger was behind the teet while my thumb was bent in the front. As I slid them down I applied pressure. ''Harder,'' Jay said. The second I did as he told me a thick stream of milk came from Priyanka. 'Oh my God! This is really happening' was all I could think. I pressed on, filling the bucket little by little. ''Good. Now keep pressing. Don't stop,'' Jay ordered as he milked Priyanka with two hands. I had concentrated on just one teet, now it was time to grab another. As we milked away, I couldn't help but smile. The bucket was getting full and I was so proud of this small accomplishment. Just when I was feeling on top of the world Priyanka hit me on the head with her tail. She was not about to let me forget how awful my first time had been. Jay covered the bucket and handed it to me. He had been a wonderful instructor.
As we walked back home I tried by best to avoid puddles or cracks on the road. I walked carefully though the cobblestone streets because I did not want to spill the milk that would soon become butter, yogurt and ghee. My shoulders and wrists were sore, just like before. It was a good feeling, it let me know I had accomplished something with my entire body, not just my mind. Just like cooking, milking a buffalo was about proper technique. Even if I never milked a buffalo again, I knew one thing: if people knew how hard it was to milk a buffalo or a cow they'd never complain about the price of milk - nor would they waste one single drop of this precious liquid.
*Cover Photo by Vinodettan Photography