The Mysterious Case of the Vanishing Cow


Peter Pickering

6/2/20246 min read

This happened while I was living in Malacca, Malaysia. I was in business partnership with Dr. Sudhananthan Kanthaswamy, whom I called Sudha, a Hindu, and local GP doctor in town. We were selling distilled bottled drinking water in the area. I had the mechanics of the business all set up but was lacking infrastructure and transport. Enter Sudha, who provided a factory unit as our base and a van for deliveries.

The Mysterious Case of the Vanishing Cow

I also needed a vehicle suited for rugged terrains since many of my clients worked at the sprawling construction site of the Petronas Petroleum Refinery. The new Jeep Cherokee was a perfect choice, with its off-road capabilities and enough room in the back to haul twenty to thirty 15-litre bottles if urgently needed. On the day of its arrival, Sudha, in a hurried tone, requested I collect it from the dealership and drive the Jeep to his local Hindu temple, indicating they were expecting me, though he gave no further details. He handed me a sealed envelope to present upon my arrival.

As I reached the temple, driving cautiously through the gates, I was greeted by a small group and a priest whose presence seemed shrouded in mysticism. Handing him the envelope, which I realised contained an offering of cash, he commenced a unique and intricate ritual. He performed these rites with no explanation, adding an air of mystery to the whole experience. Well, perhaps there was explanation, but if so, it wasn’t in English.

I later learned the blessing ceremony is an important cultural and religious practice among Hindus, reflecting their deep spiritual beliefs and traditions. It is a way to seek divine protection and prosperity for new ventures, including the acquisition of a new vehicle.

This priest, known as the Pujari, decorated the Jeep with garlands of flowers. He prepared a puja thali, a plate containing incense sticks, flowers, kumkum (vermilion powder), turmeric, rice grains, a coconut, and sweets.

The blessing began with invoking the blessings of Lord Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, and perhaps other deities like Goddess Lakshmi for prosperity. Specific mantras and prayers were recited to invoke the deity’s blessings. The Pujari lit incense sticks and a diya (oil lamp) to purify and sanctify the surroundings. He applied kumkum and turmeric to the car, especially on the steering wheel and dashboard, and dots on the roof headlining. A coconut was broken in front of the car as an offering to the gods, symbolising the removal of obstacles. He hung a string of lime and chillies in front of the car to ward off evil spirits and a garland of Jasmine hung from the interior mirror.

By now with the ritual well underway, I found myself increasingly out of place amidst the colourful spectacle. The gathering was resplendent in traditional Indian attire, the vibrant fabrics reflecting the lively strains of music that filled the air. The sanctity of the temple surroundings only heightened the contrast. There I was, distinctly English in my appearance and demeanour, my stoic expression making me stand out like a sore thumb among the exuberant crowd.

The final blessings involved performing arati (waving a lighted lamp) around the car while chanting prayers, and distributing sweets as prasad (blessed food). To top it off, a lime was placed under each of the car’s wheels, and I was instructed to drive over them to symbolise overcoming obstacles. I was sceptical and amused but played along nonetheless, thinking it couldn’t hurt if it kept Sudha happy. Had I expected such an elaborate and colourful spectacle I would have taken my camera along to record the event.

As the ceremony concluded, my pristine new Jeep had transformed entirely. It was now adorned with a vibrant array of flowers, draped in colourful garlands, and imbued with a rich blend of fragrances. There were numerous dots and sprinklings of various coloured powders decorated the headlining, the dash, and the steering wheel, adding a festive touch to every nook and corner. Initially, I thought about the need for a thorough detailing to restore its original state as it did not gel with my non-neurotypical tendencies. However, reflecting on the spirit of the moment, I decided to embrace the change. "Oh well, never mind," I mused, a smile playing on my lips. "Let's go with the flow."

With the newly blessed Jeep, I picked up, Michelle, and our young daughter, Jade, for a drive. We were driving along the main road near Duyong when a cow suddenly stepped out into the road in front of us. I jumped on the brakes, instinctively putting out my left arm to ensure that Jade was not propelled forward, even though she was on Michelle's knee with a seatbelt around them both. Yes, I know that’s not the ideal situation, and we should’ve had a car seat, but we didn’t have one at that time. It was the next item on the agenda.

There was a loud thump as we hit the bovine, and the Jeep came to a screeching halt. I checked on Michelle and Jade—they were fine but a bit shaken. I got out expecting to see a dead cow as the significant impact had knocked it clean off its feet, and it had fallen forward, lying on its side.

Yet when I walked around to the front of the Jeep, the cow was gone. I thought, “What the?”. “I couldn’t have run right over it; it definitely fell over.” I looked under the Jeep and around—no cow. The road was open and flat, no buildings, no trees, no big bushes, no ditches, just flat countryside. It was completely befuddling. It was only moments from the time of collision till I got out to take a look so there was no time for it to get up and run off - I would see it as there was nothing around for least 500 metres in all directions.

In that moment, clarity struck with the force of a thunderclap. Having lived in Asia for a substantial period, I had cultivated a deep cultural sensitivity. The significance of the cow in Hindu culture was not lost on me—a revered and holy creature, its well-being often considered a reflection of societal values. Yet, amidst this understanding, I found myself asking in dismay, "Oh no, why did I have to hit a cow, especially after the car had just been blessed?"

The irony of the situation was palpable. Just when the Jeep was supposedly fortified against misfortune through a spiritual ceremony, this unforeseen incident occurred. Expecting to see horrendous damage to the Jeep, I examined the front end meticulously. To my astonishment, there was not a scratch, no dents, no blood, no traces of hair—nothing to indicate that a collision had ever occurred. I stood there, dumbfounded, the weight of the incident paradoxically lightened by the absence of any physical evidence.

With a mixture of relief and residual concern, we drove slowly to Dr. Sudha’s surgery, which conveniently lay on our route home. Upon arrival, fortune seemed to smile upon us again as he was available. I entered his office, a story burning on my lips.

"Sudha," I began, the words tumbling out in a rush, "we had the car blessed today, just as you asked. But you won’t believe what has just happened." I recounted the bizarre tale of the vanishing cow, the miraculous lack of damage to the Jeep, and the peculiar sequence of events that followed the blessing. The room filled with a tense anticipation as I navigated the delicate nuances of the story, keenly aware of its potential spiritual implications and desperately hoping my recounting captured the surreal nature of the experience.

Sudha showed no surprise whatsoever. His response? “See, the blessing worked.” I had no response to that. Even to this day, I cannot figure out what happened to that cow. Despite my scepticism about the crushed limes, the blessing, the smashed coconut, the dots on the roof headlining, and the garland of fragrant flowers from the interior mirror, I can't exclude the possibility that maybe there was something to it. It’s a mystery, I guess. At the end of the day, the Jeep was okay, I was okay, Michelle and Jade were both okay, Sudha was okay and unperturbed, and so, it seems, was the cow. Perhaps Ganesha, somewhere, is smiling enigmatically.