About-Good, bad and ugly.
“And it all meant this: that there are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot easily be duplicated by a normal, kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do.”
-Terry Prachette (Small Gods)
I am very agitated right now. But then I have almost got used to it during last couple of years. More so in the last few months, as it has been an on and off state of my mind -often on. The reason being the so called corny affair of animal rights, mostly stray dogs. A thing of ridicule really -since wars are being fought, and glaciers are melting; besides Fermat’s last theorem has been proved long back and it is the time to move on. Today afternoon Blackie, a resident stray of our institute campus almost for past four years, has been finally deported out, after several previous attempts and arguments, in spite of her clean behavioral record. I almost wish she had bitten a few of us and had her share of fun, especially since her instinctive healthy way of not nosing into others’ peace did not amount to much in the end. But then stray dogs, while left to themselves, beg to differ, when it comes to their idea of fun and well-being, against popular belief.
What is compelling me most to react like this, is my annoyance with a touch of vexation, at the obvious cruelty, or equally bewildering indifference among people who are like me – educated and privileged.
It was not before I came all the way down to Chennai for my studies, did I get into this mess of dealing with and gradually feeling responsible for strays. There were two reasons. One, awareness level regarding strays is quite visibly on the higher side among the city dwellers (particularly among the youth) of Chennai. Two, as soon as I moved into my hostel, around which I have spent last five years of my life, I inherited a few semi-strays. A few mongrels inside the campus, a few more outside, a cat (suffering from acute attitude problem, as cats usually do). I was scared to death of dogs and the cat hated me. However initially it was a matter of feeding them or starving them to death, specially the ones that had permanently taken refuge inside the hostel, encouraged by a fairly large group of students, most of whom were on the verge of finishing their stay. These animals were used to being sympathetically dealt and well-established as part of the institute we all came to study in. A situation that is changing now, due to various reasons -a huge increase in the number of students, two different hostel campuses, an intense personal dislike and insensitivity of a certain faction of the institute administration towards animals and so on.
Going back to those days, it did not take too long for my now-long-forgotten hesitation towards mingling with animals to vanish. I am some sort of a convert (at least to the point of trying to make an animal comfortable in its natural surrounding -though I am now quite paranoid about fussing over strays and thus making them handicapped even at finding their own meal, particularly when I am unable to take care of them permanently, as I am now) and I have not regretted it till now. Animals, specially dogs, when treated with affection and dignity, behave more like an innocent human child (minus the obvious signs of deliberate cruelty typical to humans that unfortunately even children are not firewalled from) than how they supposedly behave in our fearful imaginations. I use the word child not in the sense of lack of responsibility in dogs but because of the quality of dependence in them towards their caretakers. Since the pre-historic age dogs have been systematically herded and tamed to assist and depend on human masters, and the instincts have not died down.
As for normal stray dogs, all it takes is a mild demonstration of friendliness, in the form of cheap food or a couple of pats, to win their confidence permanently. This dependence factor induced through the process of taming a stray was never more beautifully portrayed than in de-Exupery’s masterpiece: The Little Prince, where the fox (but one can justly replace it with a dog) tries to persuade the prince to tame him. It is one of the most beautiful chapters of the brilliant book and I cannot stop myself quoting a a selected part:
(….) said the little prince. “I am looking for friends. What does that mean– ‘tame’?”
”It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. It means to establish ties.”
(….) The fox gazed at the little prince, for a long time.
“Please– tame me!” he said.
“I want to, very much,” the little prince replied. “But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.”
“One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox. “Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me…”
“What must I do, to tame you?” asked the little prince.
“You must be very patient,” replied the fox…
On the other hand, Umberto Eco describes a horrifyingly vivid extreme picturization of dog-man relation in his novel -The Island of the Day Before, where a certain doctor subjects a dog to an extremely slow and painful experiment, while keeping him alive by giving him a nominal amount of food at a certain hour. Yet the animal whines in pain mixed with affection towards its tyrant as a sign of gratitude for that food and association. When I read it first I felt like throwing up. But now it only sounds familiar, in various sophisticated forms.
You see, animals just don’t get it!