My Family and Other Animals (Part 1)

So what if the title isn’t original? It’s just what I mean; if only I could add some punctuation to express my exasperation and disbelief with the way things tend to shape up around me.

Here’s an update for the uninitiated — I live in a rented house with my husband, 2 dogs — Nenny and Pony — and a cat I love to call by many names, but mostly Tiny. I have two conspiratorial neighbours on either side, both power-puff housewives I meekly address as ‘Aunty’ (to no effect though since they make no secret about their disgust with dogs and their wish to send me packing!). Just thought I’ll let you know so you’ll find it easy to relate with identifiers later on in the post.

Everyday I find myself in the eye of a little storm starting from 6.30 in the morning. Alarm; snooze; alarm; get up, brush, dress, let the cat in after his daily night-outs; feed the cat; take the dogs out; check impulses and come back in time; cook the dog food; cook the human food; feed the dogs; feed myself if there’s time; feed the husband if there’s time; clean the backyard whether or not there’s time; bathe; dress; check bag for deo, comb, watch, moisturiser, kohl, ID card; check if there’s time to scribble some instructions for the maid; answer call from office announcing that the pick-up vehicle has arrived; run; on the way, check if things are tucked in and out of reach of the two little termites (my dogs) at home… answer the second call; and run! Hair and make-up to be done in the jerky comfort of the moving office vehicle.

Things have become more messy with my new year’s resolution of taking Nenny and Pony out every morning. One of the reasons I’ve always found excuses for not doing this was the numerous stray dogs in the streets. My dogs have the ugly habit of charging at the mere sight of a poor stray, which results in their straining at the leash with their combined 30 Kg — and me pulling the other way with my 40 Kg. The tipping point of 10 Kg may look good on Jennifer Aniston in Marley and Me, but for me it’s a nightmare. Tug of war with snarling dogs is not my idea of fun. Period.

I have recently discovered a place where I can let them loose, though, thanks to the step-dad… err my husband’s current bonhomie with the sometimes-inhabitants of a local football ground. (Yes, some people in India play football.) That saves a lot of my energy, which I spend in soaking up the morning sun and taking pictures.

Pony and Nenny always surface from wherever they are, when called.

However, I’ve often wondered on my way to work, after the hair and make-up job, “What’s the point of doing this if I get no joy from it? Surely there must be another way of doing it all so I’ll feel less pushed? ” I keep thinking about the things I miss while I’m away from home, and those I miss noticing even when I’m at home — with all the convoluted self-deprecating reasoning of the working woman with kids.

Like that very thin, very sick little stray in the neighbourhood who seemed to have injured his leg in a dog-fight. He was good-looking — at least good to look at when he was a puppy — and very friendly. A couple of months back, he had taken to following me quietly as I walked back from work at night. Perfectly behaved, he never sniffed at anything I happened to buy from the grocer’s; in fact, when I offered him biscuits, he’d shy away, and I’d smile sadly, knowing that some irresponsible people must have spoilt him with cooked food when he was a puppy, and therefore, he’s finding it hard to adapt to a life on the streets. I had gone out, looking for him on two consecutive nights, and given him some milk and chicken. But then he disappeared.

After I came back from my big fat Indian wedding, I did not see the little fellow anymore. Since I know a lot of dog-people in the area, I asked after him. But nobody seemed to know anything about him, except one Aunty K, who related me the horror story of a dog she found in a garbage dump with all limbs tied. Apparently, she called the nearest vet for help, since she had no idea of first aid, and the vet refused to come. By the time she reappeared, she said that the animal was gone. “Where?” I screamed? “I don’t know.” said Aunty K, making me look at her through my eyebrows while I wondered if she’s delusional or is such cruelty possible in reality. (I insist, there IS a possibility of her being insane, no offence intended.)

It’s difficult to logically explain why I felt personally responsible for the disappearance of the little sick dog. I felt I should have done more. I’d conjure up images of pain and torture inflicted on me or my dogs and suffer the kind of Catholic suffering I’d only sparingly listened to and scoffed at in school. (“Duh. Flames that give no light? Nice metaphor!”)

Imagine my joy and disbelief when I discovered this little fiend howling away to glory day before yesterday as I tried to jostle Nenny and Pony out of his way! He’s made it! He was not quite as thin as he was, but he still has a bad leg. He seemed to have made friends, and seeing the foolish smile on my face, I presume, they found it safe to approach the three of us. I was so happy to see the little fellow that I’d forgotten myself, until of course Nenny and Pony pulled at the leash, starting that embarrassing feud in full public view. I wasn’t carrying the camera then, but I made sure to click a picture of him yesterday, when, I was sure, he’d come to see me!

The white dog with drooping ears is the little fellow I thought I'd lost.

I was super miffed with my dogs for being such hooligans and spoiling my happy reunion. I also realised that I had finally found a name for all those things I missed in my mad rush of meeting deadlines. I was missing the simple human joy of seeing and experiencing new things. I’m so used to chasing and making things happen that I was on my way to forget that there are certain things that you let be, and allow them to happen to you. Like waiting for someone. Or allowing myself to be surprised. Sometimes, surprises can fill you up with so much of hope and laughter that you’d suddenly realise how tired you had been without actually knowing it.

When I went out to walk yesterday, I remembered to watch out for all the other strays in our neighborhood’s feral fraternity. I realised that they are more civil than my own dogs. Some are scared, some just curious, and some, like Bushu here, tired of being turned away and therefore, not interested.

Bushu, not yet quite awake, had a crush on my pretty Nenny.

It’s such a relief to find little pockets of happiness in our badly screwed world. At any time in the day, predictably, there will be something that will go wrong. I may feel rightfully upset or livid with outrage, but at the back of my mind, I know I have one constant source of comfort somewhere. And that’s quite enough to put things back into their place.

My mother had accidentally dropped (poured?) tomato seeds in the little garden space we have in the front of the house. Not my favourite place for a vegetable garden, but I hadn’t noticed when the plant came out until about a week ago, when I found little green tomatoes hanging from it! Since then, I’ve been a dutiful gardener. I water my plants everyday, pluck out the weeds once a week, and wait for them lovelies to turn red.

Ahoy Tomatoes! And that's Tiny in the background.

Okay let’s face it. I think I should have been a farmer. A rancher with acres and acres of land and lots of dogs and horses would be more appropriate though. I love the idea of working in the outdoors with the sun on my shoulders. I would love to breathe in the sultry afternoon heat and see my plants change colour. I think a couple of things in the past week has just made me turn over a new leaf, and that makes me very, very happy.

P.S. I just realised that I have not written enough about the other animals in the family. Hence, more to follow.

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About

Hi, I'm Sampurna and I'm from India. I love to write, paint, and play with my dogs. Catch up with me at Halfastory's Blog. Happy reading!

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9 comments on “My Family and Other Animals (Part 1)
  1. Anirban says:

    🙂 some of the best joys in life come on four legs 🙂 🙂

  2. Arindam says:

    Nice post.
    I just checked that you commented on a post in my blog. But unfortunately it got deleted, as my blog detected it as spam. So I am really sorry for that. I will be happy if you will share your thought on that post one more time.

    • Sampurna says:

      Thanks, Arindam. About that comment I made, I’m afraid I wont be able to write that essay again (yes, it was a bit too long) but I’ll definitely watch out for your posts!

  3. dikgaj says:

    Quite distressing and agonizing to read of the “tied-legs” horror story. But in general, there is a huge amount of cruelty thrown at strays. I know of dogs tiny, pile of rubbish-bed, [they like soft surfaces to sleep and look for dust bowls or ash dips] being watered deliberately so that they are forced to abandon their cozy corner. Dogs are expected to take stone-pelting as something they deserve to take meekly, and tiny tots crying and complaining to their doting parents – that “big bad big-bro” is threatening them for pelting dogs/puppies with stone. When some befuddled or uppity dog snarls back, the dog becomes a menace to society and to nice little kids who know no evil.

    Torturing puppies or dogs in novel ways is a pastime with many. Cats are left alone more because they have a “reputation” of being vicious and “ripping away” of belly or family jewels when cornered. Puppies or dogs cannot escape so easily and are universally condemned. I know of dog-hunting pogroms being launched where dogs were bricked, stoned, sticked, burned alive – because they had hurt the sensibilities of gentlemen and gentlewomen by doing doggie things in the public and these responsible citizens had to face their curious sons and daughters who wanted explanations. Poisoning dogs with poisoned food is not that uncommon either.

    I had always been curious about the Bengali favourite curses/swears implying descendant of dog or pig. Note that descendant of a cat is not a curse/swear, and descendant of cows or donkeys is not seen as an object of vicious hatred, but of indulgent patronization for being stupid. Typically a Bengali will switch to Hindi when using these. For a long time, this remained a curiosity. Distance, and freedom from the shadow of linguistic and religious propaganda that rules India in many places, reveals or provides an alternative.

    Rural India, retains more of Praakrit derivatives in its daily usage wherever the locality had been relatively distant from Turko-Afghan or Mughal influences. Without getting into debates about the state of education in pre-modern times, even if we assume little or total degeneration of indigenous schooling or its so-called exclusive control by “caste” elite – the usage of Sanskritik or Praakrit derivatives by the so-called formally “illiterate” – shows up in sharp contrast to urban overusage of Persian or Arabic loanwords and expressions. Urban elite seem to be more adept and eager to copy and mimic their rulers, even if foreign – in language, expressions, and perhaps even in thought processes, so much so that they would mock indigenous Praakrit derivative usage. For example in many parts of rural Bengal – “raasta” is not common but “saraan” and “path” (sarani – street/road) is – in exact opposition to what would be preferred in say, “Kolkata”.

    I could be wrong, and my experience would count as anecdotal, but it just might be a possibility – that the subconscious switchover to the Hindi/Urdu sub-expression when abusing another human as the hated descendant of a pig or a dog, is a loan-feeling from beyond our western borders. Dogs are very much bashed in the Islamic literature, and my own little conjecture is that it stems from the early competition with very popular Arab goddess worship cultures – one of which was that of Hekate (a Graeco-Palestinian mother goddess figure – and might have a linguistic connection to “Shakti”). Hekate was often represented as a female canine, with not so great a fondness for head-to-toe obliteration under clothes. There is severe abuse hurled at Hekate in the early literature, and it takes the equivalent form of abusing her as a “female dog”. Knowing how the hatred of “pigs” was invented, this route of evolution of hatred of dogs would not be that unlikely.

    Dogs would not be hated in India in general, given the position of the epics – in one of which “dharma” himself appears in the form of a dog. Hence corresponding abusive words using dogs would be uncommon in indigenous linguistic subexpressions and unavailable in common usage. In fact I spent large parts of my childhood and teenage years among indigenous peoples of central-eastern zones, and in almost all of them – dogs form an adored and revered part of community.

    A deeply emotive issue, hence the long comment. Apologies!

    • Sampurna says:

      The hatred of animals, particularly homeless and feral animals, has risen alarmingly in India, especially in the cities. However, it’s by no means a particularly Indian/Asian/Mediterranean phenomenon because the advanced countries of the west do something which, according to me, is more abominable. I’ll explain that a bit here for chance readers who may not know:

      The US, UK, Ireland, for example round up homeless animals and shelter them for a while in a place called “pound”, where volunteers work to clean, feed and get the animals adopted. If not adopted within some time, these animals are killed. Euthanised. The reason given is typically ham-handed — that it is better for the animal to die rather than to live a life of pain and deprivation on the streets and that is somehow better for society at large since it saves money. (If you apply the same logic to human beings in poorer countries who live their entire lives in poverty, deprivation and debt, in addition to the fact that this practice has the stamp of approval from a large section of society, you have something to worry about.) And somehow, for all the rabble-rousing rhetoric of the animal welfare NGOs, these killings are never contested as inhuman, unnecessary, or ungodly. Coming from India, where a lot of stray dogs, live (and yes, tortured in some cases) without really causing me to crouch in fear or contract rabies or whatever, I find this snarky double-faced do-gooder attitude irksome.

      In case this is perceived as anti-progressive-democracy-sh** I’ll add a disclaimer: These countries are also the ones which spend considerable amount of funds on animal sterilization, immunization, training, as well as selective breeding, breed-specific legislation, etc.

      It is well-known that Islam denigrates dogs, although I’m not sure why. My friends have variously ascribed it to the fact that the Prophet did not like dogs, which somewhat brings a political angle to it, but then again, it doesn’t quite explain the apparent tolerance to cats, which was also worshipped amongst other things in pre-Islamic Egypt, and by extension, stood the chance of earning the same ire as dogs did.

      It is true any system will hold its hegemonic sway over people long after it loses dominance — which also explains why new hierarchies and systems change, destroy, and desecrate symbols and connotations of an earlier era that resonate across the masses. Which also explains some of the things that the average Bengali says, does and eats.

      However, irrespective of which ideology does it, this hatred business has to stop. I have been at the receiving end of this ever since I picked up my dogs from the street. I have been asked to leave my rented premises thrice, each time because of the dogs. I have my personal grouse against people who take advantage of the fact that a tenant can be easily persecuted because of social prejudices, and against those who can say with disarming charm “I don’t want you as a neighbour because we don’t like dogs”, and people who think I’m a jerk to be taking in and pampering strays while it’s perfectly normal for them to see a homeless animal die a slow death with no food, shelter or in some cases run over or beaten to death.

      There is something terribly wrong with people who do this — irrespective of the ideologies that make them do and believe in certain things. I think it’s not so much the ideologies themselves as the asinine acceptance of ideologies by people that rankles me and the world at large.

      A deeply emotive issue for me too, hence I hardly know where to stop.

      • dikgaj says:

        Even in your cited case of the west, ideology is at play. As per most sects of Christianity, only humans possess souls – dogs, among many other animals do not possess souls. The church belief is very strongly against euthanasia – because of this complication arising out of “presence” of soul and the nature of soul as being permanent property of the proposed monotheistic supreme suprahuman authority – and therefore not disposable at will by the human. You will surely recall the infamous brain-transplant operations by a famous surgeon – a devout Catholic, and the earlier experiments on dogs. All driven by this uniqueness of presence of souls and absence in animals.

        Euthanasia is by definition, voluntary and a matter of choice. So for dogs and feral animals, I think the term is inappropriate, it is more a “cull” and liquidation without any scope for “choice” by the animal.

        The Judaeo-Christian-islamic trend has evolved to see the natural world as a pyramidal hierarchy with human at the top – and all else situated below to serve human needs and purpose. This allows to resolve internal psychological conflicts about violence, meat-eating, and even destruction of the environment. In contrast the Indic strand developed more into a eco-system approach, where even humans needed to restrict some of their desires – even in food for example – to allow the eco-system to thrive including its other life-forms. This led to ideals of vegetarianism, or even self-control on material and physical desires.

        Dogs were not seen as hated, to be eliminated – animals. Some of the most beautiful passages in the RgVeda paint pictures of domestic bliss where dogs are part of the picture.

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