Posted on

Do You Need to See It to Believe It?

The other day a caring friend warned me about some horrendous, new video on social media, about animal abuse. Despite not knowing me all that well, he felt he knew me enough to know that I wouldn’t handle it well. I was very, very grateful. I stayed away from my social media accounts for a few days, hoping to be able to avoid whatever it was.

I also immediately copied my plea to my “friends” on social media, of please making a concerted effort to keep such gory videos and stories from me, to my local neighbourhood group of animal lovers, with an additional note:

“This is because I believe there’s something ghastly doing the rounds. Please, don’t even tell me. I beg you.”

I thought the message was pretty clear.

A second later, a member of the group posted the link to the video. I was not stupid enough to open it. Instead, I left the group altogether.

This “drastic” step of leaving a group in which I readily participate for a cause I believe in with all my heart, which is helping animals in need, was not just a knee-jerk, hasty reaction. Over the last year, all around India, there were numerous cases of animal abuse, of the most deranged, unthinkable kind, which were deliberately filmed and uploaded in what can only be deemed as a most desperate call for attention from some very disturbed and evil people. The whole purpose was to capitalise on shock value. Many of the perpetrators were caught and hopefully severely punished. It highlighted a terrible malaise in our society, where increasingly, no one is safe- not women, not children, not Muslims, not Christians, not the rich or the poor, neither the daring nor the meek and not the innocent animals. We signed petition after petition, we joined protests to demand updating animal welfare laws and we joined hands to defend the defenceless.

I would have done all of those things, with an equal amount of passion and conviction, even if I had been spared the gory, unnecessary details and certainly, the images.

Many animal lovers and animal welfare organisations are of the view that people must be made to see the terrible things that happen, in order to convince them to take action or to stop unwittingly abetting whatever it is. Whether it’s about turning vegetarian or vegan, or giving up leather and fur or taking action against some incident of abuse, these people resort to bombarding one with graphic emails, letters, videos, social media campaigns and all kinds of other things.

As I see it, such information will only be viewed by someone who is either an animal lover and keen to help, (such as me), in which case it would suffice for me to know that something is wrong and is bad for an animal and I need to take such and such action to stop it; or by some curious pervert who may be inspired to do something equally unspeakable. People who couldn’t care less will not even bother to watch or read and even if they do, well, they couldn’t care less!

The question then is this, Do you really need to see it to believe it?
Shocking images and gory details actually do me a lot of damage. I am angered and upset and haunted constantly by what I have learned, to the point where it makes me short-tempered, impatient, frustrated and depressed. I lose sleep, thinking of the animal. And all I can do about it is sign some letter or report to some authority, without ever knowing what became of the culprits. My ability to help, or the lack of it, therefore hardly justifies the agony I experience. So much so, that now I actually need to switch off. When I receive PETA’s mails, with some God-awful picture, I’m afraid the envelope goes straight in to the bin. Similarly, the video posted on my welfare group, after I specifically asked that we not post such things, left me with no choice but to leave, despite the fact that I know I can and do make a valuable contribution by being a part of it.

These are bad times and lots of bad things happen. I say we all become a little more sensitive to all those around us and avoid inflicting pain on someone in an effort to help another. Because sometimes, it can backfire. Share judiciously- with authorities, lawyers, welfare organisations, police, politicians- people who can actually do something about it. For others who may be deeply affected and who cannot offer a solution, be kind. Spare them the trauma. There’s more than enough all around.

Posted on

What NOT to buy when the sales are on

For the past few days, a rather disturbing ad has been appearing on my facebook timeline. The picture of two cute little puppies instantly caught my eye. When I read the accompanying text however, I thought I had perhaps misunderstood. I read it again. And again, with growing consternation. The ad read: “Get a new buddy” with “Assured next day delivery”. I immediately wrote a comment advising the site to stick to selling pet accessories and not pets themselves in this most flippant and careless way. My comment was soon removed. I tried again. Again, my comment was deleted. A couple of days later, I saw a similar comment by someone else, asking why this site was selling dogs when so many are in need of homes, to which the wholly unconvincing reply was that some of the dogs they sell are shelter dogs. Yeah right.

Where do I even begin on why this sale of pets online is so totally, totally wrong?

On any given day, there are innumerable adoption appeals for dogs (both pedigree and non-pedigree), who are either homeless, abandoned, injured or abused. Excuses for abandoning dogs, some of whom are old and have lived with their family for years, range from “Our son has just got married and our daughter-in-law doesn’t want the dog in the house”, to “the dog has grown too big” to “the dog smells”. Each more deserving than the other of getting the owner one tight smack. Clearly, these kind of people have never understood the true meaning of having a pet- of the pet being an inherent part of the family or of their responsibility and commitment towards the animal. Perhaps they bought their pets online…

Perhaps not. But such things are happening. Every day. And it’s heart-breaking for the animal of course and for anyone else who has half a heart and a little empathy. Sites like the one in question- www.mypetshop.in or the infamous OLX, who voluntarily offer animals for sale online, show a complete lack of understanding themselves of the meaning of owning a pet. Aside from obviously working hand in glove with breeders who are notorious for the torturous conditions under which they confine animals and breed them until their bodies give way; in-breeding which is responsible for increasing health issues in so-called ‘highly-pedigreed’ dogs and for seperating pups from their mothers long before they should, such websites encourage the spontaneous, thoughtless, unprepared acquisition of a pet which, more often than not, is likely to end badly. It is callous, irresponsible and immoral to say the least and such websites should be boycotted if not banned altogether.

 

 

 

As for prospective buyers from such sites, one cannot help but wonder if they truly understand the enormity of bringing home a new family member or if they even realise that that is what having a pet is supposed to be all about. And if they can’t take the trouble to go and see the puppy or kitten and have a few moments of bonding with them before bringing them home, can they really be expected to love them and care for them well for the rest of their lives?

I also fail to understand how people who claim to be animal lovers can, at the time of taking on a pet, become so very selective of whom they shower that love upon. While day after day, street dogs, (new-born, young and old), or abandoned pedigree dogs (new-born, young and old), all with a special story of their own, fail to strike a cord with such people, a puppy with some certificate (most of which are fake by the way!), finds a home all too easily, often till it ceases to be a pup and then guess what? It joins the many in the abandoned list.

If you really do care for animals, if you really do want a pet, please consider joining one of the many adoption groups on social media or through well-known NGO’s such as Friendicoes, Sai Ashram, Red Paws Rescue, etc. Allow them to ask you questions and judge whether your home is fit for a pet. If you really, really do care, listen  to them. Make your home the right home. It is in the interest of the pet you supposedly care for and in yours. And if you don’t have the patience to check out your pet or be checked out yourself, then please save your money, spare the animal the trauma and buy yourself a nice, cute, furry little stuffed toy online. Because that would probably be more your thing.

Posted on

Kaani’s Story

Diwali may be a night of great festivity for most people, but for those with any health issues and for animal lovers, it’s a pretty grim time. As an asthmatic, for years I have stopped going out in to the terrible Delhi pollution on Diwali. Rather, around  Diwali, since both the pollution and the horrid, noisy fireworks both linger on for weeks after the actual day of the festival. Once people have stocked up on the fireworks, they’re pulled out to celebrate every ridiculous “occasion” and “event”, ranging from Pappu’s Birthday to election victories and of course India’s cricketing triumphs. Whether or not you’re the least bit involved in the grand celebration, celebrate you shall, willy nilly. So suck it up or rather, breathe it in.

Post our quiet family puja, usually held in a verandah of the house, I retreat to my room, doors and windows closed, air conditioner on, television on in a desperate attempt to drown out the startling bangs and shrieks of fireworks which send my dog scurrying under the bed, panting hard, trembling, too frightened to go out to do her business, too traumatised to eat her food. This routine starts on Diwali night and goes on for weeks, every single evening.

So last Diwali, it was an unusual thing for me to decide to step out at about 11 pm, to walk around the corner of the park in front of my house to check on my friends, Spotty and Blackie. Spotty was nowhere to be seen. He was probably hiding under a car somewhere, I thought. Blackie responded to my call and came out gingerly to greet me. I went with some antihistamine and bronchodilator, prescribed by the vet, to treat her cough-obviously a product of the pollution. I was sitting there, stroking her in front of one of the houses, when I saw an unfamiliar, skinny, little, white dog running down the road in the opposite direction. I whistled and called out and she stopped and turned towards me. Blackie was about to chase her but I quickly pushed her back and went up to the dog, who was about to run off again. She wagged her tail and I knelt down beside her to see if she was injured and if I recognised her. I turned her face towards me and gasped. She had one eye missing and the other was entirely clouded. Clearly, she was blind. Blind and lost, on Diwali night. I couldn’t imagine anything worse. My mind raced as I wondered what to do next. I couldn’t possibly take her in with my four dogs, one of whom was already sleeping in the servant’s room. And yet there was no way I could leave her out on the road. I scooped her up in my arms, without her protesting, and carried her home. I called my mother out, imagining she would be annoyed that I’d brought in another dog, knowing we had absolutely no resources to accommodate her. But when she saw her, she too realised this was too desperate a situation for us to turn our backs on. We stood on the staircase landing, racking our brains, while I kept the poor dog from falling and bumping in to things. We finally decided to ask the upstairs neighbour’s very kind servant if he would keep her for the night and to my immense relief, he readily agreed. She was fed, given water and some bedding and sent to sleep in his room.

I got in to bed, cuddling my dog, amazed at how yet again, I had found myself in an unusual place at an unusual time, as if sent by God to rescue an animal in need. I shuddered to think of what this poor, affectionate little thing had endured and worse, what she may have endured had I not found her. For any animal on the already chaotic and dangerous streets of Delhi, I guess Diwali time is like the bombing of Aleppo.

I messaged the lady who diligently feeds over a hundred dogs in the colony by herself, everyday. To my delight, she knew the dog. Her name, she told me, was Kaani, which means, ‘one-eyed’. She told me Kaani was a very loving and sweet dog, who lived on a colony road with her pups and that first thing in the morning, she would come and pick her up.

Kaani slept through the night comfortably, I was told and after having a good breakfast, I tied her to our gate, in the company of the guard, who petted her and fed her biscuits. She was restless and nervous though. When the lady pulled up and blew the car horn, Kaani responded with happy squeals of recognition and gladly got in to her car.

All of us at home heaved a sigh of relief, our hearts happy and content at having been able to help her. What a brave and sweet dog. I was told she had been living where she was, on the road, for a long time and I wondered how she managed. If only people weren’t so averse to keeping Indian mixed-breed dogs. She should have been in a loving home, I thought and I decided to try and find her one soon.

The following morning, I got a message from the lady, asking if I had seen Kaani. My heart sank. She had been returned to her ‘home’, but there had been lots of firecrackers again that night and again, she had run away. Kaani was not found.

Posted on

Sound, Light and Smog

 

It’s that time of the year again, the so-called festive season. If only one person’s idea of merriment wasn’t at the cost of another’s health.

The Delhi winter is every bit as brutal as its gruelling summer. From the scarcely tolerable 46ºC, temperatures dropped dramatically last week, the day after Dusshera. Soon, just when one has started to enjoy the balmy autumn weather, it will be gone and the short but harsh winter will be upon us. We Dilliwallas are pretty well-attuned to dealing with the vagaries of temperature, but that is the least of Delhi’s problems. Winter brings with it a grey, toxic, smothering smog, which envelopes the city and brings in its wake asthma, allergies, cardiac problems, headaches, colds, coughs and more. With each passing year, the alarm bells sounded by state and non-state organisations, newspapers, radio and TV channels grow louder and the warnings more ominous. Those who can afford it run around buying air purifiers for their homes. Those who can’t, miraculously carry on with their lives as normal, braving the cold and the deadly air without masks and sometimes without shelter. As an asthmatic myself, my heart bleeds for the millions who suffer bronchial disorders. It’s something I would not wish on my worst enemy. But at least humans can express their discomfort. When I think of the poor animals on the streets and their suffering, well that is what really, really kills me.

Just this week I bumped in to a lady from our neighbourhood who had brought her lovely, young Golden Labrador to the vet’s. She told me he’d been coughing and was on the nebuliser. I realised suddenly that this seemed to be becoming quite a common complaint from fellow pet owners whom I have recently encountered. It made me wonder that while people are constantly being advised to take measures to safeguard against the Delhi pollution, our poor animals are subjected to a far worse dose of it. Who’s looking after them?

 Aside from the pollution and smog, we senseless creatures insist on adding to it with fireworks and noise. Diwali- the festival of lights, albeit a Hindu festival, is celebrated by people across religions, regions, castes and socio-economic classes in India. It is a celebration of the return of Lord Ram from Lanka, having rescued his kidnapped wife, Sita, from the demon Ravan, whom he slayed. It is essentially a celebration of the triumph of Light over Darkness, Good over Evil. Much like every other celebration in India however, it has been degraded in to not a day, but rather several weeks of unruly, thoroughly uncivilised “celebrations”, which are very much in-your- face and whose damaging effects are for all to bear as the already polluted air fills with the toxic chemicals, ear-shattering sound and suffocating smoke of several million firecrackers bursting across the country.

I have long wondered why, given that our pollution levels are life-threatening, our government doesn’t put a ban or at least some very serious restrictions on people bursting fireworks. It seems like the most logical, necessary thing to do. Sadly though, it requires both, a civilized society and a caring government to take such a measure and we seem not to have either. A government which worked sincerely in the interest of its people would not hesitate to take a firm and likely unpopular decision with regards to giving people free rein to further pollute the almost unbreathable air. But we haven’t seen that ilk of politicians for a while. No government would be willing to piss off the majority Hindu populace, which is too short-sighted to realise that their uncontrolled expressions of joy and festivity are costing lives- those of others and their own. I’ve tried to imagine telling a zealous firecracker supporter, “Don’t burst firecrackers! They’re polluting the air!” And I imagine the reply being, “What?! No firecrackers? It’s Diwali! Firecrackers are a tradition!” Right. Of course. Because somewhere in the mythological tale of the Ramayan (a part which I obviously missed), Lord Ram killed the evil Ravan, rescued Sita, then returned home to a lavish party where he and the other Gods played the popular card game Teen Patti and set off Chinese-made fireworks.

Morons. Don’t people see that if we don’t let go of some of these daft, self-created “traditions”, there may be no traditions at all for future generations. We’re shortening our lives and of those around us and there is no justification for that.

I do remember a happier, healthier time, when I was a child and half the neighbourhood would gather at my grandmother’s house on Diwali night. It was a very different kind of Diwali party than the ones you see today. There were no fancy caterers, but rather my Dadi’s home-made, delicious matar-ke-parathe and hare dhaniye ke aloo, along with hot tea in earthen kulhars and alcoholic beverages for the so inclined. Several generations of people would land up. Yes, there were some fireworks (and no pollution in those days), but there were also a lot of traditional, handmade decorations, lighting, puja, etc. It was the ‘real thing’ and everyone was a part of it. Over the years though, the fireworks and gambling somehow took over. Along with the skies, the festival itself got terribly polluted somewhere down the line, with the invention of new firecrackers that emit sound, rather than light. The most idiotic invention of all time I think.

There was realisation very early on of the damaging effects of firecrackers and I remember my own mother coming to my school in an official capacity along with a very popular radio jockey, to launch one of the very first anti-firecracker campaigns. It made sense to us, even as kids and for a couple of years, things greatly improved. But there are always those who spoil it for everyone else and when India’s economy opened up a few years later and created millionaires overnight, firecrackers became yet another ridiculous measure of opulence and social standing.

My breathing trouble kept me indoors, in an air conditioned room, along with my poor dog, who was petrified of the noise. Ironic, isn’t it, that the pets who bring light in to our lives should be so traumatised by the Festival of Lights? For most pet owners, it’s a dreaded time. Dogs tend to run away or get terribly frightened. Street dogs scurry around, desperately seeking shelter from the noise and bright lights. Many are abused and maimed by godless people who think setting off firecrackers near them is amusing. The roads are littered with soot, gunpowder and toxic remnants from the previous night’s extravaganza, which mix in the food and water those poor animals live off. Night after night, at all unearthly hours, bombs and fireworks go off, preventing hard working labourers, elderly people and animals from even getting a proper night’s sleep. One helluva festival, eh?

It is very much in our own interest to voluntarily stop bursting firecrackers or lighting lamps which emit smoke. Let’s tone down our Diwali celebrations so we may live to have some more. Let’s open our hearts in the true spirit of festivity, allowing others their peace and quiet. Your freedom ends where mine begins.

Posted on

The Agony, the Irony and the India I Love

One of my favourite quotes from Mahatma Gandhi is, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”. That being the case, the state of this country appears to be neither great nor progressive. Well, I’m not Aamir Khan, so I can get away with saying it: I often wonder if perhaps someday I shouldn’t just move elsewhere. Just call it quits. And quit.

In a country with such an enormous populace, such a vast area, so many languages, different cultures, multiple cuisines and don’t even get me started on religions, I suppose it is no wonder that the smallest of problems takes a large amount of resources and time to solve. As Shashi Tharoor has so often and so eloquently pointed out, let’s say when you succeed in elevating several million people out of poverty, if you look at that impressive figure in terms of percentages, it is anything but impressive. The scale of our problems is so very, very large, and the problems themselves so deeply entwined, that it is often extremely disheartening for anyone who wants to effect any sustainable progress.

I personally, am one of those who has the great luxury of returning home every day and being able to close my sound-proof windows, crawl in to my cozy bed, turn on my HD TV and effectively, transport myself in to a land of my choosing. But what if, despite everything, I’d like to choose this land?

It’s that time of year again, when public spaces are decorated in the colours of our national flag, little plastic tricolours are sold at traffic lights along with bumper stickers and miscellaneous decorative items with slogans such as “proud to be Indian” and “I LOVE MY INDIA”.

Just last evening, I was groaning as I watched the news and learned of the embarassing letter issued by the International Olympic Committee to our ‘honourable’ (because somehow they all are), Sports Minister, telling him that his band of goons were not free to roam about as they pleased and were not entitled to be rude to the officials. And that’s from the easy-going brazilians. Imagine if it had been Germany…! Then there’s the question of why there are so many ‘official’ delegates anyway or whether all the members of the technical team are even truly qualified for what they’ve been sent to do. And if they’re not, isn’t it a terrible disservice to the nation for them to be there and not be able to provide the very best support to our very best athletes?

While I was drawing some sort of pained amusement at the fumbling politicians being grilled by journalists on the Rio Embarassment, I had other matters to tend to back home. I was delivered a ‘warning’ by someone who had recently beaten up my friendly neighbourhood dogs and subsequently apologised for it. The warning was delivered timidly by the sweet guard at the house where these dogs sit, to say that if the dogs were ever to attack this man’s dog, he would ‘bring his gun and shoot them’. No question of politely discussing a problem or expressing a concern or grievance. Nope. WARNING. Because that’s how we do it now and everyone is a law unto themselves.

Last winter, as we prepared to shift house, I thought I’d leave behind a lasting present for the various street dogs I had befriended nearby. So, I did my research and designed a few comfy kennels.

There was much excitement for several days, as the carpenters worked in the garden and cheerful-looking kennels began to take shape. I decided the first one must go to the old, little dog on the roadside, who is pretty frail. So I hopped across to the nursery where the dog has lived for years, and sought permission to place the kennels inside. The surly supervisor met me with a scowl and pat came his reply- “No. Not here. We don’t have permission”.  I turned on my heel and walked out, determined to find a perfectly suitable place regardless of this put-down. But as I walked away that morning, my enthusiasm and earnestness having received an unceremonious boot, I couldn’t help but wonder- “What would Gandhi say?”

That same thought occurred to me the other day when a woman told me and my friends to ‘keep your compassion to yourselves’ as we pleaded with her not to try and displace the same old dog whose kennel I built, again today in light of the disappointing performance of our non-athletes at the Olympics and on more occasions than I care to recall when ghastly inhuman crimes are committed against people and animals alike. This is the India that I don’t belong to, the one I want to go away from, the one that shames me and rejects me.

So, when did I stop being patriotic? I didn’t. I am still very much a patriot. I pledge my allegiance to the idea of India. The Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic India. I think of the India our leaders envisioned when they fought for Independence- the India which was moral, kind, peace-loving, compassionate, pluralistic. I think of the time when one wouldn’t need to seek anyone’s ‘permission’ or face aggressive opposition to do a simple, good deed. I am proud to be that Indian.

Why is it that yoga and Ayurveda are trendy in India only now that they have been appreciated abroad? Why do we turn up our noses at our beautiful Indian dogs who are dying for homes while we import poor Huskies and Saint Bernards to give them a miserable existence in a miserably incompatible climate? Why is it suddenly ok for the non- hoy-poloy to enjoy cheap, Bollywood music, since it’s become popular abroad too? Why are Indian men in Indian cities never dressed in traditional clothes? Ever seen a rich household whose staff uniform is a kurta-pajama?

In our seven decades of freedom, we seem somehow to have freed ourselves altogether from what and how we were all collectively meant to be as a nation. It’s a Herculean task to get back on track, but Gandhi has addressed that too: “Be the change you want to see in the world”.

For critics who prefer more “modern” and “western” thinking, take a cue from Donald Trump (but please, let it be the ONLY one)- Make India Great Again. Jai Hind.