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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.

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Whisky

A few months ago, while at the local beauty salon and in the course of some polite chitter-chatter, the beautician mentioned to me that she had recently got a puppy. “Oh how nice!”, I said, asking what breed the puppy was and hoping she’d say it was a local desi dog whom she had rescued. When I heard it was a Beagle, I gave her my number and told her to call me if ever she decided she didn’t want him.

“No, no. We are very fond of him”, she said, telling me all about his daily antics. I smiled. “Just keep my number…in case you ever change your mind”.

A couple of months later, the call came. Whisky’s family were not very well-off and when all of them went out to work during the day, there was no one to watch him. He would howl through the day, locked up in a small apartment. So they realised he would probably be better off in a larger home and with people always around him.

My plan for such a situation was very simple and straight-forward. There is a wonderful lady I have come to know well, who runs a great place where rescued dogs or others in need of a home are kept in a very dignified, hygienic and happy environment while she finds them a befitting home. By her own admission, her vetting process (no pun intended), often puts people off, but I agree with her completely that if someone who ostensibly cares about animals is unprepared to convince her that theirs would be a home where the animal would be respected, loved and looked after and that they have the space, help, family consent and finances to be able to do so well, how can they possibly be relied upon? So, I thought I’d send Whisky to her and that she would find him a super home and we’d all live happily ever after.

If only I’d stuck to the plan. Instead, I remembered a friend with an old, female beagle was looking for a male pup to keep her other dog company. When I checked with her if she wanted Whisky, she said she unfortunately couldn’t take in a new dog at the time but she pleaded with me to get him out of his existing home as soon as possible. She would keep him with her and through her work with a very well-known animal welfare organisation, she thought they’d find him a good home very soon. I agreed.

I went to collect Whisky, who greeted me warmly and readily jumped in to my car. I felt very bad for the beautician’s young daughter who was there to hand him over to me. I hugged her as she cried and promised her I would find him a wonderful home where he would be very happy and that she could always check with me about him, if not even get to see him.

Off we went to my friend’s house, where her Beagle and Whisky hit it off pretty quickly and were chasing each other around the garden and in and out of the house, in no time. I secretly hoped my friend would change her mind and keep him.

Alas. A few days later he was sent to a foster home, arranged by the welfare organisation. It was a group of college students who shared an apartment and someone was always there with him but they didn’t have much experience with dogs and were finding it hard to manage a confused, young, naughty little puppy. I wasn’t happy.

Then I learned he had been adopted by a rich family who had a large house in a posh, South Delhi neighbourhood. The girl had apparently been looking to adopt a rescued Beagle for a long time and had begged and pleaded for Whisky to come to her. I decided to call them in a day or two to check on him, since I felt he was my responsibility, having promised his first, young little owner.

Imagine my surprise and horror when I saw him the next day, totally per chance, on facebook, up for adoption. The post didn’t give his name and I couldn’t really recognise him from the picture but it seemed uncanny for another Beagle of the same age to be looking for a home at the same time. I made desperate enquiries and my fears were confirmed. Whisky was up for adoption. Again. When I spoke to the man who had put up the post, I found him completely unapologetic. His sister was the one who had been wanting to get Whisky but she hadn’t thought to check with their mother, so when he arrived at home, the lady of the house threw a right, royal fit. The man insisted that they were a family of great animal lovers but then also informed me that the staff had left Whisky in the living room all night. It was all I could do not to lose my temper, especially not before I had rescued the poor dog, who was clearly in the wrong place. I was very angry with the organisation too for having let this adoption get so botched up.

I wanted to get him back immediately but the friend whom I trusted to find him a good home couldn’t pick him up that evening. Where would he spend the night? A lady had responded to the facebook post and they had pretty much decided to give him to her before I jumped in to the picture and they realised they would need my ok. In my desperation for him not to go to YET another foster home, I decided to check out the lady myself. She seemed very nice. I went to pick her up and then to get Whisky. They appeared to bond well in the car ride back to her house. Her maid was another story, completely unimpressed by him and devoid of even the basic curiosity which one would expect from someone when a new pup arrives home. But the lady assured me she would manage and all would be ok. It wasn’t a large house. The help was not helpful. But the lady was kind and loving and the situation was a desperate one. So I left Whisky with her.

To her and her son’s credit, for about a month, they tried to do the best they could for him. He was naughty, he would sometimes attack their other Beagle, they had to toilet train him, etc., etc. and they gladly did. But things weren’t settling down and I didn’t like the reports I was getting so I asked her if she wanted me to ask my friend to find him a home. “Not yet”, she insisted over and over again. Then finally, she tearfully asked me to go ahead.

The very next morning, she messaged to say Whisky had been adopted. A family driver had recommended someone and in a moment of utter madness, she had gone and given Whisky to him. Within a day, he had been passed along to another driver in Karol Bagh. I was livid. I persuaded her to get him back and early the following morning, she handed him over to my friend. My original plan. I paid for his boarding- the least I could do for this poor, sweet dog who had changed five homes in one month. The thought of how traumatic it must have been for him made me cry and kept me awake at night. Now, finally, he was in safe hands.

Whisky now has a new home, a new family (including a lovely, black Labrador with whom he gets along famously), a nice, new red coat and a new name. He has settled down very well and is loved and cared for. He sleeps a lot and is calm and relaxed, quite unlike how he was before. He probably realises he is finally home. May his worst days be far behind him.

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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.

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New Beginnings

There is something very cathartic about the arrival of a new year. A new time frame, a clean slate, renewed hope, fresh promise. It creates an atmosphere very conducive to positive change, of our thoughts, beliefs, desires and behaviour. It’s the perfect time to review our patterns and preconceived notions and push the envelope a little, to see if we can’t be a just a wee bit kinder and a little less indifferent to the world around us. It’s an opportunity to reflect on days gone by, on one’s self, one’s achievements, one’s priorities, one’s aspirations and one’s methods and to re-evaluate them or perhaps change them altogether. It’s a time for forgiveness and for letting go of unhappy memories, anger and regrets.  And boy did we need this fresh start.

It seems that 2016, the world over, was marked by violence, suffering and division, ranging from the Syrian war to the rise of right-wing political groups stoking fires of division; terror attacks in Nice, Berlin, Dhaka, Orlando and elsewhere and the abhorrent brutality towards innocent animals in India, which appallingly has still not moved our Parliament to pass the much-needed revised Animal Welfare Bill.

On the bright side, 2016 got me together with several wonderful people and together we saved lives. Rescues, treatment, shelter, food, adoption- we managed to reach out to many animals who needed our help.

That’s what I’m bringing with me in to the New Year, along with a fiery zest to do more, help more, be kinder, more patient, more generous with my time and yes, to post regularly on my blog!

So here’s praying that Donald Trump either surprises everyone by getting things right or that he gets impeached before he can make too much trouble; that peace and order return to the world; that we as individuals find in ourselves the empathy and tolerance to co-exist with our animals and our environment.

Here’s wishing each and every one of you, your families and your pets a very Happy, Healthy, Peaceful and Prosperous New Year!

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So Much Darkness, So Much Light

And so the madness begins. Firecrackers of the worst kind -not that there’s a ‘good’ kind anymore-the loud, all-noise-no-spectacle kind. The build up to Diwali has been sadly typical of Delhi hypocrisy- people spend their mornings reading about the ever-alarming state of Delhi’s pollution level, how it is responsible not just for the obvious bronchial problems but also for headaches, dizziness, joint pains, cardiac trouble and so on. Through the day, one ‘Likes’ and ‘Shares’ any number of messages and posts urging people not to burst firecrackers and sharing real-time pollution readings in the city, in the hope that the statistics themselves would be a deterrent. Or the fact that the national capital now has the honour of being the world’s most polluted city. In the untrue spirit of the Festival of Lights, however, people take these warnings ‘lightly’, bursting loud crackers and bombs. Our own brand of ‘suicide bombers’!

I don’t quite know where the last few days have gone, because I’ve been busy preparing for Diwali too. My dear, kind friends and I have been on the hunt for a beautiful, extremely sweet dog who is very shy of people and doesn’t allow many people to touch him. I am one of the blessed few who can, but not since he developed an injury. For days, we have tried every trick in the book to get a hold of the dear fellow so we can treat his wound without it unecessarily becoming worse. Finally, we’ve had to call in the professionals, just to help us catch him. The plan was to send him to a quiet, excellent boarding facility, with his companion sent along for..well, companionship, and keep them there safely for a few days so that they’d be spared the Diwali trauma. Sadly, he has refused to be caught.

I’ve also been busy installing air purifiers for my family, putting reflective collars and tags on my street dogs, giving sedatives to my own dogs, coordinating with friends as to who is sheltering which dog and so on. Tonight, on chhoti Diwali (Diwali Eve), I find myself lying quietly in my room, lights dimmed, windows closed and soothing music playing as I try to reassure my dogs. I can see from my window that my house is all decorated with beautiful fairy lights and candles and garlands. I’ve had no part in it. I feel nothing. No excitement. No joy. My family is somewhere around, doing something or the other, in preparation for the grand festival. I know my Dadi would have wanted me to participate in the festivities and with her, one just couldn’t help but get in the mood to celebrate. Why can’t I feel like that anymore? Why do I cringe at the thought of Diwali? Why am I sitting in my room, anxious, annoyed, cursing at every loud explosion?

What with traffic snarls and health concerns and the ‘must-do’ compulsions that we struggle to fulfill, where’s the togetherness and joy of a festival?

As I curmudgeonly wished a friend who was as perturbed about our animals as me a ‘Happy Diwali’, she laughed and said, “Ever since I started caring for animals, I hate this day”. That makes me feel a little less of a Scrooge and yet sad to be the outsider even in my own home, untouched by the hustle bustle of people dressing up, decorating the house, cooking special treats and entertaining with learnt merriment. I cannot bring myself to feel the excitement of Diwali anymore. I seem to be losing faith in my faith. Sorry.

From all my four-legged friends, I pray for that feeling to return someday, the day it includes the animals, the poor people, the sick, the children and the elderly; a time when the air is fresh with the nip of the coming winter, when families run about lighting up their houses and the dogs wag their tails as happy participants. Meanwhile, from whichever dark corner or trench we’re hiding in, for what it’s worth, we wish you a Happy Diwali.

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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.

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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.

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A Nation in Conflict

It’s Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary and the state of the nation is not good. Not with regard to its neighbour and not with regard to itself.

On Thursday, the Indian Army conducted attacks specifically targeting terrorist launch pads across the Line of Control with Pakistan. These ‘surgical strikes’, according to the Army, successfully neutralised over 40 terrorists with no casualties to the Indian troops. The strikes were conducted to avenge the 18th September attack by militants on an Army Camp in the Kashmiri town of Uri, in which 19 Indian soldiers were killed. Pakistan denies there were any strikes at all.

Things haven’t been this bad between the two countries since the Kargil War. The SAARC summit, to be held in Islamabad, has been postponed after several other countries followed India’s decision not to attend. Villages within 100 kilometres of the LOC in India have been evacuated in anticipation of retaliatory attacks by Pakistan. Even the much-loved Pakistani artists such as actor Fawad Khan were asked to leave by zealous jingoists and a public letter addressed to him by a so-called fan, claiming he owed his wealth and success to Bollywood and presumptuously speaking on behalf of all Indians while telling him he was not wanted- went viral on social media.

And then there was the media itself, overjoyed, I daresay, at not having to look for something sensational to report. While the rest of the team worked overtime, I reckon the only people who got a good day’s rest were the ones they probably hire to invent “BREAKING NEWS”. Jokes aside, it was quite disgusting the way several news anchors across the Indian channels seized the opportunity to belittle, mock, challenge, threaten and instruct Pakistanis whom they had invited on their shows, whether they be former presidents or senior army officials. They were all given a dose of the news anchor’s two-bit views and philosophies. Many like me cringed. While no one in their right minds wants these tensions to further escalate, much less to the point of war, the electronic media has certainly done its bit to fuel the flames with its jingoistic chest-thumping, cashing in on TRPs with plain disregard for the consequences the nation could bear.

Within the country too, division has been writ large with the actuations of  “gow rakshak”, (cow guardians), who couldn’t really give two hoots about a cow unless it were to accuse someone of eating it and knock them off, because they’ve decided no one will eat beef.

Hypocrisy affects the nation everywhere one looks. What unity do we so proudly speak of when two people from different economic and social strata are so completely and utterly removed from one another’s reality that it would be difficult and quite uncomfortable for them to even have a five-minute conversation with one another.

We are well-divided by class and yet there is not much class at all in the way we act.

Women are raped, people are stabbed, animals are tortured but we look the other way. We are not one. We have no common ideology. No tolerance. No clue who we are and what we stand for. We stand alone. “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind”, said the Mahatma. Well, seems he was right. We subscribe heavily to the eye-for-an-eye policy and divided we are by religion, state, culture, profession, gender, caste and finance. As we all rest at home, celebrating Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday amidst such tension between the two countries he never wanted to separate, perhaps we could find a moment to take a deep breath, forgive someone or something, remember our history and ourselves. Perhaps there is still time to turn back from the path of conflict and dehumanisation that we have embarked on. Our Army may defend our borders but it’s really up to us to defend what’s inside them.

Funny, this is supposed to be a blog about animals and I haven’t really spoken of any. Or have I?

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Remembering Bella

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Two years ago, on this day, I took one of the most difficult decisions of my life. Only it wasn’t to do with my life at all, but with Bella’s. This is her story.
I can’t even remember when or how Bella showed up at our beautiful riding club. It was many, many moons ago, at a time when there was a lot more kindness around. She was absolutely beautiful, with a slender build and the most loving, kohl-lined brown eyes. It didn’t take me long to name her. Bella had a permanent limp, obviously from some old, untreated injury, but she didn’t appear to be in any pain. She could run like the wind and soon became the unofficial, official “club dog”, who would greet riders every morning, give chase to other wild dogs coming in to the area and then sit in the garden, getting petted, fed and loved by people as they had their tea and biscuits after their morning and evening rides. She welcomed people’s pet dogs on to her turf and frolicked with them on the polo field and riding trails.
During the polo and horse show season, Bella was in her elements with lots of visitors around the club. She would venture to whichever part of the sprawling compound the action was in and would often “hang out” with those of us she knew well. In the winter, someone or the other would bring coats for her and the other dogs to help them through the brutal winter, which is all the more harsh in an open, forested area such as the one where she lived.
A few years ago, she started to lose weight and developed some mouth ulcers. Her beautiful, cream-coloured coat was dull and she had bruises and rashes all over. Some people suggested putting her down. Instead, I took her to a vet, gave her some medication with the help of the local staff who looked after and fed her and by winter, she was back to her splendid form and remained so for another year.
Then, within days of my having lost my beautiful horse-my best friend and partner of 19 years- I received a call from the staff to say Bella was quite unwell and needed my attention. I returned to the club the very next day and took her to the vet. Her mouth ulcers had returned and she was losing weight rapidly.
As we drove to the vet, I asked the caretaker how come her condition had become so bad. Hadn’t anyone noticed? Wasn’t anyone taking care of her? Hadn’t anyone thought to take her to the vet? His reply brought tears to my eyes. Her old ‘friends’ now asked for her to be removed from where they sat having tea, because her wounds were smelling. They didn’t want to pet her. They didn’t want her to play with their dogs. And being the lovely, sensitive being she was, she had begun to sense their aversion and didn’t go up to them anymore. Instead, she would try to find a hiding place, where the flies and insects would not make her wounds worse. The lovely clubhouse, which remained empty for most of the day, a place which was clean and cool and would have been ideal for her to rest and recover in, was off limits. NO DOGS. Especially one who was unwell, old and dirty. So, Bella would try to find a cool spot to rest in, in the blazing summer heat, even if that place was an unused toilet. There she would lie quietly, or try to, while fending off flies, or she would go and roll in some wet mud, getting dirtier still.
For the next three months, I took her almost everyday for treatment. The vets knew her well and were extremely fond of her so not only did they do her treatment pro bono, but also allowed me to leave her at their clinic through the day. It was wonderful for her to be allowed to lie quietly on a soft cushion in an air-conditioned, sanitised room under the watchful eye of the vet. She would be given a good lunch, clean water, biscuits and treats and most importantly, love and respect. She began to wait for me and as soon as she heard my voice or saw my car, she would emerge from wherever she had been sheltering herself and gladly jump in to my car. I made it a point to always sit with her in the back seat, so that for that half-hour drive, I could give her the physical closeness, warmth, love and respect that she had been denied at her home of so many years. I hated going off in the heat to pick her up, drop her to the vet, then later collect her and drop her back home. It took up my entire day and all my energy. My motivation, however, was the thought of those beautiful eyes and loving smile, hiding somewhere, waiting for me, praying that I would come for her. The harder part, was dropping her back home. I had thought that having spent the day sitting at the clinic, she would be delighted to return home where she could roam free and be in a familiar setting. But Bella didn’t feel very much at home there anymore. She would try to jump back in the car when it was time for me to leave and it broke my heart every time I had to tell her she couldn’t. So, I’d promise to return the following day and I made sure I did. I owed that to her.
Like most dogs, Bella had her own special way of showing her affection. She would wrap her paw around your leg or back in the day, she would stand with her front legs on your lap, exuding love.
I wondered why her mouth ulcers kept coming back and why she wasn’t gaining weight. I wondered if this treatment was helping her and if not, then what were we going to do? For a long time, I didn’t verbalise these questions. Three months and little improvement later, the vet and I finally broached the subject and decided it was time.
We met at the riding club one afternoon and Bella greeted us warmly. I still feel that sickness in the pit of my stomach as I recall choosing a spot to bury her and spending those last few minutes pampering her, while it was being prepared. She probably sensed what was coming and moved away from the vet and her helper. But me she trusted and that is why I will forever bear the albatross around my neck, of having betrayed that trust. The vet agreed that she actually looked a bit better that day and hesitated. She told me Bella might be okay for a few more days, maybe a week, but that her treatment and visits to the clinic should stop. I struggled with the dilemma but thought of her hiding away in some bathroom in the jungle, too exhausted to search for water and food and resigning herself to go, alone and unloved. I decided I’d rather it be this way. She went peacefully, lying in my lap, in the back seat of my car, hopefully with the knowledge that she was loved and that she belonged to someone, that someone cared. She went with the dignity with which she had lived.
Two years to the day today and I still question my decision. I choose to believe what the vet told me, that she had cancer and that they could do no more to help alleviate her discomfort, rather than that they didn’t want to keep her at the clinic anymore. I choose to believe that we did the right thing. There is one question though, which I ask myself in retrospect and which I think we should all ask ourselves before deciding to end an animal’s life: Who’s suffering are we really alleviating?
It’s very easy for people to see a sick or injured animal and say put them to sleep. That’s convenient. But is it correct? Bella lived well for over a year after someone first suggested to me to put her down. I chose to wait for the vet to suggest it, if they did, because I don’t believe I have the right to take a life just because that’s the easier thing to do. There are so many cases of animals with amputated limbs or diseases, who go on to live happily for several years after getting the right treatment. Who then, am I, to deny them that?
I hope Bella will forgive me, even though I can’t fully forgive myself. My brain says we did the right thing but my heart questions me every time I think of that fateful day. I wish Bella could have enjoyed the benefits of her wonderful home, with its acres and acres of land, its cozy clubhouse, its staff and members. I feel betrayed on her account.
I can only pray that she is now in an even more beautiful place, healed and healthy and very, very loved. That is certainly how she will live in my heart.

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Saints and Sinners

It’s very seldom that one can speak of saints quite literally. This then, is a rare occasion. On Sunday, 4th September, 2016, amid the cheers of a crowd of several thousands, Mother Teresa of Calcutta was canonised by Pope Francis, in a beautiful ceremony at Vatican City.

The Pope spoke of Mother Teresa’s noble and selfless service throughout her life, which he said she had dedicated to “bowing down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity.” Born in Skopje, then a part of the Ottoman Empire, Mother Teresa arrived in India in 1929 with the Sisters of Loreto and made India her home until her death in 1997. She set up the ‘Missionaries of Charity’ order in 1950, whose purpose, she said, was to care for “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.” She was a global ambassador for India and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, of which she humbly said she was ‘unworthy’.  The process of her canonisation was expedited by Pope John Paul II and finalised today by Pope Francis to the joy of many millions around the world, whose lives she touched.

Meanwhile, back in Delhi, even as people watched the canonisation ceremony live on TV, two other souls were finding their saviour. I had received a message a few days ago, about two labradors whose owner had suddenly realised that dogs grow and require care and that he could not provide that. So, they were up for adoption. I just happened to think of a friend of my parents, who has a particular soft-spot for labradors as well as a gorgeous farmhouse, staff, etc., all the trappings for a perfect home for them. So I reached out to him and he made the necessary calls and agreed to having himself and his home “checked out”. As it happened, the lady who was in charge of the adoption failed twice to keep her appointment to go and meet the family and that was that. I apologised to them on her behalf and said that I’d let them know if another such case came about.

It did. Just two days later. A golden and a black labrador, both a year-and-a-half-old, were being kept caged by their owner who didn’t want them anymore because their daughter-in-law didn’t like them. I timidly approached our friend again and to my surprise and delight, he again stepped up, called the number given and arranged to meet the dogs the following day. And so, on the very auspicious day of the canonisation of Mother Teresa, these two lovely dogs were introduced to our friend and shortly after, drove away with him to a home where another older labrador awaited them and where I am sure they will find all the love, comfort and care that had been denied them.

Rewind to earlier in the week to a separate incident. A golden labrador, believed to be about three-years-old, was dumped outside D.A.V. School, Vasant Vihar, along with a carton full of his medicines and other belongings. He has been rescued by some very competent people who are taking care of him and will eventually find him a suitable home, but every time I think of the picture of him sitting there on the roadside, it tears me apart to imagine what he, and any other abandoned or lost pet for that matter, went through.

Whether abandoning an animal is better, worse or equally deplorable than abandoning a human being, I think just depends on one’s perspective. Since there are many to plead the case of the humans, let me try to offer an insight in to the animal’s thoughts. Try and imagine finding yourself all alone in an unfamiliar world, devoid of all that is familiar to you. Unfamiliar place, unfamiliar faces, unfamiliar food, unfamiliar sounds, unfamiliar commands and demands (if you’re lucky enough to be rescued), hell, maybe even an unfamiliar name. Imagine being amongst a different lot of a different species, whose language you don’t understand, who are taking you places and calling you by a name you don’t recognise, but you can’t even tell them who you are. So, in addition to your family, your home and your sense of security, you lose your identity too. Just like that. That, I imagine is the predicament of the poor creature someone has just had enough of.

These animals too, are very much amongst, “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.” There is no excuse for us to inflict such suffering on them.

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I hope the person who left this dog gets to see this and has some sort of epiphany, of how a thoughtless act can destroy someone’s world altogether, humans and animals alike.

While the story of the two dogs who got adopted has a happy ending in sight, once they have settled in to their home and the world starts to make some sense to them again, there are many more, waiting for someone who will recognise their God-given dignity. Someone who will be to them their savior, saint and God. They revere us without judgment asking merely for our love and acceptance. Can’t we find the saint inside of us?