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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?

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When the Sh** Hits the Fan

Let’s go with the American word for it. Poop. It sounds so much better. Everyone does it. Peeing. Vomiting. It’s all perfectly natural but it’s meant to be done in private. And yet, on the streets of Delhi, one sees these activities performed unabashedly in full public view. By humans. When it comes to animals though, we frown upon them doing their business anywhere on our ever-expanding territories.

The other night, I was enjoying the cool, post-rain breeze, walking with my dogs. Our street dog friends escorted us as usual, running ahead and around us, tails a-wagging. We went on our usual route, on to a nice, quiet road in front of the park, a road where most people own and love dogs. A road where the street lights haven’t been working for weeks. As we turned back, I saw one of the street dogs starting to poop in front of someone’s gate. The guard, who had been sitting and chatting with his buddies further down the road, saw the dog at the same time as I did and both of us called out to him to stop. The dog immediately moved away, but he’d already left his visiting card.

The guard immediately turned and asked me, “Do you think it’s right to make a dog do his business in front of someone’s gate?”

“Well, of course not”, I responded, puzzled. It wasn’t my dog who did it. So why do I get the credit, I wondered.

The man continued on his rant. The dogs come with you. Wouldn’t you feel so very upset if a dog pooped outside your house? My feet will get dirty…On and on he went.

I was so annoyed that after dropping my dogs home, I returned to the spot, armed with a roll of toilet paper and a plastic bag, ready to clean up the mess and tell the man what I thought of him.

“I cleaned it. Of course I can’t let you do it”, he said.

“Oh really? Well, you went on telling me about it, so here I am”, I retorted.

Again, he asked, “Do you believe it’s okay to make a dog poop in front of someone’s house”?

Let’s just get something straight here. You can’t make a dog poop anywhere. I’ll never understand why people say that. You can just about stop a dog from pooping in a certain place, but you can’t make them poop at will! Are these people potty or do they really not know jack-shit about dogs?

Here’s the deal, as I told him- People like him may be paid to walk and look after one dog. People like me pay to love and look after all dogs. We feed them so they’re friendly. We sterilize them so they don’t add to the population. We vaccinate them so they’re no threat to anyone. We pick them up and get them treated when they’re left injured and bleeding by some sod doing a 100kmph fly past on crowded, narrow roads. That doesn’t make us accountable for where they do or do not poop. I made one final declaration to the irate guard. I said, leave alone the street dogs, even if his pet dog, walking on a leash, were to poop outside my house someday, no, I wouldn’t be upset. I’d be magnanimous and say it’s a poor animal who doesn’t know any better.

But the whole incident still had me down in the dumps. I thought back to the many, many confrontations I’ve had with aggressive people on the streets, making a big deal about dogs pooping and I couldn’t help but wonder, when we keep on taking over more and more street space, where’s a dog to go?

If you’ve ever walked around any corner in your neighbourhood, you would at some point have been overwhelmed by the stench of urine from a local watering hole. Why is it that people living in posh colonies, with big, fancy houses and bright, shiny cars, can’t spare a toilet for their guards and drivers and what-have-yous to go and take a leak, instead of having them pee on walls?

Once on another night walk with my dog, we were rounding a corner when there was a big rustle in the tree next to us. I shrieked loudly, thinking it was some creepy crawly. Turned out it was just a creepy guard. Poor guy was so alarmed, I fear he might have injured himself as he zipped up and scooted off!

Then there’s that charming Delhi sight of people puking out of a bus window, with all the cars behind them trying to get out of the way of the offending onslaught. Yuck. Or a car door casually opening at a traffic light and some filthy, paan-stained brown spit being spewed on to the road. The smelly bidis. The empty bag of crisps or the plastic drink bottles. The construction materials generously spread out on the road. The big cars lined up on the pavement. All part of our voluntary roadside decoration programme. Why is it then, that when it comes to dogs doing their business, it’s the only time we give a crap?

There’s also the well-traveled camp which vociferously espouses ‘scooping the poop’, something they’ve seen in phoren  countries. I wonder, did they not also see the tremendously efficient efforts to recycle garbage? How come we don’t think of imitating that? What about our poor, ‘holy cows’ and their droppings? May I scoop that up for ya too? While I’m all for scooping, it’s not practical where you’re dodging traffic, there are stray animals on the streets, no garbage bins around and people throw their junk about like they own the whole damn place. In fact, it’s probably thanks to the poop that our streets even get swept. Ask the sweeper and I’m sure he’d say he’s a lot happier sweeping poop than removing animal carcasses when people run them over and leave them on the streets to die.

Unless we develop some civic sense as a community, it’s neither possible nor practical for pet owners to clean up after their dogs.

So, if sometimes you do find dog poop somewhere outside your home, just deal with it. It’s no big shit.