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How my canine taught me equanimity

How my canine taught me equanimity
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First Published: Thu, Jun 04 2009. 08 44 PM IST

Pet theory: Your puppy’s behaviour could mirror your emotions.
Pet theory: Your puppy’s behaviour could mirror your emotions.
Updated: Thu, Jun 04 2009. 08 44 PM IST
My husband wants to name our home “Samatvam”. This Sanskrit word—the closest English translation is equanimity—encompasses much of what he aspires to be. Aspires being the operative word here, because both my husband and I are samatvam- wannabes. We want to project Zen-like calm during crises—which we do, but then end up losing it for the most pedestrian and idiotic of reasons.
Pet theory: Your puppy’s behaviour could mirror your emotions.
Religions advocate several ways of attaining this evenness of mind. Sufi saints such as Rabia Basri used music and poetry to purify and unite themselves with the divine. Islamic theologians such as Al-Ghazali talked about the human yearning for an ideal or primordial state called fitra. Buddhists talk about “Be here now”, and “Zen mind, beginner’s mind” and tapping into our “Buddha nature”. Christianity encourages the passionate pursuit of a path towards the Lord— via gospel, prayer, and doing good works. Hinduism through the Bhagavad Gita advocates equanimity in no uncertain terms. One of the Gita’s most famous verses talks about the adhikarasthe or control that Arjuna has over his duty, not on the results. Yoga, in its simplest and most lofty sense, means samatvam, or equanimity: “Samatva n yoga uchyathe,” as the verse says. To this pantheon of world religions and profound thought, I add my own method of attaining equanimity: Get a puppy.
My puppy, Inji, is a year old and she has a problem. She refuses to leave our apartment complex. Walking on the road terrifies her: Her tail goes between her legs, and she simply sits down in stubborn compliance. There are many reasons for Inji’s anti-walking stance that mostly have to do with me. On one or two memorable occasions, I royally chewed her out on the road because she hadn’t done her business after half an hour of walking. One time, I got so fed up that I dropped her leash in protest. She ran away, banged against a cyclist who fell on top of her and created pandemonium all around. House-training my puppy, like many things in my life, has shown me exactly how inadequate I am.
I called every trainer in Bangalore, spoke to friends who had dogs and even considered calling the director of Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, who was profiled in Lounge (The student who became director, 26 September) sometime back. His name is Samir Kumar Barua and my takeaway from the profile had to do with pets. When asked if he would like to write a book, Barua said he wouldn’t write a management book but rather, a book on how to train your dog. It seemed such an odd comment, which was why I registered it. But that was before I got my pup; now it all makes perfect sense. Senior management is nothing compared to a stubborn puppy.
Friends told me about this guy called the “Dog Whisperer”. Cesar Millan is a Mexican man who has a way with dogs and their problems. He also has his own television show, endorsements and training centre. “Project calm assertive energy,” he says often—and I try to, till my puppy refuses to obey me, at which point I project furious assertive energy. But here is the thing: When I get furious with her, my puppy doesn’t try harder to please me; she simply gives up trying. Unlike my kids, with whom threats and punishments are the only thing that seem to work, consequences have no meaning for this puppy. This is not her innate nature for, normally, all this dog wants is my approval. She greets me at all hours of day or night with an ecstatic body-shaking, tail-wagging welcome. When I am home, she is my shadow. But she doesn’t understand anger. I mean, she can fathom it but doesn’t know how to react to it. She simply lies down and stops.
I called every dog trainer I could find on the Internet. Some were busy and couldn’t help me. Some wanted to see the dog and my house and then quote a rate. Some agreed to train her but used the stick rather than carrot approach. I fired several after two sessions. Finally, I cold-called a guy called Vishwanath who was listed on a doggie forum. Vishwanath wasn’t interested in telling me about his show dogs or breeds. He listened to my problem and talked me through it like a shrink. He gave me a solution that made sense: “Take your dog outside using treats and just sit on the pavement with her near you. She has to feel your body heat. Do this for 15 minutes, then longer. If she starts sniffing or walking, follow her lead. It will take time but she will be fine.”
Let me hire you, I said after half an hour. No point hiring me, Madam. You are her mistress, not me. So you have to train her. Six weeks later, he called back to check if she was better. At which point, I told him that I was a journalist and asked if I could list his phone number so that any pet owners with problems could call him. Sure, he said, without asking which newspaper I wrote for. There was (refreshingly) no mention of fees, only a desire to help. Okay, so I have never met the guy and I could be wrong, but Vishwanath seems like a nice man if you have a pet problem.
After all this, I have come to believe that there is one thing that distinguishes animal lovers from the rest: the belief that animals understand what we say and who we are, not just in the superficial listening-to-orders sense but in the deepest intuitive sense. After several months of getting trained by my puppy, I have gone from sceptic to believer. I think my dog is an excellent mirror of my emotions. When I am calm, she is calm. When I am angry, she is sad. When I am happy, she is happy. And when I am samatvam—as in when I don’t scold her for small lapses such as urinating on my carpet—she blossoms. Her spirit unfurls. Me samatvam; she samatvam. Or is it the reverse?
Inji now walks on the road, as long as someone else is with Shoba Narayan, who remains patient and hopeful. Write to her at thegoodlife@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Jun 04 2009. 08 44 PM IST