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Photo: Hindustan Times
Photo: Hindustan Times

Abandoned pet dogs and other signs of the moral crisis we face

We could choose inaction as humanity is cast aside or fight to uphold the values that we cherish

He wears a raincoat and comes at me bounding, criss-crossing right in front of my legs as I run, till I stop. Then he licks my legs, barking excitedly. After a minute or so, he is satisfied that he has demonstrated enough affection for me, and then allows me to resume running. He accosts me like this once every three-four days on a stretch of my running route around 6.30am. Only once have we met without his raincoat. I have not figured out which house he lives in, nor have I ever seen anyone accompanying him. He is a big dog. Our bond is very recent. I started running that route this year in June and encountered him then. I haven’t seen him perform this marvellous ritual with anyone else, while he seems generally friendly with everyone. Why does he choose to douse me with his love? I don’t know. It’s my luck, I suppose, for the simple of act standing still for a few moments. But then, dogs are like that.

I used to be petrified of dogs in childhood and they seemed to reciprocate the sentiment. As an adult, I made a reluctant and uneasy peace with them. Only in the past few years has their wondrous world of unconditional love and complete loyalty opened up for me. Because I have unlocked a heart that I had kept shut. For a latecomer like me, the telepathic communion of some people with dogs is awe-inspiring. Magic, I have witnessed. A terrified aggressive street dog turned to putty of affection with an uncontrollably wagging tail, just by a gaze and a few gentle words, in the shadows of a beautiful monument in the winter dusk. That requires confidence seeped into one’s very being that dogs are designed for love. And the insight that the species has evolved as a reservoir of loyalty and care for humans in the past 30,000 years. Thomas Mann’s A Man and His Dog is a poignant study of this nature of dogs, as of us.

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In April, with each passing week of the lockdown, the number of dogs on my running route kept increasing. In the vicinity of the first garbage heap I would cross, I started recognizing five new dogs. Two of them had shiny black coats, they also had collars. One day I stopped, they wagged their tails around me, generally acknowledged my presence, and went back to ferreting the heap. One of the black dogs stayed around, wanting more. I patted it and it rolled over in pleasure.

During the day, I stopped my car and asked the shopkeeper nearby about the dogs. He confirmed my suspicion. The two black dogs had been abandoned by their owner. Only after noticing them looking lost, but not leaving the garbage heap for two days, had he recollected seeing through the corner of his eye a car stop at a distance and let them out. The other street dogs had joined later. He then mentioned what I had only read of, that people are afraid dogs could carry the coronavirus infection and are therefore abandoning them.

My running routes around my house add up to about 25km. As April turned to May, there were more and more dogs on these routes. And now, I had an eye for any that seemed abandoned; over these weeks, I saw 6-8 such dogs. Their body build, behaviour and breed, none were like street dogs. By now some good people have taken care of these dogs, finding them homes or safe shelters.

I have not hit anyone ever in my life, from what I can remember, even in my thoughts. But the rage in me would have exploded in a muh-pe-mukka (a box in the face), if I were to catch any of those whom these dogs must have considered their entire world but who still chose to throw them out. To throw out your dog, helpless and loving like your baby, is a depravity for which there should be no redemption.

Last week, I stood outside a one-room house in some city as a colleague of mine asked the woman inside a few questions. She had lost her job as a garment factory worker in April, and she was very confident that covid could not reach her or her family. Because, “We make sure we don’t interact with Muslims and Dalits." She used a pejorative word for both communities. I have heard this refrain over the past four months across the country.

Why should we be surprised that the pandemic is totally out of control in our country? Our abysmal healthcare system, exacerbated by poverty and inequity, is laced with our prejudices, delusions and preposterous notions. Such as, “This is a disease of Dalits and Muslims." Such as, “All is well." Such as, “Throwing out your dog can save you." The result is what we have a scourge tearing through the entire body of our nation.

But this pandemic is an unchecked inferno because it is merely a symptom of a deep malaise in the soul of our nation. Throwing out your dog and scapegoating Dalits and Muslims are as emblematic of our moment of epochal blight as the disrobing of Draupadi in another age.

Like my hero Karna, we face an epochal choice. We can choose inaction as humanity and morality are disrobed at their core and in all their manifestations. Or we can throw ourselves into the same fight that Yugandhar did, that Gautama did, that Gandhi did, that millions have done, to uphold the world that we cherish.

Else, like with my hero Karna, a lifetime of righteousness and of heroism will not be able to redeem us.

Anurag Behar is CEO of Azim Premji Foundation and also leads sustainability initiatives for Wipro Ltd.

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