Man vs. beast

Ranjit Lal | Updated on January 22, 2018 Published on September 04, 2015



Humans are benightedly bipolar when it comes to animals in their cities. They love them, they hate them. They feed them, they throw bricks at them. Can we blame the animals for being confused and freaking out?

In kindergarten we’ve all nodded our heads and virtuously chanted, ‘Kutta wafadar jaanwar hain — the dog is a faithful animal’. And then later, we come all undone when our rugged hero (usually in a Hindi film) snarls, ‘die like a dog!’; or, if we’re very sophisticated, read those words from Shakespeare: ‘I’d rather be a dog, and bay the moon, than such a Roman!’

Wacko! When it comes to animals we are benightedly bipolar — and of course, blame the animals when they freak out. Especially when they share space with us in cities. Even though we run them over in their sanctuaries and national parks as well.

Most cities have large populations of stray dogs, roaming the streets, cleaning up garbage and, when they adopt residential colonies (and are treated nicely), serve as security. Problems arise when they run in packs — a privilege granted only to bands of feral young louts lounging about in street corners, parks, outside colleges and schools and ancient monuments, catcalling and leering at (female) prey.

Who said dogs could do that too?

But look at it from the dogs’ point of view. In every city there’ll be a section (usually very small) of the population that will serve them dal-roti, idli-dosa three times a day, take them to the vet for injections and spaying (hey, hey, wait a minute, who really needs that eh?), give them blankets and baskets… basically give them a good (as against a dog’s) life. Just look at all the fat lala dogs strewn about in Delhi’s ‘posh’ Khan Market — they haven’t done a stroke of work in their lives! Just like…

On the other hand there’s the majority, who will stone, kick, and beat them — and proudly put their acts on Facebook. So what’s a good dog gotta do when he or she sees a stranger approach? Is this dude going to bash my brains out with a brick or give me brain curry and rice? Do I wag my tail or go for the jugular? If it’s a dude be prepared for a brick to come flying, if a dudette, probably something to eat — or a shriek. With children, you just can’t say: anything can happen. Better join the pack and run with them; it’s safer.

Yes, terrible things happen sometimes. Dogs have attacked babies left on garbage dumps — truly terrible! Much worse than the fact that some poor benighted mother has dumped (or been forced to dump) her baby in the garbage? What does that say of the human condition? (Which, any dog worth its wag, can alleviate by furiously licking a face and wagging its tail…) Yet, for these and lesser crimes, ‘off with their heads’ we cry, let them die like dogs!

Till recently, even the armed forces quietly ‘put down’ the animals that had served them loyally all their lives: what could be more shameful and unchivalrous than that? We’re not alone in this bipolar behaviour: the ‘advanced’ countries of the West (shining with goodness and light) have quiet policies of ‘euthanasia’: strays are rounded up, kept for a stipulated period and, if no one shows up to claim or adopt them, quietly put down. (In Japan pet dogs can even have their voice boxes removed if they bark too much: nice; if we could only do the same to… naming no names!) Ah, then, but out in the West they’re barbarians and we’re up there on the moral high ground, spouting ‘ahimsa’ to one and all, aren’t we?

Simians in the corridors

Monkeys get different treatment because they have — like most Delhizens claim to have — high-up connections and immunity from prosecution. So in parks and gardens, pious citizens chant ‘aao-aao-aao’ and throw papaya-pomegranate-boondi laddoo-and-banana parties for them — especially on Tuesdays and Saturdays. (I was once brained by a flying banana!) In return the monkeys break and enter, trash fridges, rip off rear-view mirrors on cars, steal and model scandalous underwear in full public view, and gang up and bounce threateningly towards you if denied these privileges. (Beware, their canines are two inches long and have never been cleaned.) In Mathura (of all places) I was warned to take off my spectacles, put away my mobile and wallet, and have my wits about me — as it was a monkey-mugger’s paradise. And yes, all the largesse that is bestowed is not out of love for the beasts — it’s um… bribery for favours with the higher powers. Sweet.

Monkeys live in large groups with clearly demarcated territories and, believe me, you do not want to be caught in the middle when one group decides to invade the territory of another. They attack like the hordes of Genghis Khan. The Northern Ridge, where I walk, is teeming with them (seven groups, according to one researcher’s study) and you have to be very careful not to trip on a monkey’s tail as you walk past, as they’ll sit at the edge of the narrow pathways merging with the rocks, their tails carelessly lying across.

But yes, something must be done about the ‘monkey menace’, so we set a monkey to scare a monkey. And the langurs (the scarers) and the rhesus macaques (the scarees) have worked it out beautifully: When langur dada does his rounds, the rhesus duck. When he’s gone, it’s back to business as usual. These guys are not going to go back into the forests anytime soon… would you — if you were given a Green card and a high-sugar diet?

Apparently, a long time ago there was an attempt to take them back into the wilds by train: the monkeys took the next train back to the city. Perhaps, we need to rigorously practise some of the immigration policies followed by certain countries to deal with this problem.

And now, even leopards are taking to the suburbs and eating our dogs: simply because we’ve built our ‘be-one-with-nature’ multi-storeyed housing developments in their hunting grounds and they see no reason to move out. We build highways or tea gardens or coffee plantations through the ancient migratory routes of elephants and then complain when the pachyderms turn to booze and go berserk. If someone decided to plant rice in your drawing room, how would you react?

Cows, of course, are sacrosanct. And really, they (and bullocks) deserve respect: they sit there sloe-eyed in the middle of the mayhem with yogic calm, meditatively chewing the cud (or is it gutka?), while we screech, judder, and blast our horns, and behave like monkeys-on-crack all around them. No wonder foreigners go gaga over them — it helps lower their blood pressure. We, alas, never seem to get the message: that there’s really no need for apoplexy behind the wheel because the only thing you’re likely to get out of it is a coronary aneurysm or windscreen in your face.

And now they say a parrot has been put behind bars for using foul language — in dulcet-voiced Haryana! I really wonder what the cops making the arrest said to it… ‘Darling haram-saale, ulloo ke paththe, anything you say will be taken down and used as evidence against you, but, chi-chi you really musn’t use such words… achche bachhe aise nahin bolte — good children don’t say such things!’

And then the cuffs were snapped on.

(Ranjit Lal is an author, environmentalist, and birdwatcher)

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Published on September 04, 2015
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