I am very fond of animals in general. I always believe that animals are better company than human beings are. I am a volunteer for the World Wildlife Fund and Blue Cross (an animal shelter home and welfare organization in the state I live in). I used to visit the shelter home and bathe, powder, and feed animals on weekends.
Can I consider myself an animal lover?
Years ago, we had a dog. It was of a palm’s size when we brought it, and a year and a half old, standing on the hind legs almost as tall as me when it died. We cried, all of us. My dad got his pictures framed and laminated and hang on the walls and placed on the table in the drawing room.
I remember thinking of it all of a sudden and crying, for more than a year after it died.
Just before it died, it became very weak, unable to eat or walk. The veterinary doctor we took it to was of no use — of course, no one charges a veterinary doctor for the death of a pet. Easy escape, reduced sense of responsibility.
So it died. When I would go to place the food next to it, the weak animal tried to get up, with a trembling body and a trembling voice which perhaps wanted to convey the pain it was going through. And I would get scared, looking at its unusual behavior, fearing it had gone mad. We always think for ourselves first, don’t we? That is why fears come to us naturally before our concerns for others.
As the head of the house, dad locked it up in the garage, so that it doesn’t hurt anyone, or the other dogs won’t hurt it. When it died, we noticed the marks on the wooden door of the garage, made by desperate scratching with the nails.
As I write this, I realize, most of the pains that we carry throughout our lives are born of a feeling of guilt.
A guilt for something from the irreversible past.
At home, we never talk about it. About the incident, yes. But about the feelings, no. For some reason, is it always difficult to talk about our feelings. To talk about feelings, to show emotions, to wear the heart on the sleeves — we, the humans.
After a gap of some months, my parents welcomed another dog home. It was not brought home like the previous one, but it was a normal dog that somehow found our home. And my parents allowed it enter the house. They started providing food, a bed, and warm clothes to it. Why we have this habit of going back to things that have caused us pain, I wonder. Someday, this dog was going to die too, and we would cry again, if we allow it to enter our hearts — this was my concern. So I remained indifferent to it, and my living in a different city made that easier.
Could my parents never fathom this simple fact that our love for something or someone plays no part in keeping that something or someone alive? Time has its own rules, and has got little to do with our emotions.
Or, is it human helplessness to keep going back to the love, though pain is an inevitable bargain for it?
Anyways, this new dog found its way easily through the path paved by the previous one, and died just when the frequent pictures sent by my sister was about to change my mind about it. I got the news, about the death and the mourning. And thought, this would be the end of it — of inviting sufferings.
Turns out, life never goes the way you expect it to. After years of accumulated experiences, I have discovered this theory: whatever you fear or avoid, life will invariably bring you face to face with it. Perhaps the prime purpose of life is to open our minds to accept — accept everything, accept everyone. Accept our nothingness in the predefined course of the universe.
So I did not have to mourn the death of this second dog, but had to face another shock very soon.
Soon after this dog was dead, sister broke the news of the arrival of a new member to our family. A cat. “A cat?” — I was equally surprised and apprehensive — I do not like gown-up cats. As far as I remember, none of our family ever liked cats and we always had this feeling that cats are evil. I mean, look at their eyes — challenging, mischievous, hard. And in our culture we have this traditional belief of cats never being faithful to their masters, always wishing ill for the owner.
Sharing the same thought till now, how my parents could let a cat stay in the house! I reminded my sister about all the hostile beliefs that go around as traditional beliefs. I tried, in all the ways I could think of, to persuade them to chase the cat off the house, though in vain. The parents and youngest sister found out ways in which this cat ‘behaved’ like the previous dog — a reason more powerful to keep it than to chase it away for the traditional beliefs.
I was scared. There is no scarcity of ill-wishing opportunists in the human world now to get an additional ill-wishing animal home. And the more they started liking the cat, the more I started to get the feeling that it was the evil ways of the cat that had overpowered their minds.
Sounds funny and shameful for a 21st century person working in one of the top MNCs in the world? For someone whose day starts and ends between touchscreen gadgets, GPS navigation, cashless payments. I know! Ohh fear — the strongest of human emotions! Fear, of which our actions, thoughts, words arise.
I did not stop trying to convince them. And then, when I was convinced that I will have to accept the everyday fear and agony of this little existence till it does not die, sister messaged saying it died.
What a relief! Ideally, this should have made my head lighter and the heart free. But I realized that nothing of this sort happened. The moment this baggage of fear was lifted, a thought visited my mind that perhaps it was my hatred that killed this animal — I was constantly wishing that it should die! And for some unknown reason, this thought took the just-emptied space in the mind with equal weightage.
My sister had put up the picture of this cat as the profile picture of our siblings’ chat group. This time, I said nothing, knowing that images and lives can be omitted — guilt cannot be.