No Takes

No Takes

“No take” comes the voice from below and the pedantic me cringes. “No take,” he  repeats, sometimes sternly, sometimes gently but always in a calm authoritative voice. Before I confuse you further, let me begin at the beginning. My friends had gifted me a Cocker Spaniel on my birthday. It hadn’t required too much guess work. They knew that I wanted to adopt a pup ever since my Lhasa apso walked away. In the intervening five years, I had mourned him and missed him but couldn’t get myself to replace him.  I constantly talked about it but was reluctant to take the plunge and risk another heart break. In any case, there never seemed to be a right time to do it. There was always something significant looming in the horizon, something that demanded my attention more than a wagging tail.

F38AC9EC-654C-4989-9909-0F1F37AA7674So my friends took the matter in their hands and did the deciding. They had heard me debate endlessly whether  Lhasas scored over   Cocker Spaniels. The latter known for their optimism, intelligence and adaptability are considered extremely loyal and affectionate and rank  18th in Stanley Coren’s canine intelligence scale. The  Lhasa’s position is a dismal 68 and is manipulative and moody, but can kill with its cute looks and adorable ‘puppy’ eyes.  They chose brains over beauty and Amigo scurried into my life.  The breed is claimed to understand new instructions with 5-15 repetitions and obey the first command 85%  of the times.  Perhaps the statistics are inaccurate because Amigo failed to live up to these high standards.  He wouldn’t take no for an answer, nipped and bit ankles, chewed furniture and pee’ed and poo’ed all over the place. Frustrated, I decided to seek professional help and engaged a trainer. 

The trainer is an earnest young boy who my dog adores, although part of the lesson is keeping him on the leash for increasing intervals of time, something Amigo vehemently detests. I sometimes watch the two from my balcony. The trainer keeps a favourite chew stick on the ground and teaches  him to not take it until permitted. For the first few days Amigo strained against the leash and gobbled it up in a flash. Slowly he learnt to sit and wait till he was asked to dig in. But the class wasn’t over. When inquired,  the trainer pointed at his tense ‘ ready to pounce’  stance and said it wasn’t acceptable. The next lesson was to make him disinterested in something which was not his. After a fortnight the trainer was dangling the treat right above Amigo’s nose and expecting him  to look away.

Bored by the monotony of the lessons and the slow progress, one day I asked the trainer if this was the only thing on my dog’s syllabus, the only command he would teach. I hinted at more fun tricks like playing dead or rolling over. And the trainer said, “ Ye aa gaya toh  sab aa jayega.” ( If he masters this, he will learn everything else.”) So simple, yet so profound. If we apply this to the human race, the world would be a better place. If we could teach our progeny self restraint, the rest would follow. If they could control greed and stay focused amid enticements, they could live meaningful lives. 

Sadly, we teach them the exact opposite, with our words and deeds. We teach them to grab what they can, to focus on the result, whatever be the means. Between ‘ dummy’ schools, tennis lessons,  coaching classes and fake philanthropic projects, they learn ‘ to take ‘, without thought or consideration of what is right. Is it surprising then, that we are what we are? And since  politicians are our representatives, isn’t it natural that they are the opportunists that they are? How can we expect them to behave differently, when they are a product of our society, with  much more scope for corruption.

Someday Amigo will become a dog of good moral values albeit poor English. Meanwhile, as the polling date approaches and heated debates about the right candidate do the rounds, my mind is made up.  I will gladly give my vote to anyone who has been trained to “ No take.” Any takers?

( published in my column in the Tribune on 11/5/2019)

Fringe Elements

Fringe Elements

As I return to my column after a longish break,  desperately  hoping that I was missed, I am numbed by a recent happening and intrigued by the coincidence. I had last written on how we Indians live precariously. Now I am compelled to write this one about falling off the edge. It seems, if you live on the fringe, falling through the gap is inevitable.

88514677-7A97-461D-9D7F-65C4658EFD01He was  still practicing paediatrics at the age of eighty one, mostly for charity. He was a published writer and had authored many books. His last one Amrit Kalash about practical tips on infant care and breast feeding, was just out. When he had visited a week before the incident he was  busy making copious notes for his next book. He had mellowed a little but still lived up to his moniker ‘Garam Chacha’,  a name I had given him as a child and that had stuck because of his temperament. He hadn’t lost his firm, somewhat opinionated voice and his dry sense of humour. After dinner at our place he told me that though the kadhi I had made was nice he would have to teach me how to make spongy pakoras with holes on the surface.

On his journey back home he slipped while getting on the train and was caught between the platform and the train. His right leg got crushed before the chain could be pulled and the train stopped. He lay bleeding on the platform, writhing in pain while his  gynaecologist wife who was traveling with him tried to do what she could. There was no first aid box, no splint to support his leg and no way to start an infusion. After waiting for the ambulance  in vain, he was  shifted to the district hospital in a three wheeler, the only available vehicle that could accommodate a stretcher. Further delay was caused by  the numerous rallies and religious processions slowing traffic on the way. The district hospital  wasn’t equipped to deal with the emergency so he was taken to the military hospital. Valuable time was lost  on the  logistics of this transfer. By the time he reached a centre where something could be done nothing could be done. He bled to death, all the while offering suggestions on ways he could be saved. 

This lack of basic medical amenities could have been forgiven had this happened in one of those villages or small hamlets that dot rural India, but this occurred in a district, a place of great religious importance. As we gear up for elections and are surrounded by promises of bigger hospitals with more sophisticated equipment, we should probably just  ask for basic medical services, not on paper, but in place! Services that are readily available when needed. 

Meanwhile like all average Indians, the family has made peace with the situation. To the extent of saying that he was fortunate to have died in the holy city,  where people camp for years seeking deliverance. That the pain and agony he suffered in the last hours of his life would rid him of any past sins and ensure salvation. While I don’t fully buy that theory I do agree that he had lived a full and fruitful life. But this fact  doesn’t reduce the despair or excuse the mismanagement.  He had so much life left in him, so many dreams for the future, so many unfinished poems and untold stories. He shouldn’t have died, and in any case, not the way he did.  It will always hurt me that a person who spent his entire life treating others and fathered three doctors, one a neurosurgeon in the army, died for want of basic medical care. 

Why am I writing about this, because although he was my chacha  he could very well have been yours. 

( published in my column in the Tribune on 27/4/19)

Recipe for disaster

Recipe for disaster

Standing in a sea of pink,  I calculated the chances and hurriedly went over the check list. I was waiting to run (  walk ! ) for  ten km and mentally preparing myself, not to ace the race but to survive a stampede. Pinkathalon was a  state sponsored mini marathon to celebrate International Women’s Day. Like all such events which are used to show political clout,  despite  the use of much government machinery, it was a chaotic affair.

12D3DD8E-8BF6-4AD4-893C-9189B7E5895CClearly the event, being the first of its kind in the region, had caught the imagination of the public . The media hype and publicity had worked. Roping in schools and NGOs further ensured a good turnout. And now they were all there, waiting. I am not sure whether all  thirty five thousand who registered had turned up but there were enough for the dreaded human rush and crush.

My cautious, cynical mind evaluated the situation and tried to identify exits in case things turned ugly. Both sides of the road were blocked with flex posters which could be torn down if necessary but were a hinderance nonetheless. To worsen things, there was a choke point ahead. The road was partially blocked by a high stage to create a gate from which the chief guest was to address the gathering and flag off the race. I shuddered at the thought of the crowd pushing and shoving through the gateway when the race started. Dreading the worst I tried to turn back but it was impossible to move against the  forward  surge. With no other option I  decided to go with the flow and  looked around  distractedly.

The  enthusiasm and joy was palpable. Laughter was everywhere, as was pink, an integral part of everyone’s attire. The mood was upbeat as females of all ages sang along with the singers and shouted patriotic slogans. They enthusiastically waved to the photographers on the ground and the drones flying above. Packed like sardines, some were even doing the warm up exercises being demonstrated as a prelude to the run. Most were busy posing for selfies. Happy women, trusting women, unsuspecting women! Without a clue of the danger they were in……

As the sun heated up, the crowd expanded and started jostling, the impatience slowly mounting, ticking like a time bomb. Fainting from the heat causing a dominos effect of ‘fallen’ women seemed inevitable. “Isn’t swooning integral to ladies?” I wondered. On top of it,  very few were carrying water as it was to be provided by the organisers further up the road. That is if they made it that far.  My chain of morbid thoughts was broken by the arrival of the chief minister who spoke briefly and flagged off the race. We were effortlessly carried in the human tide for the first few hundred yards. I got separated from my friends and it was difficult to locate them in the ensuing mayhem. So our plan of completing the marathon together was dashed.  Mildly put, it was a badly managed event, but it could have been much worse. 

Luckily  by Indian standards the chief guest came on time, and chose to be concise. 

Luckily no one slipped, tripped or fainted during the rush.

Luckily tempers didn’t rise with the temperature and there was no pushing and shoving.

Luckily no one stopped to pick up a fallen phone, tie a shoelace, adjust  a Dupatta.

Luckily no one’s garment got tangled or caught, choking the wearer in the chaos.

Luckily nothing went wrong, not too wrong that is…..

Perhaps due to the collective past Karma of all the ‘herded’ women we survived unscathed.

In the end  it turned out to be an ordinary day in India, another day of living on the edge and  fighting the odds.  

A recurring thought has been bothering me since. In our country, so much  luck is needed to survive an average day.  Is that why we  keep running out of it?

( published in my column in the Tribune on 16/3/19)

Women’s Day Special

Women’s Day Special

63B266F0-1AF9-471F-900D-D8D38B7631C2I take great pride in my daughter’s confident strut, her head held high, ready to express her views, striving to be seen and heard. My grandmother, on the other hand, spent most of her life bent over. She was trained  to walk with her eyes downcast, aiming to melt into the scenery, never to be seen or heard. So yes, over generations, there has been a definite change in the way women perceive themselves. 

It is also true that the patriarchal mindset has not changed so much and till society accepts intelligent, well informed women as an asset, being an assertive, opinionated female will always be a struggle. Still  the rise of women power despite this adversity is worth celebrating. They maybe few but they are on the rise, this breed of women with wind in their hair and dreams in their eyes.

With due apologies to Sh Jaishankar Prasad my message (to myself !) and others of my kind is “ Naari tum kewal shraddha nahin ho, Manav ho is adhbhut dharti par. Harpal jee bhar jiya karo, samtal mein, asamtal mein. “

( Carried as a part of a special feature in The HT on 8/3/2019)

Virtually Speaking

Virtually Speaking

Jab we met, it didn’t seem like it was for the first time. She said that I was exactly the way she had imagined, I felt likewise. She is a prolific writer based in U.S.A who prefers Hindi medium. I am comfortable writing in English though I reside in apna desh. We had been following each other on social media. Facebook categorises her as a friend of a friend, actually she is my cousin’s classmate from school. As we had a heart to heart chat I silently thanked Mark Zuckerberg for another ‘life enriching’ gift.

474A1473-D0C5-4356-A9D6-11EA0E5E52BCLet’s face it, Facebook and other social networking sites receive a lot of flak for disrupting lives, disturbing focus and wasting time. Most of these critics are parents who try to keep their kids away from it although they might be quite active themselves.

I disagree with this view because I have a lot to thank it for. To put it simply, you are reading this because of Facebook.  I always found the question,” What’s on your mind? “ intriguing. And one day, almost a decade back, I gave in. When Mark Z. asked me I unburdened myself and unleashed some thoughts.  It started with a single line, a stray comment. I was bowled over by the almost instantaneous response I got. Slowly, with increasing confidence, the frequency and size of my posts increased till with constant encouragement I wrote a full length article. On the suggestion of a friend I sent it to the Tribune where it was published as a middle. That was the beginning, four years and more than hundred published pieces later, the role of social media in my life,  fills me with gratitude.

Apart from helping find the writer in me, I find it to be a wonderful platform to meet like minded people, exchange views and seek opinions. This is specially important for people like me who live on the fringe of civilisation, where lucid adult conversation is a rarity.  Besides meeting new people it is also a great way to stay connected to old acquaintances. Before the advent of social media, school and college buddies would slowly fade away, everyone busy with the business of living. Now it is easy to chat virtually to plan a  real meeting.

I agree, the need to show everyone what you have seen and tell everyone that you are living a good life does reek of exhibitionism, but look at the plus side. Check anyone’s pictures ( including mine!) over the years and you will notice  a certain improvement in the appearance, the attire and the attitude. If social media makes us take better care of ourself so that our profile picture looks more presentable, then I think it’s a good thing. I, for one feel younger courtesy these social networking sites, and admit it, so do you!

So youngsters ( if any of you read this ) you have a big supporter in me. But my support comes with a caveat. Don’t let these sites dictate their terms and conditions. You should never love something so much that it takes over you. You should love it enough so that you can never be controlled. It should be your strength not your weakness. As my dad would wisely say, “ Everything in moderation.” Or in my son’s words,” Be your own boss.”

( published in my column in the Tribune on 16/2/2019)


Smart City

Smart City

D084D689-5D83-4CC8-B418-B53A371FF1A3It was the recurring theme of my thoughts “ Unki kameez hum se safed kaise.” The Sun was brighter, the sky clearer, the water blue-er and the land was cleaner. As I inhaled lungs full of unpolluted air, I wondered where we had gone wrong. Weren’t we the agrarians and they an industrial nation. They a consumerist society, we the wise minimalists with ‘reduce and reuse’ ingrained in our being, even if recycling was an alien concept. Weren’t we the cradle of civilised society? Didn’t we teach the world about town planning and civic amenities through the Indus Valley civilisation?

Well, it seems that while we were gloating over our glorious past, they were working towards a better future. They have developed while we continue to claim that we are developing. They woke up while we slept on. More importantly they woke up as a nation, which means not just the policy makers and law enforcers but the common citizen. So every resident feels the need to do his bit to promote cleanliness and prevent pollution, whether it is segregating garbage or dutifully picking up after their dog.

Back home  the change is  noticeable. Some dismiss it as  pre-election propaganda, a last ditch effort to catch the voters attention. Some call it  a partially fulfilled promise. The promise of a smart city. Whatever be the reason, the effort is visible and welcome. Using the flyovers as a giant canvas, social messages and graphics have been painted, to inform and adorn. Roads have been widened. Berms have been cleared of weeds and dirt which will hopefully prevent water stagnation and surface damage. Trolleys ( yes trolleys!) full of garbage have been removed from the green belts. Flower baskets hang from electricity poles. Trees and perennials have been planted. Traffic lights work. Garbage is collected door to door. The state in a working state  is visible everywhere. 

Sadly, the work of the average citizen is visible too. One day the roadside is garbage free and the next day it is strewn with rubbish filled polythene bags, carelessly chucked from a moving car. One day a signboard is hung, the next day it is plastered with the poster of a self acclaimed leader smiling with fake benevolence. One day a fence is  put up to seal the highway, the next day it is broken down for a shortcut across the road. The list is endless, covers removed from manholes, flower pots stolen, cycles borrowed from the government stands but never returned, roads blocked to put up tents, cars  parked with no consideration, marriage and religious processions stopping traffic,  loudspeakers blaring into the night, domestic animals abandoned on the roads. 

Is it because we are too many or is it because we are too poor? I believe it’s neither. We are the way we are because we have the ability to justify our wrong actions . The common excuse of litterers is that since everyone else is trashing public spaces, what difference can one person make. We are as, Amartya Sen rightly says, the Argumentative Indian, ready to rationalise anything. 

Which  makes me wonder can a city become smart if it’s citizens refuse to be?

( published in my column in The Tribune on 2/2/10)

Trust Issues

Trust Issues

6EC47219-7C5E-46D3-A1C5-2635DB2E82AAAbout two decades ago, I was on the way to my sister’s grihapravesh  (house warming). Logistics forced me to get off the car on the highway and take a rickshaw to her house. The colony was new with very few constructed houses. I had been there many before but always by car. With the rickshaw moving slower,  my orientation of time and space got affected and I took a much earlier turn. A couple of more wrong turns and I  ended up near some deserted fields in the dead of night. It was late and there was no one on the road to guide me. To add to my misery I was wearing a lot of jewellery, some of which was fake. As the rickshaw puller rode on,  repeatedly asking if I could recognise any landmark, a sense of doom engulfed me. What if he robs or kills me ? We continued deeper into the desolation and then he got off the rickshaw. I panicked and wondered if this was the moment I should hand him over my jewellery or at least hint that all of it is not real. Before I could make the ‘offering’ the rickshaw-wala said, “ Madam aise nahin ho paayega mein aapko phir se main road pe chalta hoon, wahan se modh pehchan lena.” ( Madam, I will take you back to the main road. You will be able to recognise the turn from there). So he took me back, I located the right turn and reached my destination. The promised fare was five rupees  but I handed him a  fifty and asked him to keep the change. He told me that it was a fifty rupees note not ten, the amount he expected. I told him I knew and walked away. It was a small price to pay for a lesson in trust. A lesson which I recently realised, I hadn’t learnt too well.

And now the incident that triggered this memory. Having taken to the roads six months ago, I am still a greenhorn when it comes to driving. I manage to get by most of the times. But was recently caught in a tight spot when I tried to make a rather tight U-turn. Midway I realised that I won’t be able to do it in a single swoosh. As I struggled to reverse, traffic began to build up on what I always thought was an empty road. I grew more flustered with every impatient honk and derisive look. That is when I noticed a young boy on a motorcycle, about  twenty five years old, trying to help me with hand gestures. Moments later, with my car still stuck at an impossible angle, I stepped out and asked the boy to do it for me. He obligingly parked his bike on the roadside and got in. He first moved the car out of the way so that vehicles could pass and then asked me which way I intended to go. I told him, he nodded and then sped away, faster and further then I thought necessary. For a  moment I thought he was driving off with my car. I felt like an idiot for handing it over to a complete stranger. My  purse and mobile were on the front seat. As I tried to figure out my next move, he made an U- turn and brought the car back. He smiled and quipped that my left wing mirror needed to be repositioned. Still shaken from the experience I told him that I had doubted him,  then lamely added that he did look trustworthy though. He smiled again and said that  he had taken the car further down the road to avoid the parked vehicles which were obstructing the manoeuvre. He must have sensed my remorse because, to make me feel better he said, “ It’s not your fault, we live in such dangerous times.” 

And my only thought was, “How little we trust…..”

(Carried as a Spice of life in HT on 29/1/2019)


Bad Weather

Bad Weather

F06D16B4-30BD-4DB0-B20B-EC0EED362DC4It was to be the perfect culmination of my whirlwind tour of the west coast. The week that had followed this hectic fortnight was relatively sedate with me spending time at my son’s home in San Jose, cooking, cleaning and doing other ‘mummy things’. But I had kept the spirit of adventure alive, ventured into the unknown. Booked an Uber and after two failed attempts  managed to locate it simultaneously on the screen and the street ( it requires a certain degree of divergent squint!). Revealed my credit card details on the World Wide Web to book movie tickets. Wandered around Mountain View and found my way back using Google maps. Spent a day exploring San Francisco on my own, using public transport, mingling with the locals. Ordinary activities for others  but quite a feat for someone like me who is technically challenged and has little sense of direction.

I had planned to end my American holiday with a final act of daredevilry. A free fall from the sky, hurtling towards the earth at 200-250 kmph, feeling weightless and free. I was scared but determined. Skydiving has always been on my to do list, much before it made it to  my bucket list, things I wanted to do before I die. And now with me edging towards sixty I thought it was time. 

I woke up to a sunny, bright morning but by the time we took the hour long drive to the airport clouds had started to gather. As we went through the formalities of the jump it began to drizzle. We were instructed to wait till the weather cleared. An hour later we were the only ones on the tarmac as other skydivers gradually left. Finally the manager informed us that the activity had been canceled for the day. I was hugely disappointed, but truth be told, secretly relieved too. Seeing the grey skies and my blue mood my son took me to a movie in  ‘ one of it’s kind’ dome theatre instead. Excellence falls short to describe the surreal experience of being surrounded by the ocean and its inhabitants.

The next day was earmarked to celebrate the grandeur of the Golden Gate Bridge by walking across it. A plan that was dashed by the continuous rain. As I was moping over two days of bad weather and ruined plans my son walked out of his room. On an impulse I asked him if he wanted to eat Bread Pakoras for breakfast, his favourite since childhood. He couldn’t help drooling, as he quickly called over friends. It was cute that a generation that starts its Sunday after mid day was ready for breakfast at ten. So the day started with listening to their banter amid satisfactory grunts and ended with us cozily watching an Oscar nominated movie on my son’s newly acquired television. A perfect day indeed.

In the run up to my fifty sixth round of the Sun I realised that there is nothing like bad weather or a bad day. Each day is perfect. It might not be perfect for what you planned, but  it is still apt for some thing else. A day which was to be spent looking down at the earth bolting from the sky was spent gazing up at the ocean in a superbly crafted movie. And a day I had planned to brave the cold and wind of frigid San Francisco, walking across the Golden Gate Bridge was spent gorging on pakodas and sipping hot masala tea, feeling blessed that my son had a home away from home.

( carried in my column in the Tribune on 19/1/2019)


In Queue

In Queue

859A0C02-A5D6-4162-AB5A-234AB1BE3AD7We were in queue, me and my daughter. It was cold and it was getting dark.  We had missed out on the express passes which would have entitled us to jump the line, so there I was, with an estimated waiting time of two hundred minutes and a daughter who said she couldn’t leave without taking the ride. She has  been a Harry Potter fan since childhood and although she is now past thirty,  she is still my child.

We were getting colder and more tired with each passing minute. My phone battery had died and the option of remaining secluded in my bubble died with it. I could no longer avail the boon of technology which would have helped me stay connected to places where I was not, so that I could escape  being ‘present’ in the place I was. With no alternatives and thinning patience I looked around to see if others felt likewise. Surprisingly, everyone else seemed quite content waiting.  There were children reined in by their parents,  people carrying small kids, shopping bags and backpacks. Some were tired enough to occasionally sit on the ground. But no one was complaining or grudging the delay. No one tried to jump the queue. People let the few who did, amicably pass, understanding that there must be a valid reason for the hurry. 

Instead of getting impatient, people accepted the situation and were making the most of the time they had. Most were busy on their phones, messaging, talking or watching videos. But a few had broken free from electronic media. There  were families playing word games, a father daughter duo practicing the salsa, a couple indulging in some very public display of affection. A child behind me complained that it was taking too long and her father explained that it seemed that everyone liked the ride as much as she did.

There were metal bars to demarcate the rows but at regular intervals these were replaced by chains for easy evacuation in case of emergency. These chains were attached by magnets and fell if someone leaned against them. People would hang them back without trying to crossover to the other side. There was no one to monitor our behaviour, to restrain people from pushing, jostling and jumping the queue. In fact we came across only two employees in the entire time and their purpose was to give directions to the lockers. It was intriguing, the honesty, the fair play, the patience!

I started noticing that Americans are attuned to waiting. It’s seen everywhere, even on the roads where motorists let pedestrians pass. They patiently wait for their turn to pay bills, use the toilet, board the bus. There is an unwritten understanding that no one will cut into the gap ahead of them so people keep a comfortable distance. Personal space is paramount and respected. I could not help comparing it to my own country where if, there is ever a line it disintegrates the moment the gates open, the train arrives, the buffet is laid. 

Americans seem to be in no hurry and still manage to be punctual. We Indians rush around yet are always late. Maybe the system has shaped us thus. We have learnt to get the job done hurriedly, by hook or crook.  Jumping the queue is in our blood. We can’t line up or wait. I apologise, that was an overstatement. We are capable but we reserve such decent social behaviour for our foreign jaunts. We can’t wait in line in our native land but don’t mind doing so on foreign soil. Which brings up the question, isn’t it strange that we can’t follow the rules we made for ourselves but have no problem in following someone else’s rules?

( carried in my column in the Tribune on 5/1/19)


Holy Cow

Holy Cow

I was visiting a friend who had suffered an accident. He had been riding his scooter on a dimly lit road when he bumped into a black bovine sitting in its middle. The impact tossed him into the air but mercifully he escaped with just a few fractured ribs. As I congratulated him for not breaking his neck, his wife interjected, “Bhagwan ka shukr hai, gaai bach gayee, varna hamara kya hota.” I would have laughed, if her statement hadn’t made me cry. With a rise in cases of cow vigilantism related violence, it was too close to reality to be dismissed as a joke.

C2608B4F-3C46-4153-9857-FEBEB6255852Before venturing further, a disclaimer. I am not a beef eater. I am not even a beefeater drinker. I value a cow’s life, just as much as I value any other ‘ jeev’s’ life. Also, like most of us I place human life above all other forms of life.  I do disagree with one popular point of view though. When people claim that by equating the cow and mother they elevate its stature I feel they extend no such favour. The status of the cow remains unaltered and sadly, it demeans the mother. For which self respecting Indian would leave his ma on the road to rummage through garbage and choke on polythene.

Once I was a part of a conducted sightseeing tour in the capital. There were some European tourists on the bus. As  we made a turn on a busy intersection they spotted some cows on the road and called each other to see the spectacle, something they had never witnessed before.  They excitedly clicked pictures and made videos, preserved the scene for posterity. I was intrigued by how something so ordinary could interest them and so I asked why. “It’s amazing how you share your roads with animals.” quipped one of them visibly impressed .

The truth is that we share because we have no choice. As I drive down the road nowadays I notice what my friend said a while ago. An owner of two dogs and an astute observer  of animal behaviour  she commented, “Have you noticed a change in cow demeanour? They are much more self assured, more confident. Earlier if they saw a vehicle coming they would move to the side of the road. Now they just stand and stare. They are so sure that no one would dare harm them.” While the assertive bovine behaviour is a reality, the sad hungry eyes, shrunken stomach and the dwindling gait is a reality too.

I am in no way in favour of cow slaughter but I doubt if banning it is enough? The act of abandoning these animals on the streets by poor cattle rearers  is an act of desperation and prudence. It is unfair to expect them to  house and feed unproductive animals to preserve our religion. If there was a monetary incentive ( however small) to deposit them in gau-shalas probably cows would not be roaming on the streets. Whether this would be in the cow’s welfare is debatable. Cow deaths in gau shalas due to neglect are too frequent to dismiss. In the end, until the state is willing to bear the burden of keeping a non productive animal alive and healthy, nothing will improve their plight, not even the distinguished title of gau mata. 

Death with dignity versus a life of starvation and destitution. To kill them instantly versus letting them die slowly but surely.  A difficult choice. I wouldn’t want either for my mother…..would you?

( published in my column in the Tribune on 22/12/18)