I have been a loyal reader of the magazine Al Jadid, published from Los Angeles. It is an excellent resource for Arabian culture, literature and politics. Last year the editor of the magazine, Elie Chalala, wrote about the heartless massacre of Syria’s own people by Bashar al-Asaad’s Army in Syria.
Though this is a globally known fact, these men didn’t just massacre humans; in an incident at a village they killed 13 donkeys with their Kalashnikovs. They even went to the extent of filming this killing on their mobile phones.
This incident cannot be seen simply as “cruelty to animals”. Mr Chalala calls this the “culture of death” and mentions an Arabian adage that goes “min hamirouhum tarifounehum” which means “their characters can be recognised from the way they treat their donkeys”. Donkeys have always occupied an important place in human history. Way before we made BMWs and Mercedes-Benz, donkeys helped man with transport. In ancient Egypt they were even worshipped. The current situation, however, is very different. Donkey, one of man’s best companions, is now simply a swear word in many cultures.
Mr Asaad’s thugs slaughtered those donkeys like it was a ritual, a part of a festival. There was so much celebration and cheering, it seems like a scene out of a movie. It reminded me of the Nazi concentration camp footage.
Every culture has its own eating habits. For some, consuming beef is a feast-like celebration; it is no sin. Yet, it seems, that we can sometimes be more concerned about others’ feelings. People do not smoke in the presence of a Sikh. That is respecting the religious sentiments of a Sikh. Why can’t we do the same when it comes to the cow? Most Indians refer to the cow as “Gomata”. A house that has a drumstick tree and a cow need not worry about feeding itself, goes an old Tamil proverb. As for me, I am most grateful to the cow. My mother was able to educate me by selling varattis: cow dung that was flattened and dried. Even today, the practice of using cow dung mixed with water to swab the floor continues in villages. When one falls sick, s/he is given a glass of cow’s urine to drink on an empty stomach in the morning.
Even better than this is the consumption of cow’s urine in the form of ark. Ark is made by distilling the early morning urine of a country cow. A daily dose of ark, 30 ml mixed with 100 ml of water, has been found to prevent cancer.
The street on which I live, there is this watchman. His employers live abroad, so he does not have a lot of work in the bungalow. He helps me with chores around the house. It’s extra income for him; fewer chores for me. Cupid struck and he fell in love with a maid servant who works on the same street. The two made the bungalow their love territory. They were both married to different people. But were both separated from their spouses. A lady who lived on the same street decided to put an end to their love story saying, “It is unethical for two married people to be having an affair; If you really want this to continue, divorce your spouses, and until you do that, you need not work for me,” she said. And so all his chores were dumped on me. (Yes, the lady was none other than my wife!)
Even though she had sent the watchman away, my wife couldn’t bear to see something immoral happen right in front of her eyes. She called for the watchman, told him a variety of moral stories to change his mind and to instil morals in him. The watchman fell at her feet and called her his mother. Had this stopped there I wouldn’t have written about this incident. “Let this be your companion,” she said and gave him a kitten we had found on the compound wall, abandoned by its mother. He was given Rs 15 per day to feed the kitten and it was named Chintoo. All of a sudden the watchman began his debauchery again with the maid servant. My wife, on seeing this, cursed him saying, “You will never change!” and chased him away.
The next day, Chintoo, who had somehow escaped the watchman’s guard, entered the compound; my pet dog Zorro (a great dane) caught it and killed it. It was horrible that this murder happened in front of my eyes. I couldn’t control Zorro who has grown as huge as a pony. Zorro, who usually freezes on hearing my calls, paid no heed to my cries that day. I can’t ever forget how a tiny kitten died in my hands.
“Why did you let Chintoo go out of your custody?” I asked the watchman. “Amma scolded me, and I forgot to get money from her to feed it. It must have wandered in, in search of food,” he said casually.
Morality just took its sacrifice: a life.
PS: I find living with animals easier than living with humans. So my house resembles a zoo. Dogs, cats, a guinea pig, birds and a monkey that dwells on the mango tree in the garden — not to mention an aquarium too, with a fish called Flowerhorn. This list doesn’t include cockroaches, centipedes and other crawlers that live in my house without my permission. Even though I live with the animalkind, I go walking in the mornings, in a park nearby, to meet species of the human kind. One day, a beautiful young lady walked facing me, her arms spread out horizontally, like birds spread their wings, her fingers pointing to the sky. Assuming that this was an ideal yoga posture, I spread my arms just like her. The path the both of us traced was secluded. When the lady saw me walking this way, she looked at me daggers and left the park. She probably thought I was teasing her! What a life, yaar!
The author is a post-modern Tamil writer based in Chennai