A Tale Of Cats And Dogs
By Ravi Perera
That evening at the favourite watering hole the talk was all about dogs.
“Are we not a strange country? Many visitors, particularly those from the West, have commented on the appalling treatment our domesticated animals are subject to. On most roadsides we see emaciated looking dogs waiting for some food. It seems a lot of people here take great pleasure in throwing rocks and other missiles at them. As a result we see many lame and injured dogs limping around.
These stray dogs have no one to look after them. Even those dogs who have secured a place in a household don’t look very healthy. Most are on a semi starvation diet. That too generally vegetarian, I think. That is certainly not the canine taste. They are designed differently. On the other hand, we pay a lot of lip service to the idea of kindness, particularly to animals. This is a strange country in deed,” Raja opened the proceedings as he is wont to.
“Why did you specify Western visitors, what about the Indians and Chinese who are descending here in numbers?” asked Lalith who enjoyed countering some of Raja’s grand statements.
“Well, some of them may also notice how poorly our dogs look. But it is difficult to conceive of Indians as proactive on the subject. In some parts of Asia a well fed dog is a promise of a great meal. But at least they feed them, of course to eventually eat them!”
“What about cats?” asked Asoka who was well known for losing the plot in most conversations.
“Just see how timid and unhealthy these pussies look!” said Raja taking a fistful of salted peanuts. “They are also most times scavenging. Their owners expect these cats to find a meal on their own. But since all the rats are now either in politics or in the stock market, these cats have to miss many meals,” he laughed
“Have you read foreign reports about how badly we treat our elephants? The elephant is an animal in the jungle. We capture them. Then by torturing the poor chap we break his spirit. After that he is used as a kind of a machine for heavy work. We also take him in processions like a circus show. Can you imagine how traumatized the poor elephant must be, with thousands of people around it, electric lights, torches, drums, loud music, etc. Some of our writers give the broken animal human like qualities and say that he is a thinking participant in all the hoopla. Even temples keep these animals chained. It is shameful to think of these things,” added Saman who having done his post graduate-studies in Australia, was presently teaching at a local university.
Lalith probed Raja, “Do you think it is their bad karma that makes these animals face such situations?”
“Well, if you think the laws of cause and effect, which are defined generally in physical terms, applies equally to mental, emotional and spiritual situations as well , and assuming animals have such faculties, it is possible”, a typical Raja answer to a difficult question, which I doubt anybody understood.
“What is this story about Gotabaya Rajapaksa importing a dog from a European country? Could it be some secret military maneuver?” asked Asoka who only read the government newspapers.
“Oh, no. He wanted that dog as a pet. You see most rich people like to have expensive pets, although even the richest will think twice about importing their pets. It is a big commitment including special transport and a period of quarantine. I do not know being a public servant whether Gotabaya can get these regulations waived. You also need to have trainers and minders for the dogs, regular visits to the vet etc. All these things cost money. But definitely expensive pets have become status symbols. When you have made it in life in Sri Lanka you like to see your children living overseas, play golf, become a chief devotee of a temple, get about in convoys bustling with bodyguards and maybe get expensive pets,” said Saman getting into serious social analysis.
“What is wrong with native dogs? Why did he want a dog from Europe? I thought Gotabaya was a patriot,” butted in Lalith.
“Come on, don’t be so simple minded. In any situation the Boss gets the best. Haven’t you read George Orwell’s Animal Farm? Things change, power corrupts, only the people remain dumb,” Raja reached for his drink.
Each country has different status symbols often reflecting something deeply ingrained in that culture. But some status symbols are just simple imitations from another culture which really do not have any meaning in the local context. If you take Sri Lankans on the whole, it is apparent that we are not a very physical people. In fact less physical things a person does, even a mundane thing like making a cup of tea, higher his status. That is the peon’s job at work and at home the women folk! It will be surprising if even 5% of the population of this country indulges in any sporting activity on a regular basis. Similarly, we have absolutely no history of horse riding. In fact most people in this country would be fearful of getting on to a horse. But even though the sporting spirit is not apparent, activities like playing golf or owning horses have become status symbols here.
There is also no doubt that the vast majority of Sri Lankans are indifferent towards pets. Perhaps it could be argued that in the Karmic dispensation animals belong to a lower order. But here and there we come across extraordinary kindness towards animals like the scheme launched by Odel, the famous Sri Lankan department store, to care for stray and abandoned dogs. But to go to the extent of importing a pet, a luxury unthinkable in an otherwise poor country, a person must have an extremely kind heart, a long held and abiding interest in unique species of dogs or is totally out of touch with reality. In any event, it is a fancy that cannot be indulged in unless a person has considerable wealth and resources.
When a people indulge in things unfamiliar or even unsuited to their true character there is artificiality and a contrived quality about the whole exercise. They are mimicking something which is essentially foreign to them. It is an attempt at keeping up with the rich Joneses of the world without really understanding why the Joneses do it in the first place, crude dispositions imitating methods of refined souls.
“Let us drink to our fast developing kindness to man’s best friend, wherever they come from!” Raja raised his glass of locally produced Arrack.