Life has a point to prove
Syed Maqsud Jamil
I remember the year. Bangladesh was caught in an unusual cold wave. It was pretty cold and the year 1997 was coming to an end. One cold evening my son turned up with a one-month-old puppy tucked inside his jacket. He was happy not for the puppy but for the fact that he finally got the puppy from among a litter his friend did not want him to have. She was a German shepherd, one of the five to survive out of a litter of twelve. For my son it was a prize and he wanted it to survive the cold. I could see his pride in being the master of a German shepherd.
He was all into the job of feeding the puppy a paste of powdered bread and milk. I for my part assisted him as best as I could. The cuddly puppy was all wrapped up, only her slit of a pair of eyes was visible. My son could see that his dad was very happy, because I have a natural fondness for dogs. I wanted to come up with a best of a name for the puppy, but I could not. My last one was Tommy, a crossbreed terrier. So the master came up with a name, BLACKIE. It did rhyme well with the last one, but not to my liking, I do not like living things to be branded by their colour.
Blackie survived the cold wave. However, her master's interest started dwindling as the puppy prospered into a strong, playful dog. My son was more concerned whether her ears stood erect, the mark of a German shepherd. Besides, his masculinity could not bring him around to like a female dog. The disenchantment set in and the distance grew. He was the master but I became its keeper. My task was difficult and the odds were many in a Muslim family with only the rooftop to spare for her.
Strong reservation and stinging criticism started flying from all directions. Obviously, my puritanical mother led the outcry and she cried foul about the heretical practice of keeping an unclean animal over our head. To my surprise I found that Blackie was staying out of my mother's way. My daughter was terribly scared of the dog to compound the matter further. The master brought home his wife and she only increased the rank of those terrorised by the dog.
By that time my fortune also started declining. My wife attributed it to the presence of the dog, a punishment from the heavens. Blackie was growing in an unfriendly territory. She became her keeper's dog. Even the helping hands in the house were so disdainful of the creature that they would perform little chores like cleaning her food tray and the mug with great reluctance. Her faeces and urine stung everyone although she was meticulous in relieving herself in a marked place.
Even my sincere services and genuine fondness was not enough to attenuate the loathing the poor creature suffered in an atmosphere of wholesale unfriendliness. To be fair, it amounted to hostility to a God's creature. I suffered over it, but shied away from going to war over a dog for the fear of harming domestic peace. That is not to say I was the only heathen in the family. I was always at peace with my God and my religion. There were no pangs about erring from the ways of God, neither were there any thoughts about the compatibility or the contrariness of my ways.
Indeed an unease works inside me about keeping her virgin, for the fear of bringing further chaos to the house, which I would not be able to cope with without the support of others. The years went on. Now Blackie is eight years old. She has at best another four years to live.
To add to the woe, Blackie looks unusually listless. In contrast to her playful nature and agility, she remains coiled in a corner napping away her time. A creature that could smell my presence from a distance would not even get up from her nap even though I kept standing near her for minutes. She would only stand up to give me a vacant look that fixes me for a failing.
We have not given her what she deserves as a living creature, more than confining her to a solitary corner and two meals a day, no more than a concoction of leftovers. She has grown into a lonely dog except for the visitations of her keeper. Her eyes glistened for the love and company of the family members, yet she has remained a creature shunned with disgust.
The poor creature despaired of her loving efforts and ways languished in loneliness. It is tragic since German shepherds, the female in particular, are known and prized for their excellent bonding with human beings. She has submitted to her fate. Her lethargic ways with the right ear wilting down severely afflicted with that attack of mite presents the foreboding of an end. Even my best efforts of treating her with medicines prescribed by the Iranian vet are failing to restore her playful nature. I wholly won my failings.
My thoughts spill over to a broader expanse in the context of our society. The tragedy speaks of a perception shared broadly. It is the dominant thought in our society that in a country where even God's loftiest creation--human beings--toil for two ordinary meals of rice and salt and many die of diseases brought on by poor and unhygienic diet a dog is far behind as a matter of social responsibility. Life has to have a name and a dog's name is a matter of fancy, and an object for abundance to flaunt.
Indeed a dog's life is a dog's life, the lowest point of life. There is an element of truth in it, but it can equally be a matter of dereliction of responsibility and a coarse display of abundance. To a certain measure we stand culpable here.
Responsibility is also in a way a religion. Our fancies and our luxuries incline us to raise pets, dogs in particular. The number of those given to such fancies and luxuries is growing. One can enjoy one's fancy and luxuries, but a responsibility begins with it. The responsibilities do not end with food and shelter.
Like human beings, pets like dogs need love, care and attention. It is a cruelty to renege on this responsibility. The weight of the cruelty cannot be ignored or forgotten because it is a lowly creature, a dog. Human beings have a thing to prove here as God's loftiest creation. It is responsibility. And nothing serves our eminent standing better than owning our responsibility and performing it as best as we can.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005