“Inder, your grandfather has gone mad. You’ve got to talk to him.” My grandma opened the door.
“Stop being so dramatic, Biji. What happened?” I stepped out of the blistering heat into conditioned air.
“Dramatic? Can’t you smell this horrible stench?” She held her the soft chunni to her nose. “All the women in the neigbourhood are calling me the Cow-dung Mafia.”
I polished my white-leather platform shoes with the calves of my bright red bell-bottom pants and put down my own Pan-American airlines bag. “I just flew twelve hours under-care of air-hostesses, Biji. I can’t deal with your squabble with Bauji. I’ve got to get started on my fifth grade project.”
“Why don’t you ask the master project undertaker for help?” She spat out. “He has some crazy ideas in his head.”
“What did he do now?” I put down my new Mattel electronic racing game.
“He says he will make cooking gas from cow-dung. He’s installed the gobar-gas (biogas) plant right in our court-yard.” She slapped her forehead. “The villagers laughed at him so he has promised everyone free cooking gas if they give them cow-dung from all their animals.” She sighed. “I should’ve listened to my mother when she said he was crazy.”
“Biji, whatever he does has a reason–”
“–Reason? He’s a lunatic. That’s the reason. The entire neighbourhood has been dropping off cow-dung in bucket loads all week. Haay haay, you have to stop him.”
Bauji’s pored over some blueprints on his drafting table in his office. His glasses rested at the tip of his nose.
I touched his feet; he put his hand over my head in blessing, never breaking his gaze. “When did you come, Inder? How’s school?”
“Hmm mm” I barely cleared his drafting table. “Biji wants me to talk to you about this cow-dung stench–”
He straightened his 6’4” frame and sucked in deep lungful of air. “This is the sweet smell of progress, Inder.”
“Eeeeew,” I pinched my nose.
“Do you know how much energy is renewable in this world?” He tugged my earlobe.
“Yes, Inder. We have power cuts in India. We have an energy crisis. We pollute our environment when we can re-use the energy available in nature.” He lifted me by my arms and rested me on his hip clasping his muscular arm around my waist. “Look this is how it’s done…” His pencil traced a big drum and pipelines running to and from it on the blue coloured paper for several minutes.
“Bauji, You make is sound very easy Are you sure it will work?”
“Will you believe me if you and me build a miniature prototype, first he playfully tapped my head with his engineers ruler.
I ran back out to the living room. “Yay, I got it. I got it.”
My grandma blocked my path, “Did he agree to give up his hair-brained idea, Inder.”
I flung my arms around her thickening waist. “I’ve got my project idea, Biji. I’ll need your help though. When its show-and-tell day for my project at school, can you ship some fresh cow-dung to my school. Please overnight it, it will have to be fresh.” I smiled.
Grandma repeatedly slapped her fore-head. “One day you’ll grow up to be just as crazy as him.”
I peep from between my fingers at the email again. It has been brought to my attention that you had some underage children at the dog running yard last Sunday. I rub my hands on my forehead guessing which volunteer at our animal shelter might have reported me and keep reading. This is a serious violation of our policy. I know you have the best interest of the dogs in your heart but I’m sure you understand that we have insurance and liability issues in case… blah- blah -blah.
Two days earlier I was at my friends for dinner when she’d asked me if it was okay to bring her kids to the shelter.
“This would be their first encounter with dogs.” She dropped some veggies in the stir fry pan. “They love dogs but I can’t have one in my house because…” I’d stopped listening because she couldn’t have listed a reason I hadn’t heard before.
I laid out the dishes. “I’m sure someone at the shelter will get their panties in a bunch, but I think your kids should come and interact with the dogs.” Like most people she had thought about it several times but this was the first time she was entertaining the idea with any level of seriousness.
The next morning I’d just started taking the dogs out to their play yards when I got her text. ‘We’re here. My kids are very sensitive, be gentle with them’.
I kept reading sensitive but my mind kept translating it to ‘sissies’. I stepped out to find a nine year old girl clinging to her mother’s arm and a six year old boy running around in the parking lot, ignoring his mom’s instructions.
I shook the girl’s limp hand. “Are you guys ready to meet the dogs?”
The boy ran straight up to me. “Puppies.”
I grabbed him by the waist and flipped him upside down. “Yes puppies too, big guy.”
Over the next few hours they continued to play with every dog I brought out. I explained to them why some were shy and scared because they had been abused. Why some were slow because they were old and why puppies nipped at them because they were teething. They took it all in. They were happy, excited, tired and finally bored.
When they walked out with their mother I knew a spark had been lit in their little hearts. They didn’t have two or ten or thirty dog friends, they had befriended a new species. The world of animal activism had two little warriors added to their team.
That’s the sort of future we people in rescue hang our hats on. Once again it was me who failed to recognize a child’s strength and endurance and labelled it wrongly as “sissyish” owing to my preconceived notions.
Kids- 1, Inder -0
Two months ago, on a vacation to India, I’d stepped into the kennel at the SPCA shelter in my hometown of Chandigarh. The acrid open sewer-like smell blasted my nostrils. Dogs sat on straw beds with week old excrement scattered around them.
I dug my nose into the inside of my elbow “When were these kennels cleaned last?”
“We clean every morning.” The Supervisor did the Indian nod.
“Really? You could use that poop as chalk on the black-board.” I pointed at the crusted over lump.
He nodded. “Well the sweeper has been on vacation for–”
“–What if children from a school show up to volunteer–”
“No sir, no children come here.”
“You mean like never?”
He scrolled through his smart-phone. “The kids from Vivek high school came in August. Some kids started vomiting and–”
“What did you expect? You must make volunteering a pleasant and fun-filled experience for kids.”
“No sir, kids in India don’t have compassion–”
I walked out in disgust. Typical. Blame someone else for our faults. Kids are the same everywhere. These kids aren’t sissies. We adults are.
I read the email one final time and take a few deep breaths before hitting the reply button. I type a few words and then delete them. After repeating the process a few times I wonder what an appropriate reply would be.
Here in the US we have the infrastructure, the volunteers and school programs in place to foster compassion in children but we are hampered by the ‘Cover Your base’ mentality of lawyers and insurance companies. In India we have no infrastructure that allows the natural bond between child and animal to come to the forefront but the laws are conducive to kids interacting with children.
Although one is slightly better than the other, neither situation is ideal. Problem is, there is just one factor common to both countries- the losers are the animals.
Kids- 2, Inder-0