Call of the wild

Published On: February 2, 2020 08:37 AM NPT By: Babu Ram Neupane

Dogs are considered the most loving, dependable and loyal pets in America. Mistreatment or torture of dogs is a federal felony and one could face a prison term of up to seven years

We had a dog which often followed whenever any member of the family went to the fold in the field in a distance from the village. When the dog was around, I loved to pelt stones, twigs, and earthen clumps at the monkeys that would appear in the field during winter even though there were no crops to destroy. It was my favorite pastime. The inner ape in me made resurgence upon noticing the macaques when our dog was around as I had found a dependable ally and protector in it. We were a team together. 

The pastime involving the call of the wild proved deceptively enticing one day. The dog had returned home.  I teamed up with my elder brother while chasing a troop of monkeys from the field for fun away from our fold. We had already reached the middle of a large and open terrace when we found ourselves surrounded by the aggressive monkeys on three sides. We were fast running short of clumps, twigs and pebbles for our defense. The game was changing.

What went around came around. The monkeys charged at us. My head was throbbing as we ran away for our lives with my brother far ahead of me. I would have been badly monkey-handled that day had a shepherd not seen the monkeys trailing me dangerously. He told me later he spontaneously hurled a stone at a big tree from a nearby hillock causing a big thud enough to force the vengeful monkeys to back off at once. That experience instilled a great fear about monkeys in me and I abandoned the monkey sport since.  

Around the beginning of the last decade, we were in Ayodhya on our pilgrimage to some Hindu holy sites (including Banaras and Prayag) in Uttar Pradesh.  India was embroiled in a never-ending tussle between Hindus and Muslims upon the demolition of Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Mosque by Hindu nationalist volunteers on December 6, 1992. The site was heavily guarded by military personnel holding machine guns. 

Chubby and adamant monkeys were roaming around fearlessly blocking the iron-fenced narrow walkways, and trying to rummage pilgrims’ handbags and pockets at will. I shuddered at having underestimated the power of the common monkeys back home in Nepal. A Hanuman’s selfless service and devotion to god Ram had earned his descendants all such privileges for eternity. Our Hindu culture has even the kleptomaniac monkeys covered. So has our pseudo-democracy with institutionalized kleptocracy as its foundation.

On a different visit, I saw unusually peaceable and docile monkeys in the forests of Nilgiri hills near Sathyamangalam in Erode district in Tamilnadu, India. They would climb down the trees hoping for food and fruits when they saw any devotees or vehicles approaching the Nambolakota temple that lay by the road on the way to Toda villages; rural tribal communities that live in small rounded huts called Mund. The monkeys had long stopped (forgotten) to roam the forest to hunt for food, according to the locals. I witnessed the ill-effects of misplaced human empathy that had defiled and wreaked havoc on wilderness.

Back in Kathmandu, I frequently saw some monkeys nagging dogs and some even riding on them at Pashupatinath and Swayambhunath. I would remember our dog which was poisoned to death by somebody who may have taken umbrage at her for reasons unknown. I had lost my friend but could not even wear a glum face for fear of being mocked by the villagers. We extol the virtues and simplicity of village people but fail to denounce their disdain for nonconformity and loathing to idiosyncrasy that is simply meritless and indefensible.

It’s different in US
I feel vindicated about my feelings for our dog while living in America, where there were 89.7 million dogs in 2017 which was an increase of over 20 million since the beginning of the survey in 2000 when there were 68 million dogs, according to a survey.  Dogs are considered the most loving, dependable and loyal pets in America. Mistreatment or torture of dogs is a federal felony and one could face a prison term of up to seven years. 

Why not? A dog is said to have upended the outcome of a presidential election not long ago. Mitt Romney, Republican presidential nominee (in 2008) was found to have driven twelve hours with his dog on top of the car in a windshield-equipped carrier during his family vacation at some point in the past. This opposition research sparked a fierce backlash which became the subject of “negative media attention and political attacks”.

It supposedly cost thousands of popular votes from the ninety million-plus dog owners who considered the candidate’s treatment of his dog unacceptable, inappropriate and outrageous. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, bested Romney to grab the White House in that general election. Interestingly, Obama couple had promised to buy a dog to their two daughters if he won the presidency. They had two dogs before Obama won the second presidential term in 2012. 

Animal therapy is in a vogue in America today. Many hospitals, nursing homes, retirement communities and medical facilities employ and hire volunteers with their trained dogs as therapy pets to “help patients with their mood, pain and comfort levels”. Pregnant women find the dogs to be more endearing and protective during their pregnancy as a result of the hormones and changes in mood, according to some researchers.  

Dogs have grabbed headlines oftentimes in America. The ISIS leader and America’s sworn enemy, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, blew himself up while being hounded by an American military dog during a raid in which it was injured. President Trump declassified and tweeted the picture of the ‘hero dog’ to his fifty five million plus twitter followers. Sully, the dog that served George H W Bush (41st President) during the last six months of his life, followed the latter to the Capitol Rotunda in Washington DC for his funeral service when Bush died in November 2018. 

Americans are too sensitive and sentimental about their pets. It is a matter of pride for them. The greatest American tenet is exercised along the wide sidewalks, greenways, garden and parks where convivial dog walkers and/or walkers/runners/joggers wave hello to each other against the backdrop of  variegated and fast changing cloud shapes on  the blue horizon. These are the spaces that provide them opportunities to come across to realize and appreciate the beauty of diversity and coexistence.

Opening up  
Open public spaces help people broaden their minds to accept and respect opposing opinions and accommodate them. However, Nepal’s shrinking open and public spaces pose the greatest threat to the consolidation of nascent democracy. The spate of privatization, commercialization, and encroachment of public land and spaces has limited the prospects of proliferation of playgrounds, gardens, parks and sidewalks to encourage people to be social, outgoing and athletic. 

More open spaces do automatically avail avenues for dialogues that can cultivate an atmosphere of tolerance across the communities, help bridge ideological divides and heal the nation. Those who love to keep pet dogs could also be motivated to own dogs. But our political leadership does not seem to budge an inch from their hornet loving stance and getting rid of the fear inducing stray dogs that monopolize the streets of Asan, Bhotahity and Thamel in the wee hours. They pretend ignorance about the hornets that are harmful, hurt harmony, prey on friendly hardworking honeybees, and attack anybody within their territory.  

The fear induced through invocation of hornets’ nest is an exotic trick that crumbles the day some brave hearts climb the tree to torch down the malignant and malicious nests without fear of failure.  Michelle Obama, former American First Lady, has rightly observed in her book (currently number one New York Times bestseller under non-fiction category) Becoming: “Failure is a feeling long before it becomes an actual result. It’s vulnerability that breeds with self-doubt and then is escalated, often deliberately, by fear”.

Our shortsighted political leaders and rulers had better read between the lines of Abraham Lincoln’s proverbial warnings to the political class: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time”. 


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