“Romancing the Bastards” is about animals Amit Chaudhary has known (dogs included). For those who know him, know him for his rapier sharp wit and chiseled words. For those who don’t Amit Chaudhery has held country CEO and CXO positions for several Indian and multinational corporations including Motorola, Text 100, ITC Limited, Amway and consults for a California based communications firm, ROI Communications. Chaudhery’s second life is that of an absentee farmer, writer, speaker, controlled vagabond and activist.
NB: This text is excerpted from ‘Romancing the Bastards’ by Amit Chaudhery. No part of this may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission of the author.
Incipience, Interlocutors and an Intermezzo
In 1494, a German poet, Sebastian Brandt, published Das Narrenschief. A poetical satire which told of fools from all walks of life aboard a ship bound for Narragonia, Land of Fools. Passengers, typifying every known human vice and folly were mercilessly ridiculed by Brandt. The allegory was grand success. It was widely translated from the original Swabian dialect. Adaptations, including an English version, were not exact ; they devised to reveal and reprove follies and abuses characteristic of the societies for which they were written. The English version was the work of Alexander Barclay ; a vivid account of life on the Isles in the early 16th century. It was called ‘The Ship of Fools’. Should one embark on an Indian adaptation, it would most certainly, be the largest possible ship with the largest number of passengers cast-about rudderless on the seas of folly and vice, headed towards the whirlpools of disaster. But then, no man is clever enough to know all the evil he does. To introspect and pillory on sins of omission and commission is not the intent. Much of our screw-ups and evil spring from ignorance and arrogance. In life, the gift of sight and wisdom, alas, germinate slowly ; if at all.
Herr Brandt’s thesis can well be adapted to the larger human situation. With all his caliber the moral animal has crafted systems of faith, theorems and practices of law, justice, ethics and integrity. Values of sensitivity, kindness. Every schoolkid knows the necessity of balancing equations ; from chemistry to algebra. Yet, the overwhelming majority of people remain obtuse to the obvious. Willing, even eager to live in self-inflicted moral misery. And one huge, terrible tangent of this quadrant is the seriously imbalanced equation with non human beings.
Denying or diminishing the intelligence of others has been an age-old practice to perpetuate indifference, cruelty, exploitation. Animals have been the longest suffering victims of this stratagem. In 1859, in ‘On the Origin of Species’, Charles Darwin called into question much more than the place of humans in creation. He maintained that differences between humans and non humans were those of degree ; not content. Non-humans have complex emotional lives. Darwin wrote that animals: “experience anxiety, grief, dejection, despair, joy, ‘tender feelings’, devotion, ill temper, sulkiness, determination, hatred, anger, disdain, contempt, disgust, guilt, pride, helplessness, patience, surprise, astonishment, fear, horror, shame, shyness, and modesty”. Charles Darwin published ‘The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals’ and revealed how people and animals share similar expressions and body language . So much for obtuse Cartesian notions ! Yet, man denies the obvious and hides it under blindness of the head and the heart.
Emblematic labels, groups, associations, religions, individuals perpetuate intrinsic evil in endlessly imaginative ways. I will not, and cannot, dwell on the evil equities we foster. One only has to use conscience and mind to know in an instant. I recall this passage from Wayne Pacelle’s book ‘The Bond’. He runs the Humane Society of the United States. “…I found not long ago about a whale who was killed by hunters off the Alaskan coast. These self-described subsistence hunters hauled in a bowhead whale, only to find they were not the first to hunt that particular creature. Embedded in the flesh of that whale, were the fragments of a bomb lance, traceable to a type of shoulder gun last used before 1890. Only in recent years have we learnt how long whales live, and this creature killed in 2007 was at least 130 years old. The lance carried a small metal cylinder fitted with a time delay fuse, but it failed to kill the whale, and he survived the span of the entire twentieth century without further harm. When Edison was working on the phonograph, this whale was feasting on plankton and diving in Arctic waters. Before Theodore Roosevelt was president…this whale was learning his migration routes. He lived all that time, dodging the Orcas that are the only natural predators he would have to face, only to be slaughtered by men with harpoons…”.
Are you moved, disturbed and compelled to re-appraise ourselves ? Animals are splendid beings in their own right. They predate us and are far superior inheritors of Mother Earth than the naked ape can ever hope or qualify to be. Mere jottings of acultural domesticity seen through a tiny lens and tight aperture follow the great bowhead whale. I pointed to the bowhead and Mr. Pacelle’s articulation just so. What I have here is a melange of thought, memory, realization. And concerning the animals who punctuate urban India as weights of history, tradition, culture or circumstance. And since dogs by quirk, are both beloved mascot and alleged malaise, this is also a ‘scrapbook-of-the-mind’ trip. Bitter-sweet flashbacks and/or memories still alive and cogent. There are several the mind remembers, so many it does not. And then, there is the great uncounted majority I met without knowing. And then, there is the sea of the ones I have yet to meet.
Circa 1968/’69 : The earliest memory is of Moti a golden neighborhood dog in the government house near that giant tree in New Delhi where I was born. The great and wonderful tree still stands where it did ; witness to pantomimes. Moti passed on many moons ago. And then there was Jackie. I forget if he/she was tan or white, as surely as I forget if he/she was a Pomeranian or Spitz. Spitz, I think. The detail is irrelevant though ; I have never cared much for DNA or form factor. It is the package in appeal that woos me. Jackie was the son of a gentle childless couple, who to the untrained eye of a child, appeared old (everyone does when you are under five years of age). The strongest visual of this family was Mr. & Mrs. Riding their scooter, with Jackie safely and comfortably sitting on the white scooter’s floorboard. A cute sight of the dog between his daddy’s legs. Jackie went everywhere with his biped parents. Even on pilgrimages. Circa 1972/’73 : We shifted to a new house. Scampy was a B&W pup of indeterminate parentage I got home. The name was give by two bigger and older boys from the neighborhood. I was not allowed to keep him. I remember taking him to another neighbor, who too refused. I do not know what became of Scampy. Around the same time-frame is the memory of one of my uncles (a surly Colonel) on a visit to my house, ‘checking a pup’s breed’ by picking it up by the ears. The idiot had the pup yelping. May/may not have been Scampy. Friendships formed early in life become strong bonds of a lifetime. I now wanted a dog of my own.
Intrinsically a loner, the desire was to share my world with animals I had fallen in love with so early on my trip to the planet. Dogs were affectionate, loyal, cuddly and dedicated friends. Decidedly better than the friends I hung around with, without really being friends. They were more interested in the material objects I had, than in long-term handshakes. And then Tinku entered my life. He was a lovely little pup gifted by a kind lady from the next block who was friendly with my mother. I called him Tinku after a Cocker Spaniel of the same name my aunt had. My aunt’s dog was mistreated. I realize how much, only now. The fate of Tinku was no better by my father, who was callous towards animals. The guilt of being blind to his situation haunts me still, and shall, until I die. Sins committed in ignorance and stupidity are as grave as those with awareness. They levy and dispense equal wages.
My first friend….Tinku (Old English Sheepdog, 1973-1981, my dearest boy watched B&W TV in the early 1970s with me, gifted by Damini. Still tugs my heart with remorse) Bahadur’s Dogs : (Quite a few of them, brown, mixed colours….circa late 1970s / early 1980s) Residents of another place : (Again, quite a few…..circa early to late 1990s) Bhoori and her daughter, Bacchi. Jackie, Munni, Patch, Snowy…The Cats : Mother, Mano, Kaali, Boy & Girl (the best, prettiest, most gentle cats I have ever known, died in childhood mysteriously, girl disappeared), Micky Marmlade, Mr. Bush, Choti, Chotu, Chuia… Gurgaon : Snowy, Munni, Bacchi, Jakie, Moti, Kaali, Raju, Amma, Shamu, Brownie, Sonu, Choti, Ammu, Bhaiya, Kalu, Motu, Soni, Sonu, Kali, Girl, Trio of three, choti Kaali, Amma II and children, Browniw, Kaali, Jadu, Moti II, Moti III, Subbu, Julie, Ruby, Typo………………………………………………..And then, my other family : the cows, bulls (the brothers), calves, donkeys, horses (specially Shadow who I rescued and who called me to him before dying), the monkeys I let out of cages with wire cutters on the Delhi ridge on wintry nights, the birds…..how much can I remember or reflect….any semblance of intellect must drop and the heart must rise. Quantification must fail.
The more I dwell on my take of this world, the more I try to understand complicated theorems of multiple dimensions, illusion of existence, quantum physics…the more I am confounded. I give up feeble applications of the left brain to wade out of this gaggle of words…Ultimately, we swim with all entities. Compatriots in the soup of illusory existence ; deluded by Maya. living out Karma even as we accumulate more of it, on impossible to balance equations and scorecards. In sum total everything must be a zero sum game. Or is it ? All I know is that the bell curve of cosmic cause and affect is vast. Too big for us to comprehend. But is has its records, and it has its rules. As surely as one sees one’s face in the mirror.