I'm back from a lovely trip to India where I had a chance to visit with my family after more than two long years, get together with some good old friends to catch up on the good old times, and eat some really great food, a lot of it homecooked.
Desi and I covered a lot of ground, touching India's east, west, north and south in 17 short days. But as tiring as it was, it was also exhilarating. I had tons of work waiting for me when I got back, which is why I have been slow to return to blogging, but I hope to catch up. For starters, I have a non-food visual post for you that's very, very close to my heart: I'm calling it the Strays of India. The pictures, as always, were taken by Desi.
As many of you who have lived in India or visited it would know, India is home not only to the world's second-largest human population, but also- unfortunately- to a very large number of neglected, abandoned and homeless animals of every kind. Cows, dogs, cats, sheep, goats...you name it, you'll find them scavenging out of trash piles or hanging around food vendors in the usually vain hope of finding their next meal.
In a country long known for its vegetarian traditions, the sight of neglected and abused animals is always a shocking paradox. The dogs, particularly, are everywhere. I must say here that I do strongly believe that, no matter how tough their lives, it is better to let them live instead of euthanizing them as a public health threat. Most strays usually pretty much keep to themselves and don't bother you unless you bother them- if you do, I'd say they're fully justified in defending themselves. Feel free to argue with me, but in all the years I lived in India, I never once met anyone who contracted rabies from a stray dog.
The stray animals themselves, however, face many, many threats from the burgeoning human population and development. The growing numbers of cars on roads that honk incessantly at pedestrians make it difficult for people to walk, and you can imagine how difficult it is for the poor animals who are often hit and maimed or left to die by vehicles.
Public behavior toward strays is also often cruel, with children and even adults throwing stones at dogs and even cats for no apparent reason other than to send them as far away from themselves as possible. Some stray dogs do end up getting "adopted" by communities who feed them, but they are few in number.
What is also heartbreaking is the pernicious newfound love of the middle and upper classes for purebred pets bought from breeders and often imported into the country. In cities like Bombay and Calcutta I often saw people walking Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds. There appears to be no interest among these "dog lovers" in giving homes to the lovely strays although some animal rights activists in the country have spoken out for this. I know from personal experience that strays make excellent pets: Desi and I adopted a number of stray puppies when we lived in Bombay and and they grew up into beautiful and smart dogs.
I also wanted to share some other pictures of experiences that were shocking or heartbreaking. At the Kalighat temple, one of Calcutta's most historic landmarks and the place which gave the city its name, I saw freshly beheaded lambs being dragged out of the temple, their legs still trembling. Killing animals is in itself a lowly act, but sacrificing animals in the name of religion has got to be the most shameful act imaginable.
In the desert landscape of beautiful Leh, Ladakh, I saw abandoned and starving cows scavenging off trash, munching on paper. One of the cows ate a cigarette butt as I watched. But when I offered it a banana it didn't look quite sure what to do with it.
One of my favorite people, Mahatma Gandhi, once said that a nation's progress can be judged by the way it treats its animals. In Gandhi's land, is anyone listening anymore?