Poor Poorer Poorest

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A few weeks ago, I, along with a benevolent friend of mine and my daughter were driving down the streets of my locality in search of 15 poor people to whom we could donate a blanket each. It is freezing cold at this time of the year in the capital region and I was in a charitable mood – not just to donate some loose change to the beggars like the other times, but something which I know would be useful. So a phone call to my ever-so-helpful friend culminated my somewhat generous thought into reality in a matter of two days. He said his usual, “ho jaayega” (it will be done) and so it had.

So here he was one evening after work in his car with colourful blankets stacked in his hatchback. My daughter and I hopped into the car and then started our journey. It was not easy. Despite having poor people all around us it was difficult to work out who was really “needy”. The time and day were also not apt. You find many beggars sitting outside the temples early mornings and evenings and on particular auspicious days of the week when they know the maximum number of devotees would turn up to the temple. So we went about looking for them on not a Tuesday or a Saturday and around the lean time of 4 pm. We began by going to a temple on the hillside by my house but couldn’t find any one there so moved on further. We crossed many streets and then spotted a poor woman with a baby sitting by the road selling some goods. I could see a twinkle in her eyes as she saw us stop the car and donate the blanket. And then we stopped by another temple and distributed eight more blankets to the beggars sitting outside.

Then it made us realize that donating the remaining six blankets was a Herculean task. My daughter kept fretting sitting at the backseat with having nothing to do. It was strange to be surrounded by so many poor people around us yet we were not able to find the ‘right’ people. You walk out of the house and you find the poor everywhere but finding the poorest (maybe I was looking for the homeless) was not easy. How do we figure out that this poor man is the poorest? An auto rickshaw driver is less poor than the manual rickshaw driver and may not need a mere blanket. I know of a particular auto rickshaw driver in my area who also has motorbike and by no mean looks in need of a blanket. But what about others I do not know of? And this is where ‘looks’ came in. And looks, rightly said so, can be deceptive. As it so happened on the same day.

We have 2 cobblers in our area and I donated to only one. I do feel bad now as I retrospect. After all, they both do the same kind of job and have the same kind of set up – a makeshift thatch on the corner of the roads. So why did I differentiate? While one cobbler is dressed up well the other is not. I felt uneasy offering a blanket to the well-dressed one. Would it not hurt his self -respect? His pride? So did it go against him to be respectfully dressed up despite being poor? Perhaps. We donated blankets to those who ‘looked’ very poor but what about those who are poor but don’t look or choose to look poor. So should the poor look poor to get some charity? Why do we have to be charitable to the able-bodied beggars who just sit outside the temples and not to those who get up and work and try to get some wage?

So in my quest for the poorest of the poor, I learnt how wrong I have been and going forward, I would look beyond the looks.

(image courtesy: http://www.mncc.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Web_handsopen.jpg)

In the loving memory of Lovie

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I have just one picture of Lovie. And I am glad that I do. I have a few pictures of Happy and Aie Choo Choo too. These are the names given by my daughter to our frequently-visiting stray dogs. Happy always looks happy so she was named Happy. People always try to shoo the other one away and keep saying, among many expressions, “Aie Choo Choo” and hence he was named the same. And Lovie was named Lovie because she was so affectionate, so lovable. She would be wagging her tail and climbing onto our legs every time she would catch the sight of us. She came to our neighbourhood quite late as I hadn’t noticed her before. A month later after witnessing a handful of dogs after her I realised she wasn’t neutered.

I wondered if it was too late to get her neutered now when she was on heat. Other than donating money sporadically to animal welfare organisations (AWO) I haven’t done anything active as such for the cause of animals as much as I would like to and I do admit that I don’t have that volunteering spirit in me (read:boldness). So was this a calling for me, I wondered. I had to do something for her. I could see her getting tired with all those dogs vying for her. I called up our local AWO who explained to me that the dogs can get neutered even when they are on heat. They would be happy to help me. The process was relatively simple: They call you an hour before they come to pick up the dog. You chain the dog before they arrive.  The dog is then neutered and kept with them for 2 more days as a post-operative care. Easy. The only bit that I wasn’t comfortable with was that they returned the dog to the same person who handed it to them. Why would they return Lovie to me? She didn’t belong to me. I was just trying to be good. I nevertheless wanted to go ahead with this mission. I could of course release her once she was handed over to me. All I had to do now was to arrange for a dog chain and tie her an hour before they would pick her up. It was to happen the next day.

I warmed up to the whole plan. After all I wasn’t going to be the first one who would be doing this. Somebody had already got Happy and Aie Choo Choo neutered before, along with many other stray dogs in our neighbourhood. So after unsuccessfully asking a few neighbour friends who owned dogs if they had a spare dog-chain (I must confess that in a way I was boasting too of the deed that I was going to perform.) I bought one from a pet store an evening before. Next day I saw Lovie roam in our lane with one alpha dog who didn’t let any other dog come close to her. He only subjugated before Lovie’s barks at him. The AWO was to call me up in the noon which they did. I looked out and couldn’t see Lovie. I took our domestic help along to search for her.

“You are not doing the right thing,” my domestic help said to me unexpectedly. I understood what he was up to. Coming from a village, he has a conservative view on life, despite having two wives! “What do you mean?” I asked. “Lovie must have conceived. Why would you want the pups to be killed. Let her have babies this time and then you can get her neutered,” he said.  “You know what will happen to all the stray pups, don’t you? Some of them will die of hunger and some will get crushed under the cars. So why should they come to life?” I said rhetorically. He just nodded his head from left to right and walked with me from street to street looking for Lovie. Unfortunately we couldn’t find her. I called up the AWO who were equally upset to hear this and told me to keep an eye for her and let them know if I found her in the next one hour. I didn’t. Well, at least I had tried.

I didn’t see Lovie after that for nearly a week and when I did I was happy to notice a shaven patch on her left side of the body. It was as if somebody else had read my mind and got her neutered. I felt so thankful. At least a litter of stray pups were saved from being born in this cruel world and Lovie too was saved from going through the traumatic process. Every thing was fine. At least I thought so.

After a week or two seeing Lovie in the neighbourhood I didn’t see her again then. She must have shifted her base, I thought, to a place where she was being fed better. Now that the weather was getting chillier, I even saw her wearing a coat and was happy that she was being specially taken care of. She had a new benefactor. Perhaps the same one who had got her neutered.

And then I got to know.

On a long journey last Saturday I asked my domestic help, who is also our driver, if he had seen Lovie.

He looked at me from the rear view mirror of the car with a face of disgust.

“I told you not to get her neutered,” he said.

“I didn’t and you know it too. Somebody else did,” I retorted. I continued, “why what happened to her?”

“She died,” he said in a staid tone.

“Died? How?”

“Infection,” he replied.

“So nobody helped her ?” I asked as I began to feel the shock.

“Nobody got to know. She looked fine. And one fine morning she was found dead . The security guards then took her body away,” he said.

I was speechless for a while and looked out of the window trying to grasp the entire conversation that had just taken place. I wished I had looked at Lovie one last time and spotted the signs of infection and taken some action. I wished she had climbed onto my legs one last time as I walked out of my house.

My dilemma?

Does our responsibility end after we have performed our duty/volunteering act? In this case, after the stray dog was neutered do we just shrug it off?  I must admit I would have sent her to the streets right after she would have been back after the surgery. My job was done and I had done a good deed.  Were 2 days of post-surgery care by the AWO enough? Or was I just passing the buck on to somebody else?

Or like my domestic help said, was Lovie better off having the litter of pups this time? Did we play with nature and tried to hamper its course? He proved his point whereas I couldn’t. Only if Lovie had lived longer I would have told him how important it is to change his traditional way of thinking. I lost. The village boy won.

Lovie’s blood is perhaps on our hands. Volunteers need to do beyond just this. What would I do if I was to come across a similar situation in the future? Will I be then bold enough to resist my parents, and some neighbours who disapprove of the acts of the stray dogs in our area and get the dog neutered? More than that, will I be able to give shelter to the just-operated dog for a few days?  Or will I just ignore like most of the people around me and carry on with my work and just give that one-off donation to an AWO? I don’t know.

RIP Lovie

(pic: my daughter and Lovie some months ago in our local park)

When life gives you limes…

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None of us at home have a ‘green thumb’. We have a small garden attached to our house and a lot of planting and landscaping can be done – be it trees, flowers, plants, vegetables for daily needs, just whatever. The land is very fertile. However, we haven’t shown much interest. We tried to engage a gardener but it was a complete fiasco. He turned out to be very relaxed and the grass that he tried to carpet the ground became patchy in no time. It is not a barren land. There are a few trees and plants in our garden but the credit goes to people who planted them before we started to live here and our house caretaker. Of course, we also contributed a bit towards it – my father got hedges planted around the border keeping security in mind; my mother got a green piece of cloth fixed outside the hedges to make it more secure and stop the pigs and the litter of piglets from brushing past the hedges and looking for their dinner inside; and I, in those once-in-a-blue moon fit got a few flower pots and 3 Ashoka plants from a nursery and on one occasion I picked up a newly uprooted and discarded Aloe Vera plant from outside the local park and resurrected it in my garden.

This blog is not about my ‘green’ challenges but a special tree that made me retrospective. A very different kind of lime tree plant it is (see picture). Mother says it’s called Kaffir lime. For those who don’t know about it, it is not your regular lime which you can comfortably place between your thumb and fingers and squeeze it with little effort to make a tangy lemonade. It is dark green and as big as an orange. It is very sad to see the fruits grow, ripen and rot as the season goes by and the majestic tree must find it disrespectful to see this happen to it year after year. Going waste. We do pluck a few every year and use it for making lemonades. Once mother even made pickles out of some a few years ago. But that is it. Things remain the same over the years but for one thing.

What has changed over the years is our approach to those passers-by who are mostly poor children, who cross by the garden and pluck the limes from the other side of the wall. We cannot see those children because of the height of the wall but their antics are quite noisy. Usually they come in a group and can be heard giggling and challenging others as they try to pelt stones to get the limes. The bitter-sour Kaffir limes that they mistake them for some variety of sweet oranges.  I remember mother howling at them many times from the kitchen window which overlooks the garden and we could then hear them retreating as fast as they could. I also remember telling them in my commanding voice that I would call the security guard that very minute, which again immediately chased them away. All of us at home have fretted over this issue.

This year it has been different. As I answered the doorbell to attend a guest yesterday, I saw two little boys trying to get my attention from the other end of the wall. They complained about some other children who were busy plucking the limes. I looked at the tree. It stood tall. It was laden with hundreds of ignored Kaffir limes which were now turning from firm dark green to wrinkly yellow.  I asked those two boys if they wanted the fruits too. They wondered if it was some kind of a trick and didn’t know what to answer until one of them mustered some courage and said ‘yes’. I then asked my housekeeper to help these and other children with the fruits.

I don’t know if the above episode has taught me to share my other possessions too, especially possessions that I have in abundance. But another episode yesterday morning made me connect the two later in the day and I mumbled thanks to the Supreme. I happened to see a poor man during my morning jog who had just dropped his daughter to the charity school bowing his head with folded hands in obeisance in the direction of the school building. He was thankful. Thankful for the little that he had. Then why shouldn’t I be thankful for a lot that I have…and share.