To tell the truth – I’m not that much into animals.
Ok. That was not entirely true. I’m NOT AT ALL into animals…or birds or insects…(or reptiles or fish or amphibians and all the other categories that I can’t remember)….
Yes, I’m all for wildlife preservation and I’m totally against cruelty to the animals, but the maximum that I can contribute to this cause is by sending money to PETA, WWF etc. Besides, apart from sporadic spraying of mosquito repellent, thrashing of a stray cockroach and setting up an occasional mousetrap, I’m ‘mostly harmless’ towards other living beings of non-human variety (not that I’m other than mostly harmless towards beings of human variety – thought it was better to clarify).
As a policy, I avoid purchasing anything made out of leather, fur etc. Additionally, being a vegetarian, how much do I have to lose in supporting campaigns against meat?? – ‘none at all’ . That’s pretty much it. Sometimes though, I find it strange that I have such an apathy towards animals, while I flaunt my love for the nature all the time. But its true. One cannot be always appreciative of ‘life, the universe and everything’. I cannot make myself love the animals. To me, animals looks great / majestic/delicate (insert whatever adjective) only from a distance – like when they are in forests / oceans / muck / tree – whatever is their natural habitat. Nevertheless, by some ‘strange coincidence’ (Yeah, I’m a fan of the Hitchhiker’s guide in case it was not apparent) I have been thrust into the company of animal lovers and pet-keepers all the time since my childhood. Does it indicate my destiny / karma etc to take up a pet or something? Nah, I don’t think so.
Growing up, I had to cope with those periodic visits to my various aunts’ place whose houses had members of quadrupedal variety (and sometimes non-pedal variety, otherwise known as ‘Fish’). There were birds even, at some point. Not that I was particularly afraid of these animals. What I always found tedious was to pay compliments. I mean… these animals came and licked you and you were supposed to find that cute. Or they just landed on your lap and purred and then left like a huge hairball on your new clothes and you were supposed to talk about how these beings ‘exude’ love while trying not to sneeze!!! …..or when some of these beings chittered and chattered suddenly for some reason exactly when you were trying to nap, you woke up and excitedly proclaimed (instead of shouting with annoyance) that they were trying to predict some natural calamity or something!!! There were times when you hid into a corner and ate something for the fear that it will be pounced upon and snatched away….
So far so good.. a pup wags its tail and looks with those puppy eyes, a cat purrs and all, so there’s definitely something to talk about there. Birds usually would be love-birds and would have various colours so despite the nuisance value of each of these there would be things to talk about. But I would be stumped the moment I’d move on to the fish…(those beings which couldn’t even hear the names that my cousins had kept for them and those that made the fish-tank and the surrounding area utterly stinky). For sure, some had nice colours, but I could never go beyond ‘ I think this fish is trying to kill this other fish’…(which was all the action that was happening in that fish-tank). I thank my stars that they never ventured to keep some pet tortoise or even lizards or something!! What would I have said then? my head hurts from the lack of imagination!
All I noticed over all these years was the lengths that the owners were required to go, to feed, clean and train these animals and yet remain friendly with people like the next door neighbours, people within the locality, the mail-man and sundry delivery men etc. I wonder at the enthusiasm of my cousins who have survived several such pets of various variety and their generations…
Having seen much of the pet (keeping and maintaining) world I eventually (that wasnt really a gradual process) decided to maintain minimum contact with these beings concluding that I don’t understand them. Surprisingly, most of the friends that I made in my adult life were animal lovers. So I am from time to time subject to the discussions about the antics of their pets, where I have to laugh, nod and indicate that I am listening!!
Of course it’s not exactly like I’m totally away from animals… they have made a place for themselves in my life in their own way…
…like those pigeons that are currently in their nth generations on the loft above my house and occasionally set up a makeshift nursing home in my window-grill, enter the house just to perch on a fan-blade and then fly helter and skelter within house when chased, instead of returning the way they came ( through the wide window in the room!!).. I was once told by my brother that pigeons are actually related to dodo birds – which I have come to believe
…that stray bitch which has made the passage on the first floor of my building as her permanent home and is always positioned outside this out-of-town neighbor’s door. Doesnt wag tail or anything when I pass by, but lets me (and other residents) pass by quietly and barks at any newcomer. 🙂
…or the Myna (a.k.a. Salunki in Marathi) which has set up its neat nest outside of the bathroom window and sometimes acts as vocal accompaniment to any random bathroom singer from our house 🙂
….or a hitherto unidentified bird of spring that has been amusing itself by repeatedly pecking on the wind-shield of this car which we can always see through our drawing-room window,every morning around 8.30 – 9.00!! – cannot understand. Why? why only at specific time? Why only that car when there are numerous others parked next to it? Is it trying to break in? long way to go pal… or maybe its trying to check itself in glass-made mirror or it sees itself in this mirror and thinks there is another of its kind…or its eating some insects stuck there …where exactly? on the glass?? maybe there are invisible bacteria like insects there..
….A crow that regularly visits us every 10 – 15 days. Whenever this happens, my mother mentions the death anniversary (what is it called in English though? we call it Punyatithi in Marathi/Hindi) of some close relative which is coincidentally approaching etc and believes that the ‘Kauva’ wants to remind us of it – and then offers some food and water.
I think I already have my hands full with these pseudo pets. So if someone wants to question my animal-love or lack thereof, I can definitely point out these pseudo-pets and claim that there’s no ‘animosity’ between the animals and myself. 🙂
I was going through some of the ‘live’ recordings that I’d done over the last year at various places, usually vocals and instrumentals, and I came across this recording which I’d made of harmonium-tabla jugalbandi at an informal show. As the recording progressed, I was transported few months back to that venue. It was in August, one Sunday afternoon, rainy and the hall was almost empty when I had entered, which was mostly towards the end of the show. I had dilly-dallied thinking that a purely ‘harmonium’ show wouldn’t be all that great… had to however be there as was so courteously invited. How wrong I was….
What I walked into was a harmony of swaras and naad. …dexterity of fingers, such an attunement of both the harmonium player and the tabla artist that it seemed like the swaras and the naad had melted together.. and were flowing seamlessly… It was a perfect union. What cannot be described here is the look of extreme ecstasy on the faces of both the artistes. One played a raaga, a variation on harmonium, changing scale, pace from time to time and the other responded to it simultaneously…as if he knew what was coming. I knew that the whole piece was impromptu, since the tabla artist who had been engaged for the show could not make it and a local artist had to pitch in instead. It was amazing as waves after waves of tunes got released into the atmosphere and the tabla resonated simultaneously, dancing to those tunes beautifully…. what amazing music the performers created! Though the hall was only half filled, both the performers’ enthusiasm had not waned. In fact to us, it seemed that they were in a world of their own, their eyes talking to each other, speaking a language which very few could understand. Each understanding the other so perfectly and communicating in such a profound manner that even hours of conversation would prove insufficient. To the listeners, these were moments of bliss…rarely experienced in real life I think…everyone was smiling…clapping from time to time, but the performers had eyes only for each other…throughout the musical piece, they spoke thus and created magic!!
I am sure I was not the only person who felt that such a connection, where no words are required to be exchanged, and yet a lot is communicated, must be a spiritual connection. Art in general…music, dance, paintings…any art invokes a pure emotion – this is what I’ve always believed. A pure emotion must be close to God…I have a great respect for the artists. They love their work, purely for work’s sake, for the joy that it brings, the spiritual connection that it makes of their soul with itself…But I feel, such a connection may not always be musical or artistic, it could be even more intangible and transient like a feeling, an emotion… a shared laugh when no joke is told, perhaps a shared sorrow without really having to share it in words… and then I remembered a quote that I’d read in one of my friends’ notes:
Sindhutai Sapkal! The name makes me smile…makes me believe in the goodness in this world…believe in humanity!! A gush of positive energy, enthusiasm and willpower… Just hearing her talk makes you feel humbled and rejuvenated!!
Humbled due to the fact that you realise – your struggles, your sorrows and your worries, which seem to consume you, impair you from living happy life…are nothing!! they are what we call in marathi ‘tochnaare sukh’ (loosely translated, it means too much of happiness/comfort/luxury in life leads you to invent sorrow)
Rejuvenated, because you’re amused and impressed with her view on life, the way she laughs off her struggles like there is nothing in this world that can stop her…her jokes about the depravity in her life make you realise that one CAN resurrect (and HOW!) in the face of extreme adversity – when even basic needs…the food, clothing or shelter is denied…makes you realise that most of your troubles might be figments of your imagination….and that you can easily overcome them! conquer them!! fight them!! that leaves you more positive and more accepting of your shortcomings! rejuvenated indeed!!
I first came to know about her on a Saturday few weeks back…she was on the talk-show ‘Khupte Tithe Gupte’…and discussing among all things her story, the biopic on her, her favourite poets–Suresh Bhat and Ga. Di. Ma. She can sing beautifully…her soul which has weathered all the storms in the world can still sing about the glory of God and her voice so soulful,enthralls one and all….
Her story… she was born in abject conditions and named ‘Chindhi’ (‘unwanted cloth piece – usually to be thrown off’ in Marathi)..studied only till class 4 (which was part-time, managing work and house) and was married off at 9 to a man who was 35 at that time!!Her husband would beat her up, not allow her to even read poetry – for which she had developed a passion…she recalls eating papers containing poetry so that her husband wouldnt know she had been reading,or else he would have beaten her up! At 20 she was thrown out of house by her husband – the community was poor, downtrodden, uneducated and as a result, regressive. The day he dragged her out of house into cowshed and left for dead, she delivered a baby girl! She remembers cutting the umbilical cord with a stone…closing her eyes and taking a deep breath! She stayed at her husband’s doorstep for 9 days. None, not even her in-laws/any other villagers helped her/took her in. She was a new mother, weak, hungry and the baby needed to be taken care of… a woman within the community, on route to public toilets would sneak in pieces of ‘bhakri’ every night for her to eat. She would drink water from the tumbler that the woman would take for going to the toilet!! Survived 9 days and then decided to go to other relatives. When she left, all the villagers threw stones on her so that she wouldnt come to them for shelter!!! She reached her own mother’s place…who would not take her in!!!So she left..got into a train, sang some poems and earned alms – food for herself..a baby in arms…which she would share with older beggars who were too weak to move much…at nights she lived in cremetories – What we call ‘Shamshaans’ for that was the only place where there was no fear of being raped! Men only went there when someone died and did not stay long for the fear of ghosts!! She remembers once when she couldnt find food, she stole offering (some flour) left near crematory fire when all had left, made ;Bhakri out of it and actually roasted it on the embers from the cremated body!!But she gradually started taking up orphans from stations and public places and caring after them. She would go from place to place, BEG and feed the children…from that beginning, she has raised practically hundreds of children and built an orphanage…all without government support!!Today she is proud that her children are doctors, lawyers, active social workers…
I have always felt that God is the that loves you selflessly…and in Sindhutai, I found God! the divinity!!the strength! Such people, who endure and still give away love – have no negativity in them must be Saints…Angels or practically, God!! She forgave her husband. He is very old now and was almost orphaned. She took him back!! and told him that she can be his mother now…what kind of compassion is that?? On the show she mentioned that she could have been vindictive and could have ignored him, but all she felt for him was compassion – ‘Jo aaahich melay tyala kasla maaraycha’…(one who’s already dead cannot be killed)! Her talk on the show was peppered with poetry, sheroshayari and songs. Couldnt believe that a person CAN retain appreciation for finer things in life after going through mammoth grief and sufferings!! Well, I stand corrected.After watching the show I decided that I had to meet this woman and touch her feet!!
Then day before yesterday, I heard she was coming down to my area for vyakhyaanmala…I couldnt miss opportunity!I MET her!!I wasnt just sitting in the audience…my heart really soared and reached out to her…met hers somewhere in the middle of her narrative..when I stood in the queue of people waiting to donate,I knew I had to TOUCH her…she is a living angel!! I touched her feet – a custom we Indians follow – many a times out of moral/societal obligation due to the age of a person to indicate respect, but this time the respect was heartfelt…and then, I touched her cheeks with my palms…I wanted to somehow express my affection towards a woman I had heard so much about, met for the first time!!What I felt then cannot probably be described!!