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  COUNSELING
 
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  ARTICLE  
     
  Forsaking dharma  
  Beyond bite  
   
  A SYNONYM for dog is "man's best friend". Those who are familiar with the Mahabharata know that when the Pandavas decided to leave their kingdom and lead the life of hermits in the forest, they did not take any worldly possessions with them. However, a dog accompanied Yudhishthira right through the mountainous trek, like a loyal companion.

As one story goes, Yudhishthira was the most virtuous of the Pandava brothers and never abandoned dharma even during the war. Because of his famed virtuosity, he was the only one allowed to walk into heaven. All the others, including Draupadi, died and suffered the consequences of the sins they committed on earth.

Yudhishthira had to undergo several tests before he was allowed entry into heaven. At heaven's doorstep, Indra, the Lord of Swargaloka or heaven, asked him to leave the dog before he could step into the abode of gods and goddesses. No, Yudhishthira was not prepared to abandon the dog that followed him through thick and thin.

That was the ultimate test that Yudhisthira had to face. Needless to add, his dog accompanied him to heaven. The dog is the most popular pet all over the world, except in Muslim countries where the cat enjoys that unique position. Though the Quran mentions about virtuous people living in the caves with their dogs, some latter-day Islamic teachings have declared the dog "unclean".

Yet, for all its popularity as man's best friend, why is the term 'dog' considered abusive? In fact, in all cultures, 'dog' is a swearword. This is because the dog is the easiest to be domesticated. Its loyalty can be bought easily. Anyone who feeds the dog gets its loyalty, unlike the cat, which remains attached to the house, not to those who live there.

We had a ferocious black dog, which obeyed only my grandfather. He would remain in chains the whole day and at night he would be allowed to roam free. Early morning, he would return to be chained and fed. After its death, I brought a day-old puppy from a friend's house and took all the care to bring it up into a full-bodied dog, which we never chained.

Though I am a dog lover, I could not keep one because of the small flats in which I mostly stayed. When I shifted to New Delhi, I developed a liking for a street dog, which I named Julie. Every evening when I returned home, she would be the first to receive me. She would accompany me right up to the second floor where we stayed. She was always assured of a meal.

One day, she came under the wheels of my neighbour's car. It shocked me so much that I decided never to get closer to an animal. Nowadays my feelings for dogs have somewhat changed, following some bitter experiences. For instance, last Sunday, a black dog menacingly advanced towards me. It had a collar belt, meaning it was not a street dog. I tried to humour him but it had no effect. I feared that it would bite me.

As I started walking, it began to bark at me. Fortunately, I found a stick nearby. When I lifted it, the dog stepped back. One of the most horrible stories I heard during my childhood was about a victim of dog bite. As the story goes, a dog bit a villager. He did not take it seriously, though he had full knowledge about rabies.

After a few days, he started developing the symptoms of rabies, a deadly disease. He also knew that there was no treatment once the virus reached the brain from the point of entry, usually through dog bite. He asked his wife to lock his room from outside and not to open it under any circumstances. A few days later, he had a violent death. His wife and children saw him dying like a dog.

I remembered this story when I once visited the Patna Medical College Hospital, which had a special ward for suspected rabies patients. Actually, there were two cell-like structures, which were empty at the time of my visit. Today anti-rabies vaccines are widely used. The disease is no longer prevalent in the US and much of Europe but in Asia and Africa it continues to remain a killer.

When we fetch milk from dairies, we do not realize that the milk had undergone a process called pasteurization, named after the French scientist who invented it, Louis Pasteur. It was the same Pasteur who developed the anti-rabies vaccine.

Pasteur produced the first vaccine for rabies by growing the virus in rabbits. It was first used on a nine-year old boy on July 6, 1885, after he was badly mauled by a rabid dog. The boy did not contract the disease because of the vaccine. It has proved effective in immunizing a person if it is administered within a day of the infection.

What occasioned these thoughts was an incident this week. My driver was walking down the road on Wednesday morning when a chained dog belonging to a neighbor who lived on the same street as we did, suddenly barked at him. Within seconds, another dog pounced on him and bit him in the area surrounding the knee.

Usually, the dog which attacked him is kept chained. But at that time the security guard had allowed him to roam free. When I heard about the incident, I advised him to go to a doctor and get himself vaccinated. I also wanted to ensure that such incidents did not happen in future.

I, therefore, went to meet the dog's owner. His security guards refused to give me his telephone numbers, either mobile or landline. They also refused to call anyone from inside the house to talk to me. Finally I heard from them that the dog owner was away at work and would return at 4 p.m.

I told the driver to come at that time. He had two deep wounds on his leg. He was administered two doses of injection and was given a schedule for four more injections. It had cost him some money. I also knew that under the law, the dog owner was responsible for the physical and mental agony the driver had suffered.

The driver kept waiting outside his house in the cold till the dog-owner arrived around 8 p.m. He feigned ignorance about the dog bite. I wondered what kind of civic sense his family had that it did not think it necessary to inform him about the incident when he was just a mobile phone call away.

I also wondered whether the family would have behaved in the same manner if the victim was an influential person like the dog owner. I did not know much about the neighbor, though at least on two occasions, his dogs had startled me by barking at me when I walked past his house. Those days the dogs used to be chained and paced the area just abutting the road giving passers-by a scare on many occasions.

I checked the Internet to find that he had retired as chairman of a very important Central government organization. I also realized that many like me had also benefited from some of the reforms he had introduced during his tenure. When I talked to him on behalf of the driver, he readily agreed to bear the cost of his treatment and also to compensate him.

What agitated me was the constant refrain that there was nothing to fear as the dog was immunized. In no case can a dog be considered 100 per cent immunized, because failure of immunization is always a mathematical probability. Nearly 20,000 people die of rabies every year in India. This is not a small number. That is why the driver did not want to take a chance.

I was not there to bargain with him. I told him that he should respond to the dictates of his conscience. Instead of settling the matter then and there, he asked the driver to come again the next morning to get what he deigned to give. At that point, a police team, headed by a head constable, arrived there.

The former chairman told the head constable that a compromise had been reached and he would pay the driver the expenditure he would incur on his treatment. The policeman rebuked him and said in a stern voice that it was a serious matter and he will have to register a proper case. He started noting down the version of the victim.

What shocked me the most was an assertion by the dog owner that the victim had been bitten by a street dog, not his pet. He also added in the same vein that he had got the "street dog" in question immunized. Yudhishthira preferred to forsake heaven than his dog but here was a person who held such high offices and yet would forsake his dog, which "protected" him day and night, winter or summer.

For once I felt some measure of sympathy for the dog. How would it have reacted if he understood what his master had done to him? As this thought came to my mind, he took out his mobile phone and talked to a senior police officer and gave him his version of the incident and his readiness to bear the cost of treatment. He then handed over the phone to the head constable, who I heard repeatedly saying "Yes Sir, Yes Sir" throughout the conversation.

After the conversation, the head constable was a changed person. He no longer wanted to register any case. When such scenes of dramatic turnarounds after a phone call were shown in films, I always thought they were just figments of the director's imagination. Here, it happened in front of my own eyes, to use an Indian expression.

Rather, the head constable wanted the driver to 'give it in writing', to use another quaint Indian expression, that he had no complaints and the dog had just touched him, not bitten him. To be fair to the dog owner, he paid the driver Rs 2500, which he would in any case be spending on his treatment. The former chairman also claimed that he was a dog-lover, who fed some street dogs in the area. Of course, there was an element of truth in his claim.

I have come across several dog lovers, including one of my relatives, who recently took her dog for a hysterectomy. The most unusual dog-lover I have ever met is eminent lawyer Fali S. Nariman. Once I had to spend a few hours at his house in connection with a case. In the evening I noticed a dozen or so dogs lining up in front of his gate. They sat in one straight line.

Then the gate was opened and a servant placed empty aluminum plates in front of each of them. Subsequently, he brought a large vessel containing some food from inside the house. One by one, it was served to them. None of the dogs barked or tried to disrupt the orderly distribution of food. Each waited for its turn, quite unlike the scene we encounter at marriage parties where the guests behave as if they have been starving for ages.

A few minutes later, the dogs left the place, the plates having been licked clean. I was told that it was a routine activity at Nariman's house. I also noticed that there were dozens of cats in his compound. After the dogs, it was the turn of the cats to be fed. They were given minced meat in such large quantities that they could not finish it.

A society can be judged by how it treats its animals. While everybody has a right to keep a pet, everyone also has a right to walk on the road without being bitten by somebody else's pet. In the story about Yudhishthira, the dog is symbolic of dharma that he upheld at all times, even during the Mahabharata war, earning the nickname Dharmaraja (King of Dharma). When dharma is forsaken, whether wholly or in part, by those who are expected to uphold it, it is the poor man who suffers.

The writer can be reached at ajphilip@gmail.com
Courtesy: Indian Currents


 
  By  A.J. Philip  
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