The king of the jungle may be a lion, but it is humans that dominate the animal kingdom. Whether by evolution or by personification, animals are often given human traits, and more so – humans are likened to animals.
Today, friends and I found ourselves sitting on stools outside of a teashop in Basantapur. I was happily unwrapping my tuna sandwich ready to satiate the craving I had had for days and my friends were sipping tea. One bite into my sandwich, a decrepit man (although not in the sorriest state I’ve seen) came and squatted next to a friend and without haste slowly extended a palm to him.
My friend, instead of money, offered him tea which the man accepted. Tea in one hand, the older fellow had the other out hoping to feel a paper note of monetary value nestled in his cupped palm. The dismal man, stained clothing, dirty faced, stared at my friends and I, hollow eyed. I had a hard time taking another bite, but it was not out of repulsion. It was out of an ache and some form of guilt that I felt.
My friends reprimanded him and informed him that no cash would be handed out, but for a few more moments he continued to squat, a man who might be grandfather to someone, father to another, husband of a woman and son to someone – stripped of dignity. I glanced at him and I could feel my insides squeeze and unsettle. I can’t explain the feeling, but I’ve never be able to bear people looking pitiful. I didn’t want to pity the man, I wanted to help but felt helpless instead. Soon enough, the man rose and with it came a sense of relief.
Almost immediately after the man left, a dog wandered over and took the seat of the dejected man. Man and beast have never seemed so similar to me. The dog too came to beg for a morsel, brown with patches of scars it looked at me with the eyes of the old man. It pained me. In that moment I had a thought. What does it take for a man to be reduced to the level of a dog? That thought was followed by another. Isn’t it people who reduce fellow humans to animals?
I wonder, at what point did the last shred of dignity vanish? When did he resign to becoming on par with curs? Lost in my thoughts I chewed my sandwich occasionally meeting eyes with the dog. The dog, he sat and looked at me, his eyes followed the moment of my hand as I wiped my mouth after every greedy bite, he barely moved except to glace here and there and to flatten his ears. The dog, I realized, looked oddly noble. Yet a man, carrying out the very same act….
I made it to the end of my sandwich and in a final act of I don’t know what, I placed the last bite on the ground. The dog licked it up and looked at me for more. Under my breath I whispered, “I’m sorry puppy, I don’t have anymore for you, I don’t even have anymore for me.”
Tonight, I can safely assume the dog will find a doorstep or a shrub to spend the night, and I will be snug in my bed. But the man, I do not know. When people ask me where “home” is, I always respond with “Home is wherever I spend the night.”
The answer I’ve been using for years now somewhat haunts me:
Photo by Bijay Gajmer. More by him over at: https://bijay.wordpress.com/
Happy first day of 2011.