One day, walking home from shopping, I saw an ox in the middle of a busy road. He stood still and calm, engulfed by endless cars, auto-rickshaws, and motorbikes. He was unperturbed by the loud honking, directed less at him than at other drivers. I was amazed that he wasn’t hit.
A couple of shopkeepers were watching with amusement. I joined them, waiting for an owner to appear. A man, braving the traffic, handed the ox something to eat, but he was only crossing the street. The cow chewed the food.
Eventually I left, walking away with a backward glance. I wanted closure; I wanted a happy ending. (I didn’t have my iPhone that day, but here’s a trio of the same species, sharing the street from a safer spot.)
In Pune I see a lot of stray dogs. They hang out in empty lots, busy streets, near shops and produce vendors, even in garbage-ridden gutters. They’re everywhere. (Dog poop is also everywhere. Watch your step!) They appear lean but not starving. They are calm and never bark or act agitated. They resemble short-haired mutts you might adopt from the pound. This one hangs out directly in front of the Toyota dealer.
One night in my apartment, I heard a cat fight; the low guttural growling went on forever. I rarely see cats around in daylight. One rainy day, however, I saw a skinny cat creeping around outside Pune Central mall. I was walking toward the entrance and the cat suddenly noticed me, cowered, and skittered away. It broke my heart. I love animals and can hardly stand to see them so fearful and miserable.
In a country such as India, where poverty is pervasive and millions are living in squalid conditions, there’s no way that animal welfare can be first priority. But I can’t help my Western point of view. I can’t help feeling sorry for them. What is the point of being born to a life of struggle? What is the definition of a decent life? Do these creatures derive any pleasure from life? (Actually the dogs look fairly content.)