Journal Week: In the slum

April 4, 2009
Kolkata, India
"Walk to Work"

To get to Mother Teresa's house, we leave our hostel and walk down a long lane for close to 15 minutes. The street is lined with shops of all kinds and intersected by many dirt lanes and one large paved road that the tram rides up and down in its grooves on its line. It is always busy, even at seven in the morning. The taxi drivers are all lined up washing their cars, the cows are already busy on the sidewalks chewing their cud.
Boys and men are wrapped in their dhoti at the waterspouts, rubbing their bodies into a white froth of soap that seems not to clean anything. Old men are already lined up at the shop counters for their daily betel leaf smeared with paan, which will ensure a red smile all day long.
We walk down this dusty lane, avoiding the motorcycles, bicycles, and cars that zoom by. There is a butcher section where large sides of meat hang, dazzlingly red and white in the early morning sun. The smell is already overwhelming, the insides of animals being unceremoniously exposed
to the outside world, then hacked, chopped, and ground. I try not to look too closely because I can't stand the thought of the animals that used to be whole, healthy, wearing their guts inside their skins. I also don't want to feel sick. The smell is almost too much.
There are too many dogs. They are almost as numerous as the beggars, lying alongside them in the gutters and digging with them through the piles of trash swept out of the street. Today, one dog had stopped on the side of the lane. He was brown, with perky ears and his tongue interminably hanging out the side of his mouth trying to find some relief in the Indian heat. He was simply standing, alert. Perhaps he, too, couldn't escape the smell of fresh meat, blood still dripping off knives into drains. He was facing us as we picked our way through the lane.
A young man wearing a white tank top on top of his blue dhoti came walking in our direction, swinging a long thick chain. The links were close to 2 inches long and were round, thicker than a pencil. Both ends of the chain were in this man's hand as he walked down the street. He came up behind the dog- the frozen, all-alert dog. He first brought the chain up, his hand reaching back toward his ear, and then down onto the back of the dog, the long graceful curve of his spine breaking the chain into a squiggle. the dog jumped up and let out the most heart-rending squeal, a plea for mercy and a cry of confusion.
The man who hit the dog was amused by the pain he inflicted. I immediately yelled, "Why?" and turned around to look at the man who had just passed us seconds after his crime. I looked at him as if he were the devil and Kenny also watched him. He was laughing, a full open-mouthed smile on his face, truly filled with glee at his power.
The moment I turned back to continue walking to work, I was undone. could not stop thinking about how unprovoked and senseless the act of brutality was. I cried almost the entire way to Mother's House, unable to stop imagining the way the dog's back must still be stinging from that metal kiss. Everything else was thrown under the bus of this impression- this completely colored my day. Kenny says that my compassion for animals far exceeds my compassion for the people here. And perhaps that is true. I have always felt that as humans, we can understand and rationalize our pain, a gift that dogs don't have.
When the bottom of society are treated as less than our pets back home in America, when the poorest of the poor have less property than my sister's dogs, and the babies sleep on a sidewalk I wouldn't let my cat nap on, how do I expect these people to treat animals well? The dogs are competition. They compete for food and for attention from foreigners. And maybe the dog had won and the chain empowered a man to feel like more than an animal.


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