The wisdom of indignation

auntyWhen I’m angry or in a bad mood or just frustrated, I smile more. It cheers me up. I crack jokes. I crib in a way that makes people laugh. I think about something else. I count my blessings. I explain to myself what has happened. I see things from the other person’s point of view. I go for a walk. I buy my favourite chips. I make a fresh pot of tea.

In my emotional backpocket, I have a million and one tricks to cheer myself up. But today I don’t feel like using them. I just want to be angry.

Other people are angry who have fewer things to resent than I do. Why shouldn’t I be?

They're very cute when they'te not peeing on things. And then all of a sudden they start looking like Satan to me.
They’re very cute when they’te not peeing on things. And then all of a sudden they start looking like Satan to me.

Like Angry Aunty, the Neighbor across the Lane is angry about something every day—usually the same thing. The other white dog I mentioned, that’s her obsession. The other white dog relieves herself in front of her house. The other white dog barks. No one is taking care of the other white dog properly. Someone took her in and then dumped her. (Which is true, and which is wrong. However, cribbing about it all on a daily basis doesn’t seem to be helping.)

But I’ve also realized the Neighbor across the Lane sounds angry even when she isn’t. It’s just that she’s angry so much of the time that ranting has become her normal speaking voice.

I want to be angry too, although perhaps not so much. Perhaps not so much that anger becomes a habit. Still, there is a sense of deprivation for me, like the rest of the world has gotten candy or some other nice thing and I didn’t get any.

Anger isn’t so nice really. But my backpocket tricks are work. They take effort. They are difficult. What the rest of the world is getting that I’m not getting is a break from exercising so much self control.

I should probably go back and explain a bit. It was a fine morning. Nothing wrong with it. I slept soundly. Woke up on time. It rained last night, but stopped by morning, so what we were left with was this gloomy, gloomy fall feeling that’s not really natural for this part of the world. All nice.

Then the dog came into my room for a minute. I’m trying to teach it not to do that, but when someone’s talking to me, I’m too distracted to make it mind. And people do that. They come to my room because they want something or other. They’re talking to me about that thing they want—whatever it is–so I’m listening to them and the dog comes rushing in. Actually, both of them, because Priya has been letting the other white dog come inside. I tried to explain to her that wasn’t a good idea, because the dog is not housebroken. She’s been an outside dog her whole life, and she doesn’t understand about not peeing inside. But Priya doesn’t think about the future.

ChintuAnyway, so Priya was talking to me, the dogs rushed in, and her dog immediately went to the window and peed on the drapes. She gave me newspaper to put over it and told me the maid would clean it when she came in a few hours.

So, I was angry. First at the dog, just because. But mostly at her. Because the dog is hers and she has neither taught it any manners nor does she clean up after it. I really should not have to clean up dog urine in my room when I don’t have a dog. Nor should I have to wait a few hours for someone else to clean it.

Indignant might, in fact, be the better word.

There is a wisdom in indignation. Indignation says I know I have rights, I know what they are or at least think I know what they are, and so I also recognize when they have been violated. That wisdom is the reason behind my two tight slaps. And indignation also says, “I can correct that. I can defend my rights against violation.”

Now, some of us get confused about what our rights are. We get it wrong sometimes. The world does not, in fact, owe us convenience, fulfillment, or pleasure. And you probably cannot come to a country over-run by stray dogs, rent a house, and expect to never have to come across dog doo. That’s probably unrealistic. But I may be wrong about that.

Also, indignation is not helpful if you never move forward from it, and by forward I don’t mean “putting it all behind you.” I mean devising a plan.

For example, my indignation was not effective. Although I resented doing it, I cleaned the dog urine up in my room myself. I said nothing when I might have said something. A better plan might have been to tell Priya she could clean up after her own dog for God’s sake, and that I shouldn’t have to wait a few hours for the maid to do it for her. Maybe.

However, this whole indignation business is a bit new to me. I wasn’t sure whether I would like the way I might choose to respond to it. So I did nothing. I just felt it. One thing at a time.

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Where I’ve been: order, dogs, and family myths

Here, in fact, I’ve been right here.

The room.
The room.

But I have a new room. For now. As usual, things did not go as planned. So, I’ll be returning to old small room any day now. It’s a long story and not a very interesting one, so I’ll spare you the whole thing, but suffice it to say I spent yesterday cleaning in preparation for taking up residence here.

I haven’t been thinking much either, except about the relative merits of Lizol over Rin. (Rin foams so much more satisfyingly, but does it actually clean better? The jury is out on that one.)

Oh, and I’ve been training the dogs. Slightly. It’s just that Bozo, the resident dog, is completely untrained and it’s a hassle. Also, Chintu will grow up to be a much nicer dog if she stops jumping up on people and biting their clothes. And I have this idea that minding begins with sitting. So I give the five minutes of my time a day per dog and they learn how to sit and lie down and stay. That’s not really so much, is it? It doesn’t seem like it to me. If I could teach advanced mathematics in five minutes a day, all of our lives would be much easier. Unfortunately, maths must be harder to teach that sitting and lying down. It’s a shame that. I’m sure my students agree.

picture025
The new room. For now.

I feel a little like an ad for Cesar Milan. You don’t need to train dogs so much as you need to train their owners. So it isn’t just Bozo that needs training, it’s Priya and Uncle #2 who need it. The fact that he isn’t trained is a reflection of the whole rest of their chaotic lives. And it’s the chaos as much as anything that makes Bozo so anxious and hard to manage. He doesn’t know who’s in charge and so, like a child, he has taken charge. But this makes for a lot of jumping around and barking. And torn clothes. Since dog school has opened, he’s calmer.

Priya has also been gone, and it was interesting to see what happened when she returned. He wasn’t jumping up on her. He was behaving himself, so she picked up his paws and lifted them and put them up on her shoulders. But later she’ll complain when he tears her clothes. I don’t really understand it, although I know some people are like that.. The future does not exist for them. “I want attention from my dog at this moment. Never mind that I won’t like this kind of attention later,” Priya thinks and so she picks up his paws and puts them on her.

I’m the opposite. I don’t know much about dogs—I’ve had cats my whole life. But I’ve noticed how it often starts with them: it starts in the same way it starts with children. It starts as testing behavior. He puts a paw on your leg a few times, and a few seconds later he’s jumping up on your chest. Dogs are a lot like us. They need rules to follow. They need to know what to expect.

I now have a porch instead of a view.
I now have a view instead of a porch.

And it makes me think about myself. Because, since I’ve come, most things have become a bit more organized. The kitchen is cleaner. There aren’t cockroaches racing for cover every time you pick something up. It’s only partly because of me. Order is also contagious, and everyone else seems to do a bit more because of what I do.

But what it says about me is that I prefer order. That’s not a terrible surprise—I was a librarian for almost a decade, I teach maths, my books at home were always arranged by subject, my spices by cuisine, and my shirts by colour.

My preference for order comes out of both an aesthetic sense (if you don’t have much, it at least looks better if it’s tidy) and a concern for the future (it’s so much faster to find what you want).

Yet, I am still surprised. Surprised because I experience a degree of denial about this. I tend to see this desire for order as both a character flaw and as something someone else does and not me.

The dogs.
The dogs.

I think this has something to do with how my family saw me when I was growing up and with a kind of myth they created out of me. I was the absent-minded genius, the cluttered, creative artist. Perhaps that was their way of making sense of me, or maybe it was the suitable box for reflecting well on the family—because I am bright, I am creative, I do have the occasional unconventional or novel idea. Some of it does fit.

Like everywhere else in my life, I must have felt I needed to be the person they imagined I was. And it went on for so long I became confused about what was real and what wasn’t.

The other white dog

picture014I stayed home for probably five days—achy, bad stomach, weak. Didn’t feel like going out, not even for lunch. So I haven’t seen the white dog. Even now that all has returned to normal, I still haven’t seen her. Perhaps this is just chance, or maybe she’s shifted her routine. The weather is cooler and even the dogs don’t feel like getting out of bed these days. I don’t either, and sleep until seven. (Although some of that has because of the watchman. He’d gone to his village for two weeks, and the man who took his place didn’t make froggy noises brushing his teeth.)

But there’s another white dog in my life, although this one isn’t all white. She has spots. Her name is Chintu, which means small, and she is small. She’s only about two or three months old.

In the last few days, Chintu has figured out how to get into the yard of the guesthouse where I’m staying. She found one way, and they blocked it off. She found a different way and they blocked that off too. Then she realized she could squeeze through the bars on the gate. And now, until something can be done about that, she comes in whenever she pleases.

So Chintu has chosen to live here. There’s a mat in the garden she sleeps on all day, and in the afternoon she plays with the other dog. But the major appeal (or perhaps one of several) seems to be me. For as long as I’ve been outside—and I spent most of the day under the bougainvillea—she hasn’t strayed more than two meters away.

She slept in the garden on her mat, and she played with the other dog around my feet, and she chewed a stick under my chair. And now that I’ve gone inside to escape the vicious mouths of mosquitoes, she’s come to sleep outside my window.

All this is to say that I think a dog likes me. And I find this a little strange. Not just because I’m really a cat person, but because this means I’ve passed a test: if children like you, and dogs like you, then you’re a person who can be trusted.

I don’t feel like someone who can be trusted. I feel like a dangerous person, a frightening person. But I don’t know where I got that idea about myself. I could speculate it came from the many times I’ve needed to take strong measures to protect myself, or maybe only my mother and her pernicious sense of being threatened are to blame, or it could even be the extreme reactions I used to have to certain triggers (having to separate myself from important others being one of them). Perhaps all three.

But I also know that view of myself is either a distortion or no longer relevant. And all of this just makes me sad.

The white dog (dog post #2)

She looks a bit like the dog in the background, only much thinner and a bit smaller.
She looks a bit like the dog in the background, only much thinner and a bit smaller.

There’s a small white dog that stays near one of the buildings I walk by everyday. In fact, I walk past it three times a day, but I only see her in the mornings. I suppose after that she hides. She isn’t a brave dog.

For the first week after this walk became a part of my routine, she came running as I hove into her view. I don’t know that this was intentional. She may have just been doing her rounds of the street corner, looking for something to eat. Or she may have come because there is another man who appears around the same time I do and sits in front of an empty storefront that appears to have once been a night club.

I have no idea why the man comes and sits there. In the afternoon, he’s no longer there. So he isn’t a watchman. Or if he is, then he doesn’t do a very good job.

Nonetheless, he does come and he does sit there, and it’s entirely possible the dog comes on his account—perhaps he feeds her or maybe he just smells like food.

Anyway, the dog comes, but this may have nothing to do with me. Nonetheless, she follows me rather companionably down the street until I reach the corner—she does not cross the road. The other side of the street is not a part of her territory. And so that is where we part ways.

The dog doesn’t come close to me. As I said, she isn’t a brave dog. Instead, she follows about three feet behind me. But four days ago, she had a sudden surge of courage, or maybe it was desperation—this dog, unlike many of the feral dogs here in Pune—is malnourished. You can see every one of her vertebrae, every rib. She whined. Quite insistently. It was heartbreaking.

Because she is malnourished, I bought a packet of biscuits from the stand there on the other side of the road—it’s the kind of stand that sells cigarettes and cold drinks and biscuits. They were five rupees each. I bought two packets because they didn’t have any change.

This dog is also in much better shape than she is.
This dog is also in much better shape than she is.

When I returned, however, the dog had found something else to eat—not much, a used plastic bag with some residue on it, tea maybe, or someone’s take-away. This made her afraid again–what if I stole her plastic bag? She wouldn’t come near me, but instead remained about 20 feet off. So I was afraid to leave the biscuits. Someone was sweeping at that time—someone is always sweeping in India in the morning, and often well into the afternoon. They are also big on dusting and splashing water over things without really getting them clean. That’s beside the point, however. But I didn’t want my biscuits swept up and burnt with the garbage.

So, I went away, thinking it could wait. She would be there tomorrow.

She wasn’t. I was alarmed then, and even more alarmed when I saw something vaguely dog-like in the rubbish heap in front of the empty nightclub. (It wasn’t her dead body, but I couldn’t bring myself to really look, and didn’t know this until the next day.) That’s the way your mind tends to go when you’re worried in the first place, and especially first thing in the morning when you’re less than fully awake.

I didn’t see her the next day either—more alarming, but at least I managed a peek at the rubbish heap. The third day, I saw her doing her usual morning rounds as I sat on the back of Nandhini’s scooter. (This is also a part of the morning routine.) But she didn’t come when I came walking by a half hour later.

Today, at last she was there. I gave her the biscuits. She wolfed them anxiously, looking every few seconds over one shoulder.

(For dog post #1, click here.)

The dog post

This isn't Fat Doggy, but there is a resemblance. I really need a camera...
This isn’t Fat Doggy, but there is a resemblance. I really need a camera…

Of all of my visits to India, this has got to be the doggiest.

It may be that attitudes have changed, and more people keep dogs, or it may be that more people in Pune are fond of dogs than other places I have been, or even some other factor entirely, but my world is suddenly filled with dogs.

Some of these are stray dogs, and some of them belong to people. Many of them live lives somewhat in-between: fed, but not necessarily owned. More than I ever recall, I see dogs lying on sidewalks and in the road with collars on: collars that say I belong to someone, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone bathes me. I am still covered in fleas. It might not mean I’ve had my shots, or that there would be anyone to take me to the vet if I fell ill.

I am staying, I have mentioned, in a rented room not far from Nandhini’s home, with a friend of her sister’s. There is a dog here. A beautiful black Labrador, just one year old. He isn’t trained at all, not even to come when he’s called, although he will come if he feels like it.

So that is one dog. This dog, much like the dog I was looking after a few months ago for a friend, bites. More accurately, he would like to gently chew your arm for you. You know, just to say hi and all. It’s not a nice habit, but I suppose there are worse things–wanting to chew your arm, but not having had his rabies shots. That would be worse.

This dog, his name is Bozo, has a friend. She’s tiny and terribly frightened of people, although she comes to investigate whenever I walk out the gate. She reminds me a bit of me in fact–friendly, but afraid. Some foreigner who stays across the street took her in, has kept her bathed and fed, but she stays outside still. I have not seen this foreigner.

But the friend-dog let me pet her today, and then she wanted to play.

The friend-dog also has a friend and although maybe I shouldn’t do this, I pet him also. Just to be fair. He’s a sober, quiet kind of dog. The kind who is neither excited nor aggressive about the attention, but just stands there looking grave while you do it.

And then there are Nandhini’s dogs. These are not her dogs. They are street dogs, but she’s named all of them as if they are her own. They come to her when they see her. There is Fat Doggy, who really is enormous. He chases cars and thinks he is king of his corner. All of the other dogs pass only with his permission.

Scraggly lives there with him on the same corner. She’s a small dog, with long hair that has matted and hangs in places in dreadlocks. i had never seen Scraggly before, although Fat Doggy was here the last time I came. Not terribly surprisingly, given my history with goats, I recognized the street as being the lane where Nandhini’s sister lives because Fat Doggy was there on the corner, still chasing cars

But Scraggly had had some other business to attend to when I was here last, and so I hadn’t seen her before. Given her name, I had assumed she’d be quite a bit more of a mess. But she’s actually rather healthy-looking and almost well-kept. It’s just the dreadlocks that have given her the name.

Get a Dog

How did we get these? Photo credit: Eirich Newth
How did we get these? Photo credit: Eirich Newth

As I mentioned in my last post, dogs have very much been on my mind these days.

Isn’t it strange that we are so gregarious as a species that we have actually invited other species into our worlds to live with us? We think it’s remarkable that ants keep aphid farms, and yet we have invited in more than a dozen species. We keep cats, dogs, rats, mice, birds, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, rabbits, snakes, spiders, turtles, and frogs. And those are the ones we keep mainly for the company.

I could add the animals we keep for food, but I think you get the idea.

I am increasingly convinced that nearly all of our psychological ailments arise from unmet needs for company. Nearly all anxiety and depression are really the result of loneliness.

Trauma has its own problems–mostly to do with memory–but the greatest problem is what it does to our relationships. Difficulty managing our emotions makes us difficult to be around. If the trauma was human-caused, as the most debilitating traumas are, we often find ourselves unable to form or maintain supportive relationships.

From these? Photo credit: Joel Sartore.
From these? Photo credit: Joel Sartore.

And if our traumatic experiences began in childhood, then we usually lack important skills needed for relationships: perspective-taking, assertiveness, even turn-taking (because, growing up, it was never our turn for anything).

Put another way, what we usually develop are the skills necessary to maintain relationships with uncaring and harmful people.

Unprotected, vulnerable, and lonely, we feel anxious and hopeless.

And this leads us back to dogs, and cats, and gerbils. Get one.