Friday, November 30, 2007

The struggle has gone to the dogs


Feeling low about leaving a job, the kind that might never head my way again, I wasn’t exactly elated, but that voice inside told me to chase my dreams while I have the energy to do so. In the evening I was listening to the CDs that were presented to me as a farewell gift by my colleagues at Pearson Education. I must say I’m not one who goes bananas over gifts but when I opened the wrapper and saw the CDs of ABBA and The Beatles, I went pumpkins!! The lines go like this “It’s been a hard day’s night, and I’ve been working like a dog…” and listening to them, I tried to meditate on these particularly, preparing myself for the toiling headed my way.
After being sure that the amplifier had become very hot indeed, I switched off the music and headed for the TV. I told ma that it was time to change from Star Plus to something else or the TV would leave the house for being tortured. Reluctantly ma handed the remote control to me while her eyes remained glued to the screen to watch that last bit of popular trash being mass-produced and aired non-stop one after another, before I switched to National Geographic Channel. Mother is as much baffled by my extreme fascination for wildlife as I am by her love for the dreadful Hindi soap operas. In these operas everybody are stinking rich, some people suddenly disappear and reappear after 20 years in someone else’s body, everyone has affairs with other people’s spouses (and even bear illegitimate children), they even die…but somehow return, they’re always contriving something sinister or trying to undo the effects of queer misunderstandings that normal people cannot have. Their children grow up and have more such affairs and bear more children…it is so complex that if a geneticist were sit down to sit down and carry out a pedigree analysis of these people, it would look like a spider’s web rather than a lineage chart. And I tell you one thing all these people have tasted water from the fountain of eternal youth, the grand-mother is as young as a girl of 25. Maybe that’s why women dig it; I’ll never understand some things about women. So my mother is a normal 58 year old lady and I am an abnormal 28 year old man. It’s not that bad you see, I’ve made it through these 28 years, I’ll make it through a couple more; just enough to do something interesting. Besides things are improving, at least a few people in the world know my name now…unlike in the school days when I woke up half-expecting that even my father would look at me and try to recall my name with a great difficulty.
Let me tell you what I saw on NGC, it was a program on wild dogs in some park in Botswana. There was this big pack of WDs with lots of healthy pups, all but one, a weakling by the name of Niyuki. Poor Niyuki hardly ever got a chance to suckle. Soon the pups were weaned and graduated to meat eating and Niyuki remained underfed and weak. WDs feed their pups by regurgitating pieces the meal they ‘hunt down and eat alive’ (…just one of the things my mom frowns at, while I watch with tears of joy and amazement in my eyes.) This scientist followed the dogs and studied their behaviour over a couple of years. He thought that Niyuki would probably be the first one to die in case any tragedy struck. Tragedy did strike; lions attacked the pack and killed 4 cubs. Lions actively ambush and kill wild dogs, cheetahs, leopards (if they are ever able to ambush one) and other carnivores to eliminate competition of food (they have to think 10 times before doing the same to hyenas…and hyenas never leave any opportunity to attack lions). Guess who survived; Niyuki! Then after some months, the scientist discovered that the dogs started dying. Unexplained, the dead-bodies were found scattered, not a single dog was alive in that area. It was surmised that they probably died due to rabies contracted from the domesticated animals in the vicinity of the sanctuary. Talking about domestic animals, it is legal for the farmer to shoot down any wild animal that strays out of the park into their farm and most animals understand that, ones who don’t, don’t live to learn. So our scientist bro roamed around in the vast park but there was no sign of a single dog. After around 2 weeks though, he saw fresh WD pugmarks. Guess who!! It was Niyuki and his mate (from some other area). A full grown WD, Niyuki was big and healthy now. The two committed the blunder of starting a family; pups in a big pack have a better survival rate. So they had a couple of pups for whom they had to forage (actually they were on mum’s milk, but the mum’s eating requirement grew by leaps and bounds). So mum and dad went hunting and they walked and walked but found no game and strayed too far away from the pups. Out of desperation, they went…guess where!! out of the park into the farm. The farmer spotted them and fired his gun, Niyuki and his mate ran for their lives but just they reached the fence to enter the park, another shot claimed Niyuki’s girl’s life. Niyuki stood there stunned; out of fear he crossed the fence into the park, waited for a whole day for his partner. With head hung low, he returned home to pups that died by dehydration. Niyuki was desperate to find a new home so he started following another pack. He followed them for weeks but never went near for fear of being attacked. Finally Bell — the alfa-female—allowed him into the group (Tikolo, the alfa male, wasn’t pleased at this but tolerated him). Gradually love blossomed between Bell and Niyuki (because Bell was in estrous) and one day they mated while the other dogs went hunting (Ok Ok there’s some masala in my serials too…it’s not just very pleasant to look at…they call “that” love!! Poor Niyuki shivering under the effects of testosterone). Tikolo didn’t let Niyuki anywhere near the pups; Niyuki was only tolerated because of his hunting skills. Over time, Tikolo became more tolerant of Niyuki and allowed him to meet the pups…and what a sight it was when the real dad met his babies and fed them regurgitated meat. As the pack shifted base, they moved towards Niyuki’s original territory, he took over a dominant role in hunting. It was a sight to behold, how a WD chases its quarry for miles at a stretch at high speed. Even the swift impalas can’t match the speed and stamina of wild-dogs and as they slow down, the indefatigable dogs gain more speed and literally finish eating the rear of the impala while it is still alive and wondering where he disappeared from front limb down. It was a treat to watch Niyuki chase the impalas, he was like an arrow released from a bow, so swift and for soo long that the cameraman couldn’t keep pace, neither could the other dogs and nor could the impressive impala. Niyuki knew the terrain well and knew where to find water, impalas and even places where lions were most likely to ambush them. One day after a hunt, a lioness headed towards the pack, the dogs chased her away. Little did they know that she had a backup of numerous other lionesses and a large male lion. The dogs were ambushed and attacked mercilessly, they ran for their lives but almost each one bore the brunt, two of them died (one being Tikolo). As Niyuki headed home with the other mauled dogs, I was moved on seeing his lacerations; his body, especially the front region was bore deep gashes by the razors in the lion usual, Niyuki received more than his fair share of beating and was the most severely injured dog alive. Despite this, on reaching home, he dutifully fed the cubs. Niyuki managed to live on (God know how his wounds healed) and became the new leader—the new alfa male.
In the end, our teary-eyed scientist bro narrated the last few lines of the tale. He said that later on in his life, Niyuki once again strayed into the farmland and was never seen again. What a life for a pup that was least likely to live! A survivor, a leader! Our scientist bro said that he couldn’t understand how in the world of the fittest, Niyuki ever managed to grow up in the first place and how in the world did he stray away from his pack just before the disease wiped out every dog!! Niyuki, the weakest pup, had survived and lived through it all.
Chance perhaps, perhaps destiny…perhaps just one of the things that we cannot explain! Hats off to Niyuki!

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