Monday, February 09, 2009


Here's another piece that I started writing in Goa. It's incomplete, but I need to post something:

I saw a puppy playing on the beach this afternoon. He was adorable, especially when he discovered a tiny red ball, about the size of a grape. His look of curiosity, then, when he picked it up carefully with his tiny teeth, his look of jealous possession, reminded me of a little child. His master ran after him, finally caught up and took away the ball, and scolded the mischievous boy, who put his head down onto the sand with eyes pleading for forgiveness.

Tonight, as I sit at my beach shack, sharing a beer and stories with other travelers, my attention turns to another dog, an older one sleeping a few feet away. He's got it all, the lazy bugger, with no worries: a place to sleep, plenty of food judging by his size, and lots of friends at nearby shacks. Then, he does something that makes me wonder just how far apart animals and humans really are.

Every night at around 9, when the sky is finally dark, fireworks signal a party somewhere down the beach. Tonight, I see the dog at my feet waking up to watch the exploding display, just like his human companions. He doesn't look scared or confused. He seems to enjoy the show. He sits up erect, eyes wide open, and as a rocket trails up into the air, he leans forward, expecting the explosion. When the rocket does explode, he sits back, his eyes saying "ooh" along with his human companions.

Any pet owner will tell you that animals have emotions. Maybe not as many as we have, maybe not as complex as ours are, maybe without the ability to express them as clearly as we do, but they are real. Can a cat or dog truly love somebody or apologize for a transgression? I think yes.

Anyone who has observed humans can tell you that we act on our basic, animal instincts more often than not. Just the other day, I paused to watch children playing in front of a school. Two boys got into some sort of argument (I couldn't hear or understand what it might have been about), and each grabbed the other by the throat. And they just stood there at arm's length, holding on tight, staring the other down without a word. And I thought, how similar are their eyes and expressions to two animals squaring off?

Surely humans are different from animals. But what happens when humans are treated like animals? 

On our campus, there is a lot of construction taking place. Every day I walk past the future gym, which is rising fast. The construction site, like everything else here, is on the side of a hill, so there are no easy roads to bring in materials. Which is why, from the road to the site, there is a path on which donkeys haul stone and sand all day long. You wouldn't want to walk up that steep path, covered in animal waste and beaten down by hooves. Thing is, there are plenty of men walking up that path, men with loads of brick strapped to their backs. Walking at the same pace and doing the job as the donkeys. All day long they go up and down, to the point of exhaustion, back and forth. The only difference between man and beast is that no one yells and wields a stick when the men slow down.

People wonder how the pyramids and other wonders of the world were built before the advent of heavy machinery. The answer is simple. Take a massive number of poor people, enslave them (or pay them a pittance, what's the difference), and make them work.

On another construction site, I've seen men squatting on the road, hammer in hand, breaking up large stones into smaller ones. All day long. And on another, men and women mixing sand into cement and carrying it up a path on their heads. 

Maybe when they go home at night (which is often a plastic-roofed shack on the construction site), these people laugh and talk about the future and have the same look of wonder that I saw on the dogs' faces at the beach. But at work, during the day in the sun, there is very little to separate them from beasts of burden. 

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