We are a big joint family. My parents, my younger brother’s family and mine, we all live together. We have a joint kitchen too. Feeding nine people means cooking a bit extra and that means a bit of wastage when it comes to food. We did try our best to cook a bit less but then seeing someone go hungry while the rest enjoyed a feast was a no no.
Everyday food was being thrown and it broke our heart.
So we were faced by a dilemma: What to do? Solution was not far away. There were many street dogs in our locality who looked expectantly at us for food and all of them surprisingly well mannered.
So the dilemma was resolved and I started feeding them.
At this point another dilemma erupted. One of these stray dogs was very strong and others were nervous of his presence. He merely had to appear and all the rest would go away. Even if they tried to partake the food, a mere growl from this strong dog was enough to scare them away.
Seeing the dog eat away all the food while the rest went hungry caused another dilemma. What to do?
We tried to give food to the other dogs on the sly. But this big dog had an uncanny intuition. He would appear suddenly out of nowhere and the poor dogs that had just settled to eat a meal would run away.
So we tried to get them into our house and locked the gate behind them and let them eat heartily. For some days the solution looked perfect. But the stray dogs became so comfortable inside the house that all of them started roaming inside our verandah (which is big). They would jump at and topple the dustbin and scatter the garbage, leaving behind a mess. They would rub their bodies against the sarees hung for drying. The younger dogs would even poop and piss. As time passed by, they became bolder and started walking in to our rooms.
Now, instead of giving food we were trying to chase them away all the day. I used to even throw chappals at them but making sure that they were never hit. But they were undeterred. Soon I brought a long bamboo stick and was chasing them, making sure never to hit them because I shun cruelty to helpless animals. They understood that I was less of angry and more of frustrated with them. Naturally, it took a really long time to get rid of them.
The traumatic experience made us shun serving them food. And so everyday food was being thrown to the bin while the dogs outside starved.
The bamboo stick was lying idle now as the dogs had stopped coming in. One day as I was about to throw food into the garbage bin, I had an idea. I picked the stick and took the food outside our gates (there are two). The problem was of our own making as we had invited the dogs inside and after that they thought it was their territory (dogs are territorial animals). The minute I served them food, the big dog appeared. But I was ready. I showed him the stick and he backed away. The other dogs had their food to their fill and the big dog slinked away after making two attempts to overpower them. Every time, I showed him the stick and he backed off.
I had a solution!
Once again, everyday I started serving these dogs food and the strong dog would try to frighten them, but my stick would deter him.
I was happy with the breakthrough but over the weeks, seeing the big dog leave dejectedly created another dilemma. It was not his fault that he was strong. He was just living in an animal world where the fittest survive. And now I was punishing him just because he was fit. That was no answer to the problem. In fact he needed more food than others because he was built solidly.
So the next day, I offered him some food and beckoned him. But he was confused. He would see my stick and back away. Slowly, I won his confidence and he ate his food.
The next day thinking I had become friendly, he tried to scare the other dogs but when I showed my stick he quietened his growls. It was an uneasy equillibrium, but I could get them all to eat.
10 days later, the stick became obsolete. All the dogs learned to share their meal peacefully.
The dilemma was resolved as the animals learned to co-exist instead of follow the survival of the fittest story or take us for granted.
So how does it reflect real life?
The incident forced me to think. We human beings are no different from the dogs. The ones who are strong can really corner the weak. It takes the law and the fear of the divine for us to share our bounty with others.
At another level, parents with two children, one strong and the other weak go all out to support the weak child, little realizing that the stronger child too needs support exactly because he is strong and can go really a long way with just a little push. The support to the weaker child should never be at the cost of the stronger child because the stronger child will lose his potential and the weaker child will become manipulative, intrusive, selfish and troublesome, just like the weaker dogs who created anarchy because we supported them wrongly.
The trick is to follow the middle path as suggested by Buddha. Not maximizing one person at the cost of another, but optimizing.
Would love to hear your views on this.