Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Dog blog from India

Dog blog from India

A mass of mutts in Mussoorie. Photo: My dear wife
Wherever you go in India there are dogs everywhere. Scrawny, emaciated mutts lie on the edge of the road or scavenge around in rubbish.

You can't help but feel sorry for the dejected-looking dogs, frequently told to "Hut" ("Go away") by all and sundry as they struggle to survive.

Many of them limp around and are injured, probably from being hit by vehicles, but there is little hope any of them will receive veterinary care.

It's a far cry from the pampered pooches in the west who have the luxury of a daily walk, regular feeds and a kennel. It makes you realise just how ridiculous and extravagant the whole concept of designer dogs in the west is - where celebrities give them pedicures or put them up in luxury pet hotels.

Some of the kids here at Woodstock have helped to set up a dog shelter to look after stray dogs in the vicinty, which will also have a sterilisation programme to stop the increase in strays. It's a worthy scheme but feels like something of a drop in the ocean for the whole country.

I guess in a country when so many people go hungry and eke out an existence it's not surprising dogs are left to roam the streets, and there's little sentimental attachment to such animals.
The coolest dog in India

In the meantime I'll try and give big dog love to any canines I encounter on my travels. The other day we almost ran over one of the downcast dogs as we tried to park the scooter, so I gave him some leftovers from our meal that night.

But I won't be stroking any of these dogs I'm afraid to say. Having just read that a woman in the UK died from rabies after being bitten by a dog in south east Asia, I'll just toss them the odd morsel and avoid any dog dentures.

Finally: my wife gets footy

On a totally unrelated subject I can confirm my wife has finally understood my passion for football. After years of incomprehension as to why I could spend so much time, money and emotional energy on perennial underachievers Southend United and 22 men chasing a cow's bladder around a field, Kirsten finally experienced the wonder and amazement of football.

To be fair the Southend games she's accompanied me to have been two of the worst football matches I've ever experienced (most recently Southend 0-1 Bradford, Dec 2011 - a result that cost us automatic promotion).

But football fell into place for her during the culmination of the English Premier League season when Manchester City won the title in extraordinary circumstances.

As you probably saw, City were trailing QPR 2-1 with just four minutes to go, needing two goals to win the title. It looked like they had blown what should have been an easy win, and their chance to win their first title in 44 years, and get one over Manchester United. Kirsten was in tears as she saw all the crying Man City fans on the TV.

Then incredibly Dzecko and Aguero scored two goals in the final few minutes, and in an incredible finale City had come back from the dead. We were jumping around embracing each other in the most amazing climax to a league season in years, possibly ever.

At long last Kirsten had experienced the joy and despair football can bring, and that Sunday night she finally got a glimpse of that rush of emotion when the ball hits the back of the net, gaining an insight into the profound and somewhat eccentric mind of the football fan.

Monday, 7 May 2012

India's uneven platforms

Many of you will know I'm a bit of a trainspotter, so I've enjoyed travelling round India on its excellent and efficient railway system.

My wife Kirsten and I took the sleeper train from Mumbai to Goa for our honeymoon which was a very cheap alternative to flying, and gives you a far better snapshot of Indian life than taking to the skies.

As you travel through both cities and rural areas there is never a dull moment, as you see people (often women) working in the fields, kids playing cricket on any scrap of open space, or even in the middle of a busy road, and others going about their daily ablutions (the luxury of privacy is not an option for them).

Indian railway stations are a microcosm of society. There are people everywhere, many sleeping on the platforms waiting hours for a connection. But many sleeping there because that is their home. Railway platforms are a magnet for the crippled and disabled in Indian society. This makes waiting at a station an uncomfortable experience for the western traveller.

You are frequently approached by the poor and lame, begging for money or food. Sometimes there are men walking on their hands in a scrunched up crouching position because they cannot use their legs. They also live on the station, rejected by a system where they cannot afford healthcare. Seeing people like this makes you want to cry.

This is when you face the difficult decisions on how to respond. Do I engage with the person, compared to whom I have riches beyond their imagination? Do I ignore them and not make eye contact, because I'm fed up with being hassled in India?

It's a difficult dilemma for every westerner in India. We had an excellent devotion at Woodstock School recently, where former teacher Andy Matheson, who is international director for Christian charity Oasis, and has a wealth of experience of working with the urban poor in India, urged us to try and personalise the situation. Ask the person their name, engage them in a conversation, and try and communicate Christ's love through a chat. This could be the only positive interaction they have had in days.

But I won't say I have always been able to do this, after long, tiring train journeys, the default position is often to try and ignore the immense poverty that is all around. It's something which challenges one's philosophical and spiritual convictions.

I try and have a bunch of bananas with me when travelling, as these serve as a useful thing to give out. But I realise this will not solve this person's long term predicament.

So even for an avid trainspotter like me, it's not always a laugh a minute travelling around this amazing and diverse country on the train.