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 Created: 04/11/05


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Exotic Beast, India – 

April 11, 2005 – There are many things left to tell you about India. I hope you can stand one more installment. Next week you'll see an American Great Dane, I promise. In the meantime, I hope you'll stick with me.

What is India?
It's been said that whatever is TRUE of India, the exact opposite is also true. Another way to explain it is through an ancient Indian parable. It speaks of six blind men who together encounter an elephant for the first time. The modern version of the tale goes something like this:

The first blind man put out his hand and touched the elephant’s side. “How smooth!” he said. “An elephant is like a wall."

The second blind man touched the trunk. “How round! An elephant is like a snake."

The third blind man touched the tusk. "How sharp! An elephant is like a spear."

The fourth blind man touched the leg. "How tall and straight! An elephant is like a tree."

The fifth blind man touched the ear. "How wide! An elephant is like a fan."

The sixth blind man touched the tail. "How thin! An elephant is like a rope."

An argument ensued, each blind man insisting that his own perception of the elephant was correct.

—Lillian Quigley, The Blind Men and the Elephant

Of course, the elephant was huge, and each man touched only one part. They would have to put all the parts together to discover what an elephant is really like. Even then, would they truly understand the elephant? I think not.

The same is true of India
I've been to India many times, but I do not know India. I never will. It is beyond my grasp, and it always will be. The best I can do is share some impressions of what I found to be " true" in the context of my travels.

The illusive Great Dane
Since this is first and foremost a web site about Great Danes, we'll start here. Yes, they have Great Danes in India.

Did I see any? No. Did I expect to? No.

However, I was contacted by a breeder, Rajesh Katyal, who owns "Quinn" (CH Paquestone's Quinton Quest), who was named the top Great Dane in India for three years running. Rajesh, who lives in a suburb of New Delhi, urged me to drop by for a visit. Unfortunately, it wasn't possible to travel all the way to Delhi from Bombay (Mumbai).

Rajesh has invited me to come back in December to visit his Danes and attend the Noida Kennel Club's annual show. He's secretary of the club. Rajesh wrote:

"We'll have 2 rings judged by 2 different judges on the same day. The Dane entries for the last couple of years have increased; we now get about forty. If you cannot make it, please try to come in January or February as we have a lot of shows in North India. I am sure you would have a good time.

As for the number of Danes living in India, they have increased a lot in recent years. There have been some nice imports coming into India from the US, some imported by me and some by my very good friend, Ms. Gauri Nargolkar, who is also a breeder."

I'd love to go back to Delhi, one of my favorite Indian cities, to see the Great Danes in the show ring. Maybe it will happen.

Speaking of dogs...
The streets of India are completely overrun with stray dogs. Ten years earlier (during my last visit to India) that wasn't the case. Back then, the streets were home to countless goats and cows that foraged peacefully for food among the teeming population of city dwellers. Their niche has now been taken over by armies of ragged, homeless dogs. How many dogs are running free in India? Five years ago the number was put at 25 million – one stray for every forty persons. The current number is thought to be close to 80 million. That's one homeless dog for every twelve persons!

These dogs lead a pitiful existence. They struggle to survive, ignored and shunned by the general public. They are shunned for good reason. Rabies – almost exclusively due to dog bites – kills over 20,000 Indians a year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). But WHO has warned that the death toll could be as much as ten times higher due to under-reporting.

What can be done? The most obvious solution would be to destroy the street dog population. However, that's unlikely to happen anytime soon in India, because a law was passed in 1992 that made it illegal for municipalities to kill stray dogs. Vaccination and sterilization would be another approach, but the expense of trapping and treating over 50 million stray dogs is beyond the reach (and will) of the Indian government. A cheaper solution would be to limit population growth by restricting the dogs' access to food on the street. This would require Indian cities to revamp their heavily burdened and inadequate solid waste disposal programs.

Unfortunately, as far as I know, the government is doing little to address this mounting problem. I predict that at some point, when the threat to public health becomes intolerable, they will have to start slaughtering the dogs.

So where did all the "street goats" go?
In recent years India's middle class has experienced a vastly improved standard of living. India's goats have (apparently) also benefited, because they now travel around in auto-rickshaws instead of on foot. I would not have believed this if I had not seen it with my own eyes. My husband and I were riding in a small rickshaw down a crowded city street in Ahmedabad. Suddenly another rickshaw pulled ahead of us. Staring out from the back canopy was a white goat. I'd swear he was smiling at us. The same rickshaw carried two other goats, plus two boys. They were all crammed into the back seat.

For those of you who haven't seen one, an auto-rickshaw is a small open-sided "taxi" characterized by a tin and/or iron body resting on three small wheels (one in front, two on the rear). It is one of the main modes of transportation in India. There is a small seat for the driver up front and "bench seating" for two or three people in in the rear. It is not uncommon, though, to see numerous people tightly jammed into the back of a rickshaw.

Traffic in India
My husband has long contended that riding in an auto-rickshaw is the most dangerous thing we can do in India. We ride in rickshaws all the time. Traffic on the streets of India is one big game of "Chicken." Vehicles of all description crowd the road, from bullock and camel carts to huge (and often grossly overloaded) trucks, most of which are in terrible condition. Traffic rules? Forget it. Indian drivers love their horns – and they hate having anybody in front of them. The boldest drivers of the biggest vehicles demand the right of way, while rickshaw drivers fearlessly weave in and out between them, jockeying for advancement in the bottleneck. When things get particularly bad, I just close my eyes and hope for the best. (The World Health Organization reported that in 2004 approximately 100,000 persons died and more than 1,500,000 were seriously injured on Indian roads!)

Air Pollution
If the roads don't kill you in India, the bad air may just do the job. You can smell India the minute you step off the plane. Always. It's a distinctive smoky smell. As you move closer to the cities the odor usually intensifies. Sometimes your eyes begin to water and you begin to cough. It all depends on the source of the polluting agent. Sometimes I have to cover my nose and mouth with a scarf while riding in the back of a rickshaw. After a few days of traveling around in a crowded Indian city, my throat begins to tighten and I get hoarse. My husband always points out that ultimately we can get away from the pollution, while India's citizens have to live with it on a daily basis. According to the US Department of Energy:

"Industrialization and urbanization have resulted in a profound deterioration of India's air quality. India has more than 20 cities with populations of at least 1 million, and some of them are among the world's most polluted. Urban air quality ranks among the world's worst. Of the 3 million premature deaths in the world that occur each year due to outdoor and indoor air pollution, the highest number are assessed to occur in India. Sources of air pollution, India's most severe environmental problem, come in several forms, including vehicular emissions and untreated industrial smoke."

So why visit India?
After reading today's installment, you might be asking that question. Well, there are a million reasons to visit India. (Or perhaps a billion, since that's the population of India.) I thought I could end my series on India with this installment, but I haven't yet told you why India is so special. It looks like I'll have to write another installment. Stay tuned.

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