Kolkata Diary. A Different Way of Living With Animals

It looked like the back end of a rat.  The biggest rat I’ve ever seen.  It was on the balcony outside my hotel room in Udiapur, one morning.  I thought of Minnie and Flo and the pieces of mice, moles and bunnies they leave on the back porch.  This rat looked almost as big a Flo.

I wondered what left it there and thought of the eagle I saw perched on a flag pole outside the roof top restaurant yesterday.  I wondered if the monkeys that I saw the day before ate meat.

When I told the owner of the hotel about it, he joked and asked if I was feeding the rat.  Then he said, “Welcome to India.”

From what I witnessed, there’s a different relationship between animals and people in India than in America.

Their lives are more integrated, more organic.

I didn’t see a lot of cats, but the ones I saw were the kind I wouldn’t want to cuddle with.  They were dirty and beat up looking.  Wild things, sauntering around like tigers on the prowl.

Dogs were everywhere I went.

Not pets.  I only saw one pet dog.  A beagle who lived at the Jaiwana Hotel.

Dogs live among the people.  They have their own lives, go where they want when they want.  They have their territories.  I saw the same dogs every day in the village of Bolpur and in Udiapur.

Dogs roam the streets.  They sleep on the side of the road, scavenge the piles of garbage and run in packs.  Sometimes people throw them scraps to eat.  In the early morning you hear them fighting.

Some were so skinny their bones were showing, others had open sores on their bodies.  But most of the dogs I saw seemed healthy and content.   Roaming the streets, living side by side with people, avoiding cars and motorcycles.  Once I saw a man throw a stick at some dogs hanging around a hotel, to chase them away.  But mostly people seem to ignore them.  Or maybe it’s that they accept them.

The dogs in India have found a way to live with the people there.

And maybe it’s because of the cows.  Because the relationship between dogs and people looks much like the relationship between cows and people.

Although the cows seem even more easy going and relaxed than the dogs.  Nothing seems to rattle them. Certainly not people.  But they also stay calm and go about their business with cars and motorcycles whizzing by them.  They’ll stand confidently in the middle of a busy highway while trucks move around them.

And the grassy medians off the highways, that we mow and maintain in America, are grazed by cows in India.  Because they are seen as sacred, they’re not afraid, they know they’re not in any kind of danger.  So they live harmoniously with people in rural villages and in busy cities.

It’s an amazing thing to witness and be a part of.  Because you can’t help but be a part of it when you’re there.

I know it helped me keep in touch with the natural world, having the dogs and cows walking next to me down the streets in Kolkata.  As if it were the most natural thing in the world.

It wasn’t about petting them, or feeding them, or trying to rescue them.   They didn’t need rescuing.   It was about living along side of them.   And respecting them and their lives for what they are.

When the monkeys ran across the balcony of my hotel one afternoon, the babies hanging off their mothers chests, I was enthralled. Someone had hung the ropes they used to climb to the roof tops.  Their presence wasn’t discouraged, but encouraged.  They had as much a right to be there as I did.

As I left Udiapur for  the airport early Saturday morning, it was still dark.  I saw the cows sleeping together in small herds on the sidewalks.  Dogs found beds in the tuk-tuks ( golf cart like taxis) parked on the side of the road.

I thought of fleas and feces and disease and wondered why I didn’t see more of each.  I imagine if I lived in the slums instead of staying at a nice hotel my experience might be different.  But no one seemed to begrudge the animals their presence.  They are just a natural part of life.

I know seeing them everywhere, walking among them, helped ground me, as nature always does.

Dogs in Udiapur
Monkey on my balcony



A man with a pig and cow in Bolpur
Woman with donkeys on the side of the highway in Udiapur.  These were the only donkeys I saw.  As often happens with donkeys, they seemed to carry a heavier burden than some of the animals I saw.

4 thoughts on “Kolkata Diary. A Different Way of Living With Animals

  1. I was at a hotel in India where we had meals outside on a terrace. The owner kept a BB gun on the table to threaten the monkeys as they would jump on the table and grab food and utensils. While we were there one grabbed a jar of jam. We were told to keep our room doors firmly closed and locked as they would get in and make huge messes. The owner said they were able to open the door to his apartment and then the refrigerator and he came home to food all over the place. I saw cows on the streets eating cardboard because there was nothing green to eat and they had diarrhea all over the place. I have a photo of a cow sticking his head into the upper part of a door and getting food from the lady who lived there. It certainly is different.

  2. Thank you, Maria, for acknowledging the lives of the many animals you came across in your short time in India. Unfortunately, live for them is as uncomfortable as it is for too many of India’s people. Apropos donkeys, http://www.animalrahat.com/about-animal-rahat/ do much to help them and other working animals to enjoy a few well deserved retirement years.
    And yes, people feed rats, why? – Ganesh uses a rat as a vehicle…and the rat goddess is called Karni Mata.

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