‘BEEFING’ UP OUR SOFTER SIDE
By Sanjay Pinto

Never underestimate the power of simple words or small gestures when they are backed by genuine conviction. That thought hit me recently while returning home after dinner. I witnessed an act of kindness right outside my apartment building. Good Samaritans feeding stray animals do not qualify as a rare sight. But it was the manner in which this family, travelling in two SUVs, went about their task and what a young girl said, that brought a lump to my throat. The animal lovers had bought a few loaves of bread and a bag of tomatoes and were feeding about three hungry cows and patting them as if they were their own new born babies. The cows were spotted rummaging for food in the garbage bin opposite a grocery shop. In a burst of spontaneity, the young girl told me: “We were just returning from a restaurant after eating paneer and ice cream and it broke our hearts to see these cows that give us milk everyday, eating from a garbage bin.” Those words touched a chord in my heart and still ring in my ears.

My twin children too joined in and fed the cows. An elder member of the family B.Suresh, confided that he has been feeding abandoned animals, particularly cattle, for close to twenty years. Their brand of caring needed no selfies to post on facebook. It needed no lathis to beat suspected beef sellers. Or eaters. It needed no video cameras to record their loyalty to a ’cause’. It needed no slogans, no jingoism, no private army, no newspaper headlines, no tv breaking news flashes. And I thought to myself, aren’t these India’s  real ‘Gau Rakshaks’? They save these abandoned or neglected animals from hunger and starvation. Any moderate, right thinking person may even be inspired to join them.

Caring for animals or respecting religious beliefs should have nothing to do with politics. Nothing to do with vote banks. Nothing to do with ideology. It’s more about basic human decency. And sensitivity. And harmonious co-existence. Examples, like charity, may as well begin at home. As a born Catholic, I am a non-vegetarian. My wife Vidya, a brahmin, is a strict vegetarian. We remain the way we were. Truth be told, well before I got married, I had drastically cut down on red meat for health reasons. I stopped eating beef, post marriage. I have been sensitive to my wife’s belief even when we go out for a meal. The cow is her sacred animal and I will always respect that. Now despite being a vegetarian, my wife cooks chicken and fish. I still remember a note she had sent along with my lunch twelve years ago. “I cannot taste it or gauge if the chicken is soft or if the salt or masala is right. But it comes with a lot of love.” Can you ever beat that recipe for the purest form of secularism? No threats, no emotional blackmail, no subtle pressure, no false pretences, no posturing, no appeasement. Just love.

Dale Carnegie in his bestselling book ‘How To Win Friends & Influence People’ had formulated a golden rule: “If you want to gather honey, don’t kick over the beehive”. I wish our leaders care to read his book. You cannot dictate what people should eat or not eat. What you can do is to appeal to their softer side. There is always leeway for give and take, provided you stop imposing and start a dialogue. Consensus is the key. Confrontation is always a lock. And a ban is never a solution.

I do not consider myself to be religious, but I am God fearing. Would you believe that although I had visited Napapattinam several times on work, I had not visited the Holy Shrine at Velankanni. When I eventually did a few years ago, it was on my wife’s suggestion. And guess what, my mother in law Usha decided to accompany us. Now she is quite religious and is a veteran Kailash Manasarovar yatri, even with a metal rod in her leg, after a fracture. We visited the Shrine and prayed to Mother Mary. My mother in law spent a lot of time before the altar. I was perplexed and soon forgot about it. On my birthday, she presented me with a beautiful picture of  the altar of Mother Mary which she had painstakingly painted herself with water colours.

To those who raise questions in hush tones about marrying “out of the religion”, that hand written note with my lunch was an answer. To those who view ‘worship’ within strict religious dogmas, that birthday present was an answer. And to those who think that only coercion and violence can save a sacred animal, the sight of that Chennai family feeding cows is an answer.

Do you know that the care taker of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath‘s favourite cow Nandini is a Muslim? Or that one of the most prominent Goshalas in Jodhpur is run entirely by Muslims? Or that a Hindu dominated village in Gujarat’s Mehsana district had restored a 700 year old Dargah damaged by an earthquake? Left to themselves, without indoctrination, the average citizen out there has a soft, caring side. There is that inherent secular streak in every Indian. After all, the ultimate goal of every religion is service to humanity. As Robert Ingersoll quipped: “the hands that help are holier than the lips that pray.”

(Sanjay Pinto is a Lawyer at the Madras High Court, Columnist, Author, TV Political Commentator, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)