Nepal is a land of despair and hope. Despite enormous hardships, Nepalis have learnt to survive, and indeed surmount them. There is injustice and exclusion, but also a surge of youthful activism. The present may look hopeless, but we still hold out hope for a better tomorrow.
We treat our animals badly, yet we worship them as manifestations of our gods.
This contrast between cruelty and compassion is this most pronounced in the lives of street fauna, creatures with whom we share our urban space. Dogs are mistreated, tortured and killed, but there are also many families which have adopted dozens of street dogs to feed and care for, despite not having spare income. They may not be rich, but they display a richness of compassion for fellow beings.
On Kukur Tihar on 3 November this year, we will worship our pets and community dogs, garlanding and feeding them treats. But in the evening, many of the same families will light firecrackers to frighten the living daylights out of their dogs. This Tihar, like in previous years, many pets will get lost – desperately fleeing the explosions, until they have run too far to find their way back home.
It is to draw attention to how street animals bring out the best (and sometimes the worst) in human beings that this Kukur Tihar will see the launch of another book about a Nepali dog. She is named Sathi, a dog that finds a new life thanks to kind hoomans. Appropriately, ‘Sathi’ means ‘friend’ in Nepali – after all, we are talking about man’s best friends.
Sathi is an exquisitely illustrated bilingual book for children and adults that tells a fairy tale story of an abandoned dog, who is scalded on Kukur Tihar by a city shopkeeper. She is so angry that the dog is messing up her shop, she throws a bucketful of boiling water on the hapless pooch. Sathi is miserable and in pain as she licks her wounds at a garbage pile, until she finds a benefactor who takes her to the real-life animal shelter called KAT Centre in Kathmandu.
Sathi is cared for at the dog home, and the burns on her back heal slowly. She makes friends with other dogs at the shelter who have also been attacked, abandoned, or hit by cars. There is Moti, Momo, Karma, Tashi – all with heart-rending stories from the streets.
“You know, dogs are often not treated very well here in Kathmandu,” a dog named Karma who lost one eye to a knife-wielding attacker tells Sathi. “Not all people like dogs and they only honor us one day a year, on Kukur Tihar. The rest of the time, they don’t really care about us.”
Like most fairy tales, Sathi has a happy ending. But unfortunately, that is not the case for most of Kathmandu’s street dogs.
Julu is the pseudonym of the author, a world traveler who cares about animals, and who has three dogs of her own. She was prompted to write the book after learning of a dog who had been burnt on her back because a neighbour did not want the dog bothering her. After seeing the dog lying in the rain, licking its burns, Julu decided to help. She got the dog into a shelter, and ultimately adopted by a family in Canada.
This true story on which the book is based is explained in the Epilogue that also contains a list of animal shelters in Kathmandu that care for abandoned dogs and find homes for them. Part of the proceeds of the book will go to support some of these shelters.
The last paragraph of Sathi is moving reminder to us that every day should be Kukur Tihar in Nepal: ‘Sathi closed her eyes and promised never to forget what life had been like for her and her friends, and what it was still like for the dogs still living on the streets. She vowed in her heart to spread the word to all the dogs of Kathmandu, about what it could be like, to be adopted into a loving family.’