Relay: Gods On the Beach

Where do we draw the line?

   Sometimes my mind wanders. In completing the often dreary task of typing up notes from another local government meeting, a kind of careless dyslexia sets in. “Dogs on the beach” is transcribed as “Gods on the beach.” “On” is typed “Om.” And so on.
    To a semi-recent arrival — albeit one with some roots here — the debate over whether and how much to allow man’s best friend on village beaches while that man’s so-called ruling class frequents said shores can seem like so much ado about very little.
    On the other hand, imbroglio du jour lays bare debates, as the mayor eloquently stated, about how individuals conduct themselves as an inherent element of the community.
    Nov. 12, 2010, midday: By Lord Sri Krishna’s grace, the overnight train I had boarded at Kochi, one frantic early-morning rush for the very last ticket issued a foreigner later, arrived at Goa. Hours late — quite naturally — I was grateful to disembark and brave an hourlong taxi ride and its presumably — based on hard experience — unscrupulous driver.
    And there did await the paradise of Palolem Beach.
    Had I been a Portuguese sailor in the 16th century, I am sure that, having set eyes upon it, I would never leave such a place. The mile-long crescent beach a natural refuge, here the Arabian Sea is tranquil. Dolphins gambol offshore, guitar strings are plucked by the cottages adjacent to Monkey Island, where electricity had not yet been restored and, I later learned, would never be. It is a place of deep mental restoration and spiritual regeneration.
    The locals are devout, their reverence sincere. I attempt twice-daily transcendental meditation, with uneven results, but listening to George Harrison’s “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” on the shore at sunrise brings actual God realization, or at least something close to it.
    And yet. It is still India, and its desperately filthy and overcrowded cities are never too far away. In Delhi, for example, packs of feral dogs spend their days foraging through ever-present garbage, urinating and defecating everywhere, and making feral puppies. They are aggressive, and bite and terrorize residents.
    Eleven hundred and eighty-seven miles away, on an otherwise pristine beach — even the cows stand pensively, contemplating eternity — the situation is similar. Here, at least, elderly women traverse the beach in the mornings, scooping offending matter with sections of cardboard.
    I was lucky: I didn’t step in anything distasteful, was chased by three snarling dogs only once, and wasn’t bitten. But it was unnerving, and I cursed the maddeningly primitive state of things in India, particularly its human inhabitants’ behavior and the chaos that is the inevitable consequence.
    Where do we draw the line? Who “owns” the beach, and do they own the breeze, too? The sunlight glistening on the ocean? Do nonhumans have any rights, or are we lord of everything our ego-driven minds covet?
    I don’t know the answer, and anyway, I have to keep writing.


Christopher Walsh is a reporter at The Star.