When we were young, every time my younger sister felt ignored or hard done by she would stop eating. No fuss, no drama, just a refusal to put any food in her mouth. This habit has carried on till today: if she is scolded, she will not eat. She does it with God as well. When she wants something from the universe, she will fast for it.

Mahatma Gandhi invented the fast and it is the most amazing weapon one has. After all it is not injuring anyone, it is totally weapon-less, and it is not aggressive. The complainant is simply injuring himself. But it evokes immediate concern and everyone is helpless in front of such gentleness and bravery that says – what will you do to me, see I am doing it myself.

Of course, the fast has to be genuine otherwise it is simply a joke. It cannot be a relay fast between meals. It cannot be accompanied with an immediate collapse and coma within 2 days when most of India gets to eat only on alternate days. It has to be accompanied with calm and cheeriness as if nothing unusual has happened and people are free to respond as they will. Anna’s fast was an example of how a fast should be done. I would also say Medha Patkar’s fasts are to be respected except that it is not a tactic that can be used many times.

Are humans the only ones who can emotionally blackmail like this? After all it takes intelligence and foresight and knowledge of the probable response to go through with a fast.

Devi is a small black and white dog who has come to my house after being thrown out of two houses. She is a very demanding hysterical dog who spends all her time sitting at my feet and trying to climb into my lap, will not allow me to move without her, will walk for 3 kilometres as I do every evening, and will fight with everyone who comes near me. She is not nice. She bites the blind dog, she spends a lot of her time snarling and she will not allow me any privacy. If I shut the door when I have visitors, she will squeal and whine loudly. She probably does all this because she thinks that if she stays close she will not be abandoned again, but this is probably the behaviour that caused her to be thrown out in the first place.

Anyway. One night she made everyone attack my blind and deaf dog Gudiya and she bit her savagely and repeatedly. I hit Devi several times. The next day I pushed her away and raised my hand every time she came near me. At night I locked her in the bathroom.

Two days later she disappeared I was busy and didn’t notice that she was not around. In the evening, the people who work in the house came to where I was. Devi had positioned herself in front of the main entrance – so that everyone had to see her as they went in and out. She had sat down on a mat and had refused to eat the whole day. She did not whine or growl or speak to anyone but she refused to move and she refused to eat. When they tried to persuade her, she simply wagged her tail (the equivalent of a smile) and kept her mouth shut.

I went out. She received me without getting up or showing any excitement but with a friendly wag of the tail. I sat down on the ground, took her into my lap, held her close and apologized for my behaviour. After a few minutes of stroking her, I asked them to bring the food. She kept her body in my lap, ate all the food, ate an extra bowl and left her position to resume her life as normal.

Our relationship has changed somewhat after that. I realize that she is as clever and sensitive as we are and certainly more politically agile. She has realised that I love her and that she does not have to be so breathy and hysterical and so mean to get my attention. We are in a happy place at the moment.

The people who work in the house respect her. They tell everyone who comes – we have our own Anna Hazare. Her one day protest fast has certainly elevated her.

Gudiya, my handicapped and yet so clever and happy Great Dane protests violence in another way. Even a gentle tap to push her away results in her sitting down and turning her face away. She will not respond to that person unless they hug and kiss her and give her a biscuit.  But that is not a calculated response. That is who she is. In Devi’s case, she simply took a leaf out of the Mahatma’s book and proved in the process that there is no difference between any species.

Maneka Gandhi

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