And just like that, in the middle of a city forest, we saw the boy grow into a man. I am sure it has been a journey, but we felt his full grown-up presence on our morning walk. The Sunday family walk has been a ritual for a while now. It is something I hope our son will remember when he thinks back on his ‘Delhi days’ as happy memories that we made, surrounded by nature and his beloved doggies. But this particular Sunday will be the one we remember because we saw our little man turn into a big man.
It started just like any other walk. We were happy that there were fewer cars than normal parked outside and there seemed to be much less of a crowd inside as well. The first sign of trouble appeared when we spotted a dog with a collar but no leash come bounding into view. Luckily a few seconds later his owners, a young couple appeared in sight.
Our little Cookie had not as yet spotted her four-legged friend (or foe) as yet. My son and wife went ahead while I held Cookie, and called out to the couple “Can you please put your dog on a leash”. The nonchalant reply that came back was “Don’t worry he won’t do anything…”. The exuberant doggie came bounding forward and my son intercepted him, got him by the collar, and went on to explain that our Cookie may not be as friendly as their fellow and hence could they please put him on the leash.
The four-legged fellow was handed over to the two-legged companions (who were, unfortunately, maskless) and we passed each other without major incident. Cookie did let out a few territorial barks but we thought danger had been averted. As we headed into the forest, looking forward to its calm embrace, chaos erupted. The ‘harmless’ fellow had been let off his leash once again and came dashing back towards Cookie.
This time unfortunately my temper got the better of me (for regular readers of my column, you will know I patted myself on my back for having the mindfulness to keep my calm and avoid an altercation in these same woods a few weeks ago). Heated words work exchanged. How dare they not wear masks in a public space? Why did they let him off the leash in a public space? And on the shouting match went. We were chastised for not training our little cookie properly, as ‘he’ was not well behaved and was barking a lot. My walking stick which I keep to ward off unwanted dogs was being brandished, which I am sure got them even more agitated and we were heading for high blood pressure territory, till my son stepped in. He got in between two warring couples and their dogs. Told us both to back of and let it go.
As our blood pressure returned to normal and we headed once again into the green embrace of the forest, our son said to us “You both were behaving like children, what did you hope to achieve by getting into a fight with them?”. While we defended our outburst, as I think about it in retrospect, it was not the smartest or kindest way to have dealt with the situation. There could have been so many different paths we could have followed, instead of giving in to the urge to fight.
From where did that uncontrollable and ugly anger come? Why was I ready to get into an altercation with a young couple and their lovely dog on a beautiful Sunday morning family walk? I am not sure, and while I will examine this more deeply in the days and weeks that follow, the answer that comes to me now is ‘fear’. Fear that that unmasked lady who came within inches of my son to take her dog back could have infected him. Fear that my cookie could have been hurt in a fight with a bigger dog.
As I think more, while fear was the trigger, deeper down is an anger that was waiting to lash out at the world. For being locked in for so long. For following all the rules and still getting infected. For doing all the right things and still not having any certainty that following the guidelines will get us over the finish line in good shape. The unfairness of it all had pent-up anger waiting to surface. How dare the rule-breakers not face any consequence. Why should I keep quiet when they break the rules? Will this angry outburst help? I am not sure. Maybe the next time they are out in a public place better sense will prevail and they will mask up and have their dog on a leash. Maybe they won’t. All I can say for sure is that my young boy has grown up into a strong man. He stood up today, to four adults and did the right thing. There is hope. Things will get better. May his tribe grow.
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