Wildlife & Biodiversity

What Sudha Murty’s new book tells us about animal emotions and welfare

At a time when many people are rethinking the human-animal relationship from both a scientific and moral respective, The Gopi Diaries conveys a lucid message

By Shubhobroto Ghosh
Published: Thursday 31 December 2020
Sudha Murty with her pet dog, Gopi. Photo: Shrutikeerti Khurana

The Gopi Diaries: Coming Home is the latest book of author, engineer, philanthropist, social worker and chairperson of Infosys Foundation, Sudha Murty. It comes as a sweet surprise that Murty, an accompolished woman, has now taken up the cause of animal rights and animal welfare, albeit in the form of her latest literary endeavour.

Speaking about The Gopi Diaries, she said, “I have always been fond of animals. I grew up with animals and had pets. When Gopi, the dog, came into our lives, I had an opportunity to examine the question, “How does a dog look at humans?”

Indeed, the question of how a dog perceives humans has now attained scientific respectability with animal emotions considered to be among the fastest growing topics in the Western world.

Scientific research now suggests that dogs can understand upto 75 human words. It is possible that perhaps both humans and dogs may have relied on similar communication networks that were already in place before language evolved and later adapted to process speech.

The Gopi Diaries has been primarily written with a children’s audience in mind. “Children should be encouraged to love animals to imbibe the quality of unconditional love that is rare to find in humans. The only unconditional love in humans is mother’s love but unconditional love is widespread in animals who can teach us this highly desirable emotion,” Murty said.

Unconditional love is one quality that the animal protection fraternity needs to learn about from Murty because we tend to get embroiled in the strategies and policy decisions affecting animals.

At a time when many people are rethinking the human-animal relationship from both a scientific and moral respective, The Gopi Diaries conveys a lucid message: “I believe in kindness. Animals cannot speak. We make decisions on their behalf. Animals have life and are worthy of moral consideration. The Earth belongs to all of us, humans as well as non humans. Butterflies, birds, bees and orchids, they all have a right to live on this planet. All animals have a right to be loved by humans.”

What Murty is saying is echoed in the Indian ethic of compassion as espoused by Gautama Buddha and later on by Emperor Ashoka more than 2,000 years ago, who laid the world’s first formal animal protection statutes.

Incidentally, Ashoka’s humanitarian and animal protection work was also featured in the world’s most popular science programme, Cosmos: Possible Worlds, telecast in India earlier this year on National Geographic channel.

As the author of 37 books in Kannada and English, Murty is a prominent literary figure who has expressed her views on varied themes from poverty alleviation to women’s upliftment. On the subject of animals in Indian literature, she is eloquent, “Our ancient texts like the Panchatantra and the Jatakas speak about animals.”

In the current discourse of environmental damage and climate change and pandemics, how important is it to espouse the animal protection ethic?

“Very important. We are occupying their space. We must minimise our usage of the Earth’s resources and live harmoniously with all life,” Murty says. It is a viewpoint in harmony with environmental leaders like Jane Goodall, Lee Durrell, Virginia McKenna and Sir David Attenborough, individuals with whom I have had some personal contact at some point of time.

Dogs, cats, rabbits and parrots count among Murty’s favourite animals, given that she had some of these as pets when she was young. It goes without saying that a child’s behaviour is influenced by his or her parents during formative years and that has a lifelong impact on what he or she becomes.

Murty builds on this aspect of childhood, “Parents can obtain pets like dogs and cats for their children and teach them how to take care of them. Parents can encourage their children to help animals in shelters and attend to them.”

It has now been established by many scientists like Marc Bekoff and Dame Jane Goodall, who has said her childhood pet dog Rusty, was one of the greatest teachers she had in her life, a teacher who taught her that animals have human-like emotions when many scientists did not recognise that animals have emotions at all.

Of course, historically, throughout the ages humans have exploited animals in the most brutal ways in order to maintain our supremacy over them in an endeavour that has often been based on the unbridgeable gap between ‘us’ humans and ‘them,’ animals.

As the scientist Carl Sagan stated:

Humans — who enslave, castrate, experiment on, and fillet other animals — have had an understandable penchant for pretending animals do not feel pain. A sharp distinction between humans and ‘animals’ is essential if we are to bend them to our will, make them work for us, wear them, eat them — without any disquieting tinges of guilt or regret. It is unseemly of us, who often behave so unfeelingly toward other animals, to contend that only humans can suffer. The behaviour of other animals renders such pretensions specious. They are just too much like us

Thus, we see animals cruelly exploited in the wildlife trade, elephant rides in Amer fort in Jaipur, crocodile shows in Thailand and tigers being chained perpetually so that tourists can click pictures with them in proximity in Thailand. “Personally I do not like these activities and am in favour of phasing them out,” Murty said.

Today, when we see death and destruction all around in the midst of one of the most savage pandemics humankind has ever witnessed, books like The Gopi Diaries are not only welcome but constitute necessary reading.

Murty outlines her overriding philosophy manifested so cogently in her book:

Show kindness, sympathy and care for animals. Enjoy their company. I hope the second part of my book, Gopi’s Diaries’ that is scheduled for release by Christmas, will help children to imbibe these qualities

Shubhobroto Ghosh is Wildlife Research Manager, World Animal Protection, India

The author thanks Shrutkeerti Khurana, Program Director, Infosys Foundation, Bangalore, for her assistance

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.