Actually, it was really:
“Oh look! TWO White Girls with Puppies.”
The sarcasm burned long after the word’s initial sting.
It wasn’t the Indian family whose house I live in who hurled the remark. No, Mr. Ganapty has happily shared how disciplined we have been and how well-behaved the puppies are as Mrs. Ganapty looks on longingly, not-so-secretly wishing her back were feeling better and she might adopt one.
Nor was it any of our India neighbors, whose community we Westerners saturate during the months Sharath and Saraswathi teach here in Mysore. Just the opposite, actually. Pushya (who I’ve come to know is an amazing artist!) adoringly watches the pups while we practice in the morning – though just as often, her dad and grandma also chip in. Ranjini, her mom and my music teacher, was initially reluctant to adopt a dog because of their cat – but it seems the cat is is also a puppy fan. Thus two days ago, Pushya’s dream came true when her dad brought home Charlie, a month-old ball of fur with some mighty big paws! Our India family is growing …
On the weekends, Lakshmi along with her husband and son take in the pups to give Meghan and me a short break. They live in the outskirts of Mysore where it’s a bit quieter. They moved for their dog, Dixie, who passed away a few months ago. Their sorrow runs too deep to bring in another dog just yet, but the puppies bring back the joy of their Dixie as they spoil them rotten. Meghan and I tease and say our two will surely be bilingual as they listen to Lakshmi’s commands in Kannada better than ours in English.
And I could go on really …. there’s Sandhya across the street whose daughter comes out and plays with our girls regularly. And the gentleman on the corner who walks his grown, former street dogs in the park while ours play, offering us good advice and lots of encouragement. Oh and let’s not forget Kumar who regularly drives us to and from vet appointments and, in between, never fails to visit when the puppies are sleeping only to rile them up and then leave. (We can just imagine what kind of grandfather he will be some day!)
Nope, it was actually a couple of white men, visitors like us, who coined our identity. They shortened the phrase to WGWP and used it like some secret handshake, reserved for only those in their club.
Mind you, the irony of coming to India to practice YOGA, chant Sanskrit, and visit temples – then making fun of a couple of white girls giving up their morning chai and any social life outside practice to do something meaningful, was apparently lost – as was the blatant sexism of such a label.
Still, I refuse to slap back with another label (and there is one commonly used these days). Doing so would then cast a hateful net, catching countless other white men (and women) who actually make up a majority and regularly stop us on the street or in outdoor cafes for a cuddle – or puppy-sit while we go on safari. (Thank you Auntie Danielle and Auntie Catherine!)
Just the other day, one guy excitedly pulled out his phone to show me pics of our pups when they were just a few weeks old. He’d been one of those feeding the litter when they lived on the streets and was overjoyed to know they had a home now. He made a difference in their lives and we thanked him!
(BTW, if you missed the sexism in WGWP, note this: men who take care of puppies are not judged anything other than kind. It’s only the girls who are insulted.)
Now, you might read this and believe I’m angry, but I promise you I’m not.
I’m simply waking up more and more to the damage we do when we see people as groups and not the individuals they are.
And this is my bigger point. It’s easy to point fingers at POTUS #45’s recent attempt to ban targeted nations of people from entering the U.S. as we decry the inherent bigotry. But really, it’s just another example of an US and THEM mentality running ramped throughout the world we know, dividing countries and even families and friends.
Yet rarely do we take note of how and when we are not the observers – but the actual participants. I think back to last year and my first trip to India and how much I stayed to myself or amongst only those I knew, visitors like me. Partly, it was hard for me not to feel like I was part of some intrusion into the community, but those were my ideas and my projections. So in keeping myself isolated as I did and never even learning the names of people I passed on the street every single day, I managed to become the very thing I found distasteful.
You see, I am not innocent. In addition, I also liberally “hid” people from my Facebook news feeds last year, whose politics I didn’t agree with. Again, surrounding myself with people – Just. Like. Me. It’s crazy how often we box people up as groups that can be categorized, dehumanized, and disregarded. We pass judgment to excuse ourselves from ever bothering to know more, assuming we already know enough. We don’t. Every single one of us are infinitely more than any label we are assigned.
Everywhere looking, God seeing.
Isn’t this what we’re going for through practice? To see God in ourselves as well as in every single living being? Because, as Sharath explained to me just the other day: God can show up in any form, and why we greet the Divine in every cow, monkey, elephant, donkey, and yes, even in a street dog.
But we can’t see God if we don’t actually see the person first. And to really and truly see someone, we must see as much of them as possible. This is a decision and takes real effort on our part. We have to want to come out of our own righteous boxes. And that includes me, this happy-to-be, a white girl in India with a puppy – or two!
P.S. There’s another kind person who has made the decision to bring home a dog, Mama Roo, who has had her two front legs amputated. This dog would surely be left to eek out a short and difficult life if not for Katie. But unlike my two puppies, Katie’s dog will need much help and support. Her journey will be costly as will her care and why I’m asking you to help. Please visit Mama Roo’s Go Fund Me page and give what you can if you’re able. Thank you! XO