Donkeys stood sleeping in the middle of the street, impervious to car honks and motorbikes weaving around them. It was our first visit to Chengalpattu town after moving to our farm. I remembered my childhood dream of having a donkey for a pet, while Rom remembered numerous stories of rabid donkeys biting people in Kenya.
“That’s Kenya. There are no rabid donkeys here,” I retorted.
“If they can get rabies in Kenya, so can the ones here,” replied Rom serenely.
And there things stood while we bought geese, chickens, and sheep for the farm.
Priya, a vet friend, invited me to go along on a home visit out of town. An exuberant pack of dogs greeted us, followed by a jack donkey. Yogi presented his large equine head for a scratch and I fell in love with him.
I tried to photograph Priya at work, giving dogs their shots, but Yogi was attention-hungry. No amount of head and ear scratching was enough. When I ignored him, he snorted into the camera lens or turned around to display his rump. I changed angles and there he was blocking my view again. I tried to shoo him away but he wouldn’t budge. I took pictures of him hoping he’d get bored, but he continued to pose. I didn’t dare push him out of the way for fear of being kicked. He was as stubborn as a mule.
After finishing with the dogs, Priya gave Yogi a lump of jaggery. When he wanted more, she spread her fingers to show there was no more. He nuzzled her bag so Priya put it out of his reach.
He casually and deliberately uprooted a houseplant and chomped it to bits. The household staff yelled at him, but unfazed, he looked at Priya to see if she had changed her mind. She had indeed brought only one lump of jaggery. He turned to destroy another plant when the staff chased him away. Yogi was unlike the over-worked and somnolent donkeys I had seen wandering the streets.
On my way home, I wondered if I was willing to pay the price of having an assertive and destructive pet donkey. I had collected and nurtured plants from around the world, and I couldn’t imagine losing them.
Months later, Rom and I were up in Etawah, Uttar Pradesh. We stood in the shade of a lone tree on a busy road, waiting for others in our team to finish shopping. I watched a donkey ambling along by the side of the road, when it suddenly bit the thigh of a man pulling a heavy push cart. The man yelled in surprise and pain. He had to pry the animal’s mouth open to free himself, but it clamped its jaws on his hands. People came running from nearby shops and beat the donkey until it let go.
I stood rooted to the spot, too horrified to react. Rom advised the wounded and bloodstained man to go to a hospital for rabies shots, but the cart puller replied, “Nothing will happen” and walked away.
Everyone went back to their jobs, and the donkey disappeared, too. The scene returned to normal so quickly that I began to doubt if the incident had occurred.
The prospect of a sweet, well-tempered donkey seemed to exist only in my head. Should I get a donkey? I couldn’t decide.
In the meantime, we decided to get emus. At a farm, I was enthralled by the fearless tall birds that lowered their hairy heads to look me in the eyes. We picked a pair of brown-striped chicks, when a filthy donkey with matted hair followed by a cute chocolate-coloured, snubnosed foal walked through the gate.
Reading my mind, Rom commented, “Look at the mother if you want to know how the daughter will turn out.”