The first time I saw Gulbadan, he was barely a month old. He had been brought to my parents’ home by my sister who found him crying in the middle of the road on a dark rainy night, separated from his family. He had hair the colour of hay, eyes the colour of armagnac, ears like the wings of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. He was beautiful. I fell in love with him right there and then.
As he grew, he became a spirited, animated dog who chewed his way through many doors, chairs, and tables. He massacred any toy we got him within minutes. He learnt how to open the doors of my parents’ house, both ways, chased squirrels, birds, frogs, lizards and spent the winter sitting under the sun, in the middle of the garden. He would sit there for hours staring at the trees, flowers and the sky.
Looking at him, I was convinced that dogs meditate too. I fell more and more in love with him. But, there was a problem. While I was in love with this creature, I noticed many others weren’t. In fact, they were horrified when they saw him rolling on my bed like he was on psychotropic drugs. They recoiled from him. Almost everyone looked at me aghast when I let Gulbadan lick me from ear to ear. I was hoarse from explaining that he has had his vaccinations, takes his monthly deworming tablets, gets checked for ticks almost every day, but no one was convinced. Then it dawned on me—the problem was his pedigree. He was a mongrel.
We are obsessed with pedigree. In politics, friendships, society, workplace, who you are and where you come from matters. And it matters a great deal. I lived and worked in London for a few years and found that most of the people I met asked me the same set of questions in the first ten minutes of meeting them: ‘Where do you live in London?, Where do you work? Where did you study?’.
If I were a dog, I think I would be a white Golden Retriever. I was born into that pedigree and over the years have made my coat shinier through the right education, right vocabulary, right exposure, right jobs. In London I mingled with the same pedigree as a lower pedigree considered me too posh (yes, the British still use that word, profusely) and a higher pedigree considered me too plebeian.
London is full of smart people who know when and how to adjust the pedigrees. The highest pedigree there, is, of course, the titled breed. Over the years they have opened their kennel to admit a select few rich and powerful ones because: a) they need access to their wealth and contacts and, b) the rich and powerful albeit lower pedigreed, may take their wealth and friendships elsewhere if they are not welcomed into that highest pedigree kennel. So, they pretend they are all the same breed. Tycoons and dictators thrive in London. They feel at home there. All who say they love London, secretly want to paw and dig their way into that highest pedigree kennel.
We maintain our pedigrees with extreme care. We form friendships with people who speak the same language, wear the same clothes, travel to the same places, eat at the same restaurants, send their kids to the same school, drink the same wines
One aspect of British society which confounds me is that a country, deemed a champion of democracy and proponent of equality, nurtures and protects that highest pedigree, the monarchy. Whatever the arguments, it is incompatible with the notion of equality and democracy; that the head of state is an inherited position. In my mind, at least. Not just the UK, Spain, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and others choose to maintain this pedigree. They release pictures of them from time to time and the world swoons. We stare at them from a distance and admire their shiny top coat and their glistening white teeth. One look at them and we know this is top drawer pedigree, pure-bred. This is the pedigree which would win all the awards at a show.
Same with politics. In Canada, the US, India, Mauritius, Kenya, DRC, and many other countries, there is a separate pedigree which continues to be elected, generation after generation. This breed, I suspect, is the smartest. They know it is to their genetic advantage to cross-breed from time to time. They know when to bark, when to bite, when to show us their puppy eyes which makes us want to cuddle them and vote for them again and again. They reassure us they will guard us when we are asleep while falling asleep themselves the minute lights are off. They promise to take care of us and eat all our muffins when we are distracted. They are wily, hardy, scrappy but groom themselves well enough to appear loyal and trustworthy. They will go far, very far. It’s those puppy eyes which get us. Every time.
We maintain our pedigrees with extreme care. We form friendships with people who speak the same language, wear the same clothes, travel to the same places, eat at the same restaurants, send their kids to the same school, drink the same wines. We find it very uncomfortable if someone wants to leave the pedigree or a different pedigree wants to enter ours. We draw comfort from being the same. At being the same level in wealth, looks, education, and even in values. If someone from the same breed dares to voice a contrary opinion, we attack ferociously. We fear getting rabies from that person. Pedigree and conformity are expected to go hand in hand.
The area in which we seem to be turning a corner is food. We are starting to question the pedigree of most genetically modified (GM) foods, of conglomerates manufacturing biscuits, snacks, oils, pastes, sauces. We are starting to eat knobbly lesser pedigreed melons because they are far tastier than the perfect looking, even sized ones we see in supermarkets. We are noticing that these well-groomed breeds are giving us allergies and sicknesses. They show no affection towards us.
We are starting to question the wisdom of eating seedless grapes and taking grape seed extract as a supplement. Wasn’t the seed inside the grape to begin with? The breeders took it out and now we buy the fruit and the seed separately. We are slowly but surely rejecting this pedigree.
It will take a long time. Till then my mongrel can lick me all he wants, happily. The problem is, what if Gulbadan wants to upgrade his progeny by cross-breeding with a superior breed? Who will be willing to fall in love with those eyes and descend a rung lower in the pedigree hierarchy? I don’t have the heart to tell him his chances are low. I will just emulate the very intelligent breed, the politicians, and simply lie to him.
The author is a former government servant, who completed her MBA from INSEAD, Paris, and later worked in the European banking sector