2019-11-07

Karuppaa, ingge vaa!

As the event slowly but unstoppably unfolded – his life shifting from one state to another – these words from a song about a drug addict began to invade my thoughts; at first just a line or two. The further time proceeded the more the verse completed and the more often – and more urgently – it pushed itself to the foreground. In my life, like you probably did as well, I have heard devastating songs about losing someone, and I have read wise books about facing ultimate loss. None of those was present in my mind. It had to be this one; please don’t ask me why.
And can you hear me now
Or are there just too many doors
Between then and now
For me to ever reach on through
And pull you back somehow
But that can't happen anymore
Still in the night
I think I hear you calling
Can you hear me now, Savatage, 1991
But let’s start at the start.
It was Christmas, 2018, early morning. Hasini, the oldest daughter of our matriarch Zicke, gave birth to the first kid in the third generation of our goat herd. Before anyone could rush to her support the kid lay there on the ground of the pen, by the side of his bewildered mother. She obviously wasn’t her usual self though, not the self-confident member of a herd who has always been the first to point out to us that one of her mates was in need of something. She wouldn’t look at the kid, she wouldn’t lick it clean like most mammalian mothers use to do immediately after birth, and she certainly wouldn’t suckle the boy. We needed to hold her fast; she would withhold her milk anyway. Soon enough we had to supplement with cow milk. And thus began the little fellow’s early discovery of the world beyond the pen’s limits, the land of milk and cuddling and safety from getting puffed by other goats which his mom would not protect him from. Humans became his foster parents who named him Karuppaa, based on the Tamil word for ‘black’. Apart from his reddish black hair his signature features were his slightly prolonged upper jaw and a distinct way of bleating that sounded something like “mmma!” Yes, it ended on an audible exclamation mark which indicated that he was addressing us with a request, and it would sound rather like “mmaa?” when he was inquiring our whereabouts. A typical dialogue ran like this:

Karuppaa (searching): Mmaa?”
Me: “Karuppaa, ingge vaa!” (Tamil: come here).
Karuppaa (closing in): “Mmaa?”
Me (teasing): “Wo isch dr Bua?” (Swabian: Where is my boy?)
Karuppaa: “Mmma!”
Me: Ah, do isch dr Bua!” (Swabian: There’s my boy!)
Karuppaa (demanding): “Mmma!”
So I offered him food and stroked him.


Hasini, bewildered
Karuppaa was all over the place. He roamed the farm like a dog; like a dog he used to sniff out the places where we lived or worked; such a delight. When we collected and cleaned the harvest from our farm Karuppaa would inspect the items with great interest; then he would nibble on some of them, preferably those which we had cleaned and bundled already. When he roamed the fields himself he went for the grasses and herbs. He rarely touched the crops.

Ten months passed, time that usually indicates that a young one survived the most vulnerable time in a goat’s life, so I wasn’t prepared for an existential crisis setting in. From previous losses we knew that younger kids may die from that condition which brings about progressing weakness and belly aches. We believed that Karuppaa was strong enough to make it through anyway. We were worried, though. Experience taught us that veterinaries wouldn’t visit for a goat, and when they eventually do they don’t ask much for details as long as they may sell their overprized drugs. As we still didn’t know what the matter was we tried various home remedies some of which Karuppaa liked while he was protesting others. Nevertheless his health deteriorated further. When he could hardly stand up anymore we called a vet who, to our surprise, immediately agreed to pass by – though it would take him another day.

He was all over the place
I spent that night, like the night before, mostly in the goat pen, to help Karuppaa getting up, for stretching his legs, peeing, eating and drinking, and to prevent the others from pushing him over. His friends Leela, Karuppi (a bluish-black doe) and Jackie huddled with him, keeping him warm. Tintin, Shakti, Hasini and Niko joined in now and then. Midnight passed, Divali began, the Indian festival of lights. I thought he’d die before the doc could see him. “Happy Divali, Karuppaa!”, I said anyway, wishing him well while counting down the hours till his last hope for a cure was supposed to arrive. Being late by yet another three hours the vet administered four injections (one to each leg), two bitter tablets, and some tasty neon-coloured energy drink, all of which seemed to stabilize the kid somehow and caused him to relieve himself of a whole lot of crap that had caused him visible discomfort. I dare say I had high hopes for a recovery. For closer observation I took him to my home where he rested, tucked between a yoga mat and some warming shirts. Karuppaa craved that energy drink which I continued to offer him hourly, as prescribed by the good doctor. He sucked noisily on the syringe’s nozzle. Then, around seven, when the night had fully broken, things got worse quickly. The cramps returned as viciously as never before.

in the land of milk & cuddling
I put another mat, sitting myself by his side, talking to him, holding his belly and keeping it warm. That seemed to relax him a bit.
Attempts at getting some sleep were interrupted by moaning. When Divali ended the both of us were awake and we would stay so, perhaps each of us sensing that we were spending our last hours together. When around three o’clock his limbs went cold I knew he was on the slippery slope now from which there would be no return. Intermittent rain set in, hammering on the tin roof of my home, drowning out his signs of life. Would I notice when his breath stopped? Is it as comforting to pass away to the sound of rain as it is when going to sleep? When the rain subsided the call of the muezzin from a neighboring village came through. I listened for his heartbeat. It was now inaudible, only his flat breath was noticeable, and the belly pain weakly responded to by cramps. Tears swelled from his eyes. His last minutes were ticking away.

Karuppaa,” I cooed one last time, “wo isch dr Bua?” He replied in his usual way, crowing faintly Mmma” in response to my call. I would have loved to see him recover and mature, but this was now beyond possible. He needed to move on, and I had to let him go. Resisting the urge to hoot the usual 'ingge vaa', I said, with a breaking heart, the words instead which I never spoke to him before: “Angge po,” go there, to the ancestors and the friends who are no longer with us. “Send them my greetings and tell them I still love them and think of them.” I opened the door and curtains of my room, letting him take in the beautiful scene of the dawn rising upon our farm. Grey sky and lush vegetation reflected from the puddles the rain had created everywhere. Silently he passed away with open eyes, around the time when I usually came to see him in the goats' pen. It was Monday, October, 28th 2019, 5.55am.
Karuppaa...”
I cried.


inspecting items
Karuppaa has taught me how to love, so I may have been too attached to his survival to not call the doctor. I fell for the hope that doing the doable might save his life. After all, if I hadn’t done it I would have killed him by omission, right? But what if the treatment only extended his suffering, or worse: did the actual killing? After all, allopathic doctors know everything about the signs of sickness, yet nothing about healing. They misunderstand the essence of life in the same way that most everyone in our culture misunderstands the nature of death.

What is life? What is death? I don't know. The immensity of death brings with it doubts and questions amass. All I know is that life and death are not what I thought they were, not the concepts I carried in my mind, about discrete states of existence, about being switched on or off, about individual consciousness encapsulated in separate bodies. What makes a goat a goat? What is a human being? Who is that Me that claims to own thoughts, emotions, body, and things? What is time? We tell ourselves stories that attempt to answer these questions; this is the stuff of mythology.

Every culture has its own mythology. Ours is called science – the set of myths that tell tales about separate material objects which get pushed about by meaningless forces within an unconcerned universe. I have lived this story for four decades straight, and it has killed all the life that has been in me when my mother gave birth. I was emotionally dead, save for a burning anger that increasingly shifted its modus operandi from occasional outbursts to permanent battle with depression, and I felt nothing apart from the pain of being in this Dawkins dog-eat-dog world of materialist meaninglessness.

what is life?
It is thanks to the animals on our farm – among them being Karuppaa – that I learned to notice the space in-between, the realm of relationship, of meaning, purpose, spirit, joy, love, sacredness and other immaterial yet essential ingredients of existence. I began to explore that space, a space of multi-layered reality in which “me”, “my life” and “death” are basically stories, concepts, mental constructs. Except for on the level of thoughts and emotions they have no discrete existence. The reason for our not understanding the “unjustifiable violation” (Tolkien) of our freedom and integrity by death, our not getting the essence of what life and death are, lies in the dysfunctional concepts by which we use to define them. The ceasing of metabolic activities and the disintegration of the body, i.e. the things that separate the living from the dead, catches our eye; a whole lot of continuing phenomena don’t. While we overrate the significance of the individual object, life – the space between objects – is seemlessly carrying on.

The world is not populated by lonely, autonomous, sovereign beings. It is made of a constantly oscillating web of dynamic interaction in which beings mutually transform each other. It’s the relationship that counts, not the substance. Andreas Weber: Lebendigkeit. Eine erotische Ökologie. Koesel, 2014, 3. Aufl., p. 36; translation mine

Other cultures have less trouble integrating death into their lives. This is perhaps due to the fact that, for them, things are not lifeless masses in the first place. For many of them mountains and trees are people too. When we listen to cosmic radiation for signs of civilizations, or when we have robots dig up Mars in search of extraterrestrials our failure to find any is perhaps related to our culture’s inability to see the conscious aliveness in plants and animals, in landscapes and ecosystems, or in the Earth as a whole.

impermanent beauty
I’m not sure about it yet but I think it highly possible that the difference between that which is alive and that which is not is merely conceptual. Let me give an example.
What is a symphony? Is it the sheet music? The sound waves? Our perception of those sound waves? The process of making music or, in its place, the playing of a record? All of these? None of them? Is the music ‘dead’ after the last note has faded? Does it resurge when it plays in our mind, as a memory?
In the same way, who is “Karuppaa”? Did he have an existence completely apart from mine? Or did I define him as much as he defined me when we co-created, shaped and inhabited the space in-between? What does it mean for his existence when I think of him today?

I find it likely that life, just like music, consists of stories that we fabricate to make sense of the phenomena we perceive. They don’t have to be anything else but digestible explanations on how the world works, so that we can function within it. There are places where those stories break down, usually in the extremes of infinity and nothingness – which is especially true for mathematics, one of the core sciences – but as long as we don’t go there we’re safe from the Unknown. Problem is, our mythology has reached its limits; as the world around us now rapidly disintegrates we begin to understand that our rationalistic worldview ignores too much of reality for us to live sustainably.

The conventional models of human response are based on the civilized world and, yes, there are common strands in all cultures but, for instance, when a death occurs in a tribal culture that has, like all animals, accepted death as part of life then denial is not part of the equation. Neither is bargaining – for how can you bargain with the inevitable? When Elisabeth Kübler-Ross posited her model for bereavement, it was always going to a be a model for how the civilized human deals with death; it took no account of the way all humans deal with death, for not only are we all slightly different in our approach to everything – not just bereavement – we, as de facto civilized humans, are freaks. Homo sapiens civilis never evolved. Civilized humans have been created in the image of the machine: we don’t behave as normal human beings any more. Keith Farnish: Underminers. A practical guide for radical change, 2012, p.92

I swear I hear you calling
When it comes to encounters with the “end of life” I don’t deny, rage, bargain, or despair any longer. Death is a natural and therefore acceptable part of my existence. And yet the pain from seeing someone suffering or losing him or her is tremendous. Is the immensity of the phenomenon we call “death” really only of cultural nature? Maybe not alone, but certainly to a degree. Life as such is normally not perceived as immense or intense; it is ordinary to us because we became used to it by having lived uninterruptedly for years. (It speaks volumes that people who came back from a coma, had a near-death experience, or “died” to their old way of perceiving the world see things in a different light.) Death, though, breaks this normalcy; to our great horror we have no power over it. Our usual mode by which we analyze, label, rationalize, manipulate, control and wage war on “problematic” situations fails us. Our linear (rather than cyclical, or eternally present) conception of time – flowing unidirectionally from a definite beginning to a definite ending – cripples us further; linear time perhaps produces the misconception of the life-death dichotomy in the first place, and with it our impotence to handle it in a meaningful way.

Impotence creates despair, which leads to denial, which leads to acceptance, the most dangerous state of all. In the civilized world the Kübler-Ross model of bereavement is powerfully analogous to how we deal with all sorts of stressful events. The way to break out of it is not to grieve for what may be lost, but to leave this linear pathway and create something that has numerous outcomes.(Underminers, p.479)

Teacher
I would agree to that last sentence only after one slight change: “the way to break out of it is not to grieve indefinitely for what may be lost” but to re-enter the circle of life, transform grief back into love, and use this energy for fostering life. For strong grief comes from great love, and love is the most powerful driver of all when it comes to living one’s life.

Love is the agony of living. And the modern addiction to painlessness makes love impossible, makes it flatten so much that life merely trickles away. Reimer Gronemeyer: Die Weisheit der Alten, p.68; translation mine.

The shift from the linear to the circular paradigm, from the fear-based to the love-based worldview is not easy for me. Decades of civilized socialization – otherwise known as domestication – created all kinds of traps and obstacles to get stuck in. So please forgive me for asking more questions than offering solutions. I’m also not keen on publishing obituaries though there were ample opportunities to write them. There is the danger of getting attached not only to the past, but to this one written version of the past especially. There is also the danger of building Tadj Mahals for the dead while the living, neglected, dwell in shacks. I love all the animals on the farm, and I accompanied the dying of a few of them, similar to how a hospice worker would. But Karuppaa was a special friend, someone who would not let me escape without deep inquiry into suffering, his and mine. All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others, you know.


Grey sky and lush vegetation reflected from the puddles

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