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Lessons I Have Learned From My Fellow Animal City Dwellers

Lessons I Have Learned From My Fellow Animal City Dwellers

Time spent walking the streets of Mumbai has opened my eyes to urban animals’ admirable qualities.

Published October 25, 2022 10:53AM EDT

When the world finally opened up this year, I decided that I needed to spend more time outdoors and, at the same time, pencil in more exercise. I fell in love with walking and made it a part of my morning routine.

Living in the concrete jungle of Mumbai, India, my only escape is a leafy lane behind my home, replete with stately colonial-era homes and Art Deco buildings. A favorite with morning walkers, this relatively secluded area is home to many other dwellers, too—namely, our four-legged friends, and, with the onset of the monsoons, other creatures that thrived in this hot, sticky weather.

While many people enjoy walking with a friend or a podcast droning on, I’ve enjoyed walking without distractions, just soaking in nature, listening to bird song, dodging the occasional poop, and staying present in my surroundings. In doing so, I started noticing how harmoniously and peacefully animals live with us, and how much we can learn from how they behave in their natural surroundings. From observing them, these are the lessons I have embraced.

On Happiness

I’ve never met a dog who isn’t happy to see me. Some research backs this up by saying that dogs love human company, without any agenda. How beautiful would life be if we could show this unfettered happiness to each other with a smile, aka the human tail wag, more often? In fact, it is said that even a fake smile can reduce your stress levels and heart rate, releasing hormones including serotonin and dopamine. So, imagine how your day will go if you greet others with a smile?

On Generosity 

Crows have been my constant companions during the pandemic, having fed them fruit rinds (they rejected leftover leavened flour chapati) till they started dropping food like projectile missiles on unsuspecting condo dwellers. Crows are intelligent and adaptable, and even though many types can be solitary birds, they forage in a community. As I would line the paraPuppy of my balcony with fruit, a solitary crow would sit on the railing. Cawing its heart out, it waited until a murder of crows then descended together, and only then they started picking the spoils. I marveled at the generosity of these birds, even during months of punishing lockdown when food waste was scarce for them.

Scarcity is a real problem for humans, too. A UN report states that global hunger rose to 828 million in 2021. Meanwhile, the UNEP Food Waste Index report estimates that food waste from households, retail establishments, and the food service industry amounts to 931 million tonnes each year. It’s time to share.

crows overlooking Mumbai Harbour

zhouyousifang / Getty Images

On Self-Care

Self-care hasn’t been more evident than in the languorous felines I observed sprawled on the backs of Vespas, catching the morning sun. A personality trait identified in cats is excessive grooming. Self-care was an act of self-love for me during the most stressful times during the pandemic and even before. The most important act of self-care is to show up consistently for myself in what mattered to me the most. My commitment to daily walks, even during pouring rain, was testament to this. It included drawing boundaries for mental health, and, of course, the occasional oil massage thrown in for good measure.

On Adaptation

On occasion, I’ve seen a chameleon dart about, a colorful critter that blends in beautifully to the background when threatened. For me, the biggest lesson of the year is adaptability, and watching these beautiful creatures shape up to the circumstances has been inspiring.

On Patience

One rain-soaked morning, I saw a tiny snail make a long slog from one side of a wall to another. It reminded me of the Lao Tzu quote, “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” Even if I couldn’t see the immediate benefits of walking, it didn’t mean that it wasn’t having a positive effect on my life. Just stepping out into nature and connecting with my fellow creatures and human beings has become one of the most satisfying parts of my day, as it has been over the past few weeks and months, too.

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