n March 7, Foxie came out of the house and disappeared. Upon learning of Foxie’s disappearance, I was alarmed. He was a blue-eyed white Persian cat and, therefore, a commodity for most. I volunteered to check at Tollin’ton Market, Lahore where stolen and abandoned animals are sold.
I went there every day for the next few days to look for Foxie. Every day, I walked past hundreds of animals in dozens of stores, asking vendors if they had a blue-eyed Persian cat. I was shown a few, but none of them were Foxie. Who were these nameless cats and dogs and where did they come from? What had brought them to end up in the living hell?
These animals live in cages which, in some cases, measure one and a half feet by three feet with a height of one foot. Below each animal there may be another cage of the same size and another above. In some cases, there is no room to step, straighten up or get up. They live in tiny prisons. Sometimes in the next cage there are sick and dead animals. I’ve seen cats being grabbed by the neck cuff, taken out of the cage, held aloft for potential customers, then pushed back inside.
These animals once had a home. The cat was a kitten with a mother. In some cases they were bought by bourgeois or aspiring bourgeois and moved, for example, to a house on Abid Majeed Road in Lahore. When the owners decided to move to America, they were abandoned and ended up in Tollin’ton market, sold there for a few thousand rupees.
Beautiful puppies lay dead in the sewers outside the market. Kittens too, thrown there with terrible contempt after having breathed their last. Who is to blame for this? What creates this market?
The answer in both cases is the pet fetishism of the Lahori bourgeois. The market hell of Tollin’ton is the underside of the system that allows big Persian cats in the houses of Defense and Cantonment. Let me explain.
Around the market, the cats and dogs we call aam, walked around freely and picked up leftovers from the butcheries that dotted the market. What separates the fate of caged Persian cats from that of stray cats is the value associated with the former and not the latter. The bourgeois see in traits like long hair, blue eyes, triple coat, in Huskies and German Shepherds an extension of their own vision of beauty. For the upper classes, they are not companion species, but another object to fill in the gaps of a life lived in luxurious waste – thoughtless and unproductive.
The society continues to operate on the premise that animals cannot think and therefore can be caged at Tollin’ton Market or killed at will.
The monkey trends they see on Instagram stories lead them to pay breeders for imported Huskies. If there is no fetish for such features, then there is no market. If there’s no market, there’s no hell like Tollin’ton Market. For every Husky in a “good home”, a sibling and a breeding animal live in hellish conditions. This is why earlier I referred to Tollin’ton Market as the underside of the same system – they are connected, like a root and a branch. Those who buy from these breeders are in many ways responsible for the dead puppies in the sewers around Tollin’ton Market.
Tollinton The market is to animals what slave ships, slave markets, and slave-based agricultural farms were across the Americas during the Atlantic slave trade. Humans hate to be compared to animals because they think it’s humiliating, but the comparison here is not meant to demean the experience of brutal exploitation – then and now – of those who have been reduced in slavery. It is about showing that the methods, structures and ideology of slavery persist – always directed against humans but also extended to animals.
Slaves were seen as tools and a means to an end: the end being the taking of their ‘labour’ and their ‘reproductive labour’. They were a commodity for owners and traders because of their work. Their value and their existence depended on the value the market placed on them.
They only existed for the other as an object. Tollin’ton Market animals also exist as commodities. Strip a Husky’s hair and transmogrify it into stray dog traits, and it’ll have no value – to the owner or the market.
The society continues to operate on the premise that these animals cannot think and therefore can be caged at Tollin’ton Market or killed at will.
Selma James, philosopher and activist, argues that “care work is civilization work”. She argues that what makes us and animals civilized is not our ability to reason about concepts of good, but simply the fact that we engage in care work. Benevolence work is what makes us civilized – doing it and receiving it. A nurse guiding a patient to health; a cat that purrs and heals us; a teacher who teaches; cleaners, cooks; mothers who create life and those who raise children are the foundation of civilization. The barbarians are the bourgeois – sitting idle in their living rooms watching the politics of life unfold on television while their “servants” serve them blueberry juice.
Those who indulge in the wealth of caring for their children can attest to this. This solicitude, which currently finds its expression only in a limited form for the nuclear family, must extend to society in general and to animals.
The writer is the editor of Bare Punch Review: www.nakedpunch.com