A Tearful Sky

It was 5 a.m. on a Sunday in the city of Mumbai, and the car honks, muezzins’ call to prayer, and Asian koels’ rhythmic humming were beginning to pack action into the day. The dawn was a few minutes from colouring the city’s landscape, which was pronounced with the heaviness of smoke and grime. The relatively silent hour before the milkmen would begin to compulsively strike the rusty bell mounted on the handlebar of their bicycles, to signal their arrival to their daily customers, and after the stray dogs had retreated to their neighbourhoods following a night of quarreling with other strays, was the only time the city truly ever breathed. As chaos was beginning to spread across the length and breadth of the city, the Sharma household was comfortably tucked into the slumber of the dark, ignorant of the telephone that finally fell silent after buzzing intermittently through the night without any luck, and the disruption that a new day, amidst the growing chaos of the city, was to bring in their lives.

The master bedroom was a landscape bearing a series of steady movements. The large family portrait, which hung on the wall behind the bed, gently oscillated every time the vent of the air conditioner moved up the frame of the bed. The baby, who had rolled over to the edge of the bed, tugged at his mother’s blanket looking for the comfort of her touch. The ticking of the antiquated wall clock steadily matched the pace of Sheena’s snoring, which alternated with light wheezing, before the doorbell went off in successive chimes. As the echo of the unexpected doorbell lingered through the house, Sheena sat up with a jerk, wide awake, before pulling her baby in an embrace. The momentariness of silence following the echo was replaced with loud cries of the baby, as Sheena flung the blanket on the other side of the bed and paced out of the room, banging the door shut, as the family portrait that hung on the wall started making more rapid movements.

The doors of the house opened to a bout of hot air and an old man lurking at the entrance. On a regular day, Sheena would have been rocking her infant to sleep after nursing him, to soothe his nocturnal hunger cries, while narrating stories about his father’s bravery in the war zone. The expression of the man waiting at the doorstep was anything but what Sheena would have expected. After anticipating the purpose of his presence, Sheena’s eyes, reflecting fear, tried to avoid him, and instead looked at the sky, as if they were conditioned to look for the unpleasantness that came with the darkness of the hour.

The door remained partially open, as Sheena put her foot back into the house in as unhurried a manner as possible. After walking a few steps in the hallway, her body succumbed to the floor, when her feet could no longer hold her. Sheena’s face remained expressionless, as the words she had just heard reverberated in her ears. Your husband has become a martyr. He was killed last night at the LoC. Her face bore the same stillness that the house was in before the tolling of the bells. The words Sheena had just heard swept the ground off her feet and all she did was fix her eyes to the ground. The news that she had been dreading, from the time she decided to marry a soldier, had finally arrived. It was a piece of information that was soon going to alter the reality of her life, as the widow of a martyr. Her infant would grow up without ever having seen his father. The picture that his mind would paint of his father would only depict him as a proud son of his land, a soldier who put his nation above everything else, a martyr who laid down his life to protect the dignity of his country’s soil, and a proud husband who let his loyalty and commitment to his duties precede him.

The arrival of the Sunday newspapers in the house, through the gap between the door and the floor, marked the onset of dawn. Cars, scooters and buses were back, bringing liveliness and noise and back to the streets, almost hiding an ambulance in broad daylight. A martyr had united with his family one last time, before returning to the soil of his motherland. As the sunlight became more prominent, the number of people at Sheena’s house kept increasing. Men and women, dressed in white, bore expressions of surprise and grief upon entering the premises of her residence, while practicing the customary namaste. Sheena’s face continued to bear stillness, as she remained oblivious to the growing crowd in the hallway and sat motionless next to her husband’s body, as if she was showing her undying commitment to her role as his better half, even after his soul had transcended the worldly barriers. The man who had borne the responsibility of telling Sheena that she had been widowed, was growing increasingly worried looking at Sheena, who hadn’t given any reaction to the news of her husband’s death until this time. I beg you daughter, please say something. Cry as loud as you want, but please react.

The martyr was laid on the funeral pyre for his final procession, after his body was rinsed with warm water and a new pair of white clothes was slipped on. The face of the dead soldier looked every bit tranquil, suggesting the sense of pride that came with his sacrifice. The visitors stood up to pay their final respects to the departed soul by standing in silence, while garlands of white and orange marigolds, festooned with tulsi leaves, adorned the hands of the martyr’s kin. The sound of loud chants soon filled the air, as everyone in the crowd sought eternal peace for the dead. Sheena continued to remain grounded and unfazed by the crowd’s repeated attempts to talk her out of the situation, and distract her from her aimless staring, to get her to express her grief. Cotton plugs were pulled out of the nose and ears of the dead body, and the men around waited to shoulder the martyr and take him to his final place of rest. The women of the family tried to shake Sheena up, until one of them stood up to give one last shot at getting her to react, before her husband was sent off.

The infant, who was fast asleep, was placed between Sheena and her husband. The baby’s face gave a glimpse of dried tears that had left marks all over his face, as he tried to move about helplessly soon after he was laid on the bare marble flooring. For once, Sheena’s eyes moved from the ground to her baby; a baby that was desperately looking for the comfort of his mother’s warmth, as he was exposed to the cold and harsh surface of the floor. No longer able to see her child’s pain, Sheena scooped him up in her embrace, thus interrupting her long phase of stillness. Just as the baby clutched his mother’s arm, the air was filled with the sound of heavy gasps. Sheena’s cries reverberated through the house. The visitors expressed their relief in a huge sigh, as tears rolled down Sheena’s eyes. As her husband set of on the final procession, the afternoon sun hid under a blanket of grey skies. The entire city saluted their nation’s hero.

7 Dogs And Their Wisdom

A night-long sandstorm and land sliding, combined with absurd changes in the climate, had seriously damaged the land space, so much so that many humans and non-humans alike ended up getting displaced. The land and the existence were so badly hit that it became difficult to recognize the surroundings after the devastation. When the sun finally dawned upon the disaster, the birds that had survived the calamities cuckooed from their shattered nests. A host of small animals indulged in loud cries, most of whom were crying from the pain of their injuries.

Amidst the frenzy and haphazardness, there was a group of dogs that lay unaffected. When their land was being subjected to serious harm, they all came together under an open sky, which saved them from the consequences of the event. After ensuring that the grave calamities had subsided, the dogs began their journey in search of familiar terrain—their home. The seven dogs began their journey by moving in the same direction. Although the canines did not know each other, they thought it best to travel in a group, to ensure they reached their destination safely.

As they went along, there came a point when they had to make their way through a settlement. One of the dogs suddenly shook in rage when he came across a cat fighting the fire on its tail “Let’s help her, guys! The cat is in big trouble,” shouted the Golden Retriever. While the Labrador in their group immediately jumped to his feet, the others took a little time to ponder over their course of action. Notwithstanding the pressure to help, Aldo The Husky retorted, “That’s a cat, you bastards. How can y’all think about helping her out? All cats must die!” By this time all the other dogs had reached out to the poor cat, Aldo was the only one who chose to prioritize his pride. Not the one to take accept his indifference, Ace The Golden Retriever decided to give a little piece of his mind to the furious Aldo. “Don’t you feel for those with a life! Imagine yourself in a situation like this. All the lives perish away soon if we continue to fight amongst each other,” shouted Ace. After showing some reluctance, Aldo finally followed the Ace to soothe her wounds.

The group proceeded towards its destination after saving the cat. The dogs were clueless about the way, but they decided to move till they found something familiar. Before they could realize, the dogs were already inside a private farm. Everything around was lush green. As it turned out, they were standing amidst the crops inside the farm. The dogs were worried, fearing that they would be punished if someone saw them. There was pin drop silence in the farm. Even a little noise was enough to get them in trouble.

All eyes turned towards Hope The Pomeranian when a sharp, flowing sound lasted for a few seconds. As luck would have it, the little man had inhaled a favourable smell, and instantly decided to relieve himself on the crops, before starting to bark incessantly. The farmer immediately ventured out of his tent to check on the intruders. He hurriedly started pelting stones at the bunch. “Whoa! Well done, buddy. Thank you for inviting offense. Now let’s fight this war together,” taunted the Labrador, who knew how to add ‘Spark’ to everything he did. Before the poor Pomeranian could grasp what had happened, the man was brutally attacking the dogs with sticks and rods. No sooner did a big rock come in the little Hope’s direction than Aldo The Husky jump upon the attacker and bring him down. The brave heart that he was, he ensured that all his mates had made a safe exit from the farm before he could get off the angry man’s torso. Unfortunately, he escaped with bruises on his face. “I apologize to you my friend for letting you take the whips for my careless action. Even when you could have easily chosen to tell the farmer who the real culprit was, you chose to fight as if it was a battle of your own, and suffer on my behalf. Please forgive me!” Hope requested, while weeping uncontrollably. Without a second thought, the Husky reached out to his new buddy. Wiping off his tears, he said, “Please calm down. I understand that you have felt bad about making a mistake, but I don’t think I would have ever been able to see you all suffering. Let us remember that we have chosen to stay together so that we can help each other in adverse situations. If we want to win any situation, then we must learn to stand up for those of our kind.”

By now, the dogs were well adjusted to each other. As they kept moving forward, their path appeared more bleak than before. They realised that a vast area of land was struck by the disaster, which had devastating effects. Tonnes of vegetation was lost. Several homes and buildings were damaged. It seemed like an entire region was washed in a wave of misery. A vast portion of the forest cover was destroyed. Many a wild creature had been killed from the collapse of Live Oaks and Redwoods. Mac, who examined the scenario helplessly, looked skeptical about the route that his group was following. The ferocious-looking German Shepherd warned his group mates against entering any unknown zones.

The day was about to end in a few hours, but the hope of reaching home was distant. After toiling hard, loitering around acres of ruins for hours on end, it was time for the seven dogs to placate their growling stomach. The sun was preparing to begin its journey of comforting itself into the horizon. With hardly any food around, Warrior The Doberman seemed irritated. Looking at him, even Aldo The Husky started becoming restless. “How I wish I could enjoy an evening barbecue by the beach! My stomach is craving some real spicy stuff,” he exclaimed with a straight face, “I think we must take a night’s rest here and continue our journey tomorrow morning,” he added. As Warrior and Aldo planned to go hunting for food in the near distance, the others looked too exhausted to even think about looking for food.

The stomach had grown a considerable size. If one looked closely, with every breath he exhaled, the extra layers of skin wobbled up and down, left and right. As Warrior inched closer to the dog that comfortably lay asleep on the shore, he grew intensely suspicious. The light brown fur, big, black spot on his stomach, heavily crimped tail fur and a nose that was a shade of pink only suggested one thing—the canine that was moving his limbs even when in a state of slumber was known to Warrior. But that was not all. Warrior The Doberman turned red in the face the moment he learned that his familiarity arose from the long-standing enmity he had shared with the sniffer. “This guy is a backstabber!” he exclaimed. The Husky was taken aback with this statement. Before he could ask for clarifications, the Doberman added, “He is the one who conspired against me with an army of loyalists, to make sure that everybody in my neighbourhood disowned me.” He was almost shaking with rage. Aldo was baffled to see the expressions on his face. “As an insecure lad, he has envied me. He decided to accuse me of causing terror in my vicinity, and blamed me for degrading my own species by propagating dogs’ fool-hardiness and cruel demeanour,” he continued. Having gone an extra mile to lend a keen ear to Warrior’s words, Aldo The Husky was unsure about choosing a reaction. “He has indeed caused a great amount of pain and hurt to me by putting all my close relations at stake. I would have appreciated had he come and fought with me or confronted me with the problem. Making me a culprit in front of others is no way to deal with a problem,” Warrior The Doberman expressed with profound grief.

Aldo and Warrior had barely managed to find a few ripe bananas, but they did find a spot under a Banyan tree where they could sit and watch the sun set. The sea was a perfect shade of light blue while the rays of a setting sun gleamed through the waves in the water. One could spot the beginning of land from across the sea. “I did not know that this guy can trouble others even in his sleep,” an annoyed Warrior remarked in response to his foe’s loud and incessant snoring, that was heard even from a considerable distance that the homeless Siberian Husky and Doberman were sitting at. Looking at Warrior, Aldo asked his buddy to pacify and focus on enjoying the moment and the view.

Facing the sun, Aldo The Husky and Warrior The Doberman soaked up the view and chatted away to glory. A few minutes into the chatter, Warrior’s eyes kept drifting to the flowing water in the sea. He tried to convince Aldo of the presence of a fast-moving object that was drifting towards the shore. “All I can see from here is the sea water, sunset and a vast stretch of land on the other side,” the wolf-like Husky replied. Before Warrior could suspect what he had seen, he had already anticipated that the so-called object was headed for the shore. As it came closer to the shore, the long, slimy and narrow structure which widened around the face looked more than just an object. “It is a snake!” Warrior exclaimed. While Aldo was instantly filled with trepidation, Warrior closely began to monitor its movement. The snake soon touched land, before quivering on the greasy sand for a few seconds. The Husky indulged in loud cries, and begged the Doberman to flee from the sight. Warrior noticed that the snake was moving in the direction of his enemy, who was peacefully asleep, and, hence, remained oblivious to the situation.

From a distance of 15 feet, a strong came straight in the direction of the snake. Bang! It was sharp hit in the head, and the snake was thrown off its track. Warrior had aimed a stone at the snake to evade any harm to the restful dog. He later went and shook the dog into wakefulness and intimated him about the situation. The three dogs quickly made their way out of the snake’s sight. On their way to where the six other dogs were resting, Aldo, who was recovering from the fateful incident, appreciated the spirit and courage with which Warrior had tackled the situation. “May I ask you why you chose to risk your life to save someone you shared a bond of hatred and enmity with?” he asked Warrior The Doberman. Heaving a sigh of relief, Warrior replied, “The dog and I may be sharing a bad past, but I cannot let that act as a barrier when it comes to helping him against somebody that did not belong to our land. Had I continued to hold grudges against him even in front of the snake, then it would have easily taken advantage of the situation. He would have attacked that animal first, before coming to harm us. The snake was an outsider here, and letting him in on the truth would only have destroyed us all.” Aldo was left contemplating the intensity of the words that Warrior had just uttered. He sat to acknowledge the magnitude of the lesson he had learnt that day.

Betty The Shih Tzu was always known to be timid, well-mannered and lady-like. She was one of the dogs in the group that was on a mission to find their respective shelter. Unlike the others, she belonged to a very urban and wealthy household. On the night when the storm left her house in shatters, her entire family made an escape out of the house, leaving Betty alone to save her life. Betty was heartbroken upon realizing the harsh truth about those she called her own. “I wonder why my humans even cared to bring me home, if they had to leave me to die,” Betty confided in her stray friends. All she was now hoping for was to become strong by trusting herself and becoming her own guide.The dogs had grown increasingly compassionate and secure around each other. Their travel so far had already included enough banter and learnings to keep them all going.

Spark The Labrador was smitten by the beauty of Betty The Shih Tzu. Her poise and graceful demeanor had attracted him to her from the time he saw her, so much so that he naturally started wagging his tail every time she was close to him. He was truly discomforted, when he heard Betty’s tragic story. A few hours after they had resumed the next day’s journey, he noticed a growing sense of sorrow on her face. “I hope you are aware that you are not alone in this battle. Your humans may have abandoned you. We won’t!” the black Labrador consoled her. Hearing this, Betty immediately adjusted her position to brush off Spark’s claim and state the purpose of her grief. “It’s not what you are thinking. On our way, today, I saw a dog mother being pushed out of her house with her newborn puppies. Her master said he could not look after so many of them. The poor mother was pleading for mercy, while her puppies squirmed under then harsh sunlight,” she explained, with tears in her eyes. “I could see the pain in the mother’s eyes. In that moment, All I wanted to do was lend a helping hand to her and calm her anxious puppies,” she further stated. By now, everybody in the group was sensitized towards their plight. Spark could no longer see tears rolling down her cheeks, but all he could do was egg her on to pour out her emotions. “As a woman, I shall be merciless and worthless if I did nothing to help a woman out. I believe I have nothing more to lose. Maybe, this could be my chance to serve the womankind in my own little way,” Betty concluded. Betty The Shih Tzu’s journey with her six, male dog companions came to an end, after she decided to stay back with the dog mother and her puppies.

While all the dogs in the group came across as helpless animals till the time they remained lost, what was most striking about them throughout their journey was the understanding and insight with which they led every situation. They had rightly acted according to their priorities. Their fight began by contributing to their role as living beings, and continued till they fought in the capacity of their status as non-humans, true patriots of the land they belonged to and, finally, as those who were well sensitized about their gender.