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They revelled in each other’s comfort. This was a love that was mutual. A love from one who needed it so badly to some who could never hope to receive it.
I’m no dog lover. So it is but natural that the sight of a dog within a distance of 10 feet is enough to send me scurrying for cover. It is not that I hate dogs. Just that I was born with a kind of dislike for the canine species.
In fact, my mum (a dog lover herself) made all efforts to help me overcome my aversion having been raised in a pet family. I watched her fondle pets or feed strays and was alarmed at the prospect of her fingers getting stuck in their mouths.
Try as much, I couldn’t bring myself to love dogs and we concluded there could only be two species of humans. One who loved dogs and ones who didn’t.
So, when I watched the lady in the neighbourhood feed the strays, who loitered around trash cans, I felt it was a useless as they could survive well with nature’s instincts. People in the colony tittered behind her back that it would be a better idea to feed poor and hungry humans as animals will fend for themselves.
Objections poured in. ‘Strays are a menace with brutal street fights.’ ‘Mauled and bruised dogs were repulsive.’ ‘Times they bit elders and kids which were dangerous.’ ‘Disturbed sleep with barks and howls.’ ‘We will complain to municipal authorities to do something about it.’ ‘Round them off.’ Were some of the comments.
And every morning the woman came out with her bag of freshly made rotis and a jug of water. The moment the dogs spotted her they whooped and barked delighted to get their meal.
She was over 60, her grey hair dyed in a hideous orange shade of henna and wore frayed salwar kameez. And carried a small stick to shepherd the dogs, talking to them all the while, stroking or checking them for bruises or fleas, for which she carried ointments too. She appeared quirky to passersby who smirked. And annoyed the residents of the colony for creating a ruckus every morning, even adding more strays to walk in for the free food.
Undeterred, she continued her business every morning and called them out by their names which were equally tacky. There was Blackie, Brownie, Moti, Ruby or Raju- her friends. These were not Champagne, Bubbles or Zephyr who were possibly more likeable.
She sat on a stone bench feeding and talking to them as she stroked their bruises or shaggy manes. They were an incongruous group and there seemed no judgement between them. The dogs didn’t seemed to mind her ugly hair or shabby clothes neither did she disapprove their dirty paws.
They revelled in each other’s comfort- a sight that disturbed our sanitised idea of love and caring of pets who came in shampooed shiny coats and bows. I knew she was a lonely woman with no family or friends and now she was disliked by the neighbourhood too. She often got into trouble for feeding strays and dog menace.
Not many of us spoke to her anyway, angry with her freaky habits. By now, I had learnt that the society had a cruel way of punishing the queer by shunning and pushing them to the fringes as outcasts. And so she existed- lonely and friendless, except for her faithful dogs who rushed to greet her with happy barks and friendly growls every time they saw her.
On the eve of Diwali, I saw her dressed in a bright sequinned sari with jasmine flowers in her hair, gaudy glass bangles on her thin wrists, choker necklace. Surprisingly she carried a decent handbag too, which a rare sight.
As soon as the dogs spied her at the colony gates, they jumped and pawed her. They were wagging their tails in unashamed adoration much to the amusement of the people. She looked happy and revelled in their attention as if glad to receive compliments from those who loved her. This was a love that was mutual. A love from one who needed it so badly to some who could never hope to receive it.
As she walked away the dogs trooped alongside accompanying her to a distance as if to see her off. This left me wondering if we all could do with some real love in our lives. And if there was something like it, there could be nothing more to life.
A love we all yearn for hoping to be accepted with all our flaws, failings. Love that’s unconditional and is not measured for what we’re worth or if we’re worth. Only a love like that could make our lives meaningful.
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