Updated: Aug 9, 2022
My mother is a very orthodox lady. A lady whose childhood was spent in the confines of a large family and its conservative diktats. Steeped in religious beliefs like many others of her generation, she is still a person of curious theories and conclusions, which sometimes border on the superstitious. Although I had learnt to write off most of her irrational notions when I became an adult, and she too had accepted that her beliefs couldn’t be imposed on a grown-up daughter beyond a point, she still held sway on many occasions and I merely complied to avoid a pointless conflict. Wisdom is in knowing which battles to pick and which ones to quit. Moreover, it’s not my place to change her creed. To each, her own. Among the many things that she still insists that I follow, at least while I am on her territory, is the rule that I must not get up in the midst of a meal. Food is supposed to be had in one sitting. She staunchly believes that violating that rule would result in our being reborn as a dog in our next birth. Although she has no rational back-up to prove her claim like most other deep-seated ideas, to her it was a despicable and dreadful consequence to have. Especially after a human life that as per our religion is the highest in the order of births for the chance it gives us to evolve to our most refined form. A proverbial dog’s life, who would want that, given a choice? I would. It is my newest aspiration for the next birth. If there is such a thing, that is. But my aspiration is tagged with caveats and conditions. What I want to be is not a pampered furry friend or an over-fed hound. Not a poodle sporting a bow ribbon or a lab or a pug with an indulgent daddy or mummy. I want no fancy dog houses nor food in silver bowls. No shampoo baths and pedicures. No long walks on leash or cuddles in the couch. I want to be a stray dog. The consternation it brings on one’s face as I mention it is not misplaced. One may find it even cringe-worthy, perhaps? Apparently, it isn’t among the most desirable ways to live in the world; it’s prospect doesn’t evoke awe or excitement in us. If anything, a stray dog conjures up an image of a miserable mongrel with nothing of its own; left to fend for itself, a picture of squalor, shunned and shooed away. Treated like a pariah, it is a loathsome existence that one would never wish for willingly. It is precisely what my idea of a street dog was too until I saw Chotu and his siblings on my trip home a couple of months ago. A threesome who always hanged out together, our street and the one behind it was their territory. Although there were other dogs roaming in the colony, these three rarely strayed out of our street boundaries. They patrolled this area, chasing each other, jumping over walls for no reason, frolicking in the sand heaps left in a construction site across our house, accosting us when we stood at the gate with their wagging tails and beseeching eyes, eagerly waiting for the bread, biscuits or rusks we fed them, and when sated for the moment, trotting away with gay abandon. Watching them and following their activities became a major recreation for me during that time. They waited for the fish vendor in the mornings, following him till he stopped at a buyer’s gate and as he cleaned the fish for the customer, waited patiently at a distance, slavering perhaps, but never once showing gluttonous instincts. If the fish man was generous on a day, he would flick a piece of waste to them and they would amble down politely and lap up the scrap. If he didn’t, they waited for him to leave and fed on whatever leftovers they found. It seemed as if even the scent of fish on the ground was enough to satisfy them. Among the other things they did was escorting the ladies in our lane when they went on their regular evening walks, quietly following them as if it was their assigned job. When they were in mood for some friendly banter, they teased each other and got into mock fights. When they found one of them missing among them, they combed the area and in no time got him back into the pack. They were a team that nothing could ever split. The bonhomie among them upended the ‘dog-eat-dog’ maxim that has come to exemplify our warring human world. They played and pranced around as if there were no tomorrows, they ate what they found by the largesse of people, they slept in their car sheds, they roamed about without fear or favour, they loved as they wished, they hated no one, they were unfettered, they led their lives as prescribed by nature and were subservient to no one else. Boy, isn’t that something! I envied their lives like I have envied nobody in this world. To me this was as far as ‘thinking big’ in life could take me. If, per my mother’s belief, getting up in the middle of a meal could give me even half a chance of being reborn as a dog like Chotu and his siblings in my next birth, I would not mind having all my meals standing. I may not attain ultimate liberation at the end of my human birth, but I could at least try for a new lease of life as a zippy stray dog whose life exists only in the present moment. No Past to mull over, no future to behold, just the ‘now’ to savour and surrender to.