Phoenix

November, 2012. Twenty eight beagles were rescued from Advinus Therapeutics Pvt. Ltd. (a Tata Enterprise) in Bangalore. All on average ten years old, they had spent their entire lives in tiny cages while experiments of an unknown nature were conducted on them.
When they were released, there was an urgent appeal to adopt or at the very least foster these dogs. Since they were coming out of a sterile laboratory environment, it was not advisable to keep them in the animal shelter for too long for fear that they would contract infections.
I went to the pound and without knowing what I would do, I brought home a dog, whose only identity was a number -1053. I didn’t know if I was going to keep him forever or until we found him a home. When I saw him, he was stuck to the back of his kennel, staring at me with eyes as black as the night. I knew I had to get him out of there, I HAD to do something. He was unlike any dog that I had ever encountered in my life. Tongue hanging out of his mouth in stress. Lumps and bumps all over his legs. Skinny. Severe teeth and gum infection. He had a chemical stench emanating from his body. Back bent with no muscle strength to support his skeletal frame. Two hairless rings around his neck, suggestive of him being cut open at some point in his life. Everything was overwhelming for him. He didn’t know to climb up and down stairs, he didn’t know to recognize anything as food other than Pedigree even though he barely had teeth to eat it. I decided to name him Phoenix.
He stayed with me for a week, during which time it became obvious that he had never been around another dog in his life and being around my dog, Calvin was causing him tremendous stress. Despite the fact that Calvin is a peaceful dog, Phoenix would pace up and down anxiously if Calvin was anywhere in the same room, not sitting still for a single moment. It became imperative for me to find him a more suitable home where he could heal from the scars of his past.

phoenix-toyThe first time Phoenix picked up a toy to play with, was a day of great celebration, he was learning to get past his past and be carefree.
(Pic courtesy: Atindra Mohan)

Medical examination showed that his liver was producing three times more enzymes than what was normal. I wanted to make sure that he was treated for that, that he was physically fit before finding him an adoptive home. I moved him to my vet’s boarding kennel where we ensured that he never had to be in close proximity with another dog. He got to roam free in the sun through the day and would sleep in his spacious kennel at night. I visited him at least once a week and I could see improvement. His appetite had improved, he was gaining weight. More importantly, he was not stressed out around humans. He would even shyly come close for a pat on his head. He was learning to be comfortable around other, quiet dogs, although being around males still made him very nervous.

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Phoenix on my terrace. He was happiest being outside in the sun, something that he was denied as his entire life was spent in a cage. He was visiting after a month at the vet’s boarding place and there was already a remarkable improvement.
(Pic courtesy: Atindra Mohan)

After three months, it was time to find him a home.  A friend of mine from college reached out to me and offered to adopt him. He was finally going home; a home like one that I had dreamed of for him but one that I didn’t know was possible. She was going to take him to her estate in Coorg, where the two existing dogs she had were both female. (What are the odds??!!) He would have wide open spaces to roam around in, plenty of sunshine to soak in and a family that would take care of him in the winter of his life.

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Phoenix goes for a walk with his most favourite human in the whole wide world,
his baby sister
(Pic courtesy: Kushi Bhimaya)

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Phoenix goes fishing with his brother in his new home in Coorg
(Pic courtesy: Kushi Bhimaya)

In helping Phoenix heal, I changed as a person dramatically. It is easy to fall in love with a happy, healthy dog but as I fell in love with an old, broken, stinky dog, I felt my heart grow bigger. It is true, “Saving one dog will not change the world but surely for that one dog, the world will change forever” and might I add, the world of the human changes forever too. Thank you Phoenix for leaving your footprints pawprints in my life, you are definitely the better part of my growing up in the thirties.

I had written for another blog, the incredible story of another incredible dog, Duke, from the same batch of rescued beagles. You can read that story, here:

Duke : A story of rebirth.

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An affair to remember

I was taking my father for a trek in the Garhwal Mountains in 2011, he had turned 60 that year and this was his birthday gift. We were to start our trek from a tiny village called Sankri in Uttarakhand. We ate an early breakfast of bread, eggs & chai and set out. The first day of a trek is always special. Spirits are high, muscles are not aching, and you’re abuzz with the excitement that you’re finally on the trail after months of planning and preparing.

This was a post-monsoon trek but given the change in the climatic conditions the world over, there had been a heavy downpour the previous night. The path leading into the forests had huge puddles of water. Heavy mist hung in the air. There were gorgeous, lush green trees on either side.

We had hardly walked a few meters outside the village when I first saw him. He was standing in the middle of the path, facing me. Tall and lanky, he had a beautiful white coat on with swirls of beige all over it. He languidly started walking towards me with a slow swagger. As he got closer, I noticed his eyes. They were the colour of melted caramel and they looked warm against the cold, damp surroundings. He had such an easy, friendly demeanour about him. I couldn’t help but smile, I think I may have let out an involuntary giggle. That was the only encouragement he needed. The swagger quickly turned into a full throttle run as he came charging towards me. He pounced on me trying to kiss my face, his entire body quivering with the sheer excitement of encountering somebody who was interested in him.

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I turned to look at my father who was also smiling at the unabashed display of affection. Wow, my father approved? Super!! And just like that, I had found myself a travel companion. He walked with us every step of the way over the next week. Sometimes he led the way. He would walk ahead and look behind to ensure that I was following. If I had stopped to rest or take pictures, he would sit on the path and wait till I reached him to continue on. The only moments when he would run away from me were when he saw some noisy monkeys on the trees. He would go charging off the path, into the forests to give them a good shouting, as if asking them to stop monkeying around.

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He was especially protective of me when we had to go past a landslide area. He would walk a few steps and then come back to me as I gingerly put one foot in front of the other over a path strewn with loose stones and rubble. There was another trekker slightly ahead of me; he even tried to push her aside to make space for me to pass. Not a very gentlemanly thing to do I agree, but he was so smitten by me that all social niceties were forgotten.

His smiling happy face was the first face I saw every morning as I stepped out of my tent, I’d imagine he slept right outside the entrance waiting to see me appear. I shared my food with him, a few rotis with every meal and biscuits when on the trail.

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When we got back to Sankri on the last day after completing our trek, I went into the tiny lodge to leave my bags. I dreaded the moment when I would have to say bye to him. When I came out of the lodge, he was not there. I looked around the village a little bit but didn’t find him at all. I waited at dinnertime for him to appear but I was disappointed.

Just as quickly as he had bounded into my life, he had disappeared. I guess he didn’t want to go through a teary goodbye. I hope he finds kindness in the mountains, somebody who would love him the way I did. I do know that my gorgeous travel companion will forever remain free spirited and wanderlust, at home in the Himalayas… probably all the reasons why we were kindred spirits for a moment in time.

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It happened to me…

I was wearing a beautiful beige & gold banarasi sari with a pink brocade blouse. (Remember that I was NOT wearing Western clothes, it is important.) I attended Lakshmi puja at my father’s restaurant on the occasion of Diwali. I got into my car & drove myself to my friend’s house. (Remember that I did NOT take public transport, it is important.) I went in & greeted everyone. (Remember that I was NOT out on the streets when it was dark, it is important) I knew all of them present for a long time, some of the boys there were like my brothers, I had known them that long. (Remember that I was NOT among strange men, it is important.)

All of us hung out like old friends should. Chatting, laughing, singing. Alcohol was a part of the party and as the evening progressed, several of them at the party started to get drunk. I was on my second drink. (Remember that I was NOT drunk, it is important.) It was beginning to get late. I left the party which was happening in the living room and went to the adjoining dining area to serve myself some dinner. One of my male (not single) friends came to make sure that I would eat well.

As I was serving myself food, he put his arm around my shoulder and said, “Please eat properly, don’t be shy to serve yourself.” I smiled in acknowledgement. Slowly the arm slipped down from my shoulder to hold me around my waist. He continued to make small talk. I stiffened up but told myself, “Well, no need to overreact, he’s a friend. We’ve known each other a long long time.” Even before I had completed that thought, his hand went up to fondle my breast. My sari palloo provided the required shield against anybody who might have looked in our direction. I froze. The smile I had, to keep up with the small talk, also froze on my face. I was incapable of moving for a few seconds, a few minutes, I don’t know. All thought drained out of my brain. I was screaming inside but I felt unable to move my limbs.

Fortunately, another friend came over to serve herself dinner. The hand moved away from my breast. I immediately returned from my shell shocked state. I put my plate down, said bye to everybody and left. I drifted in and out of a very restless sleep that night.  I didn’t speak to anybody for most of the next day, still trying to wrap my brain around what had happened to me.

I was shocked by the thoughts that came to my mind. Had I done something to attract this? Had I given out the wrong signal? Had I behaved in a way that made a man think that it was okay for him to touch me inappropriately? What if I was not single and had a boyfriend/fiancé/husband with me at the party? Would things be different then?

I was horrified by the way that I felt. Yes, I felt violated. But I also felt guilty. I, the victim in the situation, felt very very guilty. Would people believe me if I told them what had happened? The friend was well loved among everyone. As a slightly older man, everybody looked up to him. I felt very alone.

Fortunately for me, I have a few friends in my life with whom I can talk to irrespective of how I feel about myself. They knocked some sense into my head. They snapped me out of the whirlpool of misery that I found myself drowning in. Feeling empowered again by a strong dose of loving support, I decided to tell everybody present at that party about what I had gone through. Men & women alike, I told them all. I had nothing to be ashamed of. I had not asked for it. It was not my fault.

Everybody expressed shock. Everybody on their own time confronted the friend who admitted to what he had done but blamed it on the alcohol. Everybody was enraged. Everybody soon forgot about the incident. Everybody decided to continue to be friends with that man while shuffling their feet and staring at their phones every time they encountered me.

When one takes a stand for what is right, it is easy to do so against a stranger. It takes true character to take a stand against a friend or a family member. Little wonder then that a majority of sexual crimes go unreported as they are mostly done by a known person. Can a woman be expected to be brave and courageous and speak up against injustice done to her when society as a whole provides feeble support based on who has committed the crime?  I have been blessed to have a few friends and then subsequently my family in my corner. What about the women that can’t even have that? I am an educated, independent woman. Yet when a crime was committed against me, I lost my voice, I felt terrible about myself. What kind of conditioning takes place in this society that made me feel that way? The man in question is also educated, works in a multinational company. What made him think that he could do what he did, that despite being in a committed relationship a single woman is fair game? There were other women present at that party. Was their loyalty to their men’s decision so strong that they didn’t feel compelled to express solidarity with another woman?

Remember, I was in a sari, driving my own car, was indoors after dark, was sober and was among friends that I had known my entire life. And yet it happened to me. If it hasn’t already, it can happen to any one of you. Trust your instinct, it’s the strongest tool we women have and it is the weapon we use the least. Talk about it, it is the best way to heal. Even if there are few to feel your pain, still, talk about it.

While it is shameful that something like this had to happen, there is nothing to be ashamed of. I did NOT ask for it. It is NOT my fault.

What kind of student were you?

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What kind of student were you?

The larger of the two you see here is Calvin. He is almost 3 years old. I have always rued the fact that he has never shown much interest in training sessions. If he finds an open window, then no amount of treats or toys can tempt him to learn to do a trick.
The little one here is Sasha. She is four years old. She is an eager beaver when it comes to training sessions as is evident from the way she is smacking her lips in relish! Keen to learn, complete focus on her trainer who is me.
When I looked at this picture is when I realized just how much like me Calvin really is! I would also sit near the window in school & college. Looking out, either staring at a tree or delving deep into my imagination, completely tuning out the drone of the teachers’ voice.

THE chase

There are many things we chase in life. Some chase money, some chase fame, some chase the perfect body, some even chase the all elusive happiness. There most certainly is one chase, however, that binds all humanity and that is the quest for the perfect “match”. The one person in the entire Universe who is responsible for our well being, whose world revolves around us, who is totally and wholly responsible for making us feel like we are not alone in this world. 

In every other chase, we run alone. But in this one, we have an entire team – parents, friends of parents, friends, parents of friends, uncles, aunts and neighbours, running alongside us, cheering for us right until we find that “soulmate” or until they perceive us to be way over the hill to find one. Every person in my life has at some point in time, pointed out the “perfect boy” (note how all we single folk are referred to as boys & girls).

Most often than not, in India, we are in the chase before we even realize that we are in it, thrust into it quite early on by the “well meaning” all and sundry in our lives. I was all of 20 when my cousin Shantavi was getting married in Bombay. She was someone who everyone had written off as over the hill, set in her ways and too headstrong for any man to take on. She even had an older unmarried sister, Veena. Being close to them both, this was one wedding that I wouldn’t miss for anything. All the aunts clucking and nodding their heads in sympathy for Veena, while expressing absolute amazement at Shantavi’s “good fortune”, topped with the sarcastic, witty and extremely hilarious reaction to the entire situation by the two sisters… this was one wedding that would be memorable for too many reasons.

As excited as I was, I went and bought myself a beautiful black and gold Kanjeevaram sari to wear to the occasion. I was very pleased with what I saw in the mirror when I draped myself in it. All the puppy fat melted away, I thought I looked like the sexiest girl ever to wear a sari. I walked into the wedding hall confidently strutting my stuff. I was very pleased to notice that people took notice of me. So many people came up to me to talk to me. Everyone was interested to know what I was studying. Many smiled with relish that I was due to complete my B.Com. in a few months. I was mighty pleased that so many people were interested to know about me. Much later my mother told me that a proposal for marriage had already come my way.

Here I was thinking that I looked charming in my first appearance in a sari. In actuality, I was announcing that I was officially in the chase and the best part… I didn’t even know it!!.