Message outside a house near Bandstand, Mumbai.
GOOD SAMARITAN IN THE LAND OF CANINE
It is automatic day light saving time for regular evening walkers in our neighborhood. It gets dark in the approaching winter days at about 5.45 in the evening much earlier from the sunset at 7.45 in deep summer. All the regulars emerge from their dens after 4.30 seeking to soak some evening sunlight and grab their constitutional two mile walk.
One person who emerges on the scene is Mr. M.S. Bhalla the savior of stray dogs in our neighborhood. He comes out pedaling his bike with food in a cloth bag for the stray dogs that abound in our area.
He laughs when I tell him that he has more friends than anyone else in Chandigarh or Panchkula. He has an admiring and constantly expanding mob of dogs waving their tails in high expectation waiting for the food that Mr. Mohinder Singh distributes almost every evening.
Most people are afraid of these dogs and consider them a nuisance but Mr. Mohinder Singh has learned to love them. He has retired from the Indian Railways. He has been feeding the dogs for many years now.
Book Review of Life after Life by Kate Atkinson
The book Life after Life opens a time-warp into England during the Second World War. The author Kate Atkinson weaves a dreamlike story of Ursula, who dies several times but the author opts to resurrect her again and again, Life after Life. It is beautifully done. Finishing the book, I felt reluctant to leave the world of Ursula her mother Sylvie and sister Pamela. This book is a time machine that bounces even into the private life of Eva and Hitler.
Perhaps this is the best novel about London during the Blitzkrieg.
One has to be patient with good books. Most of them take about 70 pages to create a certain ambience and cast of characters. I got glued to the web of characters in Life after Life somewhere near hundred pages. That is them moment when one really looks at the back cover to read more about the author.
I am cowering now with Ursula in the ruins of a building in London during the night time incessant bombing.
As a writer I feel like a tiny dog perhaps like Jock. I want to bark a good story and run and run around Kate in circles yapping my praise mixed with jealous anger—‘How can you have so much talent?—while we here are eating cake in our literary poverty.
I have also decided that in future any book that I read will henceforth be defaced by me on the last empty blank page with tiny details of the characters as in plays’ cast of characters. That way I will not get lost as I did in A Thousand Years of Solitude with the Antonias and the Buendias.
Sylvie—mother of Ursula.
Hugh – Father of Ursula
Teddy – Ursula’s brother
Izzie – Hugh’s sister.
This listing will make life so much easier while reading great complicated books.
After finishing the book I feel as Kate Atkinson—about the book, ‘everything was ephemeral, yet everything was eternal.’ The book is so English. Kate has the secret map to a treasure of good writing. I am just like the cowboy in the posse who gets shot off his horse right in the beginning. Kate gallops ahead and reaches the gold mine.
Here I am sitting shot and propped up perhaps against a cactus in the desert pulling needles out of my butt as far as I can reach back. The realization of one’s own incompetence is so painful.
Crying doves and walking dogs—6 am
The Sun slows down on a dusty day
Tied by a string to the horizon.
As I pass by the forest land empty streets
a dove despairs
And wails ooh hoo hoo. A peacock soothes
And shrieks, ‘wait wait’ while
Tiny birds consternated in leafy trees
Chirp ‘yes, aye, that’s right, see see’
Some whistle in joy a passing gull
The mandir pandit as usual is singing
On the mike out of tune and dolefully
To a very patient sherawalli*
Three ladies march like cadets in the park
Breathing breathless home truths and esoteric
Recipes kids shout my turn my turn in street cricket
And the garden hose washing cars snipping hedges
And cooing babies a girl discusses her home
Work sitting on a gate step on her mobile phone
Panditji fades away blissfully into the distance
Whirring air conditioners tell me I’m home.
The title actually should be Crapping Dogs.
The opening line would/could/should be
Colonel Kaul takes his dog for its morning call.
*Sherawalli is Goddess Durga riding twelve armed on her sher (lion). Sherawalli is the one with the lion.
My mistake seems to be a tiger and eight arms. Here’s one with a lion and ten arms :-
Snow covered everything. This was a strange land for everyone after the heat of Lahore. We were in the hill station of Mussoorie. The children had the entire Malakoff Estate to explore. The fireplace was a quaint focus of family gatherings in the evening. Tea was being made and served all day long by our newly acquired servant, Kaalu. It was like a big picnic. Strolls during the day on the Mall which only a few days back had not allowed ‘dogs and Indians’ to walk on it.
Some of the men were still in Lahore trying to sell off everything and come back with as much precious stuff as they could from our old home. Malakoff Estate was a huge place but my parents were part of a large entourage of members of a gigantic extended family. My grandfather was there with his two brothers and all of them had their wives, children and grandchildren along with them. This joint family had not yet got used to the large rooms for everyone. They preferred to stick together in the giant living room and eat dinner together before going off to sleep in their various allotted rooms.
Of course, I was yet unborn, this is all hearsay evidence. The ghost story though is true. I heard it from my mother. Although the days were spent by my aunts, uncles and parents taking pleasant trips to the Mall shops a pall of tension hung over the fate of the men who were still not back from their mission in the new state of Pakistan. Everyone huddled together near the fireplace, sang songs, played cards and munched on the delicious pakodas that Kaalu made.
Everyone had to walk down a steep path about a half a kilometer long before reaching the Estate. This was a very dark passage and everyone heaved a sigh of relief in the evenings when safely inside. Things were thus going well in their repetitive calmness when suddenly a strange incident scared everyone. Dinner was finished and the family members were chatting and joking around the fire when they heard a loud banging on the front door. It was very dark outside but the young men got up to check who it was. They found nothing. Fresh snow had fallen but there were no footprints. A cloak of chilly fright touched everyone. That night everyone stuck together in the living room and waited out the night. The incident was reported to the distant police station. A tall and thin policeman came and checked the house. He talked to everyone present and then left to make his report.
Sadly the knocking on the door after dinner continued for many nights. Everyone became convinced that this was a haunted house. Sunday night was fraught
with fear and the children sat huddled with the elders in front of the fireplace. There was a bang on the door and then shouting. The young men’s league got up again to check and to their surprise found their uncles back from Lahore and in their grip was Kaalu.
They thrashed him till he admitted to banging on our front door at night. Motive- to get a raise of ten rupees. He was handed over to the police and life returned to normalcy at Malakoff Estate.
Days and nights passed while the men discussed their next move in Independent India. It was a Sunday and the family was having a hot debate over this incident when suddenly the front door was being banged again by a new ghost. The men again jumped to the rescue. No one noticed my mother and my aunt slip onto the carpet in front of the fireplace. They had a guilty look on their faces but also one of having accomplished something very naughty. They giggled and muffled their conversation in order not to invite undue attention. Strangely the ghost did not appear again after that night.
Many years later my mother and aunt admitted to having kicked the door just to get a feel of the ghostly sound. They ran for their scared lives after that into the outhouse. Then they slipped in sniggering near the fireplace through an open backdoor. They never tried that stunt again because they had scared themselves more than the other occupants of the house.