The strays

By Rana Preet Gill

In the times of the pandemic when social distancing has become the new norm, emotional distancing has come out as a byproduct. Somewhere this conflict has delineated the boundaries, traversed species. It is evident in the way changed perceptions have led to the dwindling number of stray dogs on the homely streets. And though this is a welcome development it is not the result of a conscious effort to rehabilitate such wandering souls, it is the result of a changed attitude that fed on the guile that dogs are a carrier and spreader of the dreaded Corona virus.  

Driving along the familiar roads we had been so habituated to see some of these strays that we always remember them as we passed by their favourite haunts.

 A certain white female with a pink nose would always sit outside a particular house as if awaiting her morning nashta or breakfast. We nicknamed her the pink nosed dog. Her eyes, the shade of pale yellow, jaundiced with the desire to have more, yet unable to ask for it. But how could a modest household splurge on a stray dog. A dog that would not be a guard and yet sit outside their house. A seeker of alms. In times of pandemic this generosity of sparing the scraps seemed to have died down.

We know that a pair of brown female dogs were together day after day often making us wonder if they were related to each other by kinship. They would be found at their usual spot, a blind turn that masked a road but was the private entry to a house, early mornings, late afternoons, slouching in the sun, keeping company, sharing a territory and the benevolence of the people in the form of food and knick-knacks. They are missing. The blind turn now desecrated by the foremost fear of saving human lives have let go off the strays.

 And there was the territorial shrine dog, with a peculiar elongated face, who would stand stiff, serving as the sentry to this religious place. He became my muse for an article that ended up getting published putting him at a cherished spot on my list of favorites. I would look up to greet him with a gentle nod which often went unacknowledged. Too stiff in his demeanor, too rigid to have beneficence encroaching his life he did not like affectations bothering him.

During times of lockdown I spotted lesser stray dogs on the road and none in their regular haunts. The pink-nosed dog is missing, the sisters gone, the shrine dog sank into oblivion. Either they have been driven away or they lost out on the generosity of the hands who fed them making them move out of those places, their self-proclaimed homes.

It’s not only the strays who burnt the ire of misconceived notions but the pets in loving families too were at a risk of being labelled unwanted. A friend who owns an affectionate Labrador was faced with a dilemma when the family objected to the howling of the animal at a particular time in the night. The times of Corona, rising cases, imposition of lockdown not only necessitated the perpetuation of unusual reasoning, it lead to a strange kind of fear. The elderly matriarch drew visions of Yamraaj (the god of death) visiting their home to claim its share of life in the wails of the animal.

The relatives when consulted advised the family to consult a certain Babaji who was kind to offer advice on phone empathizing with the family and reiterating the same facts.  The dog was indeed peculiar and the howling was definitely a bad omen. It had to go. When I got call from this harassed friend   to save her dog from home displacement by prescribing a medicine to put an end to its howling I was confused. Our adopted mongrels often howl in the dread of the night when the pups in the neighboring kennel create a ruckus. They respond to a stimulus.

 There was no letup in the animosity against this dog, the family stood firm in the castigation of this canine for an innocuous crime. But after a few sleepless nights my friend had uncovered the stimulus in this case. A patrolling police van crossed their home precisely at the same time. The siren was the stimulus.

The family not satisfied with this logic has decided to call the faithful Babaji once again, this time for a personal visit. The animal in question, bereft of the impending doom, unaware, romps merrily all over the house, a place where it has thrived since its arrival as a little pup. I hope the maw of these uncertain and testing times do not swallow home of a loving animal. I hope they let it be and let it stay.

Our adopted mongrels refuse to touch the pedigree, the dog feed, some days. A crease of disappointment crosses my face when they act pricy. The feed is expensive, I take out the money out of my precious salary to buy them this treat. My resources are limited but they do not seem to care.  The crows which live on the silver oak boughs have an eye for this tasty treat. When the dogs refuse to touch their bowls, they circle around the food to have their peck. I am disappointed by this behavior of my canines. They disrespect food bought and brought with love and care.

 I let the crows have their fill not before displaying my remorse in front of the mongrels but I am not too strict to castigate them.

We do not tie them, they are living by their free will on our property, they can howl, bawl, be whimsical. We have accepted them as they are. Their soft moans at our approach and that subtle wagging of the tail tells me they are happy with us. This fear of Corona did not pervade our home, we did not drive them away. For now, their territories are safe. They future seems secure as long as they do not feel tethered in the confines of our home. Outside, the world is brutal. I wish I could explain this fact to them but they close their eyes and place their snouts on my feet, beseeching, pleading for a rub on their backs. They are not aware of the outside world around. For now, they are happy to be choosers in this house which they have adopted as their home. They have chosen us to be their benefactors and we are glad to have them.  

Rana Preet Gill is a Veterinary Officer with the government of Punjab, India. Her articles and short stories have been published in The Tribune, Hindustan Times, The Hindu, The Statesman, The New Indian Express, Deccan Herald, The Hitavada, Daily Post, Women’s era, Commonwealth writers. org, Himal, Spillwords press, Setu Bilingual, Active Muse and Indian Ruminations. She has compiled some of her published pieces into a book titled Finding Julia. She has also written two novels – Those College Years and The Misadventures of a Vet.




Happiness: Heart in a Casket

By Rana Preet Gill

I look up to find the evening sky stretch out like a canvas with a multitude of hues, change like a kaleidoscope of colours. It is the like the work of an artist, our Creator. I have often been startled by the beauty of life amidst my own fake despair.

I do not have many concrete problems in life. Not the ones that could be touched with bare hands, seen with naked eyes. Not the ones that could be described with a flourish. Not as if problems could ever be explained.

The world is a living, breathing cauldron. A little whimper gets turned into a moan, a slight regret gets carried into a lament, an awkward glance becomes a fleeting affair and dissatisfaction with life snowballs into melancholy.  Disclosures of unhappiness are difficult to make. Affability comes with ease. Life is often dictated by societal norms. And the mind is in constant harmony as one amongst them.   

The evening sky beacons for an escape. The birds wielding their wings high up in the sky, pumping the air beneath their wings, soar high, up and up away. I wonder what it takes to be happy, to be alive for them. I wonder if they suffer the throes of existential chaos.  I wonder what life would be like, bereft of any problems, of any conflict, of misery. Why cannot it be a perpetual ride of ease and comfort?

I am not particularly unhappy. I am positive, rearing to go. I can talk endlessly about my dreams. My dreams about my life, my future, security, approval, turning the negatives into positive in times of lockdown and much more.

I have a privileged life. I have the money, enough to satiate the needs of my life. Enough to buy me clothes of myriad shades of colors and designs.

Yes, not the very expensive ones. I know my reach. Salaried middle class. But there have been days I have spent thousands of rupees on things I never cared to wear. The money trapped in my greed for something new had lain in the closet for months and sometimes years. It’s only when the cloth have aged enough, humbled by its disregard that I have picked it up and given it an audience.

My tendency has been only to hoard. I have not felt any concrete need or significance of that particular object in my life. My happiness has been short lived. It has dazzled me with its existence but it only turned out to be a mirage.

Happiness can never be found in what you wear. It gives you a momentary delight to be dressed in the choicest of clothes. But for that prolonged calm and poise clothes are a far cry. The closets are full of clothes new as well as old yet somedays there is nothing to wear.

The stark nakedness of the soul shines on those days. This depravity, the greed for more reflects on me. There are people who have nothing to wear yet brave life with a smile embarrassing us with their unseemly flesh on display. And here I am all covered in swathes of sequined clothes yet I am unhappy, grumbling, complaining about an imaginary chaos in my life. I will only be able to see clearly when the dust settles. But I never stopped spinning like a top around my axis. How will I ever see what my mind tells me to see? It’s the haze that whirrs around me unsettling me with the frivolous.

Food!  I wonder if that provides a semblance of happiness. We eat to live or we live to eat! Making a living to buy the essentials or splurging it all on mindless eating leading to flabs of flesh. How much meat do I need around my bones?

The aroma of food being cooked at home fizzles into my nostrils but when I sit down to eat I am not hungry at all. As if the very thought of food has inundated my palate filling it up to the brim.

I am often enamoured by the colorful paraphernalia of junk present on display in shops. The packet of chips, biscuits and other knick-knacks in iridescent colours; red, blue, green, neon, beckon with delusions. Just one wafer thin chip can bring dollops of pleasure with the crunchiness alone. As long as the packet tempts me I think about the buying it and parting with a few rupees from my wallet.

I keep on putting this momentary satisfaction away, of being able to possess them is madness. What food value does this frivolous entity have?  It is not the worth my money. But the temptation of the color and taste finally leads me to the shop.

The packet unopened, uncared will lie in the drawer for many hours before I decide to open it. I look for the promised happiness displayed on the cover of the packet. A smile of a nondescript man, so profuse, deep, enchanting, carrying assurances unbeknown. And yet the savory did nothing to fulfill the promise of that happiness.  

I grab the packet and give it away to the household help. Her children would be grateful for this treat. Food does not give comfort. When you do not have the means to buy it, it becomes the single motivating factor in your life. When you have the luxury of choice, the comfort of having too much on your plate, you lose the narrative. Enough money can buy enough food but not a healthy appetite.

I live in a big home. Big enough to the eyes of the outsiders who would often throw a casual remark just looking at the façade. There are two floors and a couple of rooms. I often do not have the place to keep my stuff which lies on bed and chairs, crying for my attention. There are not enough cupboards? I rue the lack of storage facilities. I take my home for granted.

While the homeless of the world scourge for a roof above their heads, I pompously shun the comfort of my abode to look for more privacy inside my home.  I need a snug home, like a kennel, something to wrap around myself. Something too close for comfort yet close enough to fill my senses.

Those with bigger houses are oblivious to the luxury of space while those with smaller homes keep on pandering about their desires. Life becomes a never-ending desire to escape from the real.

A mad dash to be somewhere else. In some other country, state, city, village, travelling to far off places — all the while contemplating the comforts of home. Comparing, making notes, concluding that life is best lived in the sanctity of home. And once back, the confined existence of home is repressive. Start another search, home if far away.

There is no comfort and joy to be found living in well-furnished big houses. Home is where heart is! And the heart needs to be molded to fit in a casket to be cared for a life time.

Home is valuable yet not valued enough, heartfelt desires often soar high escaping the restraints of one home. I have multiple homes in a surreal world and I often flit from one to another. Only there is no comfort grand enough to chain me to one amongst them. In the real world, home looks miniscule, a tiny room, a tinier closet, a heart in the casket. Some days I gasp for breath and rush out of my house.

I have often searched for the meaning of being happy. A comfortable home, lots of material comforts, oodles of tasty and expensive food, money in the wallet as having a limitless purchasing power is never a guarantee of bliss. It’s a reason for dissatisfaction for some.

Why we have it all when there are people who do not have anything and yet they are living with an aplomb, a carefree life?  Their remorse at living ill-equipped lives does not reflect on their faces somedays depriving me of the perverse pleasure which I derive while making comparisons. An absence creates a want, fulfillment of that particular need. The alleviation of it becomes the sole purpose of life promulgating happiness. But then what do I know about the needs of those who sleep on the roads with an empty stomach, search for shelters during the rain, garble for morsels of food, for them home is a distant dream.

I wonder if happiness is empathy. Only being sympathetic yet not taking any concrete steps to alleviate the suffering. But then I do not think about the destitute of the world all the time. My mind is crammed with my very own self. My own attempts at navigating my life seems gargantuan. My own attempts to find peace, hope, salvation outwit me into thinking as I assume that my problems are larger than life yet they are not.

As I sit in the verdant lawn in front of my home wondering about life and happiness, a world of silver oak trees, palm spruces, rose bushes, peaches and plums in full bloom, ripe with fruit, fecund, living, breathing reach out to me. The honey bees buzz around collecting nectar of flowers. The butterflies flit from one bloom to another.

For a fleeting moment, one with silken wings alights on my shoulder. It has pink and yellow wings, a combination so strange. It looks hideous and, yet, I wonder if it is blessed with the knowledge to castigate itself.

It is happy. And for a moment, just for that brief moment that happiness is transferred to me. Amidst constant movement the unassuming insect gives stillness to my mind.  Shrouded in the constant chaos of nature, my mind feels at peace. The butterfly on my shoulder with its fluttering motion lends me its momentary joy before making its way towards the evanescent dusk.

A brief snitch of happiness before I start the tireless journey full of recriminations. But I am glad there was a moment to escape. I wonder if the constant fluttering of its wings unsettles the winged one as it seems to be on perpetual move. A life in motion yet in peace. I spread my dormant wings to give myself a push. I make them flutter only to imagine myself taking that giant leap towards the sky.

It is constant work to keep myself above the ground but I guess this is what life is all about. Working, moving, flying, spreading your wings, striving to meet the horizon, dreaming, desiring the beautiful, happiness untamed. As I close my eyes to let myself soar I could see million butterflies let lose in the sky. Living, breathing, jostling to color the evening sky.

To give untamed hopes and dreams, wild desires, unleash the madness yet guide it with a serenity to halt that drive with a serene composure — what is it?

Happiness is above all a search, a thought, a way to live amidst constant contemplation.


Rana Preet Gill is a Veterinary Officer with the government of Punjab, India. Her articles and short stories have been published in The Tribune, Hindustan Times, The Hindu, The Statesman, The New Indian Express, Deccan Herald, The Hitavada, Daily Post, Women’s era, Commonwealth writers. org, Himal, Spillwords press, Setu Bilingual, Active Muse and Indian Ruminations. She has compiled some of her published pieces into a book titled Finding Julia. She has also written two novels – Those College Years and The Misadventures of a Vet.