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Canine Comrade

Arpit Vaishnavi

It was late enough in the night to be worried. I once again went to the gate and

looked out. Except for a dripping street dog shivering miserably near the society

gate, no human soul was visible. The starless pitch-dark night sky matched against

the moist mud adorned with prints of different shoe sizes, paws, and hooves of

diverse species. Some impressions were straight, some at an angle, some who took

shelter under the trees were distinctive because of whole body weight put on one

leg. Wrappers were floating in the overflowing drain. The petrichor from the

celestial bath conspired with the stench exuding from the sewer. Confetti of leaves

was lying casually on cars' windscreens, and droplets got condensed on the mirrors

and fuel tanks of bikes. The wet road with puddles on which the street light

bounced from one end to another created a perfect landscape, even for me, who

retired from the army, to be anxious. Generally, rain made me feel uplifted, serene

and loving simultaneously, but today, it was not the case. I have lost track of time.

Distant horn in that silent night sounded powerful. After the rain, the slight drizzle

was like the aftershock. My corner house always allowed me to glimpse the main

road connected with society's entrance. Water beads dangled onto the nearby

traffic light's hoods, and, at an irregular interval, they would dive into the plash just

below it, creating a ripple of the distorted colors of red, yellow, and green. A breeze

swept the mango tree in the courtyard, and a few twigs fell and broke. Thunder

rumbled in the distance. A hopping army of frogs around the municipal dustbin

croaked in their coarse voice to celebrate the moment. Cracks on the sidewall

wielding green sprouts saw a colony of ants storing food for the next few days. I

looked in the opposite direction but could not see Irsia returning to the house. I

sighed and walked back in but didn't go to the bedroom. Instead, I stretched on a

bean bag, her favorite spot in the entire house. Irsia, which means rainbow, was out

of my sight. I don't remember when I dozed o􀉡 while waiting for her.

A slow thud of the newspaper hitting the ground jolted me from my reverie. I looked

around for any sign of Irisa, her bag, her sandals, her scent. But couldn't trace her. I

then rushed out again to check if I have missed anything in my few hours of sleep. It

was altogether a different scene outside. No one could say that a few hours ago,

nature was in a melancholic phase. The sun was slowly marching out of the clouds at

the distant skyline. The morning warmth penetrating the last night survivors made

them prickly, converting peaceful sleeping positions into random fidgeting. The

tick-tock sound of a clock, vibrating alarm of mobiles, and morning cry of birds

became prominent. The clanking of gates by morning walkers and vigilant barking

of stray dogs on seeing them; with disappearing noise of a hurrying bike going

somewhere; people subconsciously were getting aware that now they need to step

into the real world.

A low volume prayer in Malayalam resonated from the house of an elderly South

Indian couple. In one of the homes, a mother ran from room to room to set the

course of various errands to 􀉤nish them on time. Somewhere near a whistle could be

heard from a pressure cooker. Pumps worked at their full power to suck

underground water and fill each house's high altitude tanks. Few balconies with

much younger generation beamed with different voices at once- from a hearty

laugh to a high energy pelvic thrust on a trending song, all were the part of the

humdrum. A school bus honked for its regular passengers at the end of the road,

and few school children with freshly combed locks strolled towards their carrier.

The male sweeper shouted in his rough voice, asking for garbage at each gate. The

scratching of the broom against the road added to the sound of the morning. The

enormous filth laden bag that the female sweeper carried on the manual trolley

leaked the foul-smelling liquid and threw out its content at each pothole on which

the cart jumped off. A man with a towel tucked around his paunch bowed in honor

of the sun god and offered water from a small pot. He then held the white thread,

which crossed the jungle of hair on his body like a river, and started to pray for his

deeds. With a glance, he ogled on the heaving breasts of the female sweeper, which

were visible through the midriff of her loosely hooked blouse. His eyes followed their

movement while she dragged the trolley. Mumbling his chants, he tracked her

contours, and his gaze got stuck at her inner thighs, which were visible while she

squatted to pick up the trash from the roadside. One of the houses radiated with

the newly married couple's snuggling while the other had a middle-aged couple

trying different postures of ancient yogic science on their roof. A father took his

two-year-old son on a bike ride and motivated his five-year-old son to score good

marks. Gradually whole society started to respond to the morning wave.

Just then, a well-built girl in her early twenties wearing the army uniform turned

towards the society. Seeing her from a distance made my heart leap. Due to

rigorous training, my amplified senses caught her floral scent, which filled me with

tremendous energy, and I pushed the gate open to find her midway. She hugged

me tightly, and we walked back to our house, chatting and laughing to our heart

content. Among the assembly of houses with their various exterior, our house stood

with elegance. Each dimension was accurate. Every bush was perfectly trimmed.

Even the whitewash on the wall was smooth and showed no sign of ruggedness.

Everything shared the same attitude of the man of the house except for the man of

the house is not a man but a girl living alone in the company of a disciplined

atmosphere. The alignment of jars, couches, books, stacked clothes was near to

perfection. It seemed that the sizeable house was in sync with its occupant.

She slowly circled the brim of the coffee mug with her finger and felt the vapors

condense on her right palm. Gazing the infinity through the old Gulmohar tree

branches outside her window, she sipped her black coffee while pondering her

thoughts. The last few nights have been havoc on her health. I have seen army

officials who can sense danger beforehand, and Irsia was in the same state. I went

to her and requested for a walk. She looked at me for a few seconds, and in the next

moment, we were jogging down the winding road clogged with thousands of

destitute, who breathe, procreate, excrete, bathe, beg, steal, weep and dance in

the shacks along the footpath.

Irsia and I have seen the northern part of the country, but her transfer led us to

experience Mumbai's extraordinary street life, as seen on various travel shows.

Meanwhile, morning buyers and sellers were pressed against the centuries-old

storefronts as shopkeepers yelled out to associates and customers alike. While she

directed us into the oncoming herd of bikes, bicycles, and pedestrians, everyone

managed to move out of the collision just in time. Once, she had to duck to avoid a

nasty scrape from a crate of a Dabbahwala. Men carrying massive metal jugs were

going door to door delivering milk. Some huddled around a large griddle, staring

what would become hot vada-pav for sale, and others lounged in a barber's chair

under a tree getting shaved in preparation for the workday. Next to them, earcleaners

delved for wax globs in their clients' ears while some waited at palmists

and horoscope readers to know about their future.

Negotiating the busy roads, that couldn't be truer – the honk of horns from scooters

whizzing by was almost continuous. Cows incited a faster reaction than humans

from drivers if they haphazardly wandered into the road. Colaba Causeway's

narrow alleys accommodate commercial establishments where tailors stitch printed

clothes, and vendors sell imitation jewelry. Some itinerant pedlars swing gaudy

selfie sticks and mobile accessories at public while helpers at stores with upper

mezzanine floors, hurriedly pull shoe boxes from stock and hurl down to salespeople

who grab them intact in mid-air. Ahead, we were joined by men with a saffron scarf

around their waist, beating drums and chanting praises for Lord Ganesha. A few

feet above us was a vast web of electrical wires that looked like a yarn ball that had

just been tangled by a dozen cats. There were more food stalls melting butter on a

hot griddle for dosa in breakfast while other shops had the skinned bodies of goats

and other meats hanging for business.

Absorbing the morning hustle, we reached the Mumbai fish market. The smell hit

me and shook my exhausted senses awake. The floor was wet with pungent water,

yet the trawls were fresh. As I stepped over pomfret and tuna, ladies were hurrying

with a full basket of the latest catch poised on their heads and were trying to make

a deal on the docks. With the sun over the horizon, we strode out of the market and

ran north through the capital. The sights and smells changed with each second that

passed, as we switched lanes on the manic streets. Of course, some of the sounds,

views, and feelings in this city of 20 million people were less pleasing than others –

the unforgettable image of Dharavi slums is home to around half the city's

population.

As for sounds, there was the general hum and throbbing of hundreds of people

jammed together surrounded by a multi-storied concrete jungle. From the Victoria

Terminus station to Elphinstone College, the colonial period's architectural charm

never go unnoticed. Outside the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus station, newspaper

distributors were piling papers high on their bikes' racks. Different titles in multiple

languages confirmed that one could never miss the three Cs in India – cricket,

cinema, and chai. Movie billboards line the streets, tea sellers stand on every nook

and corner and celebrate cricket at the Oval Maidan. Superimposed on the

cacophony of black and yellow taxis', was the screech of abrading wheels operated

by knife-sharpeners, the whisper of welders' irons, and the assorted tapping, and

shearing sounds of locksmiths, electricians, tire-repairers and bike mechanics

working under the trees' shade.

The Mumbai street-scene embraces the bizarre with nonchalance. It is not unusual

to encounter the eunuchs dressed in swirling skirts and saris. Square jawed with

stubble, faces caked with powder, lipstick, and mascara; they are bawdy on the

streets, and if denied, they clap and chant vulgarities while flaunting their sexual

organs to the humiliation of their victims. In broad daylight, Falkland Road's lanes

look like any other neighborhood with women going about their shopping tasks or

chatting to their neighbors. But at night, a different mood prevails. Girls donning

flowers in their hair, garishly painted faces and wearing satin low cut blouses,

beckon to passersby, while the manageress sits like a fat spider at the doorway and

muscular bouncers lurk in the shadows.

Less dirty than Falkland Road, but equally crowded, were the passages of Chor

Bazaar. They offer a fantastic range of second-hand merchandise, much of it stolen

and displayed with no questions asked or answered. Marine Drive, a curving

promenade flanked by a sea wall, was pulsating even in the morning. Heat-beaten

citizens turn out to wander in the balmy breeze that floats off the Arabian Sea. With

its exuberantly painted stalls selling spicy bhel puri, violently colored cold drinks,

and silky smooth kulfi ice-cream, Chowpatty Beach acts like an agitator in the

mundane lives of Mumbaikars. Charming chaos of Mumbai is energizing and

strenuous in equal measure. I was again dazed by the view when Irsia headed to the

Taj Mahal Palace Hotel- an icon of grandeur, sophistication, and history. The first

hotel in India to have electricity, an all-day restaurant, and the city's first licensed

bar. We were accustomed to the routine of the town; thus, I decided better to focus

my attention on the sights around us. But all this time, Irsia was not with me

mentally. I gleefully looked at her and then at the Taj Hotel. Ocean glinting steelyblue

under a merciless sun in the background, majestic hotel in the front, I and Irsia

together in between. BOOM!

Just then, there was an explosion.

Everything was dark and scary. My body covered in debris agonized with burns.

Blood dripping from my ear, I could barely grasp when I landed after that projectile.

I have seen many dead bodies in my days, but it was like my first day on duty after

retirement. Mutilated, and charred pieces of flesh lying everywhere crying out for

help. People were choking on their blood. I felt like someone has put a hot iron rod in

my ear, and I was howling out of my pain. There was commotion all around. I

wrestled to keep my eyes open but felt metal fragments pierced in them pushed in

further. The sight of sirens buzzing in the background; drivers escaping from

burning cars, black smoke, and furious fire rising in the air was gory. Then there was

a chain of blasts in the Taj lobby, roof, and elevators. Shrieks of fear resounded when

a bomb detonated at the nearby Leopold Café, and India stood facing one of the

most horrific terror attacks in history. I could now understand why Irsia was in a

dilemma. Then I heard her voice calling out for me. Disheveled and covered in

cement, she lifted me in her arms.

My whole body ached. Irsia stumbled upon the dead bodies and carried me to the

nearest veterinary clinic. She was also scared, confused, and out of her stoic

military behavior. She continuously sobbed and pleaded to the doctor to save me. I

had seen her cry when Dobby, the elf, from Harry Potter and Daenerys Targaryen

from Game of Thrones died. At that time, I used to feel jealous of those two. I never

wanted fictional characters to take that place. But there I was lying with a halfburnt

face and skin peeling off, breathing last floral hints mixed with sulfur, carbon,

and iron. After all my adventures, it was difficult for me to fight this war. I howled

and slithered to get closer to Irsia. I wagged my tail to let her know that I love her.

She patted me and decided to go with the doctor's decision for the better. At that

moment, I felt a jab in my neck, and slowly I became unconscious. Finally, I heard

her say, "Here lies Zorro. The brave dog. Protector of the soldiers. A real comrade.

Date of last mission – 26/11/2008."


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