Early deadline of Wingword Poetry Prize coming soon. Submit your poems now!

Canines of Changroad

Vinay Vashisht

Jagga’s ears rose at the rustling of bushes. The air was foggy and still with the blaze of dire cold. He nudged his muzzle against his paws and opened one eye to see. Nothing was seen. Scratching his sides, he got up and looked around in the lit-up streets under the moonless night. He stretched out his light and muscular body. The mist hovered and filtered in the illumination of diyas, lanterns and long stretches of colorful twinkling lights. He checked the pups sleeping against their mother in the jute bags and old blankets. Sheru slept some 30 feet away near the trifurcation of street. Three other dogs of his gang were out patrolling. Then he saw two figures emerging from the darker and foggier side of the open fields. He recognized Moti by his gait but not the other one. Sheru had woken up and stood beside Jagga. He was beginning to growl. Finally, they recognized the other dog in the lights. He was sturdy was a tone darker than Jagga’s wheatish skin, although less muscularly built. Jagga’s tail rounded two times in comparison to the other dog’s once.
“Are you absolutely sure about this?” asked Jagga with his eyes boring into that of his confronter.
“Very much”, growled Jeetu, without blinking.
“There’s no going back after you join us. Otherwise you know…”, warned Jagga, encircling and sniffing.
“I am ready. You know the loyalty of our kind. You have my word”, affirmed Jeetu.
“Call the others. Gather around”, ordered Jagga.
The dogs gathered in an area surrounded by bushes from all sides. Only two guarded the area from outside.
“Time has come to take back what is rightfully ours” commanded Jagga.
The dogs growled bellowing steam through bare canines.
“We must follow the plan. We have prepared well. Jeetu knows the area, he will guide us”, said Jagga exuding confidence.
Then, he made some markings on the rain-wet ground with his paws and began explaining, taking in and resolving doubts whenever they came up.
“I have called upon the members of the Goklan clan to fight on our side. In return we let them share acquired territory and food with us”, spoke Jagga, looking around, reading everyone.
“But why should we share something which we are fighting for? Our fight, our land, our food, isn’t it?”, clamored Jagga’s wife.
“Yes, it is. But the enemy is strong. And we are only sharing till the end of this year. That much we can do. They are helping us.”, answered Jagga calmly.
“But do you trust them.”
“I trust their hate for Kaalu.”

The village was broadly divided into four areas: Goklan, Sundaran, Jokhan and Bhadshyan. On the periphery of the village near Jokhan and Sundaran area was a forest called bani and a pond for bathing cattle called jhod, by the locals. Most of the places of worship such as the peepal tree and Peer Baba Mandir lay in this area. Festivals and marriages were prominently celebrated in this area which meant treat for the animals, especially dogs.
Kaalu was the leader of the Jokhan clan. He was a fierce and menacing warrior. His gargantuan pitch-black body was decorated with battle scars which he had earned while expanding his territory. He killed Jagga’s father two years ago to claim the jhod area. In return, he got a gashed eye, the pink running till it’s snout. He often mistreated his own gang, hurting at will. Jagga was small then. But now Jagga was in his youth and Kaalu had grown old. And it had all come to this day.
The wind has picked up pace and it seared their thick hair to lick their skin. Everyone dispersed and went to their resting places. Only a few hours remained for the daylight to break.
***



The old diyas and lanterns, kept outside homes, were picked up and replaced by new. The Choti Diwali (Naraka Chaturdashi) was a festive affair. The village bustled with the liveliness of the ambience and the aroma of food and decorations. The streets were decorated with colorful lines of papers and strings of lights. The streets had been thoroughly cleaned and the front of houses were decorated and embellished with Om and Swastika signs. Colourful rangolis draped the floors of houses. The sounds of hymns, aartis and conch shells resonated the dawn air. People could be seen going to the temples in new clothes. The local market nearby was being set up. The sun broke out a new joy as it warmed the air and evaporated the fog. The Jagga gang feasted on the rotis, puris and gulgulas that were offered to the idols under the peepal tree. Dogs flocked around the temple for prasad, which was mostly halwa and kheer. The saliva dripped perennially from their ever-open mouths. This was the best time of the year for them. The pups ran around, cuddling, fighting and frolicking. Little kids picked them up, snuggled them and played with them. They wagged their tails and rolled on the ground. Kids would offer pups something to eat and be happy seeing them gorging. The dogs wagged their tails like frantic wipers in heavy rain for more.
Small distance away from the street was the local market. It had shops catering to all needs. They possessed plethora of varieties of everything, from clothes to sweets to utensils. There were multifarious toys and crackers and mostly children flooded these shops.
The dogs from all areas sprinted through the market streets in search of anything they could get their mouths on. This often led to clashes, some of which were quickly settled with growls and whimpers. Sometimes the shopkeepers had to lathi-charge to separate the duelers. Others who were more masculine and had female dogs to impress took the fight to open field just behind the market street. Not just the dogs but cats, rats and birds, all swarmed around and searched and gobbled whatever they could get their paws, mouths and beaks on.

Meanwhile Jagga was out with Jeetu in bani. He knew that Kaalu and his gang would be out feasting, leaving bani unguarded. Jeetu took Jagga to various points of the forest and showed him the positions of prominence in the plan where they would ambush and play their parts. He showed him area around the Peer Baba Temple, several abandoned wells, ambush points and numerous routes in and out of bani. He also informed him of the various points of patrolling by the dogs of Kaalu’s gang. He took Jagga on a sand mound from where the entire jhod area was visible. It gave him complete picture of his plan in action. Jagga stood on three legs and pissed on the bushes. He had done this at several points and had asked Jeetu to do the same. After being completely sure and satisfied, they went back to their home street. The crowd had quietened down since the morning. Most people sat inside their homes now. Some were going to their relatives while some were coming back after exchanging gifts and sweets. Cows and buffaloes were being cleaned and decorated. Some of them were being taken to jhod for quenching their thirst. The evening was nearing. The sun began to set and chill and fog began to rise. Wind blew stronger than before and picked up pace as the daylight squirmed to darkness. People were draped in jackets, sweaters, mufflers and blankets, venting white breaths.
Jagga went to Goklan area to garner support of that clan. The time was nearing.
Meanwhile, Kaalu could not find his nephew and had launched a search for him. He was skeptical as he felt something was amiss. Jeetu was not seen since last night. Kaalu had thrashed Jeetu a week before for questioning his orders.
***


The temple bell chimed. It was 8 o’clock. The canines had taken over the blind streets. People were inside their pious homes, chatting around fires, playing cards, and sharing anecdotes. The lights kept the streets a little warm. But it was not so outside them. Temperatures dropped drastically in the open fields and there was no protection against the wind from any sides. The trees swayed with ferocity. Jagga stood on a rock and facing him was the kennel of dogs he had united for the battle. There were 18 of them. He had already explained the plan. They were ready for the final countdown. Their heated growls and snarls cut against the gelid air. People in the nearby homes were confused about the dogs’ howling and growling at this odd hour. On Jagga’s nod, the dogs soon separated in small squad formations. They went their separate ways on the singular mission.

Jagga knew that they could not fight and win in the streets as people would come out and beat them away. Also, they would lose the element of surprise in the transparent and familiar streets.
Therefore, he had planned for bani. He ventured into the bani with Jeetu and Moti. It was pitch dark in the forest and visibility very low due to the blowing plume of heavy fog. They were drenched; the air burnt with chill.
Meanwhile, three dogs of Kaalu’s gang were patrolling near the periphery of the forest. They smelled foreign scent and quickly reacted by barking loudly and rushing towards the scent. But as they approached, they were confused as Jagga, Jeetu and Moti had separated their ways, using the direction of the wind and their smell of the piss to feign their enemy.
Kaalu was informed of Jeetu’s presence in bani along with the enemies. His eyes smoldered red with wrath. He was infuriated by the act of disloyalty. He was made to believe that Jeetu had gone after the intruders. The nearby dogs woke up from the slumber after hearing Kaalu get up, but they felt heavy from all the feasting during the day. Suddenly they were alerted by the loud barking, sharp snarls and squeals coming from the jhod and bani area. Kaalu and his gang bolted out in frenzy, barking loudly as they clamored through the streets and onto the path along the jhod, cutting through wind like scythe. Four dogs of Jagga’s gang were waiting in ambush near Widow’s well. They attacked from the top of the mound, barreling into the bolting dogs. Two dogs were taken down and their skin was ripped open by sharp canines. They cried and moaned and were soon thrown into the icy waters of jhod by dogs of Jagga’s gang, as a splash was heard in the mist. One dog lost his balance and fell into the well. Kaalu struck back and cut through the neck of a young Goklan dog and pinned him to the ground. The injured dog whimpered and cried in pain. Kaalu suddenly saw Jagga sprinting towards Peer Baba Mandir. Kaalu, now all rage, left the whimpering dog and dashed after Jagga, continuously barking and inching closer to his prey. Then, moments later, Kaalu was rolling in the mud with another dog. Kaalu went white with surprise and red with fury as soon as he recognized Jeetu. He hit him with his paw nails and blood dripped from Jeetu’s muzzle. But now, Jagga had put his teeth in Kaalu’s muzzle and Kaalu shrieked in agony. Kaalu got away and bit near Jagga’s eye, but soon found Jeetu biting on his neck. It seemed impossible to take down Kaalu. His sheer size and strength towered over the young dogs. But slowly he was tiring down. The other dogs from both gangs had joined the fray and fought among themselves. They were biting, slashing, kicking, pushing, pinning down by the throat, and ramming into each other. Some even used fog to disappear and appear from another direction. It was absolute pandemonium near the temple. Kaalu had completely lost his gashed eye and couldn’t see properly. He was bleeding from several places now, his old wounds open. Jeetu was on three feet, his one leg bleeding profusely. Kaalu, knowing that the defeat was imminent, tried to run. But Jagga went after him. Trying to pull a quick manoeuvre, Kaalu’s hind legs found no ground in the fog, and he went down with a splash. Jagga stopped on the ledge. Seeing no movement, he went back and joined the fight. Kaalu’s gang members were few and weak. Seeing that their leader was gone, they lost impetus to fight and tried to flee. Some of them went inside the thick forest, some finding nowhere to run jumped into the water. And some just wobbled with injuries, whimpering and moaning. The rest just gave up and surrendered by falling at the feet of Jagga’s gang, their throats and bellies exposed. Jagga ordered the end of fight. They all were panting, painted in blood. He gave a loud howl and others synchronised with him. Then they quickly went back to their streets. They had won. The Diwali feast and all other feasts in that area will be theirs. Jagga embraced his wife and licked his pups who were asleep. He had tears in his eyes. This night marked the end of hunger for them in the coming difficult days of winter. The dogs licked their injuries and warmed themselves in jute bags and old blankets.

***


People began to come out early in the morning. The dogs were already wide awake. They were briskly pacing up and down the streets. Jagga had already deployed some of his and other area’s dogs in bani and around jhod area. The sun came out and spread its wings over the beautiful village of Changroad. The birds chirped merrily. The dogs had already lined near the peepal tree and temples. This was their favorite day. They would get plenty to eat, without battling over it. People were somewhat surprised to see dogs with injuries but soon minded their own work. The bursting of crackers had already begun. Diwali was here, and so was winter. The festivities had begun, at home and in the streets.


1 comment

  • Excellent 👌

    Jeet Ram

Leave a comment