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Archive for April, 2008

Do Dogs Go To Heaven?

The Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s biggest newspaper groups, carries a regular Agony Aunt column called ‘Annie’s Mailbox’ in its English language edition which comes with the International Herald Tribune’s Japan edition. (In Japan, the IHT and the AS English edition come together as one newspaper with the AS forming the second half of the IHT in its Japan edition – a 2-in-1 newspaper, so to say).

This morning’s ‘Mailbox’ carried a letter from a boy who’d lost his pet dog and wondered whether that was it, or maybe he’d see him again in the afterlife. In reply, ‘Annie’ reproduced what she called one of her favorite essays which I also reproduce below:

*****

Do Dogs Go To Heaven?
by the Rev. Dale Turner (1917-2006)

Looking back across the years I see how important dogs have been in my life. I had been an ordained minister only a few weeks when I received a call from an 8-year-old boy. His dog had been killed by a car. “Mr. Turner,” the lad sobbed, “do you do funerals for dogs?”

I didn’t know quite how to respond, but I recalled the Scriptures’ affirmation of God’s knowing when even a sparrow falls. I replied, “Why not?” and I conducted a little ceremony for the boy’s pet.

He was very pleased and then asked, “Is my dog going to heaven?” I wasn’t prepared for that question, but my love for animals got me through it. I’m sure I made the child feel better.

Several years later I had my own personal experience that provided the answer I had never been sure of.

Our wonderful dachshund, Gretta, died and we were eager to bring another dog into our home. We went to the pound to get the dachshund whose photo had appeared in the paper. By the time we arrived, it had been claimed. Another puppy, sensing our mission, poked her nose through the wire fence. The look in her eyes seemed to say, “Please, pick me.” We did. And we named her Pick.

Whenever I came home, Pick was there to greet me. I’d say, “Pick, you’ve got it made. Other animals work for their keep. A canary sings, cows give milk, chickens lay eggs, but you don’t have to do anything but hang around.”

After 14 years, Pick became very sick and there was nothing to be done except put her out of her misery. With a heavy heart I drove her to the vet’s, who did what had to be done. I then went back to my study and wept for hours.

A few days later, a parishioner who knew of my grief sent me this poem. It healed my sorrow. Perhaps it will help others. I’d like to share it.

I explained to St. Peter,

I’d rather stay here,

Outside the pearly gate.

I won’t be a nuisance,

I won’t even bark,

I’ll be very patient and wait.

I’ll be here, chewing on a celestial bone,

No matter how long you may be.

I’d miss you so much, if I went in alone,

It wouldn’t be heaven for me.

*****

The essay, especially the wonderful poem at the end, brought back so many memories of our beloved dogs back when we were kids. I don’t recall any time when we were without a dog. We usually had two most of the time and they were treated as part of the family.

I particularly recall ‘Goofy’, an Alsatian, whose full name was ‘Dick Brown Lalgoofthang’ – ‘Goofy’ for short. ‘Dick Brown’ was his ‘Sap hming’ (‘English’ name) and ‘Lalgoofthang’ his Hmar name – the ‘goof’ part of it derived from the Walt Disney cartoon character ‘Goofy’ to whom he bore some resemblance, or so we thought. However, to anyone who cared to ask, we would first tell them his full name and then say that we normally called him ‘Goofy’ emphasizing that this was derived/shortened from his Hmar name, Lalgoofthang, and not from the Disney character.

He was a big, tough-looking dark brown dog (hence the ‘Dick Brown’ part of his name) with a big bark and a bigger heart. Apart from the season when a dog’s gotta do what a dog’s gotta do, that is, go a-courting all round our village or even beyond, he was always there to welcome us home night or day. His ecstatic welcoming bark and ‘hug’ on our return home from a night out with friends or on coming home for the weekends from Imphal where I was studying at that time had the power to take away all your worries, at least for a moment, because his welcome and showering of affection was so genuine and heartfelt, and was something I always looked forward to.

Goofy died of old age and we buried him in our garden. My brothers and I made a wooden cross on which we wrote his name which we planted on his grave. Whenever talks turn to dogs, my mind always recalls Goofy because he gave us so much joy and companionship during the time he was with us. We had quite a number of dogs both before and after Goofy till the wise guys of our village decided to basically ban ownership of dogs because incidences of people dying of rabies from dog bites had allegedly increased. Unless, one was prepared to keep the dog leashed at all times.

To us, keeping a member of the family leashed was never an option so we reluctantly stopped keeping dogs. I suppose our leaving the family coop and going off for further studies or jobs as well as other factors such as increasing incidences of dogs disappearing and turning up in somebody’s pot contributed.

I also remember ‘Spotty’. He didn’t have a ‘full’ name like Goofy. In fact, Goofy was the only dog we had who had a ‘full’ name – from the time he came to us as a small puppy, there was something extra special about him and hence the ‘full’ name. Spotty was a black and white common mongrel with a mournful face, black on the left and white on the right. We called him Spotty because his whole body was covered with black spots. Spotty was with us much before Goofy and, as always, much loved by us while he gave back an equal or even more love in return.

For some reason, Spotty was never the robust and tough kind of dog that we usually kept. Though he grew up fine and had his share of girlfriends and wandered high and low with us as we explored the hills and vales around our village, he soon developed some kind of disease and slowly began to lose his appetite. There were no vets whom we could consult in those days, but a guy from our village who worked in the ‘vety’ department brought us some greenish looking medicine which they used to inject cattle showing similar symptoms. He came and gave Spotty his first injection, on his thigh.

Being the eldest boy in the family, it became my duty to give the rest of the injections. Once a day, I would inject Spotty on the thigh, always taking care to ensure that I did not inject him in the same place twice. I remember Spotty would perk up as I approached, wag his tails weakly and let me stab him with the syringe as I spoke soothing words and he would look at me with his big mournful eyes. The first time I stabbed Spotty with the syringe, I expected that he would maybe flinch or yelp or show some sign of pain. But he never did – and I came to realize that dogs have such thick skins that they do not feel the pinch of a syringe.

However, despite the injections and the special food and whatever care we were able to give, Spotty never recovered from his illness. We prepared a special bed, lined with soft cloth and tried to make him as comfortable as possible. At first he would sit up, wag his tail and greet us whenever we approached. But, as the disease ravaged poor Spotty’s body, he soon had no strength to sit up or even wag his tail.

But his eyes somehow remained alert as ever. Every time I approached him (which was as often as I could bear to see him slowly dying), he would try to lift up his head and his eyes would look directly at me. It was heartbreaking to see him lying there, too weak to move, and looking at you with eyes full of trust knowing that you were going to make him better.

Towards the end, we could only pray that his suffering would come to an end as swiftly as possible. But he clung on. The hours became days and the days weeks. He became all bones, unable to eat anything solid and barely managing to drink water or the special soups we had to force-feed him. Until one day, when we could no longer bear to watch him fade away ever so slowly, the family council decided that there was no option but to end his suffering once and for all.

Once it was decided, it fell on me, as the eldest, to hasten Spotty’s departure. Spotty’s trusting eyes looking directly at me as I approached to do my dastardly deed will remain forever etched in my mind. We buried him in the back garden behind our chicken shed and planted some Japan theite on his grave a few months later. Years later, the Japan theite began bearing exceptionally big and juicy fruits and we were reminded of our ever faithful Spotty with the trusting eyes.

So, I’m sitting here wondering who will be there waiting for me outside the pearly gates when my time comes. Will it be Goofy, ever faithful, waiting to give me his own special ‘hug’? Will it be Brownie, Torpu, Blackie or any one of the wonderful dogs who shared their time with us?

Or will it be Spotty? How can I face Spotty after what I did? But, maybe, he knows and understands that what I did, what I had to do, was for the best?

Dear Spotty, are you still there

Outside the pearly gate

Chewing your celestial bone

Patiently waiting for me

No matter how long I may be,

Because if you went in alone,

It wouldn’t be heaven?

Or are you still there

Outside the pearly gate

Chewing your celestial bone

Patiently waiting for me,

Sharpening your teeth,

Because you know the time will come

To finally get even for my betrayal

Tokyo 21 Apr 2008

Almost There

What with him winning the Pulitzer Prize and all, I thought I’d see Bob Dylan’s biopic ‘I’m Not There’ yesterday. Turned out to be a strange, surreal and somehow disjointed experience, very much like one of his rambling, meditative songs. I would think that only die-hard Dylan fans would ‘get’ the film. I doubt any one who’s not a fan of Dylan would enjoy the film. Even I, a long-time fan, had a hard time understanding the movie as a whole. I thought Cate Blanchett was superb. She looked like she was having fun playing her role in the movie. And, among all the boys playing Dylan (or characters based on Dylan), she looked most like Dylan.

I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this film turns out to be one of those cult movies which die-hard fans watch over and over again. I wouldn’t mind watching it again, in fact. Even if the movie was a bit difficult to understand sometimes, the soundtrack of vintage Dylan made spending almost two hours in front of the screen made it worth the while for me.

Different Worlds

Last night I went back in time and saw a girl I used to have a crush on in school. She was as beautiful as I remembered and had not aged a bit. Though we did not speak to each other, she was as aware of my presence as I was of her. I know, because our eyes met more than once. Those smiling, beguiling eyes that I thought I would never see again. But, somehow, we did not speak to each other. It just did not seem right – as if speaking to each other would lead to something we would both regret. Even as I was contemplating the strange situation I found myself in, I could feel and sense her sizing up my wife. I sensed more than saw her smile disappear as she stole furtive glances at my wife. She seemed to be saying to herself, “Hmm, so that’s who he finally ended up with. She’s quite a beauty. I wonder how he ever landed such a catch!” I then felt her looking at me with a strange, strained smile as she slowly disappeared from my sight. A strange feeling of loss and loneliness came over me as past memories flooded my mind.

My bedside alarm bell suddenly rang and, as I reached over to switch it off, I realized that it was all a dream. But my dream seemed to have awoken some long forgotten memories and I lay there for some time trying to recall my dream. But the harder I tried, the hazier it all became until the only thing I seemed to remember was her smiling face.

Then, while dressing up for office after breakfast, I suddenly had the urge to dig out some old cassette I hadn’t played for ages. ‘The Best of Lobo’ was the first thing I laid my hands on. After dropping my daughter, I put the cassette in my car stereo and, for the next 30 minutes entered the sweet, simple world of Lobo. Songs like ‘How Can I Tell Her’, ‘Me And You And A Dog Named Boo’ somehow brought back memories of rainy days and our first tape-recorder when we were still in school. Those were the days before the ‘two or three-in-ones’, and ours was a simple tape-recorder which my uncle assembled from parts ordered by post from some company in Pune (somehow, I think it was Pune or Poona, as it was then called). Electricity was a luxury in those days which the powers-that-be would occasionally release for two-three hours in the evenings. So we basically depended on those ‘Eveready’ dry battery cells to listen to the tape-recorder. The batteries didn’t last very long, of course. So we would collect used batteries and join them together to make the tape-recorder sing a few more minutes. The tape-recorder needed 6 volts to run, which meant 4 batteries. But I remember joining together 8 or even more used batteries to get enough power to make it sing a little longer. Anyway, that was our world then – simple and uncomplicated. It was a world to which I slipped into for a few minutes, even as I drove to office in one of the most modern and complicated cities in the world.

Then, I reached office, and the real world. For the past 8 hours or so, I have been immersed what I do for a living. A meeting with my boss to discuss some pending work, a few minutes reading up on some cases, shuffling papers and files, going to the Library to get some books for the weekend (VS Naipaul’s ‘The Writer and the World – Essays’ and Chetan Bhagat’s ‘five point someone’) along with some old issues of ‘Femina’ and ‘Filmfare’ for the wife (OMG, how long has it been since I even saw – not to say, read – Filmfare?).

Now, I’m packing up for the day. Finish this thing, upload it to the blog, and rush down to enter another world before the day is over. I look at my watch and just 15 minutes are left before my daily dose of ‘Ed Shultz’ on my car radio. I look forward to the opening guitar riffs of Slash and GunNRoses’ ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ opening his show at exactly 6:05pm. Then I will be transported into the world of American politics as Ed gives his take on Obama, Hillary and McCain and the American elections.

So, that’s four worlds so far today. And the day’s not even over yet. The evening’s ahead and who knows what other worlds await before another new day breaks.

Memories of Africa – Part 1

Its funny how memories almost forgotten suddenly rush in when you least expect it. The other day, I attended the second day of the fourth meeting of the Infrastructure Consortium for Africa (ICA) meeting in Tokyo. Meeting with and seeing so many African faces after more than three years brought back many fond memories of the almost-four years we spent in Mozambique. Listening to the African delegates speaking of their problems and hopes in their unmistakable African-accented English was a nostalgic trip back in time for me. It also brought back memories of Morocco, another African country and our first foreign posting. I remember, as if it was yesterday, a night in June eighteen years ago when I paced the corridors of Clinique Al Hassan in Rabat at 4 AM, all alone, as my wife struggled to give birth to our firstborn. The feeling of pride, love and concern for my wife mixed with a great loneliness and longing to be amongst friends and family as I finally became a father was and still is indescribable. I will never forget the moment I heard my son’s lusty cry announcing his arrival to the world which, at that ungodly hour of 4 in the morning consisted of our doctor, two nurses, my wife and me pacing up and down outside in the corridor. After what seemed like eternity waiting outside the labour room, the nurse finally came out to tell me I was the father of a healthy boy. I remember my wife looking tired and weak and happy all at the same time, as I went in and saw her holding our son for the first time. He’s taller than me now and quite a handsome young man, even if I say so myself. So its been quite a while and I think I really need to refresh my memory chip before I can write more about Morocco.

Allow me then to jump over the wonderful years spent in Milan after Morocco by which time we were blessed with a beautiful daughter, to more than ten years from Morocco, to 2001. In May of that year, it was time for us to move again and begin another chapter in our journey – this time, a posting in Maputo, Mozambique. After a mercifully short flight from Delhi to Dubai on Air India, we boarded the Emirates flight for Johannesburg just before midnight. After flying all night over the great continent of Africa, we landed in Johannesburg in the morning. Johannesburg was an unexpectedly modern looking and impressive city. Except for the predominantly black faces everywhere, it felt like being in any European city. The impressive airport lounge, wide tree-lined roads with the latest cars zipping pass, clean and impressive high-rise buildings all added to the feeling of having landed somewhere in Europe. It was definitely not what I had expected of a city in Africa. Mozambique still hadn’t opened its Mission in India and we had to get our entry visas from their Consulate in Johannesburg. Arvind, a good friend from the Indian Consulate, met us at the airport. After duly obtaining our visas and a hearty lunch at his residence, Arvind dropped us again at the airport to board our flight for Maputo in the evening.    

It was getting dark by the time we landed in Maputo. As our LAM (Lineas Aero de Moçambique) flight landed, we could see the less then impressive buildings that made up the one terminal of Maputo airport. Just slightly bigger than Imphal airport, it was more or less what I had expected an African airport would look like. Any expectations of a modern, progressive city raised by our short stay in Johannesburg were further dashed as we passed through jhuggi-like clusters of overcrowded one-room tenements just a kilometer or so from the airport on our way to the hotel where we would be staying initially.

Maputo, however, turned out to be much better than our first impression. It was home to us for almost four years and memories of the good times we had and the lessons we learned there remain. For the first time in my life, I began to seriously read and study the Bible on a more or less daily basis. Maybe the Maputo International Christian Fellowship (MICF) where we worshipped with other English-speaking expats had something to do with it. We also had the privilege of meeting and sharing some time with the most inspirational preacher I have so far met. Rev. Brian Jennings, a South African pastor and his wife Lorraine had just come to Maputo as a temporary replacement for the Methodist church pastor, an energetic Englishman, who was going to England on an extended holiday of three months. During their three months’ stay in Maputo we were privileged to be counted as one of their friends. The small Methodist church had a special English service at 5 pm every Sunday where he used to preach. He never spoke for more than 15 minutes but they were the most inspirational preaching I have ever had the privilege of hearing. I consider him the most inspirational preacher I have ever heard because his message would stay with me for the rest of the week. There were times when, during a break from a busy day at office on a weekday, I would recall and be refreshed by some particularly inspiring word that he had preached the previous Sunday. As a person who has not missed many Sunday services, though I have never been a particularly spiritual person, I cannot recall any other preacher whose words have stayed with me throughout the week. I have been more used to preachers, even the more famous ones, whose messages don’t usually last beyond the service. Maybe the problem is me, and not the preacher, but I believe this is true with most of us not being able to recall the Sunday message by the time we reach home.

Though we kept in touch through email for some time after they left us, we lost touch after a few years when my mails started bouncing. Their email ID through which we corresponded for a time is still in my Yahoo address book. I remember them whenever I come across their ID while looking for other IDs and memories fill the mind, like the exceptionally sumptuous dinner and the excellent South African wine we had at their pastor’s quarter in Maputo and the conversations and exchanges of experiences we shared. Perhaps it was the wine talking and if it was, I thank God for it and the privilege of having been able to share wine and break bread with an exceptional man of God.

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