Yesterday evening my friend and I took an auto rickshaw to the fish market in town. It was a trip of eight kilometers through streets congested with the traffic of autos, scooters, busses, cars and cows. Our mission was to buy some prawns so that he could cook dinner for the house.
It took about half an hour to reach the meat market, an alley of open stall vendors. I first noticed the chicken shop, as outside was a 5-foot wire cage with hundreds of chickens packed tightly together. Their brethren were already decapitated and de-feathered, hanging by their necks. The fish stall was next-door, though its pungent aroma permeated the entire street. Flies buzzed above the daily catch, covered in just a light blanket of shaved ice.
While my friend waited for the selection to be weighed and bagged, I wandered about the market. There was an old toothless man squatting against a wall with a basket of amputated chicken legs before him. I was unsure whether they were a feast for him or for the swarm of flies that had descended upon it.
Our mission accomplished, we retook the auto rickshaw and headed back home. Each time we encountered unmoving traffic, which was every minute, our driver honked a horn on the side of his auto. This was unlike any other I had seen before – all autos have a button to press near the steering handle to sound a horn electronically. His must have been broken and this one was like that of a clown, inflated with air and green. It let out a comical toot each time he squeezed it.
When we reached home there were two stray dogs in our gated property. One was the mother, the other her puppy of about one year. I went upstairs to our refrigerator to take some brown bread and peanut butter down for them. The puppy, a girl, was afraid and came forward with trepidation, smelling the peanut butter and retreating. She was afraid of anything that moved quickly or loudly. I stayed crouched on the ground, beckoning her to me. Slowly, she came closer and smelled my hand.
I carried her inside to inspect her. She had fleas living in her ears and the blood from their bites was dry and crusted inside. I went to my medicine kit and removed a pair of tweezers. She was calm and let me inside her ears to remove the fleas, which I took out one by one, then burned their bodies with a plastic lighter.
She is sweet and calm, almost yogi-like in her meditative stillness. She may have never experienced a gentle, caressing hand in her life. I rubbed her head and behind her ears; she was pleased and closed her eyes in contentment.
She spent the night sleeping on our balcony. She still hadn’t eaten the bread with peanut butter I had tried tempting her with so it sat outside for her, along with a bowl of water. I gave her the name Rani, which means queen in Hindi.
This morning I saw that she had eaten the bread and boiled an egg for her. She sniffed it curiously and left it until an hour later when I returned to feed it to her by hand, when she joyously discovered the taste of something not already rotten and discarded.
As I write this she is still on our balcony, watching the world pass by below. I made an appointment with the local vet to have her examined and remove any fleas I might have missed.
I can’t save all the dogs of India, but I am pleased if I can help even one.