A Dog’s Life

 

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After a decadent sleep, Babar woke up and stretched languorously on the carpeted floor. Lazily, he walked over to his food bowl. A full plate of shredded boiled chicken meat was waiting for him. He gulped it all down greedily in seconds. He walked around from room to room looking for his owners. They irritated him sometimes by not walking him more often and by not giving him all the tasty food he likes all the time . He hated it that they put him on a strict diet and were too cautious about him getting fat. He was too young to think about all that. He retaliates by biting their feet and hands when he does not get what he wants. He even learned a new trick of barking at them to receive a speedy response to his demands. Grinning, he was pleased to think about how easily he can manipulate them.

The need to relieve his bladder made him restless. Where could his people be? he wondered. Walking towards the front yard he did a double take when he saw the gate. It was wide open. His owners, no where in sight. He hated being cooped up inside the house. This was his chance. He dashed for freedom.

Lifting his right hind leg, he watered the nearest bush with great satisfaction. A female dog saw him and ran excitedly to greet him. After smelling each other front and back, Babar went on his way. It was a Sunday morning and most of the residents in the community were having tea and reading newspapers in their balconies or gardens. A common indolent sight in his neighborhood.

Walking further he came across a white cocker spaniel accompanied by a young pretty girl in shorts and flip flops. The immaculate canine looked too posh he felt shy all of a sudden. He always rushes towards another dog whenever he sees one but at that moment he was overcome with awe at this cotton like apparition . He just stood there mystified. With an arrogant flip of her tail the fluffy dog strutted away. Babar shrugged and walked on.

An old woman in a beige Salwar Kameez suit stopped on her tracks when she saw him. Babar was feeling naughty and thought of scaring the woman even more. He ran towards her as if to jump. The woman shrieked loudly almost shattering his eardrums. He abandoned the idea. The woman muttered invectives towards his owners and with angry steps walked towards the direction of his house. Babar grinned, unconcerned. Not his problem.

His adventurous steps finally led him to the main gate of the housing estate. It was also wide open that day. Should he or shouldn’t he? Excitement tripled the beating of his heart. He has not been outside the gated community by himself before. He decided to go for it. The street was deserted. Before him were long stretches of roads as far as he could see. And only one or two cars passed by with long intervals every now and then. He ran to his heart’s content. He was having so much fun he failed to notice the scenery changing. Gone was the pathway lined with pretty trees and the neatly trimmed bushes. Instead, rotting mangled cars decorated the road. Garbage strewed all around.

Walking slowly now he saw a man and a woman in front of a house made of two blankets tied to a tree forming a tent. The woman wearing a sari clutched a bare bottomed child to her bosom while making tea on a makeshift stove of rocks and woods. Flies buzzing around them. Two slightly older kids were rummaging through a dumpster nearby. Diligently sorting through the trash for any edible scraps they could find. With them was a pack of stray dogs. Babar walked hesitantly towards them. He snipped what they were snipping.  He thought the mutts must be eating something tasty seeing them ate with gusto. He saw an empty packet of milk. He loved milk. His owners always take  the discarded milk packet he steals from the trash away from his mouth when they see him chewing on it. He was about to grab the plastic pack with his mouth when a thin brown dog noticed him.

” Hey you! You selfish bastard! Are you not from inside that place?” He barked, indicating with his nose the row of flats inside the colony. All the dogs were looking at him now, baring their teeth. Babar changed his stance. The hair on his back raised aggressively.

” Look how fat you are! You must be eating all those fancy food. What are you doing here stealing our scrap? We have to fend for ourselves you know! These leftovers are barely enough for all of us.” growled the black mongrel. Walking with deliberate slowness around him with a menacing expression on his face. Babar did not show it but fear was spreading in his limbs. Five dogs with hatred on their faces surrounded him, their postures geared for a fight.

” He must be one of those who even sleeps on his owner’s bed. Look how clean he is. How shiny his fur is.” sneered a white bitch with a patch of black in one eye. They all laughed at him.

Before they could attack him, Babar jumped over the tiniest dog and ran for his life. He didn’t stop running until he was inside the gate of his society. He saw madness on those canines’ eyes. They were going to rip him apart. His heart thundered in his chest.

“Babar!” He heard a familiar comforting voice calling him and he ran towards the source of that maternal sound like a wanderer in the desert seeing a pool of water. He jumped inside the wide open arms of his caretaker. ” You made us so worried. Where did you go? Honey he is over here.” she called out to her husband.

Babar licked the face of his master gratefully when finally his master called him over to him. The master patted his head lovingly. ” I think my boy had learned a very important lesson today.” Babar wagged his tail in agreement.

Sometimes we need a little freedom to make mistakes so we can  value  more the life we are given.

(*Housing estate or gated communities are called colonies or societies around here, well according to my husband.) ©JMKhapra

My Collection Of Beautifully Illustrated Children’s Book

When I was a young girl I was not particularly fond of reading children’s books. I could not wait to read books without pictures. But recently, since I’ve started illustrating children’s stories, illustrated children’s books caught my interest. I started with a couple of books by Oliver Jeffers. BeforeI knew it, I was hooked. I just got to have a copy of all of these beautifully illustrated children’s books from all over the world. Now, I am in love and fascinated with my rapidly expanding collection.

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My most favorite book in my collection is, The House In The Night , written by Susan Marie Swanson and illustrated by Beth Krommes.

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This lovely book is very special, poignant and sweet. I love, love the illustrations. They are gorgeous.

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Today, Flotsam by David Weisner arrived in the mail. ( Thank you Amazon.com for your exceptional service here in India.)

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The book has no words or text but the story is beautifully told through a series of illustrations like a short silent film. I am enthralled.

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Oliver Jeffer’s books are also so charming . I have two, Stuck and The Incredible Book Eating Boy. I love how metaphorically fun his stories are.

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I have also found two amazing books by Indian Authors, The Honey Hunter and Following My Paint Brush. The Honey Hunter is a retelling of a popular Indian folk tale. Following My Paint Brush is an illustrated biography of a domestic helper and a fisherman’s daughter who became an artist. Both charming and lovely books.

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What Pete Ate From A-Z by Maira Kalman is also a fun filled book with beautiful illustrations. Pete is so naughty and cute. I love how each illustrations look like paintings.

I also have Animalia and Waterhole by Graeme Base.marian kalman

Kay Nielsen and Harry Clarke are my all time favorite illustrators. I was able to get a copy of Kay Nielsen’s illustrations collection but Harry Clarke’s books are far too expensive. I begged my husband to search for a less expensive copy of any Harry Clarke illustrated books on his trip to Europe. I am crossing my fingers.

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I have ordered a few more books for my collection, The Arrival by Shaun Tan, The Garden Of Abdul Gasazi by Chris Van Allsburg, The Three Pigs by David Weisner and two more books by Graeme Base. I can’t wait to read these books!

I am also checking books by Sophie Blackall and Adrienne Adams.

If you would like to recommend a book to add to my collection, please leave a suggestion in the comment box below. I would be grateful to hear about a beautifully illustrated book I don’t know about.

Thank you!

 

The Confining Walls Of Our Beliefs

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” I think you should not marry him.” Bonnie said emphatically. I looked at her sadly. She was my last hope. Her opinion being the last sign from which my decision would be based upon. Yes, in days of confusion and indecisions, I too fell in the trap of ” looking for signs ” while contemplating a pertinent problem in want of a solution. Needless to say these signs only led to more confusion and further indecisions.

Bonnie sighed, her face contorted with remembered pain. ” Marriage had not been easy for a Christian woman like me marrying into a family with a different religion.”

We were sitting in her spacious bedroom at that moment but when first I came to her house and was introduced to her in laws I did not sense any tension between them at all. I wondered what she was talking about.

” My father -in-law had beaten my husband black and blue when he insisted on marrying me.” she continued. My eyes widened.

It was unfathomable for me how a grown man can be beaten by his father. But apparently in that country it is quite common.

I met Bonnie when I went for a Sunday mass in a Christian Church in the city. Praying in an empty church has always been my one solace every time my life is caught in a whirlwind. At that time I was in the middle of a milder thunderstorm and like a guardian angel she sat by my side. My face must have been as gloomy as the church interior for she asked, ” What’s bothering you child?” My answer was a quivering sigh. Tears held at bay, brimming at the eyelids where one kind word would send them cascading down my cheeks. She patted my hands and whispered to me that I should meet her after service.

Salty water burst forth like in a broken dam from my eyes when finally I related to her the whole story, sitting in a room at the second floor of the church where she taught Sunday school for children. With a motherly sympathy she told me she will pray for me and my troubles. And she will ponder over the situation and would call me if she has an answer for me. She called after a few days. So there I sat in front of her while she dashed my hopes and dreams over coffee.

Bonnie is a beautiful tall woman from the North. She could easily been an actress or a model in my opinion. She has those perfect cheekbones and soulful light eyes with a curtain of the thickest lashes I’ve ever seen. With her beauty complemented by her tender heart, it was easy to see why her husband fought tooth and nail to keep her. Their relationship endured countless attempts of separation from her husband’s family but without success. They even threatened to disown her husband. But nothing fazed them. Against all odds they wed and are now blessed with three kids.

” I insisted we marry in a Christian church. Afterwards I fought hard to remain Christian. I did not convert. My faith is all I had. It is my choice. The only thing left of my independence . I held on to it.” I could feel the passion she had for her faith very strongly. I wondered If they beat her up for that too. She did not hint on it throughout the conversation but I thought it was more than probable.

” But then came the children.” Pain flitted in her eyes once more.

” Though my husband never asked me to convert, my in-laws of course would never allow my children to be Christians. This is one fight I could never win. I could never get them baptized. That tears at my heart. How will I save them from eternal damnation? I had to sneaked them out of the house when they were babies just so I can take them to the church. To know the Lord.”

She looked intently into my eyes. ” You don’t want that to happen to you.”

I was speechless. I could not answer her. She was right. It will affect the children’s lives most of all. Which belief would the children cling to before they can choose one for themselves? I said goodbye to her with a heavy heart. Still undecided and all the more confused. I walked away dazed with questions in my head . Plunged in deep reflection.

At the heights of love everything seems so carefree, even childlike in its wantonness . So what was I doing in the middle of something so serious, an issue that keeps polarizing nations apart? Whose God is the real God? Or if there is one? And which religion leads to everlasting life? And again if that is even possible? Why should we give up one for another? Why does it keep pulling people apart instead of together? It was all so complicated. Besides the culture barrier, there is religious barriers too. Why do people constantly build walls to keep each other out? Is elitism such an inborn trait? If other religions do not want Christians in their flock, some Christian are not any better in accepting others too. My ardent Christian friends back home gave me stern advice against marrying outside the faith. Frowning at me, I felt the sting of their scorn for beliefs different from theirs. How ironic. Jesus himself right there written in the bible mingled with everybody. He was the coolest dude who does not possess on single elitist bone in his body.

Without an answer to my dilemma I was only left with a conclusion that maybe people do feel safe if they belong to one “CLUB” or the other. And they fear that someone who does not clearly belong to one is dangerous and must be avoided.

©JMKhapra

Temporary Insanity: Justine’s Love Affair With Literature

When you think of yourself as character in a film or in a book how do you cast yourself in the story of your life? Are you the hero? The side kick or the villain? As long as I could remember I have always carried on an aura of a tragic anti hero bent on sabotaging herself until she drinks herself to death or something. Liam provided a climax for my story. Her mother putting the tip of a knife in her throat became the final straw to my then disintegrating life. Spiraling me down to that bottomless abyss where I plunged endlessly into the darkness.

Is the tendency to lean towards a melancholic existence part of my genetic inheritance or is it the kind of books I read which influenced my maudlin moods and disposition? My mother was a reticent woman but not pessimistic. She was a pragmatic woman who cared more about how to survive this life with dignity than indulge in romantic musings about life. I didn’t know my father so I have no way of knowing what the other half of my DNA might be like.

So I blame books. The tales of suffering and tragedies found in those wonderful novels filled my young mind with a skewed perception of life too early. My mother was an English literature teacher and it was her book of poems and short stories which lured me into the seductive and bittersweet world of literature. It started on that fateful day when I had grown tall enough able to reach the high shelf where those precious books were kept.

I opened a page and my life was never the same again. Neglected were my picture books. My Hardy Boys paper backs, even my Nancy Drews. As soon I had read these following verses there was no turning back.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach,

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height and my soul can reach! My God. I thought. To be so passionately in love! This was how I wanted to feel and nothing less. And I didn’t stop there. Being deeply in love was not enough it had to unrequited too. Nothing less than what Cathy and Heathcliff suffered in Wuthering Heights. I also fantasized of being magnanimous on my time of death and this would be the poem I would have send my lover as a farewell:

When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.

So you see early on I was set to screw my life.

Copyright 2013 JMKhapra

Poem 1 by Elizabeth Browning
How Do I Love Thee

Poem 2 by Christina Georgina Rossetti
When I am Dead, My Dearest

The Useful Art Of Skipping

“A sensible person does not read a novel as a task. He reads it as a diversion. He is prepared to interest himself in the characters and is concerned to see how they act in given circumstances, and what happens to them; he sympathizes with their troubles and is gladdened by their joys; he puts himself in their place and, to an extent, lives their lives. Their view of life, their attitude to the great subjects of human speculation, whether stated in words or shown in action, call forth in him a reaction of surprise, of pleasure or of indignation. But he knows instinctively where his interest lies and he follows it as surely as a hound follows the scent of a fox. Sometimes, through the author’s failure, he loses the scent. Then he flounders about till he finds it again. He skips.

– Somerset Maugham, Ten Novels And Their Authors

Life Without The Sun

It was already very dark when Sandra woke up. She missed the daylight again. She checked her watch and saw it was already seven o clock. Only two hours left before her shift starts. She opened the water heater while brushing her teeth and prepared the clothes she was going to wear afterwards. She turned on the tv and changed the channel to the station she works for. The evening soap opera which she edits would start as soon as the evening news finishes. She felt the same anxiety every time the program was about to go on air. Worrying if she forgot anything crucial. Sometimes no matter how many times she reviewed the finished product some glitches still get overlooked. She cringed to think of seeing even one error on her work.

She checked the water in the shower. It was warm enough. The same feeling of depression sinked into her again as soon as she stepped under the spray of water from the shower. One year of spending her waking hours at night had distorted her psyche and plunged her existence into a surreal reality. Her life felt like a long dream. Perpetually dark without color. Everything that happens to her, occurs in the shadows or under the bright offending florescent lights.

Going down from her apartment she came across her neighbors who was just getting back from work. She knew none of them. Still, she politely nodded her head in greeting. Their work weary expressions a stark contrast to her freshly scrubbed glowing face. Stepping out of the condominium and into her car, she felt her days constantly moving in reverse. Even as she drives to work numerous cars always filled the other side of the road, all of them rushing to reach their houses in time for dinner. Sarah sighed. One by one she saw the lights in the offices she was passing, turning off. The night street vendors carrying baskets filled with balut, penoy and boiled quail eggs standing in street corners also ready for their graveyard shifts.

Her routine at five o’ clock in the morning after her shift was over also went in reverse against everyone elses. As the rest of the population wake up she would be punching out from work trying hard to shake off her drowsiness. And on the road again while she drives back home the other side would be busier with different vehicles on their way to work or towards what ever errands demanded their attention for the day. Wearily, sticky from midnight sweat she would get off the elevator and bumps into her freshly bathed neighbors. Coffee in hand and chattering cheerfully. She would always feel too morose at this time of the morning to greet anyone.

The sun barely showing its bright happy face as she hurls her exhausted body to bed plunging into a dreamless unsatisfying sleep. Waking up eight hours later the cycle begins again.

Sometimes she thinks she would go mad. She could not shake off the feeling of gloom that follows her everywhere. Day offs were especially hard. When she would wake up almost at midnight, not knowing what to do. Nowhere to go. Restaurants and shops already closed except for a 7 eleven or mini stop.

Going to a bar to drink with friends only aggravates the onset of depression spreading in her whole being. Her boyfriend had left her when she refused to give up her job. Her supervisor had begged her to stay on with the night shift for another year since she was the only one who was still single and had no family to go home too.

She never knew how essential the sun and the bright daylight are for her happiness and vitality until loneliness settled into her being permanently and she found herself crying for no apparent reason. Until she drowned in unknown sorrows just by listening to some random sad songs. Until reason left her and made her act erratically. Until one day she loss the will to leave her bed.
©JMKhapra

Let us not run from the Pain That Comes With Love

A gash exposing his raw pink flesh underneath the skin tears my heart out every time I look at it. His once boisterous disposition now reduced to lethargic limping saddens me. It hurts to see him hurting. I feel helpless as I can help very little to ease his suffering.

I tried to hold my tears at bay when hubby brought him home, injured. A car almost ran him over hurting his right paw. I could not stop the irrational anger I felt. I could not even look at hubby for a while. I used to see this kind of reaction from women on films and read it in books whenever a couple is confronted by a loss or accident . I thought then how selfish of the woman to feel this way when clearly the husband needs her understanding and support in a crisis. Yet I did the same thing. I was ashamed of myself for withdrawing emotionally from my husband while I quelled the panic rising in my heart. I knew this was wrong. I was fighting the urge to blame him. He was already so distraught for he love Babar, our dog very dearly even more than I do and his burden of guilt is heavy. He sought reassurance from me that I was not angry at him. But I could not give it until I got over my shock. I have to cry. The pain I felt when I saw Babar’s condition surprised me.

I can only imagine the distress parents go through every time their children get hurt, even if it’s just a very minor injury. I now understand why parents tend to be over protective. The thought of anything bad happening to our kids is unbearable. I always used to make fun of my father by teasing him that he will only stop worrying about our safety if none of us, his children would ever go out of the house or move at all. Now I get it. For I never felt this kind of pain before. It is almost physical. It’s an arrow piercing one’s heart. When you deeply love someone this sensation seems to be inevitable.

My husband loves fully and is not afraid of the pain that comes with it. I on the other hand try to shield myself from this feeling by resorting to logic and rationalization. It worked a lot of times for me before. I was able to move on, burying past hurts, calling it experience and compiling it as a guide book for future heartbreaks. There was a time when I forced myself to feel emotionally numb. But I would have also forgotten how to love had I remained that way.

My husband held me quietly while I unburdened my terror through shedding a few tears.

” It is painful to love.” I exclaimed when I was calmer. My husband chuckled gently caressing my hair softly.

” It is okay to feel hurt sometimes as a consequence of loving. ” He said, hugging me. “Don’t try to escape it. You love and that is a beautiful thing.”

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Thankfully the doctor said he is going to be okay in a few days.

©JMKhapra