Posts Tagged ‘ganges’

The street was unusually litter-filled this morning. Everywhere were piles with scraps of paper, empty snack bags and candy wrappers, bits of plastic, newspaper, and in one pile, a dead dog. I didn’t immediately recognize that the dog was dead until I saw people pausing as they walked by. The dog’s head was cocked to one side, it’s paws swung ‘round to the other. No twitching, no movement. Motionless it lay. To the right of the dog sat a person – I couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman – swathed in a shawl that matched the color of the dog, a dirtied tawny.

A boy of about ten stood and looked at the dog long and hard, circumambulated it, and then moved on.

A foreign couple approached – the woman, pasty-skinned with bright red lips – stopped, shook her head, and put her hand to her mouth, waiting until a large truck went by before passing to allow ample distance between herself and the deceased carcass.

Three smartly dressed boys of perhaps 12, walked to where the dog lay and stood in discussion, arms flying about as they spoke. Soon, they too walked on.

A fruit vendor stopped his cart just short of the dog and began cutting into a papaya. Perhaps he did not initially realize the dog was dead, moving on quickly a few moments later.

A white dog with tan spots trotting down the street, stopped, sniffed the dog, sniffed the shawled person, and then scampered away.

Was the dog run over by a zooming motorcyclist or a clumsy rickshaw driver, I wondered? Maybe killed by other dogs for trespassing into their territory. I’ve seen the way ferocious bared-teeth dogs chase away would-be intruders. Before living on this street, I wouldn’t have guessed that the street dogs of Paharganj have their territory carved out. But they certainly do, wickedly erupting from sleep when an errant dog approaches.

From where I stood, several feet up and away on my balcony, I could not see if there were injuries to the dog’s body, but through the lens of my telescopic camera, I could see that there was a rope loosely strung around the dogs neck.

How long had the dog been lying there? How long had the person been sitting next to it, and why? How long before someone disposes of the dead dog’s body? Does anyone care? It was a street dog that was born in, lived in, and died on the street. Did it have a name? Did anyone feed it? Or pet the dog, scratch it behind it’s ears? Or was it just another piece of litter on the street?

Where would the dog’s body be taken to, I pondered, as I recalled the dead dog I saw being thrown into the Ganges in Varanasi last year. (see story below)

Not all dogs in India are feral. Jasper, a large white dog who just turned a year old, is the beloved pet of Hotel Arjun. He can usually be found sleeping behind the front desk when he’s not rolling on his back for a belly rub. Or giving willing patrons sloppy kisses.

It’s ten o’clock. Time for shops to open for business. Front stoops to be swept clean, incense to be lit, deities to be prayed to, ensuring for a prosperous day.

It must be bad luck for a dead dog to be lying near your shop. As the rolling metal door was being opened, the person sitting on the stoop near the dog was shooed away. Jumping to their bare feet and tightening their shawl, they disappeared into the day. When the owner of the shop arrived – an elderly man dressed in tan slacks, a matching vest and a crisp white shirt – he spoke to a group of men, nervously motioning towards the dog. But the dog was nearer the shop next to theirs, so as soon as the door was unlocked they all vanished inside.

When the man arrived to the Ayurvedic shop, he slowly dismounted his bicycle while eyeing the animal. He walked slightly towards the dog while rubbing his forehead. After going into his shop he emerged a moment later with a white bag that he threw on top of the dog. But a gust of wind came, blew the bag off, and exposed the dog’s body once again. There is no hiding death.

A young man wearing camouflaged pants came out from the adjacent shop with a cardboard box, three corners torn loose, and threw it onto the dog before spitting on it. Paws and tail still exposed, the dead body was still not camouflaged from the stares of passerbys who put their hand over their mouth or to their chest upon seeing death in the street.

A woman dressed in bright shades of red came with a broom, swiftly sweeping around the dog, moving whatever clutter she could away from it before pushing the pile down the street.

When I next went to my balcony the dog’s body was gone. The area where he had lain was being briskly scrubbed clean. Washed down with buckets of water.

No longer did the dog have to run the streets in a panic looking for food or chasing away would-be competition for the food. No more need to protect it’s territory. No rickshaws, or swift kicks to the gut to dodge. The dog is free now. Nothing more to fret about. I can see it now, wagging it’s tail. Grinning from ear-to-ear. And readying for it’s next life where it will be sleeping behind the front desk of a hotel; the recipient of daily belly rubs and passing out sloppy kisses to anyone who will have them. Count me in!

Final Resting Spot – Ganges

From the rooftop of my hotel in Varanasi, I saw a dog lying in the street. Sleeping dogs litter the streets, but there was something different about this one. I stood and watched the dog for a long time to try and detect movement, even a twitch. But I could see none, at least not from the fourth floor of where I was standing. It looked lifeless. I wanted to get a closer looks so went to my room to get my camera, attaching a telephoto lens. I took a couple of shots of the dog and then zoomed in to have a closer look on the lcd screen of my camera. I could see that the dogs eyes were open, its body covered in mange. It was dead.

A few seconds later a bearded man bent down and picked the dog up, the paws of two legs in each hand. I watched him walk away, towards the river. Upon reaching the bank, he swung the dog back and up and then flung it forward, into the river. Though the dog was rather small, he didn’t throw it far which I hoped meant that his body was resting on a bed of silt, much more comfortable than the concrete streets in the gutter where they invariably get their paws run over by vendors wheeling their carts past them.

The dead dog was lying in front of a small shop, an eatery. He was probably parked there, begging for food, or hoping that someone would offer him something or drop a few crumbs, his slender body nearly emaciated. Dogs can generally be seen creeping around wherever there is food. When spotted, they often get kicked, shouted at, things thrown at them. The stress of that can be seen in their patches of furless skin with sores that they chew and lick at.

The man walked back over to the shop and held his hand out to the shopkeeper who dropped a couple of rupees into it. I recognized him now. He was one of the regulars who has his home set up alongside the walkway, a few paces from my hotel. Always smiling and seemingly carefree, when I saw him, he was often sleeping soundly on the blanket that he has spread out and surrounded by his belongings. Sometimes he has a couple of companions by his side, adorable caramel colored puppies of a mutt variety. In his countenance, surrender is evident, in his home in the street where all day people pass by him. His begging bowl is there too, not far from where he lays his head, but I prefer to give him food. Today, he earned money by disposing of a dead dog.

When he got the money he looked down at it – it was only a couple of coins – and started gleefully singing while walking through the wet, rainy streets. It was if he had just won a lottery. I watched him until he walked out of sight, imaging that he was going to buy himself something, although it couldn’t have been much

I sobbed as I photographed and watched the story unfold. I did not cry because the dog was dead, but because of the life that dog had lived, the way that it been treated. Cried because this city does not allow the sterilization of dogs, instead commits them to a life of suffering. I cried for the stupidity of such a system, for the misery and suffering that could end right now. But it won’t. It won’t end.

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It’s hard to say what made Benares, said to be the oldest of all cities, feel so otherworldly. But I imagine it had something to do with the Ganges River, and the Sadhus who were there after the Kumbh Mela celebration had ended in the neighboring city of Allahabad.

Benares, also called Varanasi, is referred to as the ‘city of death’. Some migrate to the banks of the Ganges as they approach old age so their ashes will become part of the river, hoping to avoid rebirth. It is purported that to have the Ganges as one’s final resting place removes them from the cycle of earthly incarnation. Old, withered widows line the narrow streets of the Ghats, arms outstretched shaking their metal bowl, begging for alms.

As I sat on the bank of the Ganges in a world that I was sure must have been a figment of my elaborate imagination, or perhaps a dream, I wondered, what is this life about. Why are we here? Why was I in this place? The only answer that came, each time that I’d ask, was that I allow myself to fully see and feel the suffering, open my heart to it, and endeavor to help alleviate it, in whatever small way that I can. And though small it may seem, it is important to remember that each of our deeds is like a drop in the Ganges that makes up a mighty river that carries souls to heaven/nirvana.

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