Come, come. Step in without fear. He’s absolutely harmless,” my friend Sudhir said reassuringly, standing by the door. I was on a visit to Kozhikode and my friend most happily had thrown open the doors of his home for my night’s stay.
I hesitated for a moment as Smokey sniffed at my feet. It soon dragged its heavy body away and curled-up in a corner, throwing a disinterested glance at me. “Can you guess his age?” Sudhir asked me putting aside his shoulder-bag. I looked at the huge German Shepherd whose short coat was black at the back and stomach, and brown on the legs, face and the lower jaw which extended through his underbelly. “Around four…?” I guessed. My family had given up keeping a pet dog long back, after an agonising event. I’d nothing to do with dogs or any other forms of pet since that unfortunate event.
It was, probably, for this reason, I was wrong in my guess. “He’s twelve. Quite old,” informed my friend. Smokey being a large dog, I later presumed, must be over seventy five years in terms of human years. “But, it’s quite energetic and doesn’t look that old,” I replied. It was raining cats and dogs outside. A chilly wind gushed through the window and the curtain flapped up and down prompting Smokey to tighten-up its curl. “In his younger days, he used to be very ferocious. But, these days, he doesn’t even care to bark. Age is catching up with him. It happens with all of us, I guess,” said Sudhir philosophically.
Eventually, we left Smokey to his peace and our conversation, as usual, turned desultory – the weather, terrorism in the Kashmir Valley, and, of course, the unending controversies plaguing the LDF Government in Kerala. We agreed on certain issues and disagreed on a lot of others. But, as it often happens in true friendship, we spoke less on issues we agreed and at length on others where we stood at loggerheads. It all happened during the course of the dinner when Smokey suddenly turned up.“He’s smelt the chicken,” my friend said revealingly probably because he saw in me a hopeless vegetarian who could never appreciate the aroma of spicy chicken. Finally, it was time to sleep.
I opened the bedroom window and saw neither the sky nor stars nor the swaying branches of trees. The rain had stopped and frogs croaked without a respite. Looking through the window, I wondered what would happen if Smokey attacked me in the middle of the night. I felt a bit uneasy at this thought and soon locked the door from inside…just in case… before lying down. I don’t know when I slept. But, I knew something…that I slept fitfully.
It must be for this reason, I woke up quite early, and, when I did, I found the bedroom door wide open. In all certainty, I’d not bolted the doors properly. Smokey was still lying curled-up in the hall, but wide awake, when I switched on the light. He lifted his head, stared at me with an air of contempt before resuming his earlier position.
My friend asked me why I woke up so early. I didn’t want to embarrass him. “I’m an early riser,” I lied, hiding the real reason, stealing a glance at Smokey. It was time for my friend to walk his dog. “He’s so lazy he doesn’t even want to go out,” he lamented. We’re soon out in the street, Smokey ahead, Sudhir tugging at the leash, me following. The trees on either side were soaking wet, the muddy path was slushy. The rays of the early morning sun fell on the puddles of stagnant water and glistened like silver. On our way back, Smokey spotted a pack of street dogs snarling at him.
It was clear that he was in a forbidden territory. Sudhir loosened his grip on the leash and urged Smokey to take them on. “He doesn’t move his limb and doesn’t even bother to bark. Let him have some exercise,” he justified, suppressing a demonic smile. The street dogs kept barking even as they moved in backward steps at the sight of approaching Smokey.
However, Smokey himself was not unduly perturbed. He didn’t bother to bark back or even acknowledge their existence, let alone attacking them. He seemed to dismiss them with contempt as he sniffed at the walls and bushes. As I pondered over the episode, it became clear to me, with age one grows wiser, mature and hence stronger and not any weaker contrary to general perception. Smokey despite being old and weak was still a full-blooded creature to take on his rivals. And, his puny rivals also seemed to acknowledge his power. It reflected in their unsure, faltering, retreating steps. But, with age, Smokey appeared to have learnt the immense strength of peace that overpowers all forms of violence. His rivals though may have got baffled at his strange behavior, which looked like weakness.
After the breakfast, as I bid goodbye to my friend, I looked for Smokey. He was sitting regally on the sofa, calm and composed. “Smokey is just an animal. Still, it chose to walk away from violence. Can the humans ever pluck the courage not to fight?” I asked myself scanning the skies. I could see only dark clouds – the ones that are barren – which never bring rains to the parched fields!
(The writer is a senior journalist, political analyst and communication specialist)
Thursday, 01 August 2019 | TS Sreenivasa Raghavan
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