A Roman Column
Eyes: the speaking, living organs of the soul. An animal's eyes: the most eloquent and human part of him. All night I have watched the eyes of a most beloved animal, our family dog, struggling to tell me about his last moments. I saw in them love, trust, pain, fear, resignation, and finally, oblivion.
In my heart, I am in mourning, and yet to the world I may not refer to my grief as such. Society does not acknowledge grief over the death of a beloved dog as a real emotion. My sorrow will be considered by those who do not have pets or who are not animal lovers as an exaggeration, an indulgence on my part that should be kept out of sight, private. After all, what died was only a pet, just an animal; and so, the feeling of loss felt by the 'owner' of the pet can only be a sort of toy emotion that tries to mimic on a smaller scale the much grander significance of a human bereavement.
Society is not attuned to recognising the grief for an animal as a valid reason for say, temporary social withdrawal on my part or occasion for people to extend condolence to my husband and I. Except for a handful of dog-lovers and owners who have immediately empathised and written to me or called or actually visited me to commiserate, most are thinking it's just something that will blow over.
I cannot explain to them that for my family our dog was an integral member of the family; a member that interacted with us night and day, receiving and giving love, and that communicated with us in unique non-verbal ways, which could put ordinary human communication methods to shame. And our grief emanating from this member's demise needs to be respected and honoured by others with its etiquettes just as in any other relationship. But, I have to underplay this loss and continue with business as usual, without missing a beat and with a smile, while my heart aches and silently calls out: 'Tushaar!'
Twelve long and memory-filled years ago, he came to us in the month of March, a puppy like a bundle of snow, inspiring his name. On another March day of dazzling and cruel beauty, ideal for long walks with a trotting four-legged companion, my pile of animated snow drifted and disappeared down some other sun-lit path. No amount of calling will return his wagging tail and enquiring eyes. Come back, come home, Tushaar!
He must have called us, too. I know, at least, that he waited for us to return, to die. He waited for my husband and I to come home from a weekend holiday when we left him with a caretaker, a Sri Lankan boy named Samidra, who loved him, too. Tushaar was aging and had some recent medical problems and so we had called home once to hear that he had refused to touch food or water since we left. When we returned, I dropped my overnight case and rushed down to the room near the back garden, surprised at not hearing his usual barking reproach. I found him half sitting up, wagging his tail, his eyes overflowing with welcome, but helpless and unable to lift his lower half. The muscles had degenerated. One leg had been weak for sometime, but now both had become useless. He had dietary problems too, but we hadn't expected the downslide to have started so precipitately. He continued to refuse food and water. We called the Vet and carried Tushaar into the house. The Vet dropped by for a check-up, shook his head and prepared us for the morrow. And thus, began the vigil through the night and into the next morning, watching Tushaar's journey from the known to the brink of the unknown.
Tushaar, relaxing at his favourite spot in the garden.
That night, as I sat stroking his wasting body that trembled in nameless pains and terrors, I saw the whole gamut of emotions in the animal's eyes as he lay grappling with some inner reality whose grammar and vocabulary I couldn't understand, no matter how hard I tried. When the time came, I knew from his eyes: the shutters of his windows remained open, but the gaze that animated him turned to glass, to stone.
We carried to the back garden a dog-body, negated, like a stuffed animal with blind eyes, to be buried under a blossoming cherry tree near the garden shed. Samidra wiped sweat and tears as he dug a trench deep enough to bury our lost treasure. While Tushaar went wandering off into all the mysterious places he loved, chasing cats and scents, we trapped his white-furred memory under the earth of the garden and the house that was his home.
I still cannot look at his leash and feeding bowls without weeping. I ask myself: what is the source of this love, this grief, this bonding between a human and an animal? What is human and what is animal? I am not sure any longer. I only know that I have known the most 'human' qualities of love, devotion, trust and uncomplaining patience in an animal. Most importantly, I am gratified to have come closer to the metaphysics of being and non-being through a dumb creature who taught with his living eyes that all of us breathing creatures are even in the end, deathless, undying. For, I absolutely insist on and believe in this: death cannot be an end, a terminal condition.
I figured this anew when I saw Tushaar go from one moment of being real and warm to the next, of being erased into the state of 'never-was', and realised that between the two extreme physical states, it had to be that invisible part of him which escaped through his eyes, emptying his gaze, that was always the true, animating part of him. And that thing, that essential and continuing thing leapt off deathless, beyond mere sight, beyond mere human or animal limits.
I watch the cherry blossoms drift like snow flakes on the fresh mound, then look up to the furry white clouds scampering and chasing the bluest of skies. "Tushaar," I whisper."You are home."
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