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No cows were harmed in the production of this blog: Week 15: Blogging for survival

Knee deep in the smoky water of the Ganges they sieve through the earthly remains of every body cremated here. There are teams of six, working in shifts around the clock. Scooping, sieving, flushing, scouring. Their job is to collect the jewelery of the dead. It belongs to the owner of the Ghat. It is the work of the untouchables. Except they don’t exist. Anymore. They say.  

Our jeep hurtles along a dusty outback track. Attempts are being made to seal sections of these roads. By hand. It is women who do the bulk of this work. The dry horizon is dotted with saris in every colour. Labouring in 45 degree heat with baskets of rubble on their heads. Their job is to pave the way of the future. The future that belongs to all people. Because the caste system doesn’t exist anymore. They say.

Returning from a night of feasting, our guide insists on stopping for a Jaipur delicacy at a road side stall. Our tuk tuk pulls over and he jumps out. I move to follow him and see that next to the stall is a small child, naked, sleeping. She is vulnerable and unprotected. His foot lands precariously close to her tiny form. I recoil, hiding in the shadowy darkness. Wrapping my sadness and indignation around me. Because this doesn’t happen where I come from. Anymore. They say.

I’m in the modest kitchen of the Gurdwara Sikh temple in New Delhi. Volunteers move around me. Stirring, chopping, mixing, rolling, serving, washing, measuring. Working. Without clamour, a mountain of food is being prepared and served. It is aromatic and nutritious. I ask how many are fed here on a daily basis. 20,000. Per day. I ask again. I cannot comprehend the arithmetic of this generosity. Because this doesn’t happen where I come from. If 20,000 people needed feeding in one day we would declare a state of National emergency.

And then I’m striking a deal for a beautifully embroidered kurta. It’s a well choreographed dance. He sets an astronomically high price and I say ‘I got two for less than that elsewhere’. He asks me where. I name another Indian city. He says ‘it’s different here’. ‘Not so much’ I say. ‘People are still people. Everyone is still trying to get by’. We move out of the temporal momentarily. ‘Ah yes’, he says, and nods his head. ‘But it’s not really about the money is it’? And he eyeballs me. ‘It’s about the dignity of the exchange’. And I nod my head and say, ‘yes, it is different here’.

And I’m losing my place in the dance. Because like Marion Milner says “Everything that one thinks one understands has to be understood over and over again, in its different aspects, each time with the same new shock of discovery.”

And I’m shocked. That doesn’t happen where I come from.

Dying like a dog

I spot her across the park walking with the deliberate care of the very old. Each step is an accomplishment and also a finale. I am witnessing her last, slow waltz with the colours, shapes and smells of this life. As she comes closer I can see how she has begun to say goodbye to her earthly form and is already maneuvering between obedience and loyalty and the call of the wild.

She and her human companion have been each others familiars for a decade. The sun rises today on their unbearable sadness and deep respect. The day that has been stored in a box and pushed to the back of a cupboard, hoping against reason and the relentless march of time that it will never have to be opened.

Both of them turn to look at me in that moment and their eyes mirror their hearts. One wild animal heart that has remained faithful for the love of a human and one human heart that is freeing the wild animal. They have never wearied of each other, these two companions, and I muse on the irony of human relationships.

The ritual of dying started in earnest some weeks before. The companions engaged in the wordless dance of letting go and preparing their own souls for the inevitable parting. These days have been reflective, poignant and graceful. Human soul and animal soul wending their way through the steps of an ancient and timeless final waltz.

It is a rare privilege to be a silent witness to their ritual. Each knows the shape of the others heart. I look and I wonder if human beings alone could find this expression of love. It is in that moment that I fear for our species and long to die as a dog.

Thank you Sasha.

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