Diwali may be a night of great festivity for most people, but for those with any health issues and for animal lovers, it’s a pretty grim time. As an asthmatic, for years I have stopped going out in to the terrible Delhi pollution on Diwali. Rather, around Diwali, since both the pollution and the horrid, noisy fireworks both linger on for weeks after the actual day of the festival. Once people have stocked up on the fireworks, they’re pulled out to celebrate every ridiculous “occasion” and “event”, ranging from Pappu’s Birthday to election victories and of course India’s cricketing triumphs. Whether or not you’re the least bit involved in the grand celebration, celebrate you shall, willy nilly. So suck it up or rather, breathe it in.
Post our quiet family puja, usually held in a verandah of the house, I retreat to my room, doors and windows closed, air conditioner on, television on in a desperate attempt to drown out the startling bangs and shrieks of fireworks which send my dog scurrying under the bed, panting hard, trembling, too frightened to go out to do her business, too traumatised to eat her food. This routine starts on Diwali night and goes on for weeks, every single evening.
So last Diwali, it was an unusual thing for me to decide to step out at about 11 pm, to walk around the corner of the park in front of my house to check on my friends, Spotty and Blackie. Spotty was nowhere to be seen. He was probably hiding under a car somewhere, I thought. Blackie responded to my call and came out gingerly to greet me. I went with some antihistamine and bronchodilator, prescribed by the vet, to treat her cough-obviously a product of the pollution. I was sitting there, stroking her in front of one of the houses, when I saw an unfamiliar, skinny, little, white dog running down the road in the opposite direction. I whistled and called out and she stopped and turned towards me. Blackie was about to chase her but I quickly pushed her back and went up to the dog, who was about to run off again. She wagged her tail and I knelt down beside her to see if she was injured and if I recognised her. I turned her face towards me and gasped. She had one eye missing and the other was entirely clouded. Clearly, she was blind. Blind and lost, on Diwali night. I couldn’t imagine anything worse. My mind raced as I wondered what to do next. I couldn’t possibly take her in with my four dogs, one of whom was already sleeping in the servant’s room. And yet there was no way I could leave her out on the road. I scooped her up in my arms, without her protesting, and carried her home. I called my mother out, imagining she would be annoyed that I’d brought in another dog, knowing we had absolutely no resources to accommodate her. But when she saw her, she too realised this was too desperate a situation for us to turn our backs on. We stood on the staircase landing, racking our brains, while I kept the poor dog from falling and bumping in to things. We finally decided to ask the upstairs neighbour’s very kind servant if he would keep her for the night and to my immense relief, he readily agreed. She was fed, given water and some bedding and sent to sleep in his room.
I got in to bed, cuddling my dog, amazed at how yet again, I had found myself in an unusual place at an unusual time, as if sent by God to rescue an animal in need. I shuddered to think of what this poor, affectionate little thing had endured and worse, what she may have endured had I not found her. For any animal on the already chaotic and dangerous streets of Delhi, I guess Diwali time is like the bombing of Aleppo.
I messaged the lady who diligently feeds over a hundred dogs in the colony by herself, everyday. To my delight, she knew the dog. Her name, she told me, was Kaani, which means, ‘one-eyed’. She told me Kaani was a very loving and sweet dog, who lived on a colony road with her pups and that first thing in the morning, she would come and pick her up.
Kaani slept through the night comfortably, I was told and after having a good breakfast, I tied her to our gate, in the company of the guard, who petted her and fed her biscuits. She was restless and nervous though. When the lady pulled up and blew the car horn, Kaani responded with happy squeals of recognition and gladly got in to her car.
All of us at home heaved a sigh of relief, our hearts happy and content at having been able to help her. What a brave and sweet dog. I was told she had been living where she was, on the road, for a long time and I wondered how she managed. If only people weren’t so averse to keeping Indian mixed-breed dogs. She should have been in a loving home, I thought and I decided to try and find her one soon.
The following morning, I got a message from the lady, asking if I had seen Kaani. My heart sank. She had been returned to her ‘home’, but there had been lots of firecrackers again that night and again, she had run away. Kaani was not found.