Day 84: So to India…
Back to the place I once wanted to forget…
4:30 am, Kerala airport.
I am greeted by an old famliar smell – warm air, perfumed with both spice and pollution. Ahhh….. a smell that I haven’t experienced for some twenty years.
It takes me back to my Gap year and a time of huge change and horrible introspection. I kept a journal then, full of self-loathing and doubts, that on return I threw away. But I also chose to forget something else about India – it’s richness. Amongst the dirt and busyness India mixes a beauty that only now can I recall – open panoramas, luscious greens, wild freedom.
Avis has stayed up all night so that she can pick me up. Impressive – and kind – for a 71 year old running a sanctuary full time. She stands in the midst of a crowd of Indian faces that are all huddled together in the morning darkness as if for no other reason to remind me how intense and populous this country is.
She is a small figure with dark curly hair and a warm if slightly weary smile.
She greets me and then we go back to her small battered doggy ambulance with half working lights. We lurch out of the airport and into the morning darkness
‘I have a better vehicle but I don’t dare use it,’ she says, ‘the other drivers come at your from all angles here’ She laughs.
I reach to put on a seat belt. It is torn in half
‘The dog ate it’ she says.
A van comes towards us on the wrong side and Avis comes to a stop and yelps briefly while it brushes past us. I forgot this too about India – the insanity of the roads. Little has changed.
After barely ten minutes I spot it. A tiny form bent over in the darkness on the side of the road, lit up by a passing truck.
‘Stop the van!’ I say to Avis but by now she has already seen it too.
A puppy, barely able to stand, turning small circles on the edge of the busy highway. I run out into the traffic warning the passing trucks to go round me and pick it up. It must be about five weeks old.
‘Dumped’ says Avis with a sigh. ‘Otherwise you’d see a litter of them. Probably left only half an hour ago or it would have been run over. It’s female. They are considered less desirable’
Over the road we find a cat that was not so lucky.
I take the puppy back in my lap and we ride the rest of the way to the shelter while the sun rises slowly.
‘I’ll call it Dawn’ I say to Avis.
On the way back I see strays huddled up in the dust, inches from passing trucks. Most are that ubiquitous mustard brown colour with short hair. A few are black. These dogs feed on a diet of hope and fear. On the one hand they need humans for food, affection and some shelter but their reliance brings with it the constant risk of accident, sickness and rejection. For thousands of years Indian dogs have lived on the painful perimeter of our existence. It has not, and is not, a happy co-existence. There is rabies here and people see dogs as lowly, dirty and a threat. They are – reasonably enough – the unwanted.
Avis from East London
When we get to the shelter I give Avis a copy of my book about the old man that has never left east London.
She turns it over with a smile. ‘I know this man,’ she says, ‘I remember his face from when I lived there’
So we have a connection already.
In the shelter there is a scribbled note on the wall. It gives me a little insight in her daily struggle that I am soon to encounter …
I’m eager to start.