A Dog's Prayer

Greater Kashmir

“Believe it or not, the incident I am going to share today is absolutely true.”, Shiekh sahib said while lighting up his beedi. Taking a couple of deep puffs, he threw the beedi aside and resumed his story. We were well acquainted with Shiekh sahib’s personality; therefore, we preferred to hear him patiently without interrupting him.

He narrated the incident as follows: “Goldi lived with me for fifteen years. As the name suggests, the colour of his hair was golden. A really beautiful dog, I must say. People would stop to take a good look at him, whenever I would take him to the morning walk with me. I would ask him to wait at the entrance of the Lawrence garden. “Goldi, wait for me here. I will just be back.”Having said so, I would enter the garden to stroll for the next half an hour or so. Goldi, with his long dangling ears, would be standing right at the same spot where I had left him.”

It is generally dogs of the high breed that are known to be sophisticated and obedient, yet such qualities abounded in my dear Goldi. He would never eat unless I would feed him by my hands. My friends attempted a thousand times to break his revere, but my Goldi never accepted even a morsel from any of them.

Once it so happened that I met an old friend inside the Lawrence garden after having left Goldi at the gate. I spent a lot of time inside and later went along with him to his home. In those days, I was addicted to playing chess and once our game started, I was left with no consciousness of the world around me. Many hours must have passed when I suddenly recalled Goldi. Quitting the game midway, I started racing towards the entrance gate. Goldi, with his long dangling ears, was again standing right at the same spot where I had left him. He saw me with intense eyes, as though complaining, “Friend, you have treated me so well today.”

I felt really ashamed so much so that, believe me, I quit playing chess once forever. O forgive me, I still didn’t come to the main incident. Whenever Goldi’s mention comes up, I get so overwhelmed that I end up narrating every smallest thing connected to him. I love him so much. He was one of the very important reasons why I decided to remain a bachelor. When I decided not to marry, I got him castrated too. Probably, you might judge me to have been cruel to him, but I believe everything is fair in love. The truth is I couldn’t stand anyone getting close to him except for myself.

In the heart of my hearts, I often feared that Goldi would start living with someone else, once I die. Of course, I knew he would mourn my death for some time. But then, he would abandon me and fall in love with his new master. Whenever I imagine it happening, it fills me with infinite sadness. This was why I had decided, in case I smell my death coming someday, I would kill Goldi beforehand.  I would shut my eyes close, and then shoot a bullet right into him.

Goldi had never been separated from me, not even for a moment. He was even habitual of sleeping with me in the nights. The sole ray of hope in my loneliness, the only sweetness in my otherwise dull life. Seeing my unusual love for him, my friends would often mock at me.

“Shiekh Sahib, Had Goldi been a bitch; you would have certainly married her!”

I was used to hearing such comments and knew how to laugh them away. On the other hand, Goldi was also a very intelligent dog. He would get alert every time someone started talking about him. He would catch even the slightest hint from me and was aware of all the shades of my moods. Whenever I would be sad, he would immediately start playing with me and did everything that he could, just to cheer me up.

Goldi was yet to learn that he must raise his leg before peeing. He was just a child so much so that he once sniffed a utensil to pee in, finding it empty. When I slapped him, he immediately retreated and crouched down. His face was overshadowed by wonder thinking about the possible blunder that he had done. For a very long time, he sat ducking his neck on the floor as if drowned in an ocean of guilt. I stood up and took him in my lap. I started patting him with tender affection for long before he started to wag his tail again. I felt bad at having scolded him for no great reason. The poor soul didn’t even sniff the food at night and slept empty stomach. He was such a sensitive spirit.

Unlike him, I am a very carefree soul. It was because of my carelessness that he once got pneumonia. Shocked, I ran towards the doctors. The treatment was started but to no avail. He couldn’t sleep for seven nights in a row. In deep pain, he could barely breathe. When the pain in his chest overpowered him, he would immediately tilt his head towards me, as if reassuring, “Don’t get worried. I promise, I will be fine soon.”

I often felt that Goldi pretended feeling better only because he wanted me to take some rest. He would pretend sleeping so that I could just have a little nap.

Luckily, his fever started receding on the eighth day and gradually disappeared. When I caressed his forehead, I could see a very tired smile floating around in his eyes.

He felt fatigued for a long time after the attack of pneumonia. However, some really good medicines helped him regain his health soon. Seeing me with the dog, after a prolonged absence; the people started raising all sorts of questions:

“Where had the lover and beloved disappeared for so long?”

“Did you guys fight?”

“Had Goldi laid eyes on someone else, besides you?”

I preferred to be silent. Whenever Goldi heard such remarks, he would silently cast a look towards me, saying: “Let the dogs bark!”

There is a famous saying that like begets like. However, Goldi had no affinity for his creed. His entire world condensed around me which he never wanted to cross over.

I hadn’t found Goldi when a friend of mine read a newspaper story to me, one day. Let me recall it for you, it was very interesting. It was probably in America or England, I don’t exactly remember the place, a person owned a dog, I don’t know which breed. The person was to be operated upon. When he was shifted to the hospital, his dog went along. As he was being taken inside the operation theatre on a stretcher, the dog tried to follow inside. The owner stopped him and said “Wait for me here. I will come out soon.” Obeying the command, the dog stood right outside. However, the operation didn’t succeed and the owner’s dead body was brought out through the back door. The dog continued waiting for his master for twelve long years at the same spot. He would budge for a while or two and soon return to his spot until one day he got hit by a car and was badly wounded. Despite that, he somehow dragged himself to the spot where his master had commanded him to wait. It was the same place where he breathed his last too. The story also mentioned that the hospital authorities had later stuffed his skin, and erected his statue at the same spot, as if in perpetual wait for his master to return.

When I first heard this story, I wasn’t quite moved a lot, to be honest. I couldn’t bring myself to believe in such a story. However, once I met Goldi and discovered his qualities, I started narrating the same story to many of my friends. I was overpowered by a strange kind of emotion whenever I would narrate the story, and I would start secretly wishing, “A legend of similar sorts should get associated with my Goldi also. Goldi isn’t like any other dog.”

Goldi was a very decent and serious dog. Although he displayed some traits of naughtiness as a child, but having realized my dislike for them, he gradually changed his behavior and remained serious until he breathed his last…

“Having spoken of his final breathe, my eyes have flooded with tears again.”

Shiekh Sahib fell quiet. His eyes flooded with grief. We observed silently. After some time, he took out his handkerchief to wipe off his tears and resumed saying:

“It’s a symbol of my disloyalty that I am alive today. But, I am alive probably because I belong to the human race… If I had died after him, it would have been probably a cheap mimicry of his loyalty… I couldn’t contain my frenzy when he passed away…but he hadn’t just passed away… I had got him killed.

No, not because I had become sure of my death but because he had turned mad. Not in a way, as common street dogs do, but in a way that couldn’t be diagnosed by the doctors. He was in really deep pain. Caught between life and death, doctors declared death to be the only cure of his ailment. Initially, I opposed the mere thought of it, but then I couldn’t see him wither in pain. I agreed. They took him inside a room that housed an electrocuting machine for assassinating animals. I had barely contained my timid mind that they wheeled out the dead body to me.

The dead body of my Goldi.

When I lifted him in my arms, my tears poured one after the other on his golden hair- the hair unaccustomed to even a speckle of dust until that day. I brought his dead body to our home in a tonga and kept staring at it for a very long time. The dead body of fifteen years of a love affair lay cold on our mattress… An epitome of sacrifice thus ended. I bathed him for one last time… I shrouded him and remained indecisive for a very long time. Should I burry him or cremate him?

Had I buried him, his death would have left a mark in the soil forever. I disliked the thought, God knows why. I also do not know why I preferred to wash him away in water. I have often thought about it even until today, but again, I get no answers to suit myself. I brought a new sack and stuffed his shrouded body in it. Thrusting a few washed pebbles in the sack, I stepped towards the river.

When the boat floated to the middle of the river, I saw towards the sack. Fifteen years of Goldi’s love and relationship suddenly rose as a poisonous lump that choked my throat. I found the delay inappropriate. With shivering hands, I slowly lifted the sack and threw it into the river. A few bubbles rose onto the surface of the fleeting water, and burst into anonymity forever.

The boat glided back the shore safely. Alighting from it, I kept looking in the direction where I had surrendered Goldi to the river. Sunset had coloured the ambience hazy. Water continued flowing very quietly, as if lulling my Goldi to eternal sleep.”

Saying it, Shiekh Sahib fell silent again. After some time, one of us gathered courage to ask him:

“But Shiekh Sahib, you wanted to narrate something particular?”

Shiekh sahib shook to surprise, “Oh! Forgive me, I sway in emotions way too much. The thing is— give me a minute.”

“It had been fifteen years of our togetherness… I had never seen any serious illness during this period.  Touchwood, my health was really good in all these years. But when I celebrated Goldi’s fifteenth birthday with me, I started feeling a body ache the next day. Body ache grew into a high fever by the same evening. The entire night I was very restless while Goldi kept awake with me. Closing his one eye at a time, he kept staring at me with the other. He would jump down from the bed restlessly and after some time, come up and sit again.

Although his eyesight and hearing had weakened with age, yet he would jerk to senses at the slightest of sounds, only to look at me with his hazy eyes, as if muttering:

“What exactly has happened to you?”

He was actually very confused as to why was I restricted to my bed for so long, but it didn’t take him long to understand everything. When many days passed as such, his radiant face got overshadowed by grief. Like I said, I used to feed him by my hands. During the initial days of my sickness, I continued feeding him but when my sickness grew, I requested a friend to feed Goldi twice a day. He obliged. But Goldi simply refused to eat anything. I tried hard to convince him, but he didn’t give in. One, I was suffering from a disease that stubbornly refused to go, and then my worry for Goldi started to eat me from within… for he had completely started starving himself.

He had now even stopped sitting or laying back on the bed. For the complete day and the complete night, he would lay still against the wall, staring at me with his hazy eyes. This somehow saddened me even more. He, who would never sit on the bare floor, now laid there despite my repeated attempts to call him up.

He had turned exceptionally quiet. It seemed as if he was tormented by some hidden grief… Occasionally, he would rise and come near the bed, watch me with strange wonderstruck eyes, and ducking back his neck return to his place near the wall.

In the light of a lamp, I saw one night, that tears were shining in the hazy eyes of my Goldi. His face poured grief and complaints. Seeing his condition worse, I was stricken with grief too. I waved at him and he immediately hopped towards me, his long ears dancing by his sides. Squeezing as much of love from my soul as I could, I passionately told him, “Goldi, I will be fine soon. You make a prayer for me. I am sure, your prayer will be answered.”

He heard it and looked at me with very sad eyes before lifting his neck towards the ceiling, as if in some prayer. It was strange that he kept looking at the ceiling for quite a while. The strange sight sent a chill down my spine. Goldi, not moving at all, head towards the ceiling, was actually making a prayer… I am not lying… He was in one complete prayer from head to toe. I really don’t feel it appropriate to say but I really felt his soul had reached the divine, begging for my recovery.

As luck would have it, I regained my health after a few days. But Goldi’s condition worsened. When I was bedridden, he would lay still against the wall. As I slowly started to move around, I tried feeding him but to no avail. He had lost interest in everything. It seemed as if all his vigour and energy had been burnt in making that small prayer for me.

I would often tell him, look at me Goldi… I have regained myself… Look, God has indeed answered your prayer. But he would not open his eyes. I called the doctor twice, thrice. He injected the medicines but nothing worked. One day when I called the doctor, he had lost his mental balance completely. I immediately lifted him in my arms and ran to the senior doctor. I got him killed on an electrocuting machine.

I do not know how true is the story of Babar and Hamayun, but every word narrated here in this story is true.

(6th June 1950)

Translated by: Taha Mughal