Monday, February 18, 2008

The Package

My mum has always maintained that I am waay too sentimental. And as much as it kills me to do so, I'll admit it...I'm one of those nutty people you've heard about who cries over commercials. I know, I know, it's a little ridiculous. But then again, there's something just so heartwrenching about that humane society ad about the happy little dog with his big brown eyes peering hopefully out of its tiny cramped cage wanting to be adopted and taken home. Maybe it's just the dog in the commercial. Maybe it's the message of the commercial itself. Maybe it's just me. But either way, if you've watched that commercial and never secretly wanted to bawl like a baby, may I just say, you've got an icy, icy, cold, cruel heart. There, I said it.

So last week, I bawled like a baby. And no, this time it wasnt the commercial on air. It was more legit. I got a package from home.

At first I was really excited. I arrived at my apartment to find this big box waiting for me at the doorstep, and a warm fuzzy feeling came over me as I saw my dad's familiar handwriting all over it. They hadn't even told me they were going to be sending a package.

For the past month or so, my parents have been doing a mini-tour of all sorts across India - visiting my relatives scattered across various different states, and taking their dream vacation to see Delhi, Udaipur, Jaipur and the surrounding locale. I remember when my mum called me right before they were going to start their holiday and cried over the phone (alright, so maybe that sentimental thing is all in the genes). You see, this was going to be the first holiday that my parents and sister were going to take without me. We've toured India countless times over the years, but always together as a family. This would be the first time in all these years that they would be holidaying without me tagging along, and my mum was getting all teary-eyed over it. "It's okay, mumma...just take lots of photos for me, and I'll be sightseeing along with you.", I convinced her. In the end, they had a good time, and over the next few weeks, I kept hearing "oohs" and "aahs" over the phone at every mention of the taj mahal and the red fort and the pink city and the endless destinations they had been visiting. And then I got the package.

I grabbed a pair of scissors and cut through all the tape holding the box together, all the while shaking my head in disbelief over the sheer quantity of cellotape used. I could get an anonymous package from anywhere in the world and I would still recognize my dad's trademark obsession for tape all over the package and know just who it came from. After cutting left, right and center, the box fell apart pouring out bubble wrap and styrofoam peanuts all over my living room. I reached out for the biggest small box within the main box and set about undoing the obsessive tape work holding this smaller box together. I let out a big gasp when the packaging finally came apart and I saw what I was left holding in my hands. It was a small, pure marble, replica of the Taj Mahal...just as intricate and delicate in design as I imagined the real Taj Mahal looked like. It was simply beautiful. I set it gently on the side table in my living room, and continued to sift through the styrofoam peanuts.

Two marble elephants, one with a small piece of the foot chipped off. Not too noticeably messed up, I reasoned. I could easily hide the chipped off foot by placing it at the right angle next to DVD player in the entertainement center. A box of kaju katli from Mumbai. As I opened the box and took a bite of the yummy goodies, I fondly remembered all the holidays I had travelled with my family to India. No matter where else we had been traveling in India up to that point, before flying out of the country, we would always stop by this one particular sweet shop in Andheri that we all insisted sold the best sweets. We'd buy small boxes of halwa, and other sweets to gift out to friends back in Kenya. I insist I do not have a sweet tooth, and I generally hate ghee laden ladoos, but when it comes to kaju katlis, my dormant sweet tooth comes alive. Stuffing my mouth full of the katlis, I continue to search through the package.

A couple of small, beautiful, framed pictures from Jaipur. I fantasize using them to make a picture collage to decorate the walls of my boring apartment. They'll definitely add some life to the place. A pair of silver dangling earrings. My sis sure has good taste. A few satchets of instant pani puri mix. Mmmm. I'm craving some pani puri like right about now. I could use a trip to the indian grocery store, I decide.

Clothes. A bohemian mix of western and indian styles. Tunic style tops with artistic embroidery. And just in the right colors too. No funky bright reds, greens and yellows. My beloved hues of black, white and cream. It's amazing how a single whiff can take you back on a journey through the years. I do my own version of a febreeze ad and raise the clothes to my face and suck in the smells contained in the clothes. The clothes in the package have that distinct new-clothes-from-a-shop-packed-inside-mum's-suitcase smell to them. They remind me of countless holidays spent with my family, wandering down the unknown alleys of an Indian town, admiring the endless gallery of salwar kameez, tops and jeans hanging from impromptu displays created outside the stores. The haggling over prices with shop owners and the excitement of wanting to wear the precious new clothes at the next given opportunity. I sniff at the clothes and a warm feeling of nostalgia sweeps over me.

And then I saw it. The one item in the package that overwhelmed all the emotions I felt inside of me as I opened the package and reduced me to tears. It's a paper bag and as I peek inside it, my throat tightens and I feel all choked up. I empty its contents on the carpet and pick each one up. Inside the bag are brochures and pamphlets and postcards collected from every single place that my family has visited during their trip to India this year. Postcards with views of the Taj Mahal from every possible angel. A booklet advertising the Swami Narayan temple. Leaflets collected in Jaipur. Brochures from the various mosques and temples they had been to. And as I leafed through them, a sob broke loose and I cried.

You see, my dad's most precious legacy to me has been his love for travelling. It's the one passion we share together. Sometimes to a point of annoyance to the rest of our family. My dad jots down bits and pieces of his day in a diary he carries when he travels. I blog when I travel. My dad takes an infinite amount of time positioning us and finding the best angel for a shot on his old kodak camera. I take an infinite number of photos in the hope of the best shot on my canon digital camera. He talks to rickshaw drivers about the most authentic restaurants in the area. I consult yahoo travel on the best places to eat wherever I travel. He collects brochures and pamphlets wherever he goes. I collect brochures and pamphlets wherever I go.

A flashback to all the trips we've taken to India together reminds me of all the brochures, pamphlets and postcards we've collected together over the years. Two of each. One for me to hang on to, and the other for him to hang on to. My mum would often complaint of all the paper "junk" that we were carrying back with us, and why we had to have two of everything. Once we were back home, we'd set aside a day to go through all the brochures and pamphlets and exchange whatever I had that he was missing and so on and on it would go, back and forth with all the postcards and leaflets, laughing and re-living the adventures of the trip through the exchange of the souvenirs.

As I looked at the contents of the brown paper bag, I realized what my dad had done. Even though I was missing on their trip, my dad had still collected twos of every brochure and postcard he had picked up during their travel - and sent me my own copy of the trip. It was his way of taking me along on yet another travel adventure.

Packages from home have a strange way of flooding your heart with a mish mash of mixed emotions. This one made me cry.

Saturday, February 2, 2008


Every so often I drop by the local animal shelter to look at the dogs they have there. And no, I’m not looking for another dog to adopt. So the fact that I walk by rows and rows of caged dogs without any real intention of taking them home makes me sound a little sadistic. But truth is I’m curious.

A few weeks ago, I was out walking my dogs in the evening when I noticed a dog walking down the other side of the road. I assumed its owner was probably jogging or walking some distance behind it. Then all of a sudden, right before my eyes, the dog dashed smack into the middle of the road, into the way of oncoming traffic. Panic stricken, I searched frantically up and down the street for its owner. It was then that I realized that the dog didn’t have an owner – it was a stray.

Screeech! A car slammed hard on its brakes, then swerved around the dog and continued down the street. A few other cars zoomed by, honking loudly at the dog, without even bothering to check up on it. Perhaps they too, like me, had assumed that its owner was somewhere close by. The poor dog, terrified by the cars zooming past it, scurried back into some bushes along the side of the road.

I hurried back to my apartment, just a short distance down the street and locked my dogs up, all the while stuffing dog treats and a spare nylon leash into my pockets. Sure enough, when I rushed back to the spot where I last saw it, the stray dog was still there, hiding in the bushes, shaking with fear. “It’s okay, sweetie”, I coaxed it softly, stretching out the dog treats in my hands. But to no avail. It was just too terrified and dashed around wildly from one bush to another. Soon a crowd of people had gathered around, asking who the dog belonged to. Everyone took turns, cooing softly at the dog, trying to get it to come toward them but all the noise just scared the dog even more and it dashed once again into the path of oncoming traffic in an attempt to get to a “safe” place. The crowd gasped as a car once more screeched its brakes and swerved around the dog, zooming past it down the street. As the dog stood frozen in the middle of traffic, someone grabbed the leash out of my hands and managed to put it around the dog, leading it back to the safety of curb of the road.

Amidst the confusion that ensued next, I somehow wound up with the dog, while the rest of the crowd dissipated back to their separate ways. I walked back to my apartment with the dog. ‘It’ turned out to be a ‘she’. And she looked up at me with her big, brown, sad eyes, not knowing what to make of me. Was I someone to be trusted or should she put up a struggle? I petted her head and scratched her chin, talking to her, and trying to put her at ease. But she was still skittish and very unsure around me. Back at home, I offered her some dog food and water. She sniffed hungrily at the dog food and gingerly moved toward it, before scooting back in fear toward the door, deciding she still didn’t trust me enough to eat anything I had offered her, no matter how hungry she was.

After tying her leash around the leg of a table and leaving the food and water in front of her just in case she decided to eat, I dug through the yellow pages searching for a local humane society. Several wrong numbers later, I tried the last phone number on my list. A quick glance at the clock showed exactly five in the evening, and I hoped beyond all hopes that they were still open for the evening. Miraculously, someone answered the phone on the first try. I explained the situation, and thankfully, someone promised to come over to pick the dog up within the next half an hour.

The whole time I was on the phone, Lucky (what better name for a dog who had survived this ordeal?) eyed me suspiciously. I hung up the phone, and knelt down on the floor beside her. She was clearly hungry yet too distrustful of me to eat. As I petted her and ran my fingers through her long, matted hair, I wondered how she had ended up on the streets. Did she once belong to someone who had cared for her? Had she just run away from home? Why hadn’t they put a tag on her if they really cared about her? Why wasn’t someone looking for her? Did someone just dump her on the streets because they no longer wanted to care for a dog? Did she know her way back home? Did she in her doggy little head wonder where her owners were? Or what she had done to be left out on the streets? Did she miss them? All sorts of questions ran through my head. And then all of a sudden, she nuzzled close to me, laying her head down on my lap and letting out a big sigh.

Just then my phone rang. It was the humane society – they were just a short distance away and wanted me to meet them with the dog at the entrance to my apartment block. So I gently pushed Lucky’s head out of my lap, got up and clapped my hands, “Come on, Lucky…let’s go…walk?” Clearly, all words she had heard before, because her ears perked up at the prospect of a walk as we clambered out of the door. As we waited out in the streets in the frigid weather, I wondered what would have become of her had I or someone else not seen her on the streets. Would she have made it through the cold, winter night? I realized she still hadn’t eaten anything yet, and I remembered the doggie treats in my pockets. I extended them out to her yet again. This time, she finally took a bite, and then ate ravenously out of my hands. I emptied out all the treats I had on me, and she ate them voraciously – she had clearly been hungry all along. She finished them all and started to lick my hands. She has just begun to trust me, when the humane society minivan arrived.

What ensued next is the worst memory I have of the entire evening. As soon as the man got out of the car and opened up a crate in the back of the minivan, Lucky seemed to know exactly what was going to happen next. As the man coaxed her to come toward him, she dashed behind my legs, yelping and looking up at me with the most betrayed look on her face. I felt like a horrible person inside – a conspirator in some hideous disgusting crime. She was just starting to build trust in me, and I already betrayed her. She put up a struggle, all the while yelping and whining and trying to hide behind my legs. Finally, the man managed to grab hold of her and shoved her into the crate in the minivan. As he slammed the door shut, I heard her barking and whining loudly inside. The last memory I have of her is her face as the door shut behind her – her panic stricken, frightened eyes looked like they just lost all faith in humanity.

Do you know what I hate the most about the entire ordeal? The fact that I don’t know how this story ends. I don’t know if it has a happy ending. I don’t know if Lucky ever found her owner. Or if she has a new home. Or if she’s still in a shelter somewhere waiting to be adopted. Or whether she was euthanized because she just wasn’t "adoptable" and the shelter didn’t have enough space or time to give to her. I hate the not knowing how it ends….and it haunts me.

I peak into rows and rows of caged dogs in the shelter because I’m curious. I wonder if I’ll see Lucky again. I wonder what became of her.

~vagabond~ © 2008

Disclaimer: I do not by any means claim ownership to the photo used in the blog above. The dog in the photo is not "Lucky". I simply searched around google images and came across this photo of a dog that looks remarkably similar to Lucky.