Got me on my knees, Layla

We were gathered around her. All five of us. The doctor held her front paw and injected her. I heard the words slip out of mom, who stood in dad’s arms a few feet away, “Her heart has stopped.”

Huge wails followed from all of us. For several hours later, we kept breaking down. I’m barely holding it together right now.

For many years, it was a recurring nightmare for me: I would wake up and she would be gone. But she fought everything that came her way – Paralysis. Weakening heart. Fungal infections. Tick infestations. Her will to live and eat was very strong. The last few months of her life were filled with visits to the doctor to ease her pain and give her a better life. One her giant heart was deserving of.

Her heart gave everyone love without any discrimination. Not a soul has anything else to say about her but that she enriched our lives. She changed several pre-conceived notions about dogs. She managed to envelop each of us in her never ending cycle of warmth and love.

I will miss her. Like I would miss a limb. She is a part of me and always will be. So that’s not it. Her calming demeanour that got me through several depressive spells will be missed. Sorely. I think she will haunt me for a long time to come. And I’m not sad about it. After all, she taught me how to love. She loved me unconditionally. She gave me reason to live when I felt lost and at brink of yet another abyss. She eased my worried mind with a few tail wags, licks and her reassuring presence. Her zen face, warm body and soft snores were home for me. 

How can I not miss her?

As we set her down in her grave, a part of me wanted to curl up with her there and tell her she made me a better person and I was eternally grateful. But chances are that she knew it all along. Chances are she’s still watching over me. Telling me I’m a fighter and I can beat anything life throws at me. Just like when she was with me.

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Choose kindness

I have a 12-year-old dog. She is a gorgeous Labrador. Two years ago, she had a paralytic attack and lost movement in the back legs. Slowly with therapy and medication she fought her way back to walking. A little while ago, she had some trouble again; but if you see her sitting down or sleeping you will not be able to tell. She is one of the happiest, kindest, most loving souls I have ever met. Her tail is a whacking device she uses often when she meets strangers or loved ones.

We take short bathroom breaks outside the house a few times a day. Walks are not really possible because she has to be assisted even for short distances. We always sit down below the house for half-an-hour or so after our evening walk. The footpath is wide enough for both of us. The weather is usually pleasant and sitting down is a good unwinding session for me. She watches the vehicles go by, her street friends come visit us and we sit in silence. Occasionally, people stop by, pet her and talk to the dis-interested human sitting with her (mostly me or my dad).

Off late, I hate most of the people stopping by (with a vengeance). They offer their priceless nuggets of wisdom each time. I have forgotten how many times people found it necessary to tell me, “Your dog is in great pain. You must put her to sleep.” There is that extended stress on the must. Like a doctor advising the terminally ill. I don’t always have the time, patience or energy to explain to them that I would know this far sooner than they would. My dog, though very old, has a spirit to live that I cannot always explain in words. I usually snort and drag her back inside. “We do not need this negativity,” I tell her. I wonder if people offer my dog this wisdom. If they don’t maybe I should consider wearing a grumpier, more intimidating face.

Layla has never really complained about the pain she is in. But we as a family have always known and rushed to her aid. We have done doctor visits, stayed up odd hours and been there for her in the myriad of ways each of us is usually there for her. But it isn’t really about that. This whole unsolicited advice has gotten me thinking. How easily do we hand out advice to others? Their advice doesn’t make me question how I treat my dog because I know I care very, very much. (In fact I perhaps have a serious case of separation anxiety right now because I am leaving her for a few months.) But it hurts me. It hurts that we as a society don’t always think about the harm we might be causing. How little we have begun to think before making these well-meaning, concerned statements. Or that we are somehow experts in this matter and know that death is the only way. This is obviously not a one-off experience. I have friends who have been offered such advice too. We brush it off and move on. It seems to be a pattern especially with ageing, sick dogs. I don’t want to be crude and draw a comparison on when else would anyone offer such advice. But it upsets me.

So, I want to send out a message into the universe. Hoping that people would think before they callously utter these words. Without realising that the family is already well aware about the short life that dogs live. They are grappling with the sheer magnitude of such a loss. They are willing to do as much as possible to ease their dog’s pain. They are more uncomfortable seeing their dog in pain than anyone else. They are already doing the best they can. So if you ever encounter someone with an old dog: Let the dog shower love on you. Pet him/her. Whisper lovely things about treats and flowers. Leave a little happier.

Choose kindness.

Don’t. Talk. About. Euthanasia.

To new beginnings..

From the broken halves of me,

To each and every one of you,

I don’t know where to start. It is a whole lot of nothing. Yet, in the crevices of memory and the curves of my body there lay a whole lot of everything. From being around each other and sharing intimate, wild, unhappy, vulnerable and mundane, to the sudden vacuum and silence. Everyone tells you about the wonderful, marvellous feelings of love. No one ever fully prepares you for what comes after.

The emptiness doesn’t even set in for a long time. You first have to deal with the contradictions that present themselves. The anger vs. the calm. The pain vs. the joy. The longing vs. the hatred. The urge to hold on vs. the craving to move on. All struggling to co-exist in a, now, large available space…

I didn’t realise how tough it would be. I packed away all the memories, the physical remains of a relationship. But the mind, the body, the heart wouldn’t allow me such easy respite. I found myself in a sticky situation; unaware if I wanted to even move on. The pain, the guilt, the memories all were real. Soon they would leave and all I would be left with was the void. I refused to fill this void with another person or many. I don’t recommend such a life to you, though. I have learnt that these voids can only be filled with inanimate objects; never again with people or emotions. It wasn’t logical. It was just that way.

But I digress.

It was hard to imagine that the day would ever come. Death loomed on us since we began but we never took it seriously. We shrugged it aside as a rueful inconvenience. Together.

But I was left to face it in a very real way. Alone.

We had built not a home but a world. A parallel universe. An imaginary happiness. When it came crashing down on me, as she faded into oblivion, I realised no body prepared me for this. We speak, read, write, hear, watch, see, understand and analyse love. Not enough about loss. About losing a friend, a lover, a confidante and a soul mate. We weren’t married but only because it was illegal. We were everything a couple was and more.

I would cease wanting her this way. I knew I would. I was scared of that eventuality; so I held onto everything I knew. Slowly, she transformed into the best version of herself. Present and absent. All at once.

Months together, people, friends, colleagues, family would enquire out of affection, “How do you feel?” I wanted to say all this but I held back and said instead, “Nothing, yet everything.”

But I needed to be loved again. To let go of the gnawing pain and move on. She would understand. She would have done the same in my place.

Wouldn’t you?

A version of this piece first appeared on The Body Narratives.

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When I moved back to Hyderabad a year ago I wasn’t sure it was the right choice for me. The city had a special place in my heart until then. I loved it dearly and I called it home. Back then, it was the only city I felt was closest to home. But I always felt it was low on cultural and artsy activity. I have no anger or hatred for Hyderabad even now. The laziness and the foodiness is both pleasing and annoying. I can’t make up my mind. However, over time I felt an uneasiness. A rising discomfort with the city spaces. The roads no longer seemed welcoming; the sexual harassment was more than I remembered. The random comments from people seemed to have peaked. (Be it about my rowdiness because of the short hair or the comments my fellow residents were getting about being ‘too fat’.) I found the charm fading. Then I began to analyse and question this and I felt it was probably me. I was just aching for a different space, a different rhythm. More adept to my creativity. More aligned with my frame of mind. It is pompous to say I have outgrown this city. But something had changed. Over a period of time, it didn’t feel the same anymore. My relationship with it had changed. And that was unnerving.

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Can you have two soul mates? No? Oh you know nothing. I have two. Two wonderful women. I doubt if they have ever met each other. I must ask them this. Oh briefly I think. Would they hit it off, like I do with them both? I wonder how the conversation between them would be. But put me in a room with either of them and I never want to leave. They aren’t similar though I could describe them in many similar ways. Smart, funny, intelligent, creative, huge animal lovers, feminist, loyal, energetic, beautiful both in and out, musical, well read and just plain lovely. But my conversations with both of them are vastly different. Though in both these relationships, there are hardly any topics not touched.

Where did I meet two such women you ask? Good question. Very pertinent too. Since context is everything. In a place that resembled hell. Yes. Both of them in the same place at different points in the same year. Oh! What a year it was. I went from love to love that year. Despite having sunk to new lows in my self esteem. But two of them were special. In ways in which I have never expressed to them, either. They got me through the year and more. If they are so similar, yet so different, why talk about them together? Well because in my life now they co-exist. The thought of seeing or spending long periods of time with either of them fills my heart with immense amount of joy. As one of them returns from a long sabbatical in a cold faraway land (no seriously!), I realised how much they both mean to me. How much I wish I lived in the same city as them. How much I want to see them immediately. Without even talking about my problems, they found ways to take it all away. Both of them in their own unique ways.

So let me tell you a little more about them. I can’t keep saying there is nothing like them and give you nothing to believe me.

One of them is a perfectionist and she reads a lot. Not like the normal a lot. A LOT. She devours books to say the least; small books, difficult books, fat books, easy books, children’s books, academic books, adult books. Not the books that you think should be called adult. I never asked her if she reads erotica. A conversation for next time.

The other one is passionate to the core. She is principled and very dedicated. She is not one to make compromises on those for she lives by them. We have had many a conversation on negotiating between choices and compromises; the boys we date; love, life and loss; and feminism in our lives.

When I break it up this way, I’m afraid I’m giving the impression that one is not passionate and the other doesn’t read. That is a faulty impression to be polite and completely wrong to be correct. But I am fully aware that no matter how hard I try, I cannot explain these relationships as well as I wish to. So permit me that flaw.

My life would be a depressing place without them. I am sure everyone says that about their soul mates. My love life is a confusing place because of them. Not sure anyone says that about their soul mates. But I am pretty sure, despite the circumstances under which we met, I will be grateful to the closest to awful woman I have ever met for bringing these two into my life.

Yes. I have two soul mates. And I love them both similarly and very very differently.

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I freeze in my tracks to stare at the number.

I didn’t want to see that jet black car

Driving past me.

Not yet.

You consumed my every thought.

A phase?

A loss I couldn’t swallow?

A life without your embrace?

I took a deep breath and shook my head;

It was a hallucination of your familiar silhouette

approaching me.

No, it wasn’t you.