Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sophie's Choice

This happened yesterday – on the 29th of July, 2008.

The day began early for me. I was in Ludhiana and went to a store at 6 to see the delivery of the morning produce and the subsequent invoicing process.
I returned to my hotel Fortune Classic at 8:30, had breakfast at the dining hall and then went to my room and slept.

Early in the morning, while going to the store, I was surprised to see it (“Her” as I learnt from the medical report) alive. The “it” being a pup I remembered hearing crying over outside the hotel last night, who in the failing light seemed to have a car passed through its forepaws and was dying. Seeing her again, I vaguely asked the driver if there was any veterinarian around, and was told that the one hospy opened at 10:30. Coming back I bought a chocolate cake from Reliance Fresh and dropped a couple in front of the dog and retired to the room, my conscience lulled for the moment.

I woke up at 12:30 and walked down; sure that the poor beast could not have survived the ordeal so long. Sure enough, the pup was missing from the parking lot. I casually asked the guard about the pup and was told that she had been put on the side of the road. I went peeking and there she was – alive!

I think I found her being alive disturbing because it made things tougher for my conscience; and not so much because of the extended ordeal of the pup.

I took the pub to the govt. hospy. Surprisingly, clean for a govt. hospy but still a govt. hospy. The fees to get the card made was Rs. 20. It took me almost an hour to get that made after an indifferent compounder finally revealed the mystery of its origin to me. The officer who made the card was, in contrast, fast and efficient. I had kept the pup in a huge airy foray, grey, and with a row of washbasins, the kind in chemistry labs, at the centre. I kept her besides a washbasin trying to feed her a the cakes, but she refused. I wet the cake and she only weakly ran a tongue over it and then nothing. After asking half a dozen of the staff for any kind of bowl, I, finally, found a piece of cotton and over the next fifteen minutes was able to feed it water – water that it lapped with more life than I had seen in her the entire day. A seasoned compounder came along, initially refusing to believe my tale that it was not my pet, but eventually did and was most helpful after that (to quote him: punya ka kaam hai).

To cut a long day short, after the doctor came, I had to get some Xrays done. The Xray doctor was unexceptionally brusque and rude and demanded that I get a second person to hold the dog. I lost my temper, in a flare of ten joints in a single puff hitting and clouding my brain, shouted at him, went out and got someone for the promise of ten bucks, with the help of the sr. compounder. The xray was taken by another senior doctor, equally rude, who answered my query to whether I could come for the xray after 15 minutes (I needed some tea) with “Jaroor aao. Aap kabhi bhi aao. Par Xray aapko ek ghante mein hi milega.’ I again lost my temper and asked him why he was being sarcastic. In both the doctors, I found a strangely staid immunity to anger; their bored faces unwrinkled by my flashes, their apathy untinted. But to their credit, they did not take offence either, and did not deliberately impede my attempts.

All this time I was carrying the pup in some old newspaper. The paper had gotten soggy and I thought that the pup had peed. But as it turned out, it was the brown watery pus that flowed from its wasted front right paw, being gorged by ants and flies alike. I walked around two kms to and from between the various buildings – the cab requisitioned by another co-worker for a market visit. As I carried it back from the Xray, the pup was so limp that I had a real fine act to balance it without the pus flowing down my shirt. And then my nose began to itch – as they always do in times like these. When I reached the mail hall again, tears were running down my cheeks with the itch but again the apathy that is the hallmark of all govt. institutions that made no head turn.

Tea was a canteen that looked like an abandoned bus-stop but again, surprisingly clean, and a couple of bargad peds set in concrete plinths. I drank three cups of good tea and smoked a couple of cigarettes to kill the hour. The senior compunder met me there and I got into a conversation with him and an aged sikh whose dialect I could hardly understand. Explaining what I did, business analyst supporting merchandising arm of organized retail, was rather, to say the least, tough. They asked for my package. I quote a figure roughly fourth of my package (already half of what most of my peers take home) and their jaws dropped. The sardaar bluntly asked me what did I do with all the money. The compounder then told me over a tea why he thought baba ramdev was the biggest charity king in the country. A friend called – washing bikes in office for charity and having fun. It was a charity I understood – fun, removed and convenient; like a quick dusting over the conscience.

I went for the Xrays and found that they had arrived roughly half an hour after they had been taken. They showed multiple fractures. Two legs wasted and possibly also the spine.

I went down with a doctor – a young student who told me that the survival chances of the pup were very minimal. Whatever chances there were, lay in my taking the pup with me to delhi, taking very good care of it and likewise. But even then, she most probably would die in pain. And then he gave me the choice – shall I put erto sleep right now?


The pup must have been one and a half months old, white and festered with raw wounds, scars and pus. Her front forepaw was twisted twice around its axis and her entire bones were open like a medical instructional chart. She had lain limp for most of the day, only yelping when the doctor felt its paws and every time I had to lift her. That was the only time that her eyes sparkled with something close to being alive; though it was only intolerable pain. Sheseemed totally unaware and detached from me and the surroundings; like a very old war-veteran. I had a one-year old bitch who died after a protracted paralysis of the legs for a month – around seven years ago. Towards the end, her eyes, frisky and alive, had the same dull fatalistic expression as the pup. So did a rooster I had when I was a kid – who died of cold and depression after a hen died.

I had five seconds to choose. I waited for some sign from the pup but she lay inert, only her heart beating against my palm. The thought did rush into my head: who was I to decide on her life? But. But. But.
I was tired, I felt I had done enough, I felt that shewas already dying, its pain and condition … etc etc. whatever it was, I gave the thumbs down like a roman emperor at the colloseum.

The entire day had passed in a dull, surreal stupor. But as the doctor went for the injection, I had the feeling that the pup knew what was about to happen. It lasted for fifteen seconds but it was the only moment in the day when I felt close to breaking down.

Thankfully, the heart stopped even as only half the anaesthesia was injected; perhaps given that the pup was hardly bigger than the size of my forearm. So quick was it that it took me some seconds to realize what had happened after the doctor stopped midway.

I paid a grumpy ward-boy (a boy of the age of fifty) fifty to bury the pup instead of throwing it in the waste. I went to take a leak and coming back I saw that he had bundled the medical report, the cake, the cotton-wool and the pup - the entire remains of the day - into the very reliance fresh plastic where it had started. The man was true to his word and I saw him take a spade, walk a little into the shrubs behind the canteen and strike the first few plods.

I went back – empty handed; an entire day gone; with no catharsis; only a dull indifference and antipathy to what I am, my ilk, my corporate existence, et al. even Sophie had a choice between two deaths; I had life and death, and I chose death – I suspect because of convenience.

The pup was one and a half month old and the doctor said that the amount of pus indicated that she had remained like this for four days. In those four days, she had not eaten and drunk and been out in the torrential rains like the ones that had happened the day before. A thousand VIPs had zoomed in and out of the hotel in the meantime, and a million walked and driven by in the bustling thoroughfare.

Is there any justification to this pain, this existence? Loneliness seems a very petty word for this. Christians talk about Christ suffering for the world. What suffering did this pup atone for? Cycle of hindu karma? Is any amount of sins great enough to justify for this?

The only explanation possible is that there is no justification. Mercy, loneliness, charity, empathy – are words we have designed to give some meaning to the empty ruthlessness of life that threatens the very sanity of our thinking; thinking that us humans have been unfortunately gifted by nature as a survival mechanism. As survival eased and metaphysics crept into the space reserved for threatening omens -- sounds, smells, chattering of monkeys on the trees, and like – we invented words to address the maddening grief of existence. The little pup understood its existence (“the inexorable cruelty of it” in my human mind) more clearly and perfectly than I ever would.

Today has been dull and meaningless. A friend tried to console me when I foolishly confided. But it’s nothing to do with anyone but me and the pup. I wondered if my unsuccessful attempt made the pup feel somewhat wanted towards the end; if i could have put her to sleep a day before and saved her a day of agony; if my interference only served to bring death to something that might still have lived; but then what difference does it make.

Mediocrity, cheap sentimentality, platitudes and two-penny philosophies. Outside and within.

3 comments:

Nothing Spectacular said...

Some call it inexorable cruelty and others call it survival of the fittest. Whatever one calls it, no escaping the fact that life is indeed arbitrary (follows no particular pattern and the best one can hope for is that on balance, it will average out).

I think this is why humans invented hope - because it gives one the sanity to keep living. Perhaps this is why people exhort one to live in the present - because its not worth living for anything else anyway.

This is why I kind of find Camus sensible when he says 'Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy. All other questions follow from that.'

Faiz said...

very thought provoking .. not at any philosophical / intangible level but just because at some level we're all too stuck in our rat treadmills to think or do anything else ..

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