My Grandma told me folk tales that aroused my curiosity. Tales that were so mystical and interesting that they opened up a whole world of the un-understood realm – enticing me to enter and wonder and figure out what was going on.
She told me numerous things – like how turmeric is good for killing infections of the throat – I’d be made to have spoonfulls of awful tasting turmeric powder to cure sore throat – yet when an allopathic doc was asked about this remedy he looked down upon us like illiterate ignoramuses. Yet today science HAS caught up with my grandma and her folklore. An article on BBC news extolls the virtues of turmeric in cancer cure – here.
There are many things she spoke of – and another one is about the sixth sense of dogs.
I grew up in a neighbourhood where home doors were never shut and no one needed an invitation to drop in to anyone’s home. Kids roamed freely and older kids watched out for younger ones and families assumed responsibility not just for their own kids but also for those of others. And a group of stray dogs were a part of this extended family. Every year we had a few litters from Reggie the beautiful rust colored dog with a limp and kajal-lined black doe eyes. She gave the kids many many pups to play with. There was a semi-formal arrangement in which we all fed the group of dogs and there was a ‘dotted-line’ master-pet relationship between pairs of us.
And so we always had dogs playing with us and obeying our commands and whining when we went off to school.
This whining caused by separation anxiety was very different from the one we sometimes heard from the whole group of dogs.
And for that type of whining my grandma’s explanations was this:
In Hindu mythology there is a God of death called “Yama Deva”. He or his messengers come visiting to pluck out the ones whose time is up.
It is said that dogs can “see” or sense the presence of Yama Deva when he is in the vicinity.
I had heard these tales as a child and these had been lost in the recesses of memory – until 3.5 month old pup began behaving strangely one day.
The pup – who was usually playful and hungry and sleepy all the time, was suddenly clingy and whiny. His physical condition seemd normal but his behavior was unusual. All day long he stayed around my feet. Even as I carried him and lulled him like an infant, his mood did not change.
I took him to the playground to cheer him up – an outing he enjoys – but he remained distracted and whiny, impatient, edgy and jittery. No one in the family could reassure him or do anything to silence his intermittent soft whines and soulful looks. He didn’t eat normally and almost kept a vigil. We could do nothing but watch. We did not understand. It was not overly melodramatic but if you were close to the pup you would sense the change in his behavior.
When we sat on the bench in the playground my grandma’s words came to me – and I thought that I might be dying today – but I swept that thought aside as a ridiculous one and forgot about it.
Until the next day.
We heard some Hindu religious music playing in the next highrise building but did not pay attention. There are many types of Hindu communities where I live and I assumed that this music would be related to some festival of some sub-community.
But later that afternoon we realised that this was related to a funeral. On the same floor of the next building someone had passed away the previous day.
It was only after I attended the funeral that I began connecting the dots.
Were these events a coincidence? Or was my grandma right? Had Yama just spared me and taken another instead?
I was spooked – not by the idea of death itself – but by the possibility that the dog knew – and by the idea that my grandma knew that the dog knew ……..