Friday, June 22, 2012

The Dog in the hallway

The Dog in the hallway The story of a stray dog who refuses to walk out on his redeemer, leave his doorstep REALITY BITE YUSUF JAMEEL You must have heard the story of the dog from Tetwal, be familiar with the plight of the ‘Tetwal Ka Kutta’ a victim of the Partition frenzy. Much water has flown down the Kishanganga and the Jhelum since, and Sadat Hasan Manto has not heard yet he could be born again. Or has this land turned infertile to produce another Manto and the comparable? That apart, today, another dog, an ordinary creature, I presume, wants to be heard. We, the humans must give him a patient hearing and then decide his fate. After all, it is we, the humans who can decide if he has a right to live or he has ceased it. We alone can pass judgement on him. The dog lives in a backstreet of Srinagar’s fashionable Residency Road; precisely on the upstairs hallway of one of the buildings in Mushtaq Press Enclave (MPE). When, where and in what circumstances did he open his eyes in this world, we don’t really know. For us, his story begins in Summer 2008. The Jammu and Kashmir government had in what was seen by many people as an act of excessive ‘benevolence’ surrendered a plot of forest land to the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) which a vast majority of the Valley’s population openly and sturdily objected to. Instead of coping with the sensitive issue with utmost care, those at the helm of affairs tried to silence the dissent and hold back the situation and rule with iron fist. Soon tens of thousands of people were out on the streets actually to give vent to their old and unheard grievances and primarily the political sentiment, innate demand of azadi. The government forces responded with imposing round-the-clock curfews, making random arrests and even targeting the protesters with gunfire. On the other hand, pro-freedom parties and supportive groups seized the situation, and did all they could, to further their agenda. Entire Vale of Kashmir was pushed into an anarchic state of affairs wherein hardly anyone would feel safe. An ‘each one for himself’ kind of condition was also thrown up. The curfews, shutdowns, violence and economic blockade of the Valley by Hindu chauvinists in the planes led to scarcity of foodstuffs. And then a day came when there was hardly anything available to eat particularly for majority of the Srinagar residents, the worst hit by unrest. With almost nothing on hand, how could they feed the animals around, what would the mammals particularly the stray dogs eat and where? The poorest couldn’t be expected to give a hand to the poor. The father of a colleague, photographer Habibullah Naqash fell seriously ill. Somehow, he was taken to hospital and soon Naqash also relocated there to look after him. In his absence, his friend and equal Tauseef Mustafa made the flat in MPE Naqash lives in as his temporary abode- to reside and operate from there as well. In the face of unprecedented restrictions, the curfews and somewhat perilous circumstance in which our tribe like other fellow citizens had been caught, it was hardly practical to discharge our professional responsibility yet the yearning to toil, the passion, the dedication and love for the pursuit forced Tauseef to leave his home and the family behind and stay at a place which plausibly was suitable for people like him to operate from. The infamous MPE! But he soon discovered he in no way was any better than millions of fellow citizens and like them had been virtually reduced into a prisoner inside Flat No. 2 of the middle block at MPE. The condition of his counterparts and other journalists was not any different either. Some were caught even in worst situation. They, as most Srinagar residents, had run short of rations and essential commodities. In many cases, there was hardly anything left to eat or drink except the tap water. Marketplaces were shut and even the vendors from Aabi Guzar in spite of being at a stone’s throw could not make it to MPE as gun-wielding policemen had blocked all entry and exit points. The curfew passes issued to media persons had been cancelled and the concerned authorities were refusing to issue the fresh ones. In this helpless situation, Tauseef felt elated when he through a rare window of the flat saw a local Congress leader Muhammad Sultan Mandoo alighting from a white police Gypsy and flanked by his security guards began walking down the back alley towards the Greater Kashmir office presumably to deliver a party statement for publication. Tauseef quickly came downstairs and pushed himself in his course to plea “I’m hungry. Do me a favour. Kindly, get me something to eat.” He took out a Rs. 500 note from his wallet but before he could give it to Sultan, the latter reacted saying “Come on dear. I won’t take it but I assure you I will do something.” When Sultan returned in the afternoon, he had brought with him a dressed chicken for Tauseef who hurriedly went to the kitchen to cook it. Soon he and a couple of photographer friends also stuck in the neighbourhood sat around dastarkhwan, the table-cloth, to cherish the feast. As they were preparing to pray and adore before the Sustainer to thank Him for what had turned out to be for them nim’nat-e-ghair mutaraqqabah, the real windfall, Tauseef abruptly began to think about a lean stray dog he had seen roaming around in MPE the other day. He took the chicken bones and leftover meals in a serving dish, luckily found the dog sitting downstairs and put these before him. Thus begins the saga of fidelity and devotion by an animal towards its redeemer. The dog reciprocated by choosing the doorway of Naqash as his permanent home. Four years gone by, he refuses to leave it. That in spite of being hit a number of times. Even bamboo sticks were swung to make sure he flees the area and never returns but to no avail. More often than not, the dog can be seen resting in a corner of the upstairs hallway. Occasionally, he goes down to take a quick walk around and then returns to his domicile. Lately, Naqash has begun to rare a few poultry birds and kitten which are often seen having joined by a group of pigeons from a building perch. Strangely, the dog who appears to be khandani, from a special high caste breed, has never interfered in Naqash’s leisure pursuit and, in fact, shares the meals served to him with these species. He has not on a single occasion tried to harm them even if he had to beat his hunger. The top floor of the building has the offices of two newspapers. Seeking to put satirical flair in it, the editor of one of these recently asked if the dog has been assigned the task of scaring visitors to the publication office away. But to be fair to the animal he never, ever tries to threaten anybody. Betraying his instinct, he does not even bark at strangers. Yet on seeing him positioned in the upstairs hallway, many unfamiliar visitors, thinking to remain out of harm’s way, better like beat a quick retreat. At a time when the Srinagar Municipal Corporation has launched a massive drive to get the citizens rid of increasing number of stray dogs, the canines, one is really worried about our unusual neighbour. It would be totally unfair if he is punished for the others’ fault. Some of those from the species may have revolted against ‘Ashraf-ul-Makhlooqat’ with or without reason, this dog in the facing building is undisruptive and, it seems, peace-loving too and hence does not deserve to be given a bad name and hanged. Anyways, dogs are dogs. They can’t compete with humans. But history stands witness to the fact that humans did not hesitate in shedding the blood of other humans along these alleys, in these lodgings and on this stairway only. Regardless, they belonged to the human race which ought to be a kind, compassionate species. Dogs are dogs. Yusuf Jameel is a veteran journalist of Kashmir. Feedback at

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