The introspective dog

Discussions with family and friends these days, offline or online, generally tend to culminate in the question, ‘When will we return to normal?’ And there is always the cynical oracle in the group who will say, ‘There is no returning to normalcy after this pandemic.’ 

One day this week, clad in my Covid 19 costume of mask, hand gloves and scarf (for extra protection) and waiting in line to buy groceries, I too was wondering what exactly was normal, when a conversation began among the customers in the line. They were standing on chalk circles waiting for their turn to shop. They were discussing how our ‘arrogance’ had ruined ‘mother nature’ and how our increasing consumerism had destroyed the environment. Somehow all this brought to mind my paati’s (grandmother’s) tale about an ‘introspective’ dog. 

I remember that I was readying for school, and she told me the story while she was braiding my hair: ‘A dog sleeping in the shade woke up to the smell of food. Someone had left some chicken for it nearby. But as he got up to taste the food, he was distracted by a powerfully delicious smell that wafted in from the parallel street. He forgot about the food lying right in front of him and followed the smell, which led him to a bakery. There he made puppy eyes at some kids at the bakery, who threw some morsels his way.

He had to fight for the food with the other dogs on the street, and was finally left holding a small piece of chicken. ‘All this for one chicken piece,’ he thought to himself.

He could not believe his luck, but just when he was about to grab a bite he heard his friend calling out to him, “Hear! The chicken biryani man is here, with bones this time!” He ran away again, leaving behind the baked goodies. He had to fight for the food with the other dogs on the street, and was finally left holding a small piece of chicken. ‘All this for one chicken piece,’ he thought to himself. Nevertheless, it was absolutely delicious, and he quickly fell asleep after the meal, tired after the day’s exertions.

‘He woke up from his slumber feeling strangely detached. Whatever was happening to him!!? He thought over the day’s events and felt foolish. “Why on earth did I leave the food that was given to me, then leave behind the food at the bakery again and fight for what was available to me in the first place?” he wondered. “This is it, I am not doing this again. I need to value what I have. Next time, I am going to take it slow, take a long breath and remind myself of all this.”

Paati had been telling me that everything we see and run after is an illusion. We often need to go into conscious sleep, slow down and introspect.

The introspective dog felt lighter. He thought, “Ah, when things slow down, life is beautiful indeed.” He closed his eyes to embrace the moment. As he thought he was entering conscious sleep, a deep meditative state, he heard his friends call out to him. The evening snack had arrived down the street! Zoom! He set out again.’

Still standing in line for my groceries, I suddenly understood what that story meant. My younger self had simply enjoyed a tale well told, but its deeper meaning had entirely been lost on me. Paati had been telling me that everything we see and run after is an illusion. We often need to go into conscious sleep, slow down and introspect. Do we really need to do all that we are doing, chase after all that we are chasing?