Reading Sample Chapter 1 & 2
The sacred sea of milk churned for a thousand years to gain Amrit, the nectar of everlasting life. Out of its primordial waters the moon rose into dark night and began to cast its unearthly light upon a blue marble spinning in black space.
From high up the heavenly sky, Sirius, the Dog Star, tossed its seed down onto fertile earthen land, which grew roots deep out of Brahma’s immortal mind.
The mighty trunk of a Banyan tree, protected and strengthened by Vishnu’s holy bark shot towards the firmament. Shiva formed its branches which grew karmic roots, turning into trunks and anchoring them firmly into the ground, thus creating a gigantic dome sheltering life from all abodes of the material realm.
On its leaves Krishna rests, listening to the wind singing Vedic hymns so that the soul of beings whose time had come to pass would ascend heavenwards to enjoy celestial pleasures until their rewards deplete and they fall down back to earth only to be reborn again.
Cows graze on the meadows of a virgin earth. All was as it was and all that was was good.
Just outside the tiny village of Edayanchavadi there is the old Kutty Andavar temple, long forgotten by villagers and overgrown in time by thorny mullu plants, covering its erstwhile brightly painted walls, of which the rain had washed away the colours.
For many generations villagers had brought their dead in front of the terribly fearsome god Kala Bhairava, the creator and destroyer of life, holding in one hand a sharpened rod to punish sinners for their misdeeds, whose foot rests on a decapitated skull. Beside him lays faithful Sarama, dog of the gods and mother of all dogs and beasts of prey. In front Shiva’s iron trident with a lemon skewered on top to ward off evil spirits protrudes from barren red soil.
The burial and cremation ground is deserted during the days of the week, only visited on Saturday by small groups of men, drinking self brewed poisonous sarayan spirit under the once mighty Banyan tree, whose dangling roots had been chopped off for firewood. When the sun sets they leave and young teenage couples hiding behind the old temple shyly exchange quickly their last kiss before they too rush back to the village as a dark and drear night falls over the graveyard.
The distant black sky, illuminated by the furious lightning strikes of a heavy monsoon storm, whose pitch-black masses of angry clouds rumble furiously over the firmament, heralds a heavy torrential rainstorm. As the first big drops began to fall in the darkness of that dreadful night, an old dog, emaciated to the bones, limped heavily across the burial ground towards the big banyan tree.
Huge snakes, with mouths of black venom, crawled out of their burrows, piling up loudly hissing before him, but the old dog paid them no heed as, he curled up exhausted and weak in the tangled vault of the hollow banyan tree and began to lick gently a maggot infested flesh wound that cut through his right hind leg.
With only very little energy left in its worn-out body, the dog closed its eyes and sank into deep dreams, conjuring up vivid patches of memories of his life of brutal survival on the streets of Tamil Nadu.
…and there he was young and agile again, walking around Amba Vilas Palace, the magnificent residence of the Maharajas of Mysore, where he enjoyed lying in the cool grass of the palace garden during the day and at night, when the manor house was deserted, he strolled around under the countless columns of the seven sumptuously decorated arches of the main facade on marble and mosaic floors in search of an unintentionally left open door that would allow him in, so that under the cover of night he could rummage through the lavishly furnished palace kitchens, bulging pantries, and search even the spartan quarters of the sleeping servants and guards for scraps of food…
…from the Ramanasramam, the ashram of Ramana Maharshi, the “Great Sage of Annamalai”, an enlightened Indian guru known for his kindness and love for all animals, the dog watched the Girivalam procession of tens of thousands of pilgrims circling around the Holy Mountain barefoot and immersed in inner silence. Every year on the tenth day in the month of Kārttikai, when the sun entered the sign of Scorpio, an enormous cauldron filled with hundreds of gallons of ghee mixed with camphor is placed atop the holy mountain of Arunachala and the sacred Maha Deepam fire is lit, on the very place which is the abode of Lord Shiva, where all trees are wishgranting trees and its rippling waters are the Ganges, where all spoken words become holy scriptures and the only place on earth where, if one falls asleep, one immediately is absorbed in samadhi. For many weeks the dog remained in this place in Thiruvannamalai, where he was fed in the temple with Prasad, leftover sacrificial food, by devotees of the great Master and listened in the evenings to their innumerable stories about the great Bhagavan.
Just as Ramana Maharshi was consciously leaving his cancer-eaten body in a final act of mahāsamādhi, one of the white peacocks that had been a gift from a rajah, flapping his wings and screeching loudly, flew onto the roof over his deathbed, so that the great yoga master opened his eyes once more and asked with his last breath: “Has anyone fed the peacock yet?“…
…the smell of the backwaters in Kerala, where he happily bathed in the warm brackish water of Cochin and spent hours watching the old barges that had been converted into houseboats from the shore as they glided past him on the canals overgrown with water hyacinths.
…seeking coolness from the scorching dog day heat of a tropical May day in Rameswaran he curled up in the shade of the stone portico of the Nandi Mandapam in the sacred Ramanathaswamy Temple, to sleep beside the brightly painted statue of a larger-than-life cow looking like a mischievous demon with its bright red pointed tongue licking its nose, when boiling hot tea, which a temple servant poured all over his back, made him wake up in pain. For days the dog dragged itself along the shore of the Bay of Bengal, fleeing from the human race that had caused him so much pain and suffering throughout his life, crossed Pamban Island and followed the sharp needle of sand that stretched up to the Ram Setu, Lord Rama’s mystical bridge, which according to legend had been built out of floating stones by an army of Vanaras, ape-men!, so that Rama could save his wife Sita from the clutches of Ravana, King of the Rakshasa, a barbaric tribe of cannibals. Close to dying of thirst, he thought he caught a Fata Morgana when the stone ruins of a church tower in a village, that had been razed to the ground and abandoned by people, appeared on the horizon, which the salty sea wind was slowly wearing down and the sand swallowing up. With the last of his strength he found shelter in the roofless facade of the former little church of Dhanushkodi, a village whose name in Sanskrit means “The tip of the arch” which had felt the wrath of the gods against the people when, on the night of December 22nd to 23, 1964, a cyclone with unprecedented wind speeds threw 20 foot waves against the striving ferry port for Ceylon, which carried away a train with 128 souls on board that was just entering the station, swept into the raging sea the mailhouse and the houses of the fishermen, taking 1,800 human lives in those fateful hours. Sri Rama had already destroyed the monkey bridge once before with the end of his bow so that hordes of Lanka barbarians could not follow him; here was a place where he felt safe from humans and lay down on a sand dune, ready to follow the last rays of the sinking sun over the rainbow bridge into a paradise where he was relieved from the pain and suffering of his tortured dog body.
The moon was still shining brightly in the firmament, but soon the dawn of a new day would drive it from the sky, as 80-year-old fisherman Neechal Kali hauled in the nets of his frail rowing boat, in which three tiny kalavas, reef groupers, and a handful sardines wriggled; not a big catch tonight, but enough to appease his growling stomach for a day. Kali, as he has been known since the day he was born as the seventh child of a poor fisherman’s family in Dhanushkodi, has experienced many hard blows and suffering in his life, which chiseled deep wrinkles in his from sun and salty sea air tanned face. After all, he is one of the few survivors of that fateful night just before Christmas, when his entire family—his father, who made his way up to become the postmaster of Dhanushkodi, his mother and his 2 older brothers and 4 sisters, grandparents, uncles and aunts— disappeared before his eyes in the hellhole of a mad sea. For hours Kali had clung to the radio antenna on the roof of the post station while in just one night his family, his house, his native village, his whole world was washed off the face of the earth by the wrath of Lord Rama. Since then the village had been deserted. Dhanushkodi, once terminal station of the Southern Railway’s Indo-Ceylon Express, which in 19 long hours took passengers from Madras to the ferry for Talaimannar in Sri Lanka, was never rebuilt. A few fishermen live in thatched fisherman’s huts, lost between the church ruins and the former ferry pier, for a few months of the year, until early September, when heavy monsoon rains drive even the most hardened men back to the mainland, before the storms of the rainy season flood the wafer-thin sand path and turn Dhanushkodi into an isolated ghost village of souls cursed by the gods.
A low, pitiful whimper which the wind carried into the old fisherman’s ears stopped Kali as he shuffled past the old church. He listened. Here it was again, a painful weeping coming from the ruins of the destroyed house of god.
With unsteady, still from the sea drunken steps, the old man staggered through a half-grown dune of fine white sand that the wind had gathered last night in front of the gateless church portal and strode along the nave, whose sky-roof was just beginning to glow in the bright red of the dawning morning light of a hot, muggy summer day. Where the altar once stood and the village priest warned his congregation of the tragic consequences of the Fall, lay a dog, writhing in pain, with its back a single infected burn. Kali drew closer and found the dog still breathing but barely conscious and unlikely to survive until sundown. Although his old bones ached, he bent down low and gently picked up the dog in his arms and carried it to his fisherman’s hut, where he laid it on the only straw mat in his sparse dwelling. He started a fire and used a knife to scale the fish, slit open their bellies and expertly removed their entrails before covering them with plenty of salt and a little oil and throwing them into a clay pot which dangled on an iron hook over the fireplace. While his food was simmering, he took a turmeric root and ground it on a flat stone into powder, which he mixed with coconut oil to make a paste, which he gently spread on the burn on the dog’s back. Then the old man left his hut only to come back a few minutes later with the trunk of a banana tree, which he cut into small pieces and scored with his knife so that banana juice started to ooze out. He cut a worn-out lunghi into long strips and used them to tie the banana to the wound. Then the fisherman went back to his meal, stirred the fish with a bamboo stick, threw in a handful redhot chillies, scooped fermented rice out of a clay pot sunken in the sand, and topped it all up with some raw onions and green chili peppers on a banana leaf. The fingers of his right hand plucked small pieces of meat from the fish and formed small balls of rice, which he skilfully pushed with his thumb into his mouth. Brought back from deep unconsciousness by the smell of food, the dog suddenly opened its eyes and looked at the old man, confused, seeking help. He carefully put his palm under his head, lifted it gently and poured a little water into the dog’s mouth. As the sun passed its zenith and heated the sand like glowing hot lava, the old man quenched his thirst and satisfied his craving for alcohol with fermented rice wine that he made himself four weeks ago and shoved carefully small pieces of fish into the dog’s mouth, which it swallowed with difficulty. In the evening, when the stars had long been high up in the sky, the fisherman neither cast out his nets nor lay in his hut struck down with intoxication of the ricewine, but gently washed the wound with water, renewed the bandage and began, while caressing the dog on the head, to softly sing in his hoarse voice a song his mother had once sung to him when he was still sitting on her lap.
Weeks passed before the wound healed and the dog was strong enough to explore the deserted peninsula. He walked to Arichal Munai, the end of the Indian land in the east and the meeting point of two seas, enjoyed cooling baths in the crystal-green water and let his fur dry in the stiff sea breeze. Kali named his companion and only friend of his last years Jeeva, which means life and thanked the gods for this gift, which made the infinite loneliness of his harsh existence a little more bearable. In the evening Jeeva lay by the fire and listened to the old fisherman singing while mending his nets. Some nights he accompanied him out to sea, where he watched out for the dangers of the ocean like a figurehead in the bow of the small rowing boat, always alert with his head held high. Like a shadow, the dog accompanied its master, who dragged himself more and more laboriously through the deserted village day after day with the help of a walking stick carved from driftwood. Even simple activities such as collecting coconuts or carrying a bucket of water were too tough for the old man.
One day some fishermen came to talk with Kali. When they left, they took the fishing boat and the mended nets in exchange for a few meager rations of food, which they brought to the hut once a week so that he wouldn’t starve.
For many hours every day the old man lay on his straw mat, numbing the constant aches and pains of his frail body with rice wine and resting, one hand always stroking the fur of his faithful companion. One morning, Jeeva felt the hand cold and stiff and knew his master had left him. As the fishermen wrapped the lifeless body in a lunghi and placed it on a pile of dry driftwood, Jeeva watched from a distance as the flames devoured it. A few days later, a fisherman and his wife moved into Kali’s house. When she saw the dog, she beat Jeeva with his old master’s carved wooden stick and chased him to hell…
सु॒षु॒प्वांस॑ ऋभव॒स्तद॑पृच्छ॒तागो॑ह्य॒ क इ॒दं नो॑ अबूबुधत् ।
श्वानं॑ ब॒स्तो बो॑धयि॒तार॑मब्रवीत्संवत्स॒र इ॒दम॒द्या व्य॑ख्यत ॥
O Sirius, before my sleep, I am asking you:
Who is it to awaken me?
सुषुप्वांस ऋभवस्तदपृच्छतागोह्य क इदं नो अबूबुधत् ।
श्वानं बस्तो बोधयितारमब्रवीत्संवत्सर इदमद्या व्यख्यत ॥
The awakener is a dog,
Now as years have gone, you will know.
The strong wind of the approaching thunderstorm blew the suffocating humidity of the scorching dog day heat from the sky and brought gentle, soothing coolness. The dog had woken up from the dreamlike visions of his life and lay curled up in front of the banyan tree’s cave, feeling calm and comforted in the lap of the Gods, listening to the rustling of the leaves while gazing into the starry night sky.
For the very last time his gaze was lost in the infinite firmament of the heavens, he thanked the moon, companion of lonely hours of night, bowed before the three pearls of Kaal Purush and knew, when he recognized in Sirius, Bhairava’s hound Sivanam, that now his time had come. With every breath he felt prana leaving his body, his sacrifice in infinity before the zephyr of the scorching Dog Star, who splits the fields that gape with thirst.
अति॑ द्रव सारमे॒यौ श्वानौ॑ चतुर॒क्षौ श॒बलौ॑ सा॒धुना॑ प॒था ।
अथा॑ पि॒तॄन्त्सु॑वि॒दत्राँ॒ उपे॑हि य॒मेन॒ ये स॑ध॒मादं॒ मद॑न्ति ॥
अति द्रव सारमेयौ श्वानौ चतुरक्षौ शबलौ साधुना पथा ।
अथा पितॄन्त्सुविदत्राँ उपेहि यमेन ये सधमादं मदन्ति ॥
Rush beyond the two brindled four-eyed dogs,
Sarama’s offspring, upon thy magnificent journey
Then join your big-hearted forefathers,
Who enjoy a feast with Yama.
यौ ते॒ श्वानौ॑ यम रक्षि॒तारौ॑ चतुर॒क्षौ प॑थि॒रक्षी॑ नृ॒चक्ष॑सौ ।
ताभ्या॑मेनं॒ परि॑ देहि राजन्त्स्व॒स्ति चा॑स्मा अनमी॒वं च॑ धेहि ॥
यौ ते श्वानौ यम रक्षितारौ चतुरक्षौ पथिरक्षी नृचक्षसौ ।
ताभ्यामेनं परि देहि राजन्त्स्वस्ति चास्मा अनमीवं च धेहि ॥
Yama, to your two four-eyed dogs,
Guardians of the passage well-known to men,
Entrust this soul, O King, to watch over
And grant prosperity and health.
उ॒रू॒ण॒साव॑सु॒तृपा॑ उदुम्ब॒लौ य॒मस्य॑ दू॒तौ च॑रतो॒ जनाँ॒ अनु॑ ।
ताव॒स्मभ्यं॑ दृ॒शये॒ सूर्या॑य॒ पुन॑र्दाता॒मसु॑म॒द्येह भ॒द्रम् ॥
उरूणसावसुतृपा उदुम्बलौ यमस्य दूतौ चरतो जनाँ अनु ।
तावस्मभ्यं दृशये सूर्याय पुनर्दातामसुमद्येह भद्रम् ॥
Broad-nosed, insatiate and of exceeding strength,
Yama’s messengers dwell amongst mankind.
Because of them, we learn how to enlighten our life in this auspicious world,
so that we may look upon the sun.
Dark and drear was the night. Driven by the furious gusts of the black rain front, masses of bi-coloured clouds rolled like lumbering beasts heavily across the firmament. A heavy storm was imminent.
Big drops fell from the forest trees, as they groaned in the gusts of wind, and beneath the gloomy avenue the clayey ground of the cemetery gleamed ghastly white. The darkness of the night was frightful, the darkness deepened until it was almost impossible to see anything. Clouds opened their fountains and rained so hard it was almost as if they would never stop raining again. Lightning blazed brighter than daylight, and the roar of the thunder caused the earth to shake. Ominous glows appeared at the tops of the trees’ black cones and scurried restlessly across the wasteland like fireflies.
The air was filled with shrill and strident cries, with the restless moaning of the storm-wind, the howling of the owl, with the jackals long wild cry, and the hoarse gurgling of the rain swollen river. The spirits of those who had been cruelly slain wandered with gashed limbs. The rain washed away earth until skeletons, their mouldy bones held together by blackened tendons, rose from their graves.
Wicked witches with shrivelled skin, horrid eyes, and twisted body shapes crawled and crouched over the earth while spectres and goblins stood motionless, tall as lofty palm trees; then as if having fits, they leaped, danced and tumbled. Tigers roared and elephants trumpeted, wolves, their rotten hairy pelts flashing sparks of bluish phosphorescent light, devoured the remains of human bodies. Foxes, jackals, and dogs fought over their prey while cats chewed the livers of children.
Then all of sudden something appeared out of nowhere in front of the dog, hanging down from a branch of the mighty Banyan. Alerted he lifted up his head and smelled what his failing eyes could no longer perceive clearly, there it was, a presence of enormous power like he had never sensed it in his whole life and a danger.
And then the dog saw the Vetala.
Its wide open eyes were greenish brown and never twinkled. His hair was also brown, and brown was his face. Its body was thin and ribbed like a skeleton or a bamboo scaffold, and as it held on to a branch with its toes like a flying fox, its tense muscles stood out like ropes of coconut.
The horrid creature seemed to have no blood and its skin was cold and clammy as a snake. The only sign of life was the flicking of a ragged little tail that resembled a lot like one of a goat.
The dog dared not to growl nor show its grinddown old teeth and just watched in silence as this creature of death stood now in front of him and began to speak:
„I am the vetala of Kumarasamy, Palayakarrar and freedom fighter and my brother was the great Veerapandivya Kattabomman, King of Panchalamkurichi. Among my people I was known as Oomathurai, they adored me and called me Oomee, as I used sign language to rile up my army in the fight against the British. I was feared by the scum of the East India Company, who sought to destroy me, the ‘notorious and celebrated chieftain’. They locked me up in Palayamkottai prison, but with the help of my people I was able to escape.
And you old dog, you might think that you are just an ordinary Indian streetdog, but let me open your eyes and tell you how important our faithful Indian dogs were in the struggle for the freedom of our great Tamilakam.
The Kombais are ferocious dogs with great history, trained to rip the hamstrings of our enemy horses. The Zamindars of Kombai had presented the Tiger of Mysore, Tipu Sultan and his father the respected Hyder Ali, with these dogs for their army. In the olden days the Kombai Polygars valued those brave dogs so highly that they were willing to exchange a horse for one, imagine that.
And I bet you didn’t know about that! You might thing now that you are not a Kombai dog, but just an Indian Pariah dog mixed with maybe a German Shepard. The British began calling your ancestors, the brave Indian dogs, Pariahs— outcasts and untouchables— as they have no understanding nor love for our great country. Your race, my dog friend, draws its inspiration from an ancient pariah tribe of Tamilakam. Since time immemorial Pariah dogs lived in Indian villages and cities and guarded homes and people, the rich and also the poor. Become aware and be proud of what you are and appreciate how your forefathers have shaped the 6.000 year old culture of the Tamil land. Its not only about the humans, also you dogs are part of its great history.
And now let me tell you about my family, the Kattabommu dynasty. When King Jagaveera Pandiyan had no successor to his throne, my forefather was crowned as his successor to the kingdom and in memory of the King, he gave himself the noble name Jaga Veera Pandiya Kattabommu and ruled from that day on with vigour and spirit. With my two brothers and two sisters we are the 47th generation of the Kattabommu dynasty. My brother Veerapandiya was crowned King in his thirtieth year and ruled over 96 villages.
And imagine that, dog, one day when my brother was on a hunting trip, he witnessed a remarkable incident in which several dogs chased a hare, which was running for its life. But suddenly it stopped, turned back and gave the brave Pariah hounds a chase! Immediately my brother the King knew that this land held special powers and constructed a fortress on that soil and named it „Panchalamkurichi“ to honour the King Pancha Pandiyan. Its walls were 12 feet high and it was made of black clay and surrounded by thorny bale bushes.
For eight glorious years my brother reigned as King over our ancestors land with great wisdom, when one day the British arrived on our soil and demanded that from now on we have to pay kisti, a land tax to the East India Company. Imagine that! The rightful leaders of Tamilakam should pay taxes to invaders of our holy motherland. When my brother came to know this, his blood boiled and he refused to pay anything to the British scumbags. He said: „We are the sons of this soil. We live with prestige, honour, and dignity and we let our soul die for the prestige, honour, and dignity of our land. We don’t bow down to the foreigners. We will fight until death.”
Soon afterwards the British cowards tried to take Panchalamkurichi Fort by surprise, at night, when our people enjoyed festival celebrations at Tiruchendur, but my wise brother was well informed about the incoming attack and kept our army ready. Our men fought so bravely that their Major Bannerman had to withdraw his forces and only when the Brits had received cannons from Palayamkottai, they were able to bombard our Fort. Of course the clay could not withstand cannon fire. My brother, our King!, fought strongly until he was injured on the last day of the war and lead away by our people. When another tribe, whose name I am not taking into my mouth, betrayed my brother and disclosed his location to the enemy, he was captured and hung by the British, so I took up the fight and declared war on those scumbags. With only 200 of my men and a brilliant tactic, I took back control of our Fort, freed my relatives which had been imprisoned there and rebuilt the whole place in just six days! Fifteen hundred Poligar warriors manned our stronghold and soon three thousand armed men, sent by my dear friends, the Marudu Pandiyan Brothers of Sivagangai, joined our glorious fight. What a grand alliance against the Company it became, when even the Raja of Malabar, Kerala Varma Pazhassi and Dheeran Chinnamalai supported our struggle for freedom.
From that time on, people of Tamilakam united, we began to constantly attack the British columns from all sides, when they had to cut their way through the impenetrable jungles of our blessed land.
Know that this dog, fierce and agressive hounds, Indian dogs! like you, ripped off the hamstrings of our enemy’s horses and fought alongside my brave men like soldiers. Our fearless Rajapalayam dogs, who guard since time of the Gods our homeland, tore British flesh to shreds and stilled their thirst with the blood of our enemy.
You have to understand dog, that you, as a dog born to the glorious Tamilakam, owe a duty to your brave ancestors. Now, you think that you have lived out your life, a life full of misery and pain inflicted to you by humans and now its time to let your soul flee from this useless, uneventful life, but beware, I tell you and you listen me to closely: Before you haven’t fought your big battle and brought glory to your name, dont think dog, you cannot flee your karma and your last duty to our fatherland.
Are you following me? Do you understand what I am trying to tell you? Know that only after every one of the brave Kombai and Rajapallayam dogs were killed, the enemy was able to capture the Fort. Only then. No dog left their duty and each one of them died as a martyrer and ascended immediately to the realms of the Gods. Isn’t it that what you aspire my friend?
When my brother and later also I had been caught and the enemy sent us to their sham court and held a mock trial over us, we hadn’t been beaten, oh no, not a bit! We walked with a firm and daring air and did not give up our honor, self-respect, dignity nor prestige. Boldly my brother argued for the right of our country and accused the British of their immoral and illegal occupation of our blessed land. The British asked him to request for a Pardon to set him free, but my brother, the great Kattabomman did not yield but said “Do what you want to do, you cowards”. This is the right attitude towards life and death my dear dog friend. Honor and freedom await you after you fulfil your last duty, which I will reveal to you in time. Just take confidence in me. You will be immortal!
Imagine, even the British sentenced us all to hang until death, they could not kill me. There is a fierce force in me, that refused to allow my soul to go to its rightful place in heaven, before justice has been achieved. Thats why I became a Vetala, a spirit of pure power with the knowledge of all ages and a mission to avenge all those innocents who died under the hand of the British.
Now you might think, why I tell you, a dog, all about my glorious past and not tell it to a human. The reason is not that the villagers of Edayanchavadi have given up their belief in spirits and abandoned this holy burial ground, the real reason my friend is that Divine dharma had brought us together today, in the hour of your death, so that we will give the fulfil a task given by the Gods themselves to not only change your karma, but the entire course of history of our blessed Tamilakam.
Be ready now to receive my force in your old body to restore it to youthful strength. Not now is the time of your soul’s departure into another world, not here is your place to die but to start living your destiny. I bestow to you my powers, united with your flesh and my mind we will restore justice to this land and offer glory to the Gods. Open your eyes, open your heart and receive me now!“
A young man, pale, slim, lanky, a pair of thin dreadlocks hanging over his face; one eyebrow is pierced by several rings; a flesh tunnel through his ear; arms, hands and neck are covered with tattoos, a pricked tear is weeping under his right eye. Damien is the name of the young man who made it from London to India, a shattered angel of once unspeakable beauty, whose suffering had burned dark circles under his eyes, made his hands tremble like an old man’s and covered his eyes with the sadness of a world lost.
He is sitting at a table and with his right hand he is dipping idli, a kind of round Indian rice cake in coconut chutney, biting off a piece, letting the wondrous, exotic taste melt on his tongue.
An unusual sight, but nothing like the Punjabi Dhaba, a small restaurant with a teahouse attached to the front that looks like a red and white striped circus tent, just off the busy Puducherry – Thindivanam National Highway 32, hasn’t seen in its many years feeding hungry travellers, schoolchildren and students from nearby Koot Road and even the better off from the surrounding areas, who actually could afford more upscale dining establishments, providing them generous portions of biryani with spicy chicken or goat, oven-hot naan breads and other North Indian dishes.
Last night, when the heavens had opened its floodgates and heavy monsoon rain had washed the otherwise busy streets empty of people, Damien arrived at the Pondicherry bus terminal after a miserably long journey from Kerala.
There he had explored the famous backwaters in the last few weeks and even spent a few days in the ashram of Mata Amritanandamayi, an Indian saint who everyone just calls “Amma”, mother and who hugs and caresses all people without distinction as if they were little children. Damien had heard a lot about her miraculous powers and hoped that her divine embrace would soothe his tortured soul, calm his unruly spirit and open his closed heart, but nothing like that happened. When, after hours of bhajan chanting by the devotees who ecstatically expressed their love and devotion to God in their songs, he, bored and utterly frustrated, lit a fat joint in a quiet corner and was spotted by a bhakti and immediately ratted out to the security guards —which resulted in him being kicked out immediately from the ashram— he was utterly fed up with the white-robed devotees, who to him were more papal than the pope, grabbed his backpack and hopped on the next eastbound bus.
The guest house where he had spent a sleepless night full of nightmares and anxiety rented him a scooter Just get out of this place, he thought, and drove off, through narrow, hopelessly congested streets, past run-down, formerly stately villas and mansions of the French, Dutch and British colonial rulers, along the beach promenade with Gandhi’s monument, until he arrived to one of the wide exit roads and left the city limits. As he watched a KFC pass by, he realized how hungry he actually was, after all he hadn’t eaten anything for 24 hours apart from a pack of chips in the bus, but he hadn’t come to India to satisfy his hunger with a fast food breakfast. Shortly afterwards, when he saw the circus tent of a Dhaba on the other side of the street, he didn’t hesitate and stopped in.
Those eyes, blacker than the darkest night, deeper than the sea, penetrating and direct, with the innocence of a world so alien to him, made Damien forget that he had ordered a milk tea, which the Dhaba Boy placed on the table in front of him. Dressed in a torn, soiled t-shirt, worn sweatpants and broken sandals, he appeared to Damien as an Indian prince who had emerged from his sweetest dreams and robbed him of his senses.
The boy was looking at him too, but it was out of curiosity, because he had never seen a Vellaikaran with so many tattoos and piercings before, even he had been around and seen a lot at his young age. When he was just twelve, men showed up in his village located somewhere in Bihar and paid his father, who was glad to have one in his family less to feed, a little money and took the boy to Delhi, where they severely beat him up and left him without food for three days locked a room in a run-down house. They then explained to him that from now on he was a member of a gang consisting of a dozen or more children who commit day after day thefts, frauds and other crimes on the streets of Delhi. For four years he had to comply, was regularly beaten if he couldn’t steal enough and was forced to become addicted to drugs so he could not run away. When he was finally caught by the police, sentenced to a year in prison and raped there by countless men, he seized the opportunity on the day of his release and fled to southern India, where he took any job just to survive until he found employment in the Punjabi Dhaba, which offered him a meager income and a place to sleep.
“You, Auroville?” the boy asked Damien.
Damien didn’t understand.
The boy gave him a smile and returned to the kitchen to wash dishes.
“Auroville?” Damien was confused. What did his Indian prince mean by that? Damien pulled out his phone and consulted Google.
“Auroville wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity,” the search engine spat out, accompanied by an image of a gigantic golden golf ball. A look at the map told him that this experimental township was only a few kilometers from the Dhaba. Damien had no idea what this meant, but knew he had to explore this strange place Auroville.
अपो देवीरुप हवये यत्र गावः पिबन्ति नः
I name the Waters, Goddesses, wherein our cattle quench their thirst.
Edayanchavadi Road branches off from the busy, raging highway like a narrow, gently flowing stream, asphalt road, riddled with innumerable potholes that yesterday’s rainstorm had filled with muddy, dirty water.
Skilfully Damien drives in between and around the puddles, gliding past waste fields of red sand and torn earth, bare and desolate as the bottom of a deserted ocean, and swerved at the last second a loudly honking bus that suddenly appeared around a bend like a tinny tidal wave which hit him head-on, covering him from head to toe in warm brown sludge.
An old woman, a bundle of grass wrapped in cloth balances on her head, walks past him, barefoot and without even a look. Cows, sluggish like beached whales, stare at him, ruminating, appear to be laughing and Damien laughs back as he dries his face on his t-shirt.
The journey continues, past undergrowth, thorn bushes and cashew trees sprayed with DDT. It’s almost midday, damp and muggy, the force of the brutal tropical sun chased the temperature to over 36 degrees. Only a few scattered islands of tamarind trees provide enough shade and become in the late afternoon and evening the meeting place for the men who sit on the ground, get drunk on home-distilled palm wine, kallu, methanol-laden arrack, cheap brandy or beer, play poker, and taunt their wives and last but not least, smash the empty bottles against trees, so that broken glass covers the land like an algae plague.
To the left and right of the road, rubbish heaps form bizarre coral reefs out of the waste of human civilisation, and mussel beds have grown from mountains of PET bottles. The wind blows around a few plastic bags that seem to be swimming like jellyfish in calm sea. Rain had filled a creek bed with muddy water on which stinking excrement-snakes float around lazily.
Suddenly Damien hears distant, loud barking of dogs that must have come from a huge pack. Turning his head to the left, he scanned the landscape to find the source of the barking and nearly drove into a herd of hundreds of excited goats which popped up in front of him seemingly out of nowhere as dangerous torrent of sharply pointed goat horns. He braked, the rear wheel of his scooter skids sideways on the pebble carpet that graces the tarmac and slams into the front leg of a black, malicious-looking goat, who instantly rams his hard goat skull into Damien’s knees, causing him to yell in pain and curse the damn goat at the top of his lungs. This in turn caused the goatherd, a black-skinned Tamil, naked except for a loincloth, with drunken, milky eyes, to raise his carved stick, threatening Damien and only after making sure that his goat had suffered no permanent injuries, he stopped his insults and astronomically exaggerated claims for damages and finally left.
Damien parked his scooter by the side of the road, still shaking from the intensity of the tsunami of Tamil swear words he’d just endured and staggers dazed down the embankment, stepping into juicy cowshit, moving towards a massive banyan tree behind which an old Hindu temple rises in front of larger-than-life horse statues and an evil-looking god. The banyan tree welcomed him like a protective tent as he stepped under the canopy, tilted his head backwards and gasped at the majestic treetop as if in trance. Suddenly he was six years old again and walking hand in hand with his grandmother through the oak forest behind the house, and grandmother told the stunned boy about little elf-like, mystical beings that lived hidden in the forest and that are only seen by people with pure hearts, she taught him that trees are friends and together they hugged many trees and let themselves fall in a feeling of security under the protection of a wood being of hundreds of years… and then just when he wanted to step forward and hug the banyan tree, he saw it.
A curled, fly-covered, trembling bundle of light brown hair with a whitehaired snout, an old dog that was in the process of dying miserably. Damien heard the dog whining, a cry of pain that pierced his heart.
For a while he stood in front of the dying dog and they looked at each other. Damien, helpless, powerless and at a loss. The dog, begging, pleading, hoping.
He had to do something.
Damien slowly approached the dog and crouched down next to it. He figured that this old dog might be some kind of a German Shepherd mix. The dog’s hind leg was a single open wound, smelling of rotting flesh, where hundreds of maggots were eating him alive.
He had to do something, anything.
Damien carefully picked up the old streetdog, who moaned in pain but instead of biting him, licked his hands. Slowly and carefully, step by step, Damien carried the skeletal dog to his motor scooter.
What now? What could he do?
Immediately he heard the distant barking of the pack of dogs from before. ‘If anyone could help, it would be the people with these dogs,’ flashed through his mind.
Since he had no other solution, he carefully placed the dog on the footwell of the scooter, turned the motorcycle around and rode at walking pace towards the barking and howling of the dogs until he stood in front of a large red-painted fence gate, which he opened and drove across a meadow where next to it a couple of dogs slept lazily in the shade of mango trees, taking no notice of him.
He parked the motorcycle in front of another gate. His eyes fell on a sign: “Auroville Integrated Animal Care Center – IACC”. He let out a breath of relief, knowing that there must be someone here who could help the badly injured dog which he was carrying in his arms.
There was a kind of courtyard he entered and saw on the left side a small house set up with a simple operating room, on his right a few dogs, housed in seven big cages, barked excitedly. Everything seemed very clean and well maintained.
Damien called out, “Is anyone here? Hi!”
Dozens of dogs responded with loud barks and howling and rushed to the front door, many wagging their tails, others with their back hair raised in fear, a few puppies jumped up and down the front door excitedly with joy.
Suddenly a fierce looking Tamil was standing in front of him: “What do you want?” he threw straight into his face.
Damien tried to explain that the dog he was holding in front of him needed urgent veterinary attention.
“Wait here,” was the short reply of the Tamil, who turned and walked towards a building with a porch on which a dozen or more dogs were happily resting in the shade, and started to talk to a woman.
A few minutes later, a beautiful, robust Dutch woman was standing in front of him, who introduced herself as Mareike and asked him a lot of questions about the dog’s origin and his medical history, while she immediately examined the dog, who put up with everything.
“Please follow me to the clinic, we have to clean the wound, which is very deep and full of maggots and bandage it.”, Mareike said, didn’t wait for a moment for an answer, but turned around and walked steadily ahead, surrounded by a dozen happily panting dogs. Damien simply followed her, carrying the dog into the small, simply furnished clinic, where he carefully placed him on a metal table.
Mareike didn’t hesitate a second and ordered Damien to help her, turning the dog on its side and hold it, while she would start removing the maggots on his leg. Suddenly Damien felt sick, he had never seen anything so horrible as a maggot-eaten leg, and now he was supposed to help holding down the dog and calm it?
He just did it, how he managed to mobilize up his last strength he couldn’t say, but for the next hour he stood side by side with Mareike, his eyes fixed on the dog’s eyes so as not having to see the bloody treatment. The dog put up with everything, sometimes his body twitched in pain, he whimpered and whined, but seemed to have understood that he was being helped here. Mareike bandaged the cleaned wound professionally and asked Damien if he could look after the dog at home.
Since Damien was just staying at a guest house in Pondicherry, he said no.
„In that case the dog will stay here at the shelter until he recovered and then we will bring it back to the streets. She asked Damien to help her carrying him and they laid down the dog on an old blanket in a kennel, providing him with water and food. Then she asked Damien for his phone number.
“As soon as we see that the dog is doing better, we’ll get in touch with you,” and she told him goodbye.