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WHAT IS THE COLOUR OF YOUR LOVE- CINNAMON?

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           “Look at me Cinnamon.” I held the ball in my hand.

            The rust colored puppy turned her head. Her left eye was fixed directly at the ball. The right eye stared into nothingness. I tossed the ball to my left hand. Her right eye focused on the ball. She didn’t even move her head. “Cinnamon, what’s the matter your eyes?” I made a small circle with the ball. Her right eyeball followed the ball. The other eyeball stayed put.

            I laughed out loud. “Cinnabonita, how damn lazy is your eye?”

            She lifted her paw and took a swipe at my face. 

            “Okay, Okay. Peace.” I hoisted her in the air. She squirmed. Her body contorted in one direction and then the other till she wiggled out of my hands. Every miniscule muscle in her thirty-pound body will soon be sinewy and firm. “I won’t be able to do wrestle with you once you’re an eighty pound powerhouse, Cinnabonita.” 

            Auunhhhh. She cocked her head.

            I held my arms up to form a triangle “And your head will be this shape, your jaw will be square.” I mock punched her tiny jowl. “You, my sweet girl, will be feared. You’ll be discriminated against. People will judge you without knowing you like I do.”

            Aooor. She lifted her paw and I high fived her. She did it again and kept it up till she lost balance and tipped over, falling into a clumsy pile of dopey puppy.

            She pranced around me. I took pictures but she wanted to play with the camera strap. I pushed her away repeatedly and she kept licking the camera. Finally she figured another game. She tugged on one end of the lace of my yellow shoes.

            “No Cinnamon. Bad girl.”

            She looked away but kept the lace in her mouth. Then she backed up, slowly.

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            “Cinnamon, leggo’ my lace.”

            She jerked her head and backed up, got on her haunches and stared into my eyes; well at least one of her eyes did.

            “Okay, you naughty girl. Playtime is over. Back into the kennel”

            I picked her up and cradled her. She laid her head on my shoulder and enjoyed the ride back. Her soft, velvety skin tickled my ear.

            As soon as she got in the cage, she started whining like a baby.

            “It kills me to leave you in that cage too, Cinnamon. A cage is no place for a puppy, but all you get is twenty minutes of playtime a day at the shelter. Soon all the hard working volunteers here will find a good home for you where you’ll play all day.” I caressed the skin between her eyes across the cage.

            Aoooooor. Her whining followed me into the car, clear across the city and well into the night. Bring her home, Inder. I lay awake at night. Yeah, but how can you justify bringing Cinnamon home when Perry has been at the shelter for more than six months. It’s the classic struggle of every single one of us in rescue. How to turn down one dog and adopt another?

            Then the next week she undid my laces and the next and the next. It broke my heart each and every week to put her back into the cage and hear her whine.

            Then this past Sunday a new puppy was in her cage. My panicked mind searched the shelter for her. I finished my shift and came back home ready to shower off the mud the playful dogs had lathered on me.

            I placed my heel on the edge of the chair and started undoing my shoelace. It was too heavy. It wouldn’t budge.  I stumbled over to my laptop and typed an email to the volunteer co-ordinator.

          ‘I didn’t see Cinnabon in her cage today.’ I typed and retyped a few other sentences. Then I hit the send button and froze.

          Dinnggg

          One new mail. I clicked on it. “Yay…” It began. I didn’t need to read the rest. My heart and my mind were in a race. Everyone who has volunteered knows that feeling. The joy and the sorrow; missing a dog you love so dearly and feeling very happy for missing it, sending it all your love. The joy and the longing- we lead a blessed, sweet life.

         Fear not my fluttering heart- soon there will be another Cinnamon and then there will be another. Each of them will fill my life with more joy and more love for the next one.

        I love you, my lazy eyed Cinnabonita. That’s the color of love today; Cinnamon

        But just for today. Tomorrow it might be white or black… or brindle.

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© Inderpal Sandhu and inderpalsandhu.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Inderpal Sandhu and inderpalsandhu.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

JOHN’S ON THE DAILY NEWS

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 “I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t” Vidyut counted the money again and stuffed it in his wallet.

I tossed the car’s keys to him. “This is the craziest thing we’ve done–”

“– so far.” He winked at me. “If I don’t outperform all her previous boyfriends, she’s going to dump me.”

“She’s ditched you three times already.” I slapped his back and laughed. “ Slutty girlfriend, virgin boyfriend.”

“HOT slutty girlfriend.”  He turned the key in the ignition.

We drove across the crowded bridge over the train tracks at the New Delhi railway station. The traffic light turned red and children appeared from nowhere with rags in their hands. They wiped our windscreen begging for a few rupees for a job poorly done. A song from the latest Bollywood movies blasted from the loudspeakers and the children danced to its tune.

Vidyut bit his lip and faced me. The reflection of the red light illuminated half of his face. “Inder, will there be actual red lights? How will we know if we are there?”

“M mm m,” (I don’t know) I hummed.

The light turned avocado green and his lead foot met the accelerator.

“There.” I pointed to the green sign that read in white bold letters. ‘Mahatma Gandhi Marg’. Vidyut made a sharp right turn. Gosh, did they have to name this road after the ‘Father of the nation’?

I opened my window and stuck my head out the window. Decrepit wooden multistoried houses lined the street with paint peeling off the walls. Street vendors sold various unhygienic snacks to hungry hard-working day labor.

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The narrow street was webbed with illegal power lines crisscrossing the passageway. In the next few houses several women clad in bright gaudy clothes stuck their heads out the windows.

Vidyut dropped the car into second gear.

Oye chikne, idhar dekh,” (Hey handsome, look at me) one yelled.

I plopped back into my seat, “Vidyut, where have we–”

“Arre O Rajja, Majja lena hai to idhar aaja,” (Come to me), another voice boomed.

I snapped my fingers. “Let’s get out of here–”

“–Hello, Sir. Wan’t girl? Best girl.” A boy all of fifteen years old tapped the drivers window.

Vidyut rolled down his window. “How much?”

“Come up and look, Sir. All girls. No charge for just looking sir. You select. I give you good rate.” He gave us the Indian head nod.

The wooden stairs creaked under our weight. We walked into a room no bigger than a volleyball court. The dank smell of sweat and cheap jasmine incense fought with each other to overpower the hall. A man sat on a small platform with a harmonium and sang a poor song to a badly played tune. People sat on the tile floor and rubbed shoulders and elbows with each other.

“You want girl too?” The fifteen year old asked me.

“No buddy, I don’t have a slutty girlfriend. I’m the ‘hero ka dost’ (Hero’s friend), the sidekick Danny. I make sure he doesn’t get in trouble.

“Danny?”

“Danny Zuko…as in Grease” I puffed my hair.

“Like Vaseline, Sir. You want?” he stroked his finger.

“Nooooo… Grease… Never mind. Rahul…DDLJ,” I splayed my arms.

He sang. “Tujhe dekha to yeh jana sanam…chahihe mujhe bhi nahana sanam.” He guffawed. “You sit. Enjaay music.” He pointed to the lone open spot on the tile floor.

The second god-awful song started. I yawned. Come on Vidyut, hurry up man.

Thock thock thock. The fifteen-year-old body appeared in the doorway. He put his hands on his knees and coughed out, “Police-Run-Police.”

I gulped and tried getting up but my knees were locked in their position. In the next few moments everyone in that room scrambled around me. They disappeared into cubby-holes and attics and behind doors.

Five khaki uniform clad men entered the room. The lapels on their shoulder announced, ‘Delhi Police’. One of them barked. “What are you doing here?”

“Listening to music…,” I pointed to the platform in the now empty room. “Uhh… There were fifty people here… five seconds ago. I swear. Trust me–”

Tanne ko to gaane sunayenge ib hawalaat mein. (you’ll surely face the music in the lock-up).

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I blinked a few times. Handcuffs? I’m actually wearing handcuffs. And all because Vidyut… I gulp. Gosh, I hope Vidyut is–

“I swear it officer. This is my first time here–” Vidyut walked behind another office into the room. His eyes widened when he saw me. He thrust his shackled hands at me, “Inder, do something.”

“Dude, where are your pants?” I pointed to his smiley faced Jockey’s.

“–I’d just taken them off.” He crossed his legs.

“You’ve been gone for seven minutes. What the fuck?”

“Dude, I was talking to her. Making her comfy–”

“You blooming ass. We’re being arrested for you talking to a–”

The policeman shoved me, “–shut up and walk.”

We stepped into the police van and sat on the hard, metal seats.

“How many did you get?” The sub-inspector asked his constables.

Just these two, janab.

I turned to Vidyut, “Just two. Goddamnit. There were two hundred men and fifty women in that building and they got two. You and me. Rahul and Deepak. Danny and Kenickie. And you’re still a Virgin. How can this day get any worse?”

Vidyut smiled. “It just did. They have my pants and my pants have my wallet. No bribes will be offered today.”

I slid my fingers on my cheek. “Well at least I shaved today for my first appearance on the news.”

************

It’s been twenty years since that incident. It was the only time either of us made the news. Two lowlife John’s in the vast sea of hormonal, oppressive men seeking any means to justify their whims.

We grew up in a society where it is okay for men to look down upon women as if they were objects. Where it is justifiable to take advantage of oppressed girls those couldn’t survive any other way. This is the same city of Delhi where last year a woman was raped in a bus by six men while they drove around town. I am amongst the millions of people who criticized the cruelty and the brutality of that rape.

I’ve travelled the world and lived in several countries. It’s not just Indian society- men of all countries are afflicted by the disease or treating women poorly. In the US women are protected by laws- but the attitude of men going to strip clubs uncovers their unabashed primal instincts. The flourishing business of strip clubs and whore-houses world-wide is a slap in humanities face.

I put the newspaper down and remove my spectacles, “How far was I from committing a crime of sex.” Even before the thought permeates my brain I have excuses ready; We were going to pay for it. We didn’t even do anything. We were teenagers. I never did it again. It wasn’t even for me. I was just being a friend. Prostitution is legal–

–I gag even before I complete the last thought. What kind of a sick bastard am I? Admit your mistake, damnit. I pick up the phone and call Vidyut.

This is what I’ve learnt about myself.

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— I’ve shamed my education and my family for doing what I did.

— My demand drives the supply. I’ve a hand in the flesh trade industry in India; however small it may be. I have a hand in it. I had the education and ability to stop exploitation of women and I didn’t do a darn thing about it.

— My biggest issue as an animal activist is the attitude of people those turn a blind eye to the plight of animals. I turned a blind eye to those women.

— That never again will a single Dollar or Rupee I earn go towards supporting exploiting women in any way, shape or form. Strip-clubs, porn, flesh-trade industry; all exploit women.

— That never again will I turn a blind eye to the plight of anyone- be it human or be it an animal. Nor will I judge anyone till I have successfully cleaned up my own act.

That is what I understand by ‘Being Human’.

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© Inderpal Sandhu and inderpalsandhu.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Inderpal Sandhu and inderpalsandhu.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

THE AUDACITY OF…

                 By the time a human is wise enough to watch where he’s going, he’s too old to go anywhere. I twirl the fluorescent ball. Its fibers catch the ridges of my fingerprint. I wipe the saliva off my hand. A Doberman puppy on the other hand–

            The complex art of putting paw in front of paw, maintaining her balance and keeping an eye on the ball is too much for the puppy to handle. She stumbles on her own cast. I lunge to catch her fall and in one swift motion she snatches the ball out of my hand and hops into the open yard.

           I smile at her triumph. This tennis ball means the world to an eight-month-old puppy. The past is behind her; the future holds thousands of promises and a sea of sunshine.

            It didn’t seem like it five months ago when I got a call early in the morning.

          “We found an injured thirteen week old female Doberman puppy by the sidewalk.” The volunteer’s voice was more urgent than usual.

            I’ve done this a hundred times before but it hurts every single time more than before. I take a deep breath. “How bad is it?”

“Umm…”

            Gosh. “How did we find her?” I press my palm to my forehead.

            “Somebody saw her fly out of a pick-up truck at about 50 mph.”

            When will people stop taking their dogs out in pick-up trucks? Dogs don’t belong in the back of pick-up trucks. Like children, they must be strapped in with a seat belt.  “If she’s a puppy and she fell out, the truck must’ve had its tail-gate lowered.”

            “Yes, he slammed on the brakes and then took off at a break-neck speed. The witness said she flew out like a cannon-ball and struck the pavement. The driver didn’t stop. She’s been here since. Can’t move.”

             A lump forms in my throat. “Stay with her and keep her calm. I’ll rally the troops.” The call I make to the director puts the entire organization at Houston Area Doberman Rescue into auto-pilot mode. There’s a certain amount of mechanical synchronicity in the way we become when we hear of an abandoned dog. We act swiftly and deliberately; get medical help, identify a foster, estimate medical costs, start a fundraiser, ensure the dog’s safety—then we breathe.

             Finally we name the dog.

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             Yip Yip Yip. She jostles me out of my thoughts by dropping the ball at my feet and is pawing it with the leg covered in a blue cast. Messages are scribbled on it.  GET WELL SOON, HOPE. I LOVE YOU, HOPE. YOU GO, GIRL. YOU’RE MY HERO, HOPE.

              Hope. Yes, that’s it; simple, honest and straight from the heart.

              Aoo Aoo Aoor. She taps the ball with her cast, sits on her butt and waves her front legs in the air like a Kangaroo. I caress her head and playfully tug her cropped ear. “That’s enough for today. The cast came off your other foot just yesterday.”

              Aaoooooooonnnnn. She cocks her head.

             “Yes, little girl. And your E-collar came off yesterday.” Poor puppy has worn that uncomfortable collar for sixteen weeks straight; half of her life so far.

             She cocks her head in the other direction.

            I sit cross legged in front of her and run my finger on the fur between her eyes. “You’re doing great now. Yes you are.” She had a broken femur, a displaced and chipped left hind leg, fractures on either side of the growth plate in her wrist where her wrist had hyper-extended upon impact with the pavement.

               She blinks a few times.

             “Yes you’re very brave, Hope. You had some lung damage, radial nerve damage in your front leg and you pinched a nerve in your hip because you sat on the concrete for five days.” I put my arm around her neck. “Every bit of you was banged up, wasn’t it?”

             She presses her muzzle to my chest.

            “Yes Hopey, the doctor said even your heart was bruised.” I kiss her nose. “Does this heal your heart a bit?”

            She takes out her broad spatula-like tongue and licks my cheek.

            “Yes, Hopey. I know. I love you too.” 

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            This is what we humans classify as an aggressive breed? The ones who are indifferent to an animal’s suffering are the real aggressors. This puppy still responds to the one feeling that is lost on the driver of that truck: love. She doesn’t know she’s being rescued by a rescue group. The children who write on her cast, the foster family that spoils her by feeding her the yummy treats or by the vet who kisses his patient before and after each surgery. To her they are all the same- the people who show her love. That’s exactly how she responds to all of them– by showing love.

            Many years ago, when my niece turned one, I tried for weeks to teach her how to walk. She’d clasp her tiny hand around my finger and I would guide her. She would take a few flat footed steps, cross her legs, lose her balance and plop on the floor. So we’d try again. She’s nine years old now. When she grows into a woman and gets married to someone, I’ll watch her go to her new home and her new life and I’ll cry. I know this today.

            I’ll cry when Hope goes to her new home too.

            She’s eight months old now and has undergone three surgeries. Her puppyhood has been spent in hospitals, e-collars and casts. She hasn’t run at full gallop ever. A puppy masters the complex art of running by extending both its front legs in gallop, not worrying about stopping. It gladly lets inertia make it fall and roll over. There will be none of that for Hope but with the love and care of her foster Ms Carpenter and her companion dogs. She will run soon.

            The one thing the human indifference hasn’t extinguished in her life is hope. She is hopeful that one day her wrist will extend the way it should. She hopes that when this cast comes off, no further surgery will be required. She hopes that somebody will fall so utterly and completely in love with her that they will take her home.

            Yes, that’s what she has: that’s what we have for her.

             And now, introducing for the first time, in the red corner wearing no shorts at all, this black and tan girl weighing in at forty pounds when dripping wet- Hope: Our hope.Humanity’s Hope.

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 © Inderpal Sandhu and inderpalsandhu.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Inderpal Sandhu and inderpalsandhu.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Love-Love Match

-Inder Sandhu

             Quitters never win, winners never quit, but those who never win and never quit are idiots. I run my fingers over the yellow ball smoothing out the fuzzy strands. Wilson 2 embossed in bold black letters catches my fingernail. I stuff one in my pocket.

“Match Point.” Angela announces the score.

I bounce the ball a few times. My opponent swings his racquet in anticipation of picking a side. His partner smoothes her skirt and crouches by the net. I toss the ball in the air and arch my back. My opponent skips on his toes and moves towards the forehand. I change the angle on my racquet. When the ball is at the apex of the toss I unload with all my 170 Lbs behind the serve. The serve is directed at his midriff. He’s jammed temporarily and just moves out of the way of the hundred mile and hour serve.

Thud. The ball hits the canvas behind the court. Angela throws up her hands and I run towards the players.

            “Good game guys.” I slap a few palms.

“We just hope we’d given you more competition.” He points at the 6-0, 6-0 score on the board.

I pack my tennis bag. “Good game partner.” Angela slings her bag over her broad shoulders. “Do you think we can make the playoffs?”

“Dunno. Who cares anyway? We’re just having fun, right?” I spin my phone in my hand.

Yep. Who cares about Victory.

Three weeks ago I had driven out to our weekly tennis meetup with Veronica. “I’m switching partners. I’m going to play this season with Jacob.”  Veronica’s voice was firm.

Before I could react, Jacob walked into the courts and they did the ‘fake-kiss-peck-greeting’ thing to each. I stood behind her. Next, he clasped my hand in his clammy palm.

Is he going to kiss me too? My pseudo-Indian alienation strategies made me want to chew my fingernails. I stiffened my elbow so much that it wouldn’t have bent if I had to drink the last gin and tonic of my life.

“Whassup bro.” He slapped my back.

Phew.

            So the new equation was that I and Jacob were on a first name basis and Veronica and Jacob were on a kiss-cheek basis. She must really-really want to win. I would never ever ever ever change my partner to win a league. I swished my palm flat pretending to hit a forehand. What value is victory in my life?

The very next week I and my new mixed doubles partner, Angela played our first league match. We barely knew each other. We didn’t even attempt making friends. Me; on account of not giving her the wrong message. She; on account of not caring either way.

We lost the first set in a tie-break. We were down and out in the second. A great cross-court shot that Angela made left the opponents grunting. We made eye contact and decide to make a go of it. We pulled out the second set in a close 7-5 score.

            In the third set we were up 6-5 and lost the next game. In the tie-breaker, we were up two match-points. I chipped an easy return into the net because I wanted to be cute and play a low percentage drop-shot v/s an easy hard hit. On the next point Angela was standing behind the baseline. The ball was over hit and almost at Angela’s ankles.

“NO.” I yelled out, imploring her not to hit it.

Too late. She dumped the volley into the net. Ugggghhh. Two match points wasted. We lost the match on a very questionable line call. Amongst muffled apologies for not playing up to the mark we both left. I sang songs on my drive home, grooving to the music, drumming the steering wheel.

I reached home and text Angela. Well played. That was fun. It was followed by a smiley face with a halo on its head. Loss; the cost of victory? It’s easier to say who cares about winning when you lose…

Back to today’s match. We won the first set 6-0. We were up 5-0 in the second. I pondered letting them win a game, or to bagel them in the second set as well. The decision was to not give them any hope of a comeback. It wasn’t done for embarrassing them. They could’ve been boyfriend and girlfriend, or husband and wife. I should’ve cut them some slack so they won’t blame each other.

I send Angela a text message when I reach home. Good game partner. I add a smiley face. This one has a red face and the devils horns on it.

At what cost victory?

© Inderpal Sandhu and inderpalsandhu.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Inderpal Sandhu and inderpalsandhu.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.