Tia was the undisputed lord of the turf. Tall, muscular and regal, with tawny eyes of a lion, he generated fear in the heart of passer byes as he mock attacked them and saw them scurry all over with loud shrieks and giggles. Long before I got to know him, I had assumed he was a female of great beauty and hence christened him a very feminine, ‘Tia’…a name, to which he responded with great zeal and completely ignored any attempt at renaming him, Zorba or Sheroo, subsequently… upon confirmation of his real gender.
The first time I spotted Tia, he had his head buried in a mound of leftover biryani by the roadside and was gorging on it voraciously. He stopped only when the entire lot was over. As I crossed him on my way for an evening stroll, Tia was lying on his side, contentedly bloated, eyelashes and snout coated with grains of saffron coloured rice. He stayed in that position for what seemed like days. And then finally woke from his slumber, anaconda like and took charge of his neglected turf once more.
Tia found a way to the shoe-rack we had outside our home. Quite often Madhav, my son, would have to hobble down with one shoe, yelling Tia’s name angrily and would be rewarded with a dog bounding toward him with the missing shoe in his mouth, eager for some energetic chase and play early in the morning. Madhav’s shoulder would slump in defeat even before the game began…The days when Tia was not stealing newspapers from the neighbourhood homes or harassing cyclists would be the days we would get his undivided attention… He would rest his paws on Madhav’s white school shirt and peer into his eyes lovingly, getting a few pats on his head in return, thus, unfolded an unlikely yet beautiful, friendship.
Tia would wait till Madhav boarded his school bus and would then disappear for the day, only to reappear at the time the bus would be bringing him back. I would be standing under an umbrella in the scorching summer heat and Tia would be sharing the small circle of shade with me. Wagging his tail even before the bus turned the corner and came into view.
Passage of time removed the awkwardness of unfamiliarity and replaced it with comfort. Though fiercely independent because of his life on the streets, Tia would lie on the mat outside our main door and rest after a fight with other street dogs and let us tend to his wounds. He constantly reminded me of a cocky hero of a hindi film, his bravado and irrepressible spirit always surfacing, no matter what the situation…
After a long vacation when we got back, there was no sign of Tia or indeed, any other stray dog. They had all been rounded up and taken, even the ones with collars… We never found him again…
Sometimes, when I am sitting alone, a picture of Tia comes to my mind…a picture of freedom and joy, a picture of some being truly celebrating life…
`Khalwat` is a beautiful word. I had heard it sometimes but its real meaning eluded me till I went for an art exhibition and found this amazing definition describing the work space and life philosophy of artist Nasreen Mohammedi.
“Her art practice became her way of life, each inseparable from the other. The bareness of her studio resembled a Sufis “Khalwat”, a place for inner retreat meant for solitude, preparedness and emptying out of ones centre to become a receptacle of pure thought and light of knowledge.
Like the Sufis and Zen Buddhists, the artist practised the art of grasping the `barest form` of existence. A clear physical and mind space was a perquisite to her creative work that sharpened her powers of concentration and silent reflection.
The empty mind/
So that it receives/