I don’t know him.
Most days I see him at a distance. And without glasses my view of him is blurred. He must be fifty… or sixty – I have no way to figure that out. I am not sure if he is thin or fat as he is always wrapped in a raincoat even on days when it is sunny.

On the Sodnac Link Road, I cross him every time I set out for my morning walk at the Leisure Park. He waves at me I wave him back. This pretty much defines our relationship.  At first I thought he was a person of disturbed mind, an itinerant – a homeless man perhaps, preferring the company of animals to that of insensitive human beings. Every day, for an hour or so – I see him feeding the dogs and the pigeons and the cats that accumulate in front of the secondary school that lies off the road. The motorbike that drives him to the place is old and visibly overused but strong enough to carry the weight of the loosely hanging bags of bread and animal feed and plastic water bottles. When he is not feeding the animals, I see him fixing his motorbike. Sometime I see him relaxing and eating bread… from the same lot.

Before the country’s planners decided to connect the southern part of Quatre Bornes with the Phoenix round-about, to facilitate more shopping at the Jumbo Supermarket, a thick vegetation of tropical plants covered the area. Dogs that were discarded by their masters and those whose owners left the country and who died or those who became sick, found refuge in the isolated spots there – where a school has come up now. Slightly left is my apartment block and in between another shopping centre has emerged. After their feed, the dogs hang out in the parking space of the shopping centre, visibly satisfied – wagging their expectant tails at the passersby fishing for some affection or lounging around uncaringly until the late morning when the first set of customers have arrived and then they disappear.

I am not sure if they miss their homes or their masters and I don’t dare look into their eyes to assess that. But they must be rather upset at being discarded despite the unconditional love and the loyalty they would have offered to their masters or the attention and playfulness they would have showered on the kids of the house or the incessant company they would have kept of the uncared old. Or perhaps understanding the practical compulsions, material demands, human failings and the uncertainties and challenges of modern life – forgiven them.

Sometime I wonder what prompts people to give up on their early morning sleep to feed stray dogs while others leave them on the same streets to die and still others who will periodically arrive in large vans to take them away and put them to permanent sleep even before their time has come – wasting all the love and the food.
Perhaps these people exist to remind us of our own humanity that we so routinely dismiss – that our biggest joys lie in sustaining life. And in giving – particularly to those who are incapable of acknowledging it or providing anything in return.

BALJINDER SHARMA