Thursday, December 15, 2005

Old Man And The Puppies

Reflection on the nature of human kindness

Last Saturday, my friend Shimjith and I were returning to our house after buying some eggs and some biscuits to have for breakfast. It was a cloudy, gloomy day and we had gotten up rather late; it must have been 11 o' clock or so.

We were just a couple of buildings from home when a litter of puppies came running towards us. The neighbourhood stray had given birth to four puppies a couple of weeks back. There were only three of them left now though; one had been killed in a road accident. Of the the remaining three, one was tan (cute and chubby), one was black-and-white (the most energetic of the lot) and the other white (the cutest one). The puppies started nibbling at my toes, which stuck out from my slippers.

Till that day though, I'd just admired the puppy-pack from a distance. I had not befriended them or given them food previously, so I was a bit surprised. Why should they have come to me and not to Shimjith? He was the one holding the food-packets. Why should they be nibbling at my toes and not his?

Shimjith hypothesized 'Freud'ulently, later, that it was probably because his feet were covered and because my toes would have seemed like their mother's nipples to them and they were hungry! I scoffed at his wild conjecture and said smugly that it was because "the innocents know goodness and abhor the evil; they just know.". (Though I knew very well that it was probably because of my smelly feet and puppies love yuckiness!)

The puppies dispelled the gloom of the day with their exuberant playfulness and lifted my heart. I was amused, so I decided to give them some biscuits. Now, they were very young and had not yet been weaned and it was unlikely that they would eat it. Even so, I opened a pack of biscuit and crushed three pieces and laid them on the pavement. The trio sniffed at it and playfully licked the biscuit-powder but largely left it as it was. Stranger's Biscuits? Mother's milk better anyday! Thanks, but pooh! They returned to their play.

All of a sudden, I noticed that an old man, a vagrant, was observing this 'extravagant' splurge on thankless puppy brats, with wistful forlornness. I'm hungry too, he seemed to be thinking, but I'm not cute, I'm not young. Who will bother?

I wanted to help. Should I go and offer the pack of biscuits to him? That could be insulting - I would be equating him with dogs. Maybe a new pack? Eggs? I was confused. What if he hadn't been thinking what I'd thought he'd been thinking? Maybe he was just sad because he wanted to feed the puppies too? Too many ifs. I took the easy way out. I decided to turn a blind eye. But just before getting into our compound, I spied that the old man was gathering the biscuits and was, ostensibly, trying to feed the puppies, but the helpless pang of hunger in his manner was unmistakable.

I asked Shimjith what I should have done. He hadn't noticed it seemed, he had been observing the puppies. I explained to him and Jeswin (another friend) what had been said in unspoken glances, and my reasons for doing what I had (not) done. They said that we should go and offer a pack of biscuits to him. I told them that I would be too ashamed to come, that the regret of not having done the same earlier embarassed me greatly - my shame turned my feet to stone.

They went. I stayed back - the same reason why people don't really like to go for funerals - it's kind but very sad.

"Did he take it?", I asked him.
"Yes...but...," Shimjith replied, "He refused it at first. He said no. But when we turned back towards the house and started walking, he called us back and asked for it."

Why did the old man refuse the biscuit initially?
Why didn't I go along?
Why was I unhesitant to feed the puppies (another species!) who didn't want it but so hesitant to feed the old man who desperately needed it?

- Thomas Jay Cubb

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