My favorite dog is gone. White, brown, black, and smart, she was the #1 dog at Only Coffee. Every morning she met me a block away and escorted me to the coffee man, whom I often greeted with praise, “Best coffee! Best dog!” In this town of begging dogs, the #1 dog refused to acknowledge biscuits and sought only tenderness, most especially for her neck to be scratched, which she requested with the gentlest nudge, careful never to bump the hand that held the steel cup brimming with hot coffee. Every day without fail she was here -- but now she has been gone three days. Tomorrow I will have to ask.
The #3 dog, whom the other dogs usually do not allow near, was bouncing off me this morning, clumsily rejoicing in attention. The #2 dog, usually so cordial, appears nearly catatonic and barely lifts her head from where she lies in the corner. I think the #1 dog is almost certainly gone. Tomorrow I will have to ask the coffee man, “Best dog gone?” No emotion, please. So close to a street like this one, it would be self-indulgent to express surprise or upset when an animal is crushed beneath a tire. It happens. Yesterday, when I locked my door and realized I’d left the fan running, my first thought was, “If I get killed crossing the street the fan might stay on for days.”
The last thing you must do before you exit the ashram gates is eradicate any hazy wisp of dreamy peace that may linger in your dazzled mind because now you must contend with the street and people really do die this way, mashed right in front of the ashram gates, yes recently, yes foreigners, yes Ms. Curie completely dead.
Along with the towering roaring lorries, the buses with blaring horns, there are of course the beeping cars, the speeding vans, the puttering erratic rickshaws -- all in a hurry, all swerving -- but the greater difficulty is to dodge the motorbikes and bicycles coming in every direction, plenty without lights and all without helmets. One favorite strategy is to travel on the very edge of the road, against traffic, so that every road, however narrow, is actually a 4 lane highway. Reliably, too, there are the pricks who, because this is a difficult stretch of road, like to speed up, lay on the horn, and blast through terrifying everyone out of the way. Classic Indian traffic in other words, but keep in mind that traffic’s much heavier nowadays and most people are talking on their flip-phone while they drive and texting on their smart phone with their other hand. The actual driving is done with one’s elbows, and only God is watching.
Thus it would be ideal to cross the street with one’s full attention, intent on the task at hand, but unfortunately this is not possible because the rickshaw men, seeing you poised on the brink, assume you want a lift and putter along blocking your line of vision, which is anyway already blocked by the buses swapping passengers and a vanload of pilgrims who thought it was a good idea to stop right here and purchase melon. The beggars need money -- a hand, palm up, poked right in your chest -- and the holy men figure you could buy them at least a coffee. The dogs come by too and, although most of the cows that amble alongside the road are good-natured, others will abruptly swing their horns or even kick and you can’t really blame them can you, along a street like this one? Overall, it appears to be a conspiracy to distract you just long enough to reduce you to mash. Meanwhile there is a shrine every five feet, with worshipers clustered like flies, because the invisible world is evidently as crowded as this one, and because urgent work is available for as many gods as will hazard a visit to this world reeking of sandalwood, cowshit, jasmine and monoxide.