From the edge of the road they have now ascended onto the parapets, to widen horizons or perspective(?); slouched in the asana of infinite patience or grooming themselves leisurely in the morning light, they wait, socially well distanced or is it t0 avoid a stampede should manna fall from heaven above? They watch, without lifting their head, sometimes only with one eye open as you hasten by, insisting on your morning walk despite the Corona curfew. Many haven’t eaten since yesterday. All the dhabas and tea shops are shut, as are the few chicken and even fewer mutton shops. These were the watering-holes for their breakfast, lunch or dinner, depending on how much and when they ‘received’ their last meal. We know how emotional dogs are about the-end-of-wait, but what must they be ‘feeling’ while they are waiting? At a crossing where the local buses stopped before the Corona restrictions, the strays are bunched, hoping against hope, for the pious old woman to turn up and scatter rice for the birds, muttering her mantra. Sometimes, she brings rotis too, which they race to get to, furiously wagging their tails. Where have the good people gone? A common, collective wondering among the strays now? Few managed to get a bite even then. They look quite startled though, probably wondering where so many strays have suddenly come from? Earlier, when opportunities were more, their numbers dispersed, the density of strays appeared much less. While many strays are still opportunistic, loose members of very local gangs, they switch and join any pack most likely to grab the few goodies that come their way. So much like the hungry and ideologically challenged MLAs that also abound contemporaneously. But these are hard times, both for the strays and those who have chosen to go astray.
Near bus stops, now mostly empty, many strays lie sprawled, pretending to sleep; some waiting for their human friends to show up; its been so many days now. Presently, a well fed, largish pet dog on a leash, constantly being tugged by his mistress, approaches. The lady is the one who is being taken for a walk! First one and then quickly joined by a couple of more strays, they let off a high pitched howl which the pet simply ignores and with his nose close to the ground, sniffing rapidly, determinedly ploughing into the now scattering bunch of the now near muted strays; of course, the lady making her own set of noisy commands to her pet (equally ignored), as she is pulled inexorably. The strays apparently are left wondering at the fortune of some of their brethren and how inexplicably the world is so unequal. Their reverie is broken as the garbage collection tractor-trolley arrives and most of the strays’ scamper to follow the loaded machine obviously hoping to catch a piece or two of any falling goodies! So many live on crumbs from the high? Anything eatable is welcome in these difficult times! Out of habit, the strays have been hanging around markets and certain shops; they are used to it. Now a days, however, with their tails between their legs and frightened expressions, the strays seem bewildered, not knowing where to go, as small, jostling hordes descend on the market between 8 and 11 am when the locked down populace is allowed a tight shopping window. Even the regulars bring them no ‘rotis’ anymore, forget about a friendly greeting or a pat! Have those times gone? Alas:
Bad times are upon us, an ill-wind blows,
That keeps all men, fearful and closed, indoors
When they do come out, looking distraught in masks
They scurry about, hurry with their pressing tasks
With scare a glance for wretched us, friends turned foes.