Bethie and the Ragpicker

It was three days before Christmas 2012. I came upon Bethie, one of the street mutts dearest to me, while rounding a bend. As usual, she greeted me with her dark brown eyes twinkling with merriment and 24-carat love, the purest thing in the universe. As usual, too, I gave her a biscuit. She ate one, but refused a second. As I walked along, she paused beside a homeless man eating some rice out of a large leaf container. He threw her some tidbits, which she ate up readily. The man was covered in filthy rags. Someone had given him this leaf-plate of rice and condiments, and he was sharing it with another homeless creature.

Lily-Beth or Bethie is a fawn-coloured, smallish dog with some fine black feathering along the spine, the black framing a perfect semi-circle of lighter hair on the saddle. She is probably an Alsatian cross-breed.The fur whitens subtly on her brow and around her marvellously intelligent dark brown eyes like a frame of light around twin pools reflecting love. I had been trying for weeks without success to find her a home. She had resisted two attempts by me to put a collar around her neck. This day, again, she mightily resisted another attempt by me to put a collar and leash on her. My plan had been to take her to an animal shelter and park her there as a boarder until a home could be found for her.

Bethie now showed me that this street was, in point of fact, where she preferred to be; and that she wanted to be ‘free’ to prefer a ragpicker’s fistful of rice to my more expensive biscuits….I muttered to Providence under my breath: “Very well, I give up. She’s yours, please take good care of her….”

Over the years, I had lost three of these community dogs I had known to a gang of dog thieves who are said to capture these dogs, drug them, transport them to the rural interior of the state and kill them for food. We do not know just how these poor creatures are killed, having heard horror stories about their lingering and torturous deaths in places such as China, Vietnam, the Koreas and the like, where they are slaughtered for food. When one has bonded with an angel in disguise, such as Bethie, one’s anguish and worry grow manifold.

The paradox is that while life is meaningless without love, there is a crucifixion at the heart of all ties that bind. Humans know it, but the innocent Bethies of this world do not. They love on, regardless, because it is in their nature. Other things being equal, show me a mammal which does not respond to kindness and understanding. Further deepening and layering this paradox is that, for all that it may be shot through with woe, love is redemptive in nature and function.

In chapter 2 of the Gospel of St. Luke, we read that some time after the baby Jesus was born, his parents took him up to the temple in Jerusalem for the purification rite according to Hebrew custom. There, a wise and aged seer, Simeon, foretells an extraordinary destiny for the Christ child. Then he turns to Mary and adds that a sword would pierce her own heart. Such is the immaculate heart that yields forth purest love while being wounded. This is a part of the paradigm of the Cross and the theology of suffering, and not apart from it. Hence we pay homage to the Mother who loves and suffers.

Hence, also, my pleas to all my longsuffering friends to keep praying for my sweet, beautiful little Bethie: who, while being exposed to ‘the thousand natural shocks’ of these perilous streets, continues to go about on her blithe way, loving me, a ragpicker and whoever else shows her friendship and kindness. This is one independent-minded, cherubically loving and seraphically intelligent angel who happens to look like a canid. Anyone who comes forward to adopt her would, indeed, be both wise and fortunate.

~ Vasumathi Krishnasami, Bangalore.

There is no photo of Bethie, but pictured below is another community dog, this time in Delhi, happy to greet a local gardener.

~ Thanks to Rishi Dev of Citizens for Animal Rights for this photo.