Reproducing below a post I wrote on November 15, 2005 - No, it's not due to laziness, or lack of inspiration, just nostalgia and a sudden longing for the way things used to be before the builders descended on my village.....
"Ultimately, it’s all about witchcraft and wizadry. Hogwarts cannot have a monopoly on magic. I won’t allow it.
It starts with a nondescript, non-used but fully functioning brass bell, set inside a 4 by 4 hollow square in the front of the left compound wall that was meant to house the giant red dolphin.
(The dolphin being the then mascot of the Goa SPCA, much maligned by all our trustees.
- Benny – “of all the creatures you could have shown as a symbol, why on earth a dolphin, why not dogs and cats and horses and the common cow?”
- Lt Col Nageshkar –“ people think we are fish mongers – when our three wheeler animal carrier passes by with the red dolphin painted on it, they think we are transporting fish” (this one must make my priestly ancestors roll in their polished marble graves – having looked down for centuries at the ‘fisherfolk’ – if you’ve encountered the cacophonous quarrelsome locals of Calangute and Baga, you will sympathise)
- Bharat –“are you sure red is a good colour for a) a hospital, b) a dolphin?”
- Ashley – “it makes us look like a tourist hotel”)
The dolphin that was delivered hours before the inauguration was a flat uninspiring piece of badly cut and poorly painted red steel, so I sent Clem off to buy a bell – “We have to put something in that square – can’t leave it empty, might as well be a bell – it can stand for anything you like, I don’t care, just fill up the square.”
People sometimes clang on the bell for fun. Sometimes to call the vets down the hill. The bell is where the magic begins.
It moves on to Leopoldina. A badam tree sapling we planted on Foundation day, October 4, 2000. Named after a local twenty something senorita who looked longingly at Clem, the Man from the Big City – during the mass. Everyone says hello to everyone in a village that houses 900 people, if that. “Hello, I’m Lynn, this is Clem, what’s your name?” “Leopoldina”. Clem does a double take. Turns out that was Annabelle’s code name when she lived in America while they were dating. Our baby tree is officially named Leopoldina. A clutch of elves live inside her.
(When the construction papers finally got approved we realized that we had miscalculated the whole project by three metres, since that’s how much forward it would have to move up, to make way for potential ‘road widening’. No way I would let Leopoldina and the corner stone be moved, even though they were technically quite out of place. So everything had to make its way around her, the pathway, the vehicles going up and down, the cashew tree above her that now looks down at her with angry frowns since she has grown right up to his lower branches. We celebrate her temerity every year on her birthday, she continues to cast her cheeky spell.)
It moves further up to the office block, that houses the administration, the OPD, and the angels dressed up as vets, nurses and general dogsbodies. Everything is spic and span, including Tixi and Toxi, the two teak trees who rise up from the Torda earth, right through the administration rooms, into the front verandah of my own home above. From time to time, the insects dance around them, and the toadstools pop out at night. In autumn, I turn into a sweeper of falling blossoms and leaves as they shed their clothes faster than an American stripper.
The front wall of the administration building that faces the road was painted over in aquatic blue by two young Warli tribals shipped in by Clem on a bus the night before the inauguration. Animal rescue and treatment scenes depicted by them show a nurse chasing after a bird with a needle and syringe that’s taller than her, among other such expressions of their typical triangular art.
(The addition of over two hundred plants of varying lineage, taken from Mumbai in the Grand Rescue of all Things Living at Gym View for over Twenty Years, (the said Gym View now having been razed to the ground to make way for a dazzling display of diamond gotten wealth) have somewhat hidden the Warli contribution and added a semblance of civilization to the place’s jungle appeal. Palms, ferns and cordelias rub shoulders with jackfruit, cashew and goti, and all blend together beautifully. The only rule being that there are no rules – grow where you grow best and feel happy, darling, ain’t no posh garden manicurists here.)
Up a long laterite flight of steps hugging the right compound wall, past my impossibly sloping backyard, back of my house but front of the shelter. We are now at the fourth floor by city standards, but at the ground floor of my house. At Torda, logic has a magic of its own.
Here lives Noella, nestling among jackfruit, mango, papaya and lemon, all waiting to grow up and bear fruit – hopefully, not long now. I carried her from Mumbai to Goa on my lap in a plane, her graceful young branches tied closely together to keep her trademark spiky Christmas tree leaves from getting hurt. Every year, she sprouts a new row of hexagonally symmetrical branches. This Christmas, her third new row has just starting reaching out to the other trees around her, and the fairies will skip past each row as always when the clock strikes twelve on December 25th, so that a magical star can come down to settle on her forehead.
By now, you are breathless. When you look up, you think, “Oh my God, how much further?” If you have a scruffy little pup by your side, he’s having a party. Hop, skip and jump, here I come. Hey cat, wait till I get you. That’s right. You have just reached the gates to the shelter, where Gingy awaits you with a haughty little meow. Her sisters are sunning themselves on the surgery roof, flat on their backs, paws kneading the air dreamily – you can see them as you go past the roof. Yes you do go past the roof, this is 144/9, Torda, remember?
Before you turn left at the little nookish entrance to the kitchen block, you are greeted by pups of assorted weight and colour, and if she’s not feeling too sleepy, Shalu will step up to say a polite hello too, while Philu will shake her bum ecstatically.
(Philu was named after the girl at the PFA shelter who sentenced her to death. Those were the days when other NGO’s sent us animals to work on since our own vehicle was on down time. Philu, the dog not the girl, had ‘untreatable’ mange. Dr Rathod set to work on his secret potion, made from exotic ingredients available at the local tinto. He calls it the Golden Lotion. Golden Lotion saved Philu from an untimely death, and sowed the seeds of an anti-euthanasia policy that I seft-righteously drew up. Mange is common in salty sandy Goa, and Golden Lotion has now become a household name in Torda – so what if there are only 300 houses?)
If it’s feeding time, they will all ignore you, pointedly. So will the staff. It’s not easy spooning rice and chicken broth into bowls, with cats hovering by the raw fish at your elbow, and pups scraping at your calves. Lucky will not budge however. She can barely stand. An emaciated Great Dane with a genetic hip disorder, she was left here by the Youth Congress General Secretary. Big man, in service of mankind, in abandonment of dogkind. She sits stretched fully across a strategically positioned step. You realise that the winding steps above were made only for the feeble, the rest of us must learn to take the slope of the hill in our stride and our rubber chappals.
The sloping roofed tubular maroon shelters now loom up before us. The inmates are quiet, dry-eyed, in obvious pain – some from the surgery, some from wounds, some from disease. They place their trust and hopes unflinchingly in the hands of the good Dr Rathod. He bows his head, and waves his wand, and they get up and walk.
(For those that don’t, further up the hill is a spot where magic touched my lips six years ago in a kiss that will stay unforgettable. Here lie the remains of Nixon, Jumbo, Bobby, Candy and many others who fought brave battles, played with the gypsies, and are still playing with them somewhere that is not 144/9 Torda, but as close to it as you can get. Ever.)"