A Delhi-ite friend of mine who moved to Madras, once explained why dating was easier in Madras for someone with intellectual leanings and no financial backing.
"See, in Delhi, you get the chicks if you drive a Skoda," he said, "well, at least a Honda City. In Madras, you get the chicks if you recite Pablo Neruda's poetry."
As most of the Madras chicks of my acquaintance don't read Neruda's poetry, and I haven't dated any man from Madras who knew who Pablo Neruda was, leave alone recited his poetry, I don't quite agree with him.
But I found a poem of Neruda's, which reminded me of just why he motivated me enough to learn an unfamiliar language. It's a poem I can relate to, too. Here goes:
Y yo, materialista que no cree
en el celeste cielo prometido
para ningún humano,
para este perro o para todo perro
creo en el cielo, sí, creo en un cielo
donde yo no entraré
And I, the materialist, who have had no faith
In a promised celestial heaven
For any human being,
I believe in heaven
For this dog, and for all dogs
Yes, I have faith in a heaven
Which I will never enter.
It's one of his most poignant pieces, and one that came to mind yesterday. My dad wanted us to block the window through which pigeons enter my kitchen. I decided to do a survey, to make sure we wouldn't be doing too much damage, and that there were no eggs in the nest. Having run into the kitchen with a war cry, and scared away the pigeons, I climbed the counter to look into the loft. Cuddled together, hearts beating against their soft down, were two tiny pigeons, pink and brown in colour, their eyes closed againt the invasion of their privacy.
Now, I hardly qualify as the maternal kind. I shudder when people show me wrinkled newborns, and didn't find the creature in 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' any more grotesque than his uncurious counterparts. But something about the twin pigeons, unguarded in their nest, made me hope there was a good life in store for them, and a heaven to get to at the end of that.
There's something about animals, I think, that reminds us of the lost innocence of humankind (not a reference to the serpent, this). Maybe it's because most of them don't have to work to live. Maybe they live the lives we would all like to - the hunter-gatherers of old. There is something about them that needs taking care of, that depends on one, even while being self-sufficient to all outer appearance.
What is this dependency about? Perhaps it's the fact that we have the power to destroy. That it would only take a well-aimed boomerang to bring them down mid-flight. That it would only take a sharp knife and a heated oven to get them on the dinner table. That it would only take a piece of cardboard fixed against a kitchen window to tear families apart.
Neruda's poem reminded me of a day long gone, when my brothers' pet strays, Snowy and Mona, left us. Snowy had eaten rat poison left out by the neighbour, and died slowly, in a lot of pain, while my older kid brother watched him. Mona ran away soon after. And when I think of those losses, these lines come to mind:
Ahora él ya se fue con su pelaje,
su mala educación, su nariz fría.
Now he's gone, with his furry soft coat
His bad manners, his cold nose.
And I hope there's a heaven, for all dogs, and for all pigeons.