Monday, September 22, 2008

In Memory of my Ugly Duckling

This rather (extremely) long post is dedicated to a very special life that touched every other one that crossed its path.

People who know me well enough are also as familiar with my grandmother’s dog Soththi; better known by her full name – Soththi Upalilaage Monalisa Katuballi. Don’t laugh. Both she and my grandmother took the name very seriously.

My very first meeting with Soththi was quite accidental and completely unceremonious. I was on my way to school when I saw a van in front go over a tiny shivering brown blob on the road. The blob was so small and still that it managed to escape the van’s tyres by being fortunately positioned right in the centre of the lane. I would have dismissed it for a piece of cloth, had not I suddenly spied two ears peeking up from somewhere on its moving surface.

Needless to say I had to shriek, stop the car and cause the panicked squealing of several tyres behind me. Just inches away from the quivering mass on the road, that turned out to be some sort of enlarged rat. On closer inspection, the mass turned out to be an actual DOG… still in puppy mode, albeit a rather ugly one. It was a bit uncomfortable to behold. Puppies are by default cute furry lumps of happy tails and drooly pink tongues. This one was…well…

The first thing you saw was its ribcage, which was causing all the shaking and shivering. With each feeble breath heaved, those ribs would stick out to allow counting. The rest of it was just as emaciated and covered in mange. Like a CSR advertisement for Somalia. A gnarly rat-like tail stuck out of one end of this little bag of bones, whilst on the other end panted the most hideous face you ever saw on any creature, let alone a pup. Sunken cheeks, sunken eyes and a black raisin nose. But the one feature that took the cake (or put you off the cake, as the case seemed) was its pair of ears. Huge cavernous bat ears that stuck straight up out of the top of a nearly-bald thimble head, invoking thoughts of vampires and demons.

See what I mean? Ugly as sin. But ugly never deters me, especially (no…wait… ONLY) when it comes to animals. A pup is a pup, and one that had just narrowly escaped death warranted my concern. There was no way I was going to leave this blob to die. I had to pick it up.
Picking up a half-dead, really horrible looking, diseased animal off the streets is one thing. Taking it to school is a complete other, because there was no where else I COULD take it at that point. I had to stuff the creature into my schoolbag to sneak it past the old but always-suspicious security guard at the gate, and then figure out where to PUT it for an entire school day. Keeping it in the bag wouldn’t do at all, given how piss smell never completely leaves books and a dog never stays still. My solution came in the form of my classroom desk. Quite conveniently, school desks are produced with a circular hole on their top-left surface… no doubt an innovation designed to provide ventilation to puppies being kept inside. I lined the cavity of my desk with sheets of paper and gingerly placed the now whimpering pup inside. It immediately blessed the desk with a puddle of pee before curling up and sleeping on the piss. Lovely.

The other students were enthralled. In the history of their schooling, no one had put a dog into a desk before. I was an instant hit as the weird kid. They kept lifting the lid of the desk every two seconds to gape and say ‘anaaaa’ in those hateful shrieky voices that only girls are capable of, and to feed the animal a host of goodies, including highland packeted chocolate milk. Puppy and I were both rather overwhelmed, but happy that we were getting sufficient attention. A few hours into the day and my Biology teacher decided to give us a test. This meant total silence, save the droning whir of the ceiling fan as we all bit our lips and tried not to cheat. Suddenly in the midst of the almost meditational calm of the exam, a long, high-pitched howl emanated from somewhere at the back of the classroom. My desk, to be exact. My feeble attempts to convince the Bio teacher that I was the howler were useless. She swept up to me and demanded I open the desk and show her its contents. Her admonishing glare turned into a stare, which then turned into something akin of a coronary attack. Puppy and I were immediately banished, despite the cacophony of ‘aney miss… pau miss’ coming from all the other desks around me. She told me I could only come back once I’d gotten rid of ‘that disgusting thing’. And so we trudged off into the horizon of the school complex, slighted… me struggling not to retort loudly on animal rights and the puppy struggling to piss out the overdose of chocolate milk.

I’ve always been proud of my PR skills and now I’m convinced that my schooling days honed that talent. Never more so than that afternoon when I debated, beseeched and extorted my way into getting the school’s hostel mistress to allow me the temporary use of her facilities for the pup. She was a cat-mad lady, and housed several of her pregnant and newly-birthed rescuees in a row of wooden kennels she’d built behind one of the hostel buildings as a ‘feline maternity ward’ of sorts. If there’s one place a weakened dog should never be kept, it’s in the immediate vicinity of a group of hormonal female cats. But the place would have to do for the time being, and puppy was successfully installed in a vacant cage, under the promise that it would be taken away by end of day. That whole day, I spent my time in class like a panicked mother on her kid’s first day in school. Every yelp, howl and whine sent me running back to the cage in distress, convinced that the fellow was about to meet its maker at the claws of a fellow patient. I soon learnt that puppy had cunningly figured this out and was using its vocal skills to its advantage.
By end of day I still hadn’t figured out what to do with the dog. No one in class or in any other was willing to take it home. My mother, I knew, would kick me out of the house if I took it back with me. I HAD to find it a home. Luckily, at the very last second before absolute helplessness set in, a younger student said she’d gladly take it home, but only if I gave her a ride. I gladly agreed, and we put puppy in a box and proceeded to her house.

One hour later Puppy and I were on our way back, with the girl having been grounded by her mother for even THINKING of bringing a creature that ugly into the house. Even I got a shout for putting nonsense into her daughter’s head. We now truly had nowhere to go. In absolute desperation we turned to the one couple I figured we’d stand a chance with – my grandparents. I knew they didn’t have the heart to say no to something like this.

“No”, bellowed my grandfather. “Absolutely NOT”. He was as black as thunder and refusing to consider any of my pleas. “What IS that? Is that a DOG?” asked a bewildered grandmother. It took me a good few hours to convince them to house the pup temporarily… until I find it a permanent home. After some time they reluctantly agreed. “Only for three days. You can please take it away then”, said the thunder.

Three days later, like a prayer, there was a furious voice on my phone receiver that had to be kept a foot away from my ear lest I go deaf. The dog would be OUT on the streets if it wasn’t collected immediately. A foster family had been found, I lied. They would be able to accommodate doggy only in a week’s time because they were in the middle of shifting, I said. Man, I thought…. I should go into writing fiction. In a week, the dog and its stinky poo would be out of my grandparents’ hair, I promised.

I avoided them like the plague for the next three weeks. The phone calls and verbal abuse became less and less frequent, progressively replaced by daily chats on what funny little canine stunt had been performed that day. It was a she, I found out. She now had a name. Soththi Upalilaage Monalisa Katubelli a.k.a Soththi. The more ironic thing was that she’d been christened so by my grandfather, who was also suddenly waking up at 6 am every morning to warm her milk and boil her breakfast beef.

A few weeks hence and Soththi had been securely (and victoriously) installed in the household and one couldn’t dare to even think of taking her away. It had been discovered that she had black birthmarks on her tongue and inside the padding of her paws. According to local belief, they were signs of luck; and you couldn’t find a luckier pup than Soththi. The constant cooing and cuddling she got at the hands of my animal-mad grandmother resulted in quite a spoilt pup. She was fed the best cuts of meat… ice creams for dessert… biscuits and milk at the smallest of whimpers. She had a ‘magic carpet’- the rubber mat in front of the kitchen fridge, where she’d sit and woof out snack orders. As if by magic, these would instantly appear at her paws. All of a sudden, the floor was no place for such a pweshuss darling, and my grandfather’s side of the bed was hastily evacuated for her sake. He’d have to sleep elsewhere or learn to share the pillow. In no time she’d fattened out considerably and her ratty-bat looks were soon replaced by quite a good looking silky golden coat, gentle warm brown eyes and a constant smile. That tail of hers couldn’t stop wagging. By all rights, with the kind of upbringing she had, Soththi should have grown into one of those Colombo 7 pampered pooches that did nothing but sigh all day. By all rights. But she wasn’t one of those dogs. She was mad.

By mad I mean completely, utterly, totally batty to the bone… a nutcase of a dog on a permanent sugar high. This was a dog to which one never merely threw a ball. Rather, the ball would be thrown up in the air, and she’d jump beside it… the game was to see who could go higher- dog or ball. She also had a routine demonstration of lunacy. Visitors to the house were treated to about fifteen minutes of being pounced on from every angle by a ridiculously thrilled dog, followed by another 15 minute display of ‘running in circles’ around the living room. Then she’d leap onto EVERY SINGLE PIECE OF FURNITURE in the hall like a computer game and end up on the one nearest to you, before offering her stomach for scratching. Woe betide he who scratcheth Soththi… he’d be stuck doing it until the end of the visit, with a bit of rump scratching added as bonus. When she was sterilized, the vet advised my grandparents to be gentle when handling her and to allow her the comfortable rest she needed, for she would be in too much pain to be moved for a couple of days. An hour after they’d brought her home and ever-so carefully laid her out on pillows to sleep on, they found her scaling the garden walls trying to catch squirrels. That was Soththi.

Her madness never receded one bit through the 12 years that she lit up that household. She hadn’t a care in the world and she made damn sure you didn’t either when you were with her. The gloomiest of days would brighten up instantly with one goofy smile and a pounce-hug from her. That dog knew just how lucky she was, and she made sure she showed her gratitude to us every single moment. She was more than a dog – she was a child. She had her own bed custom made, her collection of collars – one for every occasion and a myriad of treats at any given time. She was referred to as ‘my little Kella’ by my grandfather, the very man who objected to her existence at the beginning. He’d submit to her every whim at the drop of a hat, or a paw as the case would seem. He spent the last two years travelling to and from veterinary clinics, having Soththi treated for cataracts and lumps. But that still didn’t deter her from going happy-berserk whenever someone so much as smiled in her direction. No family gathering would end without at least half an hour’s reports on the dog’s latest activity. Through the years, she’d almost as good as become my grandparents’ reason to live.

A week ago, Soththi pounced across the universe to doggy heaven, leaving heavy hearts and an empty miniature bed behind. It will be some time before her foster parents get over her demise… I doubt they ever actually will. You couldn’t, if you knew the wonderful, funny little ugly duckling that was Soththi Upalilaage Monalisa Katubelli.

I shall miss her.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Afraid? Me?

Aney now see what that Divine woman has gone and done...inspired me with a post subject and made me feel all guilty for stealing her original idea. Never mind... I'm Sri Lankan and I watch Sirasa. Plagiarism is in my blood. But for what its worth:

Disclaimer - the topic of this post was somebody else's idea.

And now, on to all those little things that spook me out. I'm afraid...

... of being boring.

... of the high possibility of never being completely independent and free of obligation.

... of waking up one morning and realizing I made a mistake. A big one.

... of never feeling truly happy.

... of material poverty.

... of my own paranoia.

... of the ocean. (Bet ya didn't know that, eh?)

... of losing my ability to dance.

... of the dark.

... to trust.

... of not finding my passion in life.

... of losing my passion FOR life.

... of facing this judgmental world as the real me.

... of turning into my mother.

... of dying before the world sees me or I see the world.

Monday, September 1, 2008

One More and Counting....

Yah, it's been a while. Three weeks of non-blog living, four eye-opening work experiences, two lumps of dog poo on my bedroom floor and one massive case of upper respiratory tract infection long, in fact.

And now I'm suddenly one year older. Whoop de doo.

Suddenly, singing happy birthday just seems redundant, y'know? After 29 years of it, it starts to get a bit depressing. No more toys for birthday presents (unless someone has a big enough heart to get me a dildo or something), no more theme party ware, no more musical chairs and passing the cushion. The only music-chair combination nowadays is when I fart after dinner and the only cushion passed around is that kind with the hole in the middle. 29, man.... I'm one year away from officially becoming an 'auntie' in my own head. Sucky.
I voiced my misery on Sunday at rehearsals to a fellow cast member and she laughed, calling me silly. She's 19. She does not understand my ire and deserves to die because her stomach area still looks like a friggin' unused skating rink. My stomach, on the other hand, has a name of its own thanks to its growing personality. The rest of me is too darn ugly to name at all. 'Cept my boobs. Those are still looking good, thank god. I think they want to wait till I hit 40 before falling apart like the rest of my... um... Rubenesque self.

SO yeah. I'm havin' a birthday. To mark it, here's a list of 29 things about me being 29 that you probably had no idea about. Lucky for you, I'm suddenly in the mood to share...
  1. I still live with my mother. Despite several attempts to claim my right to absolute independence, I still come home to someone else's house and am still fighting over what I wear, how I speak, what time I come home and how I keep the room I sleep in. You'd think that after 29 years they'd give up on things like that. But no. Apparently mothers can sustain their ways for far longer. I had hoped that by this birthday at least I'd be enjoying solitude in my own place, but it looks like I have to wait till I die for that.
  2. I think I've found the 'one'. My best friend and happy drug. Yay. I love him, and he's the only man on this entire planet who's made me rethink my policies on marriage. Someday, perhaps I'll get off my high horse and ensnare the poor sod into a lifetime commitment before he knows what's happening and has a chance to flee. Maybe after I've hit mid-life crisis, if I haven't already.
  3. My hair's falling out. I'm putting it down to an age thing.
  4. I still haven't found my calling. When I do find it (and the finances for it), I have the perfect bunch of people I want to work with. I hope my Imps stick around that long.
  5. I can no longer gobble down infinite quantities of achcharu without succumbing to a bad tummy. This is depressing.
  6. I am increasingly aware of how unnecessarily petty, judgemental and completely wrong my parents can be on many things. That's a very sad thing for any child to figure out at any age, but for all their best intentions, I've realized they are pretty flawed. I don't know if my observations give me strength to control my own life more or just weaken it further, given the faith I previously had in them.
  7. I am no longer cool. I can't hang at nightclubs without yawning by 10pm, and I don't see the point in head banging. Help.
  8. For the absolute first time in my entire life, I actually hate some people. I mean really, really, wish-you-were-dead kinda hate. Eek.
  9. From a tomboy who couldn't fathom the virtues of lipstick, I'm suddenly this silly bimbo who actually understands the importance of shoes and handbags and I can't stop buying them. It is both worrying and exhilarating. I used to have just a few blacks and browns that would go with everything, but now I have pinks and greens in an assortment of heels and strap patterns. I still don't know why, though. This I'll figure out by 30.
  10. I have mastered the art of talking to my cat. We understand each other purrfectly now.
  11. I am becoming increasingly bad with punning on words.
  12. My memory takes a trip now and then. There are the mildly amusing times when I can't remember a name or number. Then there are the alarming occasions when that name and number are my own.
  13. I've started disapproving of the youth and their wild ways. Its bad enough that I call them youth. Lately, I've caught myself 'tsk tsk'ing at many a radical behaviour (considered normal behaviour nowadays) quite a number of times before hitting my head into a wall to keep myself from becoming like one of those archaic old ladies who serve you in school canteens.
  14. My ass is a thing of the past. Oh wait... I already covered that subject. See what I meant about memory?
  15. I used to have the time, patience and frame of mind to get through a good book in two days. Now I take a whole month to leaf through the Hi! magazine.
  16. I read the Hi! magazine. If that's not a sign of aging, then I don't know what is.
  17. I still adore cartoons and teen flicks. I can sit through an entire Disney marathon, and still fantasize about the prince in the Little Mermaid. He's pretty damn cute. It's nice to know that some immaturities will always remain unchanged.
  18. My waist size is no longer worth my pride and I am still in denial about it. I used to be a 23-inch. If I told you what it is now, I'd have to kill you. I promise myself that I will return to my young, slim self someday soon, as soon as I managed to complete that climb up the stairs to the gym after contemplating it with a mars bar. Meanwhile, I buy kurtas and kaftans to keep my body comfortable.
  19. I just admitted to wearing kaftans. That is the epitome of old-aunty clothing and I had no qualms about telling the entire blogosphere. Egads. Time to panic.
  20. I have attempted suicide twice in my lifetime and lived to tell about it. One thing good about this ageing thing.... I'm now old enough to know better.
  21. Buying furniture and linen suddenly makes sense.
  22. My performing arts skills have come along nicely, all on their own. I am finding out at age 29 that I can actually now sing pleasantly enough to not empty a room at the speed of light thanks to my voice growing deeper and stronger over time. Shah. And whether it's a good thing or not, my increasing mental detachment from reality (they call it senility, do they?) has helped my acting skills by leaps and bounds.
  23. Its becoming more and more pathetic to say I lived in the eighties and set a bunch of kids off into a fit of sniggers.
  24. Everyone I know is married, divorced, has kids, an alcohol addiction or is dead.
  25. One of the afore-mentioned divorcées came to me recently and squeaked " How are you Miss? Remember me, Miss? You taught me English in grade 6!" Then I realized how old I was.
  26. I can actually diagnose my own illnesses and say the names of various medicines without mis-pronunciation. Only the aged are that capable and this worries me.
  27. People come to me for advice. Me. For advice. They listen, too.
  28. I think I used to be a girl worth looking at, judging from the number of school boys who'd pay my brother off to get some info on me. I used to get a few stares, whistles and phone calls from fellows who'd send my father flying towards his air-gun and heart medication. Now when I eyeball cute guys, I have to slap myself for acting like a pedophile and stop them running away from the creepy old lady. And only the rotting wooden handle of the air gun remains... with spiders hatching eggs inside it.
  29. When I try to skip rope, I piss myself.
There you go. Happy birthday to me.