Rana Preet Gill
They wait for devotees, day and night. In the mornings, they sit with hungry eyes waiting for morsels of food that the devout bring when they come to pray at the shrine. They look like guardians of the pious place. After all, they are not ordinary mongrels, they are the dogs of the shrine. We used to think they must be having a little bit of heavenly charisma because they dwell at a sacred place. We named them the shrine dogs, as they sat like sentries watching all movement carefully.
The shrine, we have no idea who built it, was actually a few stones placed alongside the road by a faithful, who must have come searching for solace. He must have sat there trying to decipher the meaning of life. While leaving he must have left a thread, a coconut and some words of prayer. Someone must have seen him praying and the word of mouth must have spread, and then, more people came in search of miracles. They placed more bricks and cemented them and coloured the whole place in effervescent hues.
Over the next few days, we watched the new developments around the place. A few beggar kids would come and stand beside the men building the shrine, but they would be shooed away. ‘Go away, we are making a place for gods! You are not required here.’ And the kids would look at one another, wondering if the gods really need a lavish place to live. The kids laughed and made fun of them, for finding their gods at the most unexpected places.
The men shooed away the kids, but welcomed the dogs. We heard, they told someone, that dogs are more faithful than humans, so it is better to let them stay. They fed the dogs, as the beggar kids looked perplexed at this anomaly. One day, a kid went near the dog and picked up an extra roti not consumed by it. The dog slept soundly as the kid happily ate the remnants of its meal.
After building the shrine, the men went away and spread the word that this is the house of the gods and everyone is free to worship. The dogs were made incharge of the place and people started coming in droves. They would feed the dogs, who would roam with elan and became territorial. They allowed only those inside, who fed them. The ones who came empty-handed experienced their aggression.
We went inside the shrine once, full of hope and expectations, but the place looked bereft of any sanctity. There were pictures, idols and some holy books, but where was God? Outside, the shrine dogs were waiting for their own share of food. We, like others, fed them, but came out dejected.
A little away from the shrine, the little beggar kids were giggling. We sat with them and found a joy so inexplicable. That day, we came to know where God was. The poor kids had carried His essence all along in their hearts, and people were worshipping a place that was merely an empty facade guarded by the dogs.
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