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Dharamsala

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Everything in India Breaks

I hope you never have to hear a dog scream.

Our regulars were sipping their morning coffee and chatting about H. H. the Dalai Lama’s arrival. I was washing dishes and wiping down the counter, thinking about how great it was to not be violently ill. I had come to work despite being awake for most of the night due to a questionable pastry. If I was in the States, I would have stayed home and slept. But here, it felt unfair to stay in bed when I know my boss works two jobs; and the nausea had eased.

A horrendous high-pitched squealing erupted outside the door of the cafe. Jarring noise is typical, so it took a second to register that something was terribly wrong. I stood,  dish towel in hand, and stared blankly in confusion in the general direction of the stairs that lead down the alley next door.

One of the frequent customers ran out and stood at the door, her hands to her mouth, staring. We had to ask her several times before she told us that a dog had broken its leg — that it was wrenched, strangely bent.

The first number I called was incorrect, the second was disconnected, the third had no vets working that day. The dog curled up into a ball at the base of the stairs, and I bounced between serving drinks and calling every number I could find. The next shelter gave me the number for a different one, saying his team was already out on a rescue, far away, and could not come for a while. No one picked up.

I called him back, and begged them to come for the stray after the other rescue was finished. I had no one else to call. The shopkeeper next door started shooing the injured dog farther down the staircase; still on the phone with the shelter, I shouted, not bothering to attempt Hindi, and whacked him on the shoulder a few times, half-crazed with the stress, fear, and exhaustion. The shelter promised to come, the dog settled in at the bottom of the stairs, and the dentist who shares our building gave him a pain-killer.

Hours after the accident, a pet ambulance arrived in the midst of the lunch hour rush while my boss was on her break, having left me alone with the cafe for the first time. I abandoned the coffee and sprinted out the door, pointing, explaining, my hands folded in the deepest form of respect out of relief. Without waiting to watch them load the dog into the car, I rushed back inside and finished the orders, apologizing to the full cafe as I went. An older American woman who has lived in Dharamsala for seven years told me that the dog’s leg was not broken, because he was walking on it. Everything about her demeanor suggested that I was overreacting. When I pointed out the dogs in town that walk on crooked stumps, she waved it away as if that was completely acceptable. I served her cappuccino and turned back to my work.

The vets called to me through our open window, saying that it was definitely broken and thank you very much for calling. I brought my folded hands to my forehead and leaned towards them — partly because the window blocked my sight, but also due to my gratitude for their existence, their help.

Going to six broken ATMs is annoying. Having to call six times to find someone who can/will help an injured dog is heartbreaking.

This is an old story. Between random illness and frequent exhaustion, I struggle to write. But it is more than that: I feel as if the strength has been pulled from words, for me, and I must force them into a decent, barely acceptable shape that labors to cover a tiny piece of the impressions and experiences that this intense place provides. Sadly, the negative sift to the top, because they linger longer.

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They are Indian, We are Tibetan

There was a pile of at least twenty milk cartons on our front stoop yesterday morning.

Although there are heaps of litter everywhere and no garbage cans, there is a collection service — an open-bed green truck that charges up the road every morning — and I have never found trash like that in front of the cafe.

My manager discovered a small booklet lying amongst the refuse, one that is used to record orders in a restaurant — a particular restaurant (the name printed upon it), one “Taste of India.” It’s just down the road.

They walked uphill at least 100 feet to dump their garbage on our doorstep.

“Should I go down there and say something to them, or is that too American?”

“Too American. They are Indian, and we are Tibetan. There is not a good relationship between the two communities,” she waved her hands around a bit, “…”

“Conflict?”

“Conflict.”

She explained that there would be no point in talking to them, nothing would be done. I bet there was a bit of a peaceful Buddhist perspective in there as well; here, I am more aware of my American upbringing than ever before. We spent the morning discussing local stories of discrimination against Tibetans by Indian police, and I shared a little bit about Chicago.

Out of respect for her, I won’t say anything directly to the restaurant. But I stopped eating there long before this, and I am spreading the word amongst the travellers I know. Just a little organizing, just a little sprinkle of American resistance tactics.

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