It was Navaratri, the festival of nine nights. When I was a little girl, we would have a doll show at home for these nine days. We would dress up the dolls in glittering paper clothes. My brother would paint his toys and arrange them neatly in rows. My parents would bring in showpieces and idols of all kinds and add it to the collection.
This was one occasion when gods like Vishnu, Shiva-Parvati, Krishna and Durga, would share space with toys of ordinary folk like farmers, merchants, milk sellers, and animals like tiger, cow and deer. It was like they had all come to our drawing room to take a seat!
The first day of Navaratri would begin with a pooja by my grandpa. The whole house would be filled with the fragrance of incense and flowers. The chants of the mantra would mingle with sounds of gongs and pooja bells. My grandpa would not talk to anyone till the pooja was over. And we in turn had to remain quiet during the pooja.
One year, my grandma had made all the arrangements for the pooja. After taking bath, my grandpa began the pooja. We were all standing with folded hands. My grandma was busy in the kitchen cooking.
Suddenly, we heard a donkey braying. My grandma was scared that this would disturb grandpa’s pooja. She went out to shoo away the animal. To her shock, she saw a stray donkey delivering its baby. The baby donkey had put out its head, with the rest of its body still stuck in the mother’s womb. The little one was struggling to come out. The mother donkey was in great pain. It was really helpless as it could not push the baby out. The donkey looked scared too.
My grandma realized that the donkey needed medical help. Only a vet could help her. Luckily, a vet was available in our very house. My grandpa was a veterinary doctor. But there was a hitch. He was busy with the pooja for another hour. Nobody could disturb him.
But the donkey was so much in pain, my grandma felt it was her duty to draw her husband’s attention to his patient.
So she went inside, stood before him and drew his attention by pointing her finger outside. Grandpa immediately understood that something was very wrong — otherwise grandma would never have disturbed his pooja.
He got up and went out to see what was wrong. We had never seen our grandpa get up from pooja. We followed him outside. There we saw the donkey in great pain. My grandpa ran into the house, brought out his surgical instruments. Using them, he pulled the baby out. Very soon, the baby donkey wriggled itself and stood up on it four legs. The mother donkey was relieved of her pain.
All the time, grandpa did not utter a word. Seeing both the mother and baby donkey safe, my grandfather took bath once again and resumed his pooja.
This incident must have happened when I was hardly three years old. When I was about 10, we all went to our village for Navaratri pooja. I was big enough to help grandma in preparation of the pooja on the first day of Navratri. She recalled this incident. I listened to her with an open mouth. She even showed me the spot where the donkey delivered the baby, outside our house. Just then I saw grandpa coming towards us. I ran to him and hugged him.
I’ve a mixed memory of my grandpa — he was a strict veterinary doctor who served in a government hospital, and at the same time an orthodox Brahmin devoted to pooja. But what stands out is his compassion. Even the pooja had to wait until the poor animal in pain was given help to deliver her baby!