This article is written by Sonam Tashi, a friend of mine, and senior journalist with Bhutan Times. It is very heart-wrenching and of greater significance on to what our belief is. This story, according to him, was inspired when he visited my house in last year's summer.
My cousin sister was long bedridden in the hospital. She was at the last stage of tuberculosis disease and the doctor euphemistically confirmed her death. Still today, I remember vividly the drops of poignant tears welled up in my cousin’s eyes, for she knew she would die sooner.
All her kith and kin surrounded her bed in the hospital after hearing the bad news. And I also went to attend to her. We, then, used to stay pretty far away from the hospital, and that’s why we had to temporarily move out at one of our relative’s places next to the hospital and the school where I used to study. We hardly go back to home fearing about my cousin’s moribund health.
After a couple of weeks, my sick cousin was discharged from the hospital because the doctor could do nothing to cure her ailment. When we reached home back, our dog ‘Bablo’ welcomed us with a strange howling. It was complete unexpected, a mournful cry. A long plaintive crying though. She, then, waggled her tail and barked at us.
Myth says it’s a bad omen when a dog howls at your doorstep with no apparent reason. It’s believed that howling dogs mean the ‘God of Death’ has summoned you at his court and it’s your penultimate day. It means somebody is hovering around to take your soul away. This is what my parents and elders told me and I believe it, very seriously.
“This crying of dog is not a good sign. I think we’ve to be prepared,” my mom said that night in a poignant tone, silently watching the dog cry. That night, a group of monks were invited home to perform rituals for long hours. Bablo kept on crying for no reason. My dad chased the dog away, but she returned and continued crying sorrowful. Like that, she cried all night.
My mom was right. When I returned home from the school next day, my cousin sister passed away. I saw her peacefully sleeping in her bed, with no sign of soul on her face. Tears springing down from the eyes of all those who were beside her. My heart sank so desolately, and I could not stop my tears too.
And to these days, I’ve been thinking about what my cousin might have thought when she, at her deathbed, heard the dog howling outside. That the ‘God of Death’ has summoned her at his court and has sent a messenger to take your soul away? Or did she think about the happy days of her childhood back in her village? Or she might have thought about her untimely demise leaving her aging poor parents back.
Whenever I think of the final day of my life, every nerve in my body goes numb. I don’t fear death but I fear the ultimate moment when I’d come to know about the time of death. So, at that moment, what would arise in my mind? Would I get time to chant my final prayers? Would my soul leave my body instantly? Or would I struggle, suffer while the soul part from my body? Oh! I think it would torment my thoughts, even if not my body. Anyways, since then, I was always scared and reminded of this fateful day whenever a dog howls at night.
But in recent time, I discovered something paradox to what I’ve been thinking about so-called ‘bad omen’ of dogs that howl at night. I was in Thimphu on tour, and I was putting up at my friend, Riku’s beautiful house at Motithang. There was a giant dark dog that I would often see curling next to the door of my friend’s apartment. Other times, he sat at the stairway of the building staring at by-passers with that cheerless grin on its face.
During my stay there, one night, this dog started crying in intense pain at the top of his voice, so loud enough that he could wake up all the tenants living in the building. And it was coincident though. Two days later, I was returning home to Phuentsholing. I was very scared. This dog’s howling, like that of my cousin sister, telling me that the death was waiting for me sooner. What? My time is up?
Next night too, the dog kept on crying, and it never stopped frightening me. In the early morning, my friend, Riku was so disturbed that he woke up from his bed and went out. I didn’t know what he did, but the dog stopped howling after he came back. I thought he killed the dog. But really, the dog kept silent.
That morning, when I opened the door I saw the dog waggling its tail in joy. It was, indeed, quite strange. Later, when I checked the rice cooker to warm rice for breakfast which I cooked for last dinner, it was surprisingly empty. Only then I realized that he had fed the dog in the morning and understood the reason why the dog stopped howling.
Instantly, the old memory gushed over me. My late cousin sister had been frightened at her deathbed when Bablo cried outside our house. This would have, perhaps, added pain while her soul was struggling to depart from ailing body.
Only today, I understood that Bablo, my dog, howled that night not because it saw a messenger from the court of Death God and to declare that a member from the house would die soon. It was, in fact, the cry of extreme hunger, asking for foods to fill her tummy. After all, the whole family members were away for almost two weeks to attend to my sick cousin in the hospital.