Today i am going to write on a topic which is quite different from my conventional blog posts. It was real hot Saturday afternoon when i was strolling around my home out of boredom i thought why not read a book. Just as i was about to go inside i heard a dog wailing in pain. And as i scanned for the creature all i found was a dog being stoned by a man. I asked him why are you stoning the dog and the answer was it keeps on howling facing my home. My dad is severely ill and i fear this creature may fasten up his process of going to heaven….
I was seriously taken aback with this statement and i questioned him back “But was this not the usual dog which used to daily sleep near your veranda?” And he nodded his head in agreement. I then asked him “Howling is really irritating and i agree but how is this linked to stoning a dog which never howled before… Maybe it is sufferring from some problem” and as i was saying this i observed the dog had contracted a very serious infection right behind its head. As the place was unreachable for the dog to lick and heal the wound got further putrefied and festered. The odor was indeed unbearable and i could understand how much pain the poor thing was undergoing. Without paying heed to what i actually want to convey he started stoning it and some kids joined him in the process. Finally the dog gave up and fled away from the scene.
I started thinking how much each one of us are caught up in the trap of superstitions. I myself believe in certain superstitions like if i see my aunt early in the morning my entire day shall be grumpy one… or even worse the day i wake up late is never a good day for me.. In a hurry i forget keys to my house door or forget my oxygen supplying headphones (Music is my oxygen) or forget my ID Card and then i blame it entirely on the “i woke up late” moment. Its hard to even imagine a life in India where one doesn’t believe in single superstition.
As planned i came inside cursing the poor irrational mindset of the man and picked up the much awaited book which was gifted by my bro Adarsha i.e. Of Love & Other Demons by the famous Colombian Novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
This was the first book that I had started reading from Gabriel Garcia. So i quickly gave a read to the Author’s appreciation from Various sources followed by the Introduction of the Author.I then read the backside of the book
“AN ASH-GREY DOG WITH A WHITE BLAZE ON ITS FOREHEAD BURST ON TO THE ROUGH TERRAIN OF THE MARKET ON THE FIRST SUNDAY OF DECEMBER”
this short line gripped me more… i quickly opened the first page and once again found this
“For hair, it seems, is less concerned in the resurrection than other parts of the body.” – THOMAS AQUINAS On the Integrity of Resurrected Bodies
These lines made me further curious to know what has this story got to do with hair and dog.
The book opens up with Maestro Clemente Manuel Zabala editor-in-chief of a newspaper who is informed about the burial crypts of the old Convent of Santa Clara which are being emptied as some 5 star hotel was going to built on that place. The first step was to empty the crypts and then transfer the remains to anyone who claimed and bury the rest in a common grave. A strange thing that happens when laborers are digging out a body. As the laborers axe the grave a stream of living hair of dark copper color emerges out of the grave and when they start excavating more the more longer gets the hair. When they measure the entire hair they find that the hair was 22 meters and 11 centimeters. The name on the grave would be SIERVA MARIA DE TODOS LOS ANGELES
A worker standing by the grave says that human hair grew a centimeter a month after death and 22 meters means this hair must have been growing since 200 years. Just as the workers says this Gabriel Garcia is reminded of a legendary tale which his grandmother told him. The legend of a 12 year old marquise with hair that trailed behind her like train and who contracted Rabies caused by a dog bite and had supernatural powers. The tomb became the news for Maestro Clemente Manuel Zabala but for Gabriel Garcia it turned out to be masterpiece book.
The book is simply written beautifully in neat 5 chapters. Each chapter highlighting the transition of the girl from her childhood to various stages of her life till her death by exorcism.
The dog bites the girl Sierva Maria which the Servant maid ignores by just doing a minimal first aid and the thing goes entirely unnoticed in the family. The girl’s step mother Bernarda Cabrera is a woman wasted in various bowel problems always. She doesnt pay attention to this incident. The father of the kid Marquis de Casalduero also pays less attention to this.The girl Sierva due to this negligence spends most of the time in slave quarters learning their slangs and their culture. She refuses to be a part of this English family of hers. She learns the ability to speak and sing in different voices and the slaves too get deeply attached to her. Once when the servant maid discovers that the dog which bit the girl was rabid she informs this to Bernarda who ignores this as the wounds were dry and nothing serious had happened to the girl after the bite.
It is Sagunta a healer for rabies comes and informs Marquis that his daughter was the first one to be bitten by the dog and the dog was rabid. In a frenzy he inquires about this with his wife whose reluctant response irritates him. He visits the nearby hospital Amor de Dios Hospital and sees the pathetic condition of a rabid victim who is tied to a pillar and is left to die. He meets the controversial physician of the city Abrenuncio de Sa Periera Cao. The doctor Abrenuncio says how bad is rabies and suggests one should either poison the victim or leave him to death since there was no cure for that and human body cannot withstand the plague. This completely disheartens Marquis and he brings the girl back to his house and makes sure she gets good care. Initially the girl comes with Marquis rather acquiescing manner. When he asks the girl whether she was bitten by the dog, the girl lies to her dad saying nothing had happened. Unable to see his daughter turning into a victim he visits Abrenuncio who says do her something which makes her happy since her days are numbered.
During the course of next 3 months until March the father and daughter try to bond with each other. Marquis learns to braid her long hair which was pledged to Virgin Mary that it shall not be cut till she gets married. He also tries to teach her some English Mannerisms which the girl would not learn. Abrenuncio visits to see the girl and asks Marquis to wait since there is no signs of Rabies for that little girl yet. Its then the actual war between beliefs and love starts. The father out of desperation to save his daughter seeks help from all sources which nearly takes a deathly toll on both the physical and mental well being of Sierva. The little 12 year old girl will be subjected to various unhealthy superstitious medications which disrupt her entire health making her weak and fragile. When she fights back those healers people brand her as someone who has been possessed by demons. Its then that a Bishop Don Toribio de Caceres y Virtudes offers help to Marquis. The Bishop then suggests that she is being possessed by Demons and she needs to get them exorcised by nuns from Convent in Santa Clara. Marquis religiously follows this advice and thinks he is doing it in best interests for the well being of his daughter. But things turn upside down and Sierva’s life takes complete U Turn.
The girl Sierva is being entertained in the Convent in rather unwelcoming manner. The nuns allocate a lonely devastating cell to her where they lock her. 93 days after the rabid dog bite a girl is being locked in cell where she would spent the rest of her days till death lays its icy hands on her. People start looking at her wierdly and are hugely amused by necklaces around her neck and try to steal all her belongings and when Sierva bites one of them the entire convent turns into hostile environment. She faces huge opposition from entire convent and more and more people come to see her locked up inside the cell. Meanwhile physician Abrenuncio comes to know that the little child is being left to rot in the hell. He reminds Marquis again saying its not fair to leave the kid alone suffer in such a dungeon from where she would not return alive after exorcism.
It is then Father Cayetano Delaura gets a strange dream where Sierva sat at a window eating grapes one by one. Each time when she pulled off the grapes , new ones grew in her lap and she was finishing it slowly as the last grape would mean her death.
When Delaura explains this to the Bishop, the Bishop agrees to handover this case to Delaura. It is then the entire story takes twist. Delaura initally visits the cell of Sierva for examination. He sees that the poor girls room was left to decay with remains of food and worn out mattresses. He examines her and prescribes urgently that the girl be nursed urgently and her bruises must be treated gently. He further orders that her cell must be whitewashed and kept clean. At one instance when he tries to communicate to with her she bites him off. Over a period of time she begins to heal and starts treating Delaura as her friend. Delaura insists the convent people to let her mingle with her neighbourhood cell mate Martina Laborde
Meanwhile Delaura reads all those forbidden books needed to treat demons inside her and later discovers that the demons are not inside of her… It is inside of souls of people who see her just as a person possessed by Demon and not as a little 12 year old girl. Its during one of the eclipses Delaura meets Abrenuncio and the 2 bond well. Delaura realises day by day he is losing himself for the girl who is bewitched by demonic people inside convent. At one of his visits , he sees Sierva dressed in her best attire and her potrait being painted by an artist. When the painting is done Delaura examines the potrait. It portrays the girl best dressed in her gown with demons flying all around her. Seeing this Delaura feels it is the society which is possessed by the demon and not the poor girl.
Day by day Delaura has sleepless nights as he is unable to convince the Abbess of the convent that the girl is in need of some love and some free non judgemental environment. But the Bishop, the nuns and the entire convent despises his argument. Its then Abrenuncio advises him to visit the Hospital and serve people and stop running behind the girl. Delaura reluctantly obeys them.
Eventually after many days he loses his control and rushes to meet Sierva in her cell and the 2 start bonding deeply. During nights, Delaura comes and gives her company throughout the night and returns back to serve people at hospital in the morning. It is during one such visit that he feels Sierva and he are both made for each other. He forgets that he is a 36 year old man and she a 12 year old girl. The 2 find solace in each others arms and eventually confess love. But Delaura never indulges in any sort of physical relationship with her as he still hashopes that the Church shall accept their relationship one day and they can be together forever.
During one of his visits he gets shocked to see the beautiful locks of her hair would be cut short as a part of exorcism rituals to get the demon out of her. She would be tortured to death and she confides with Delaura and begs for death but he manages to convince her that everything would be ok. But Sierva still begs him to take her away from the cell.It is during one such visit, he gets caught and he shall be banned forever from entering the convent. Its during this time the 2 suffer the most.
Delaura would be banned forever from entering and this shall be unknown to Sierva. All she remembers was the last meet where Delaura says he will come in 2 days to meet her and take her away from this hell. Meanwhile in those 2 days Delaura tries his level best to plead beg and convince everyone including the church. He even testifies the fact that the girl is not rabid and is just a victim of superstitions and false allegations. He tries to convince the fact that demons which reside in the hearts of people cannot be exorcised and tries to change their mindset but in vain. Finally one day, Sierva would be dragged from her cell forcefully and the convent people as a part of exorcism ceremony. The poor fragile girl fights all her strength to escape from the torture. But the nuns shave her head off and make her drink forcefully potions of holy water. After 2-3 days of refusal from Sierva to eat anything she finally sits beside the window watching the snow and keeps eating grapes in her lap one by one…
She tries to recollect the entire journey of her as a little kid in the blocks of the city to her ending up as a witch. She thinks about millions of questions which remain unanswered like Why did Delaura not return and make her rot here. The next day the warder returns to cell for last round of exorcism and finds her dead on her bed with her eyes radiating like new born baby and hair grown like bubbles round her head.
And the book ended
I closed the book and walked away towards my balcony with a heavy heart and found the wailing dog taking refuge in our veranda. As it saw me it started walking away and i comforted it by calling it back to veranda. I could see the relief in the eyes of the dog that someone had left it to die and not bother with stoning or see it with disgust and angst. Why are superstitions sometimes so harsh on poor fragile things on Earth??