Here’s a modern fable about an old peacock and a three-legged dog – other than a Brahma bull and a king cobra. Mary beautifully explores how the peacock and the dog became friends. Layers of meaning are unravelled, in this story, exclusively in Different Truths.
As the sun went down a peacock sat dozing on the roof of his home. Nothing much changed in his day. He woke, ate and drank, he spread his plumage for the local females. The furthest pinnacle he ever reached was the top of the shed roof by his owner’s home in the local village. He dreamed of flying like the hawks or starlings far away to another country away from India. He longed to feel the breeze of the Indian Ocean and taste the salt air the starlings chirped about when they visited the local farms to raid the crops. The starlings mocked him like they did many other avian species. They were the tormentors of his plight. They did not have his beautiful coloured feathers but they had the gift of soaring through the air. How he longed for one day to be a starling or a hawk. To fly for days resting in other trees at night, to soar above the clouds like a hawk or to mimic a songbird like a starling. He longed for any birth but that of a peacock. How lowly it was to be so beautiful to the eye but so grounded to the earth when one was a bird. No matter how much preening and prancing he did during his day he could never be as majestic as some of the birds that visited the village. They chirped on about their adventures in the large cities. The seeds and grubs they dug out of the earth to eat seemed so novel to the peacock. He ate the same local fare every day. The soot from the cook fire sometimes billowed up and covered his feathers in soot. He was getting older and irritable and his plumage was getting frayed at the ends. One day a hawk was telling him a story about watching the local train leave the station and how the people were all bustling about getting on the train, loading luggage, finishing their chai and buying snacks from the vendors. The peacock could not imagine all of the colours and smells of the train station. He had only known the small area of the yard he paced back and forth in. His perch on the roof was his only solace away from the local dogs that barked and chased him around the yard. The only smell he knew was of the curry cooking on the cook fire or the sewage of the privy. Sometimes he smelled the soap from the water where clothes were being washed outside and hung to dry. The flowers drew him by the barn and gave him some respite from the mundane. Their cloying smell mesmerized him into dreams of flight and escape to the highest mountains. Soaring above hill country was a dream he could almost imagine until he was shooed and woken from his drunken floral daze. Reality choked him like a chain around his foot. How can I see the world if I cannot fly? How can I soar above the clouds or sing new songs if I am a grounded peacock?
So one day he woke up and decided that he was not going to stay in his yard that day. He was going to walk his peacock feathered self to the end of the village. He was going to priss and preen for the other local female peahens and get chased by new dogs at the end of the street.
His first new experience was the neighbour’s Brahma bull walking down the road. Motorbikes slowly whizzed around in respect of Sri Bull, his horns majestically raised in warning while he chewed the local grass. “Hello, what are you?” The peacock asked the bull. “I am a bull and one of the most respected sorts in this country. I may roam where I want, eat where I may and all around me must bow to my bovine nature.” “Oh, the peacock murmured keeping his tail feathers lowered. I am just a peacock. I cannot even fly like a hawk or fly in a group like the starlings. I have to walk the road just like the rag pickers of the village, begging for leeway and to find something good in my day.” “Walk on,” muttered the bull, in between bites. “I must keep eating to keep up my strength.” “Okay,” the peacock murmured dejectedly and walked on down the road.
Next, the peacock walked to a side of the road near a rice field. He was smelling some wild flowers amongst the weeds and feeling much better for his venture into new territory. Suddenly, he saw a pointed nose poke out of the watery field beside him. Up raised the head of a king cobra. “What are you doing near my field peacock? There is nothing here for you to see. I will either sink my fangs in you to stop your boring existence or you may wander into the water and get lost. I see no webbed feet on you to navigate the shallow waters of my domain. I was born to slither and rise and kill those who get in my way. I am important for I eat the vermin that roams the local fields in search of grains. There is nothing for you here, peacock, be on your way.”
So the peacock tucked his tail feathers in tightly and ventured further down the road. The sun was high and hot up in the sky. He heard many sounds wafting from a building and clinking noises there by the road. Inside people were eating food and drinking chai, it was lunchtime and they had to take rest from the hot sun for a while. The peacock decided it was as good a place as any to rest for a while. He perched atop a wooden post and bowed his head to sleep. People would walk by him and smile or chuckle wondering where the lone peacock had come from. One of his tail feathers had fallen down and a local child grabbed it to keep. It was so beautiful shining in the sun. It was like a kaleidoscope of colours when you ran your fingers through it.
Mr. Peacock was dreaming of circling the sun, wings spread and watching the world below. He saw the train station that he was told about and the people pouring off and on the trains that stopped. The noises were loud in his dream. The whistle of the train was loud and lonesome and the voices of the conductors were stern and forceful. The world below looked like an anthill to him. Everyone was scurrying around in a state of chaos as though a dam was breaking and the flood waters would soon be passing through to drown the lot of them.
When the peacock woke up he decided he might as well walk to the end of the center road. It would be enough for today he thought and the trip back home would take him a few hours journey. He was stiff from the post it was not like his roof or the mango tree with the low branch that he sometimes slept on. He missed his home at least a little bit. Even his food, the scrounge dog and the children who ran around him in the yard.
At the end of the road, at a cross section lay a three-legged dog. The peacock had never seen a dog with a missing leg before so he went close to it. The dog growled as he neared baring jagged broken teeth. “What happened to you asked the peacock?” “My leg got mauled by a passing truck and they had to cut it off,” growled the dog. “Oh my,” said the peacock. “However do you find the will to wake up in the morning?” “Well,” the dog began after a long pause and sigh. “I did not pass on after the accident yet to become a Bengal tiger like I always dreamed. At first, I did not want to get up off the stoop of my owners home. They cared for me so faithfully. They fed me scraps and broth and anything they could find to make me keep breathing while I healed. The little boy would clean my wound and wrap it and pat my head and sing to me. So I decided that this life was not quite finished yet. Now, every day I come down here to lay by the side of the road to remind all the passing trucks that I survived.” The peacock was amazed at this old three legged dog. He was not majestic and revered like the bull nor lethal like the king cobra. He could not soar high like a hawk or mimic songbirds like a starling. Yet this three legged dog impressed the peacock more than the others. He defied the odds and still walked the road and snubbed the traffic and meandered in his day. He was not bitter that he was not a tiger stalking prey as of yet. He understood his place yet he rose above it because of being loved by his family in life. “Can we be friends asked the peacock? I only know the dog at my home who only chases after me and the birds that fly in to tell me stories.” “Be my guest,” said the three-legged dog. “I have to go home for supper very soon and I am slower than I used to be. I will be here tomorrow if you want to waste more of my dog years with me.”
The peacock was so happy on his way home that he would stop every now and then and spread out his tail feathers. There was not even a female peahen in sight to preen for but he did it anyway. He had seen new places and met some locals and made a new friend. He even flew up on the post for the minute to peruse the area around the shop. Who cares if it is an old stiff wooden post? It is a wonderful place to watch people walk out of the cafe. He pranced down the road with music ringing in his ears and new smells wafting into his nostrils. He saw the king cobra crossing the road and steered away from it. He called a Good Night to Sri Bull, who was meandering down the road in the opposite direction. Mr. Peacock did not even care if Sri Bull answered back. He was that content from his day out. Once home, he had his supper and preened for the peahen and let the mangy dog chase him up to the branch of the mango tree. That night in his dreams he was not soaring up in the sky looking down at the hill country. He was walking down the road with the three-legged dog and drinking in the world around him. In his dreams and in his waking time he had found “Swarga Loka.” His peacock heaven on earth.
Now, this story is very simple and very easy to interpret but if you are going to dream of flying high or long to be revered …then be a three-legged dog on the side of a busy road. Or at least a peacock!
©Mary Kaye Huber
Photos from the Internet.
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