February 20, 2012. Qatar.
“This is a special farmhouse you should visit”, said my good friend. Not knowing what to expect, I joined a small gang of photographers to stay at this farmhouse. It was cold. We slept the night, and went out touring and photographing the farmhouse. Among a wide variety of domesticated animals was this section of the farmhouse where they reared goats. I have never seen so many varieties of goats in my life – rows and rows of fenced sections housing goats from ‘God knows where ‘.
While the rest of my friends were busy elsewhere, I stood watching some goats. This particular variety of goat had a very thick coat of fleece. Wondered whether these were ‘Cashemere goats’. I have some special attraction to goats; my parents at some point in my childhood used to rear goats, and I clearly remember feeding and taking care of goats. Once I even witnessed the birth of a goat (kid).
It was feeding time. I was leaning precariously against the fence, with my head, both hands and camera going past the permitted level of proximity. I spotted one big goat sitting, while the rest of the goats were all standing. When I got a good sight of this seated goat, a chill ran down my spine. This was the ‘Alpha Male’ (the leader of the pack). His eyes met mine, and they were locked focused on me. He was so huge, powerful and majestic looking, and certainly the biggest of them all. He looked like he was annoyed at my encroachment, and I thought he could be charging at me anytime soon, burying his powerful big horns into my gut. I gathered courage and did not move. Or was it that his stare was so mesmerizing that he got me fixed in a trance.
I am rescued. The shepherd arrived with the feed. All the goats were in frenzy, making all sorts of bleating sound, eager to feed their hungry stomachs. To my surprise, dragging the sack of goat feed, the shepherd went to the Alpha Male goat first. Why the Alpha Male goat first, I wondered? He spent a few minutes in front of the big guy, sort of speaking to the goat first, before he moved to the further end to fill several containers with goat feed.
With a mixed concoction of sadness and grief I saw that the Alpha Male goat was too weak to move to get to his food. His legs were too frail to support his massive weight. Sorrow and compassion engulfed me, as I witnessed the end times of a fully-grown animal, unable to get its body move where its mind wanted to. The shepherd then came back to the Alpha Male, and tried to assist the goat to get up and walk. Futile. Here is a compassionate man giving his heart and strength to assist an animal in need. Unable to watch this episode anymore, I left the scene after watching for a minute or more.
Later that evening, as the sun was deciding to retire for the day, I came by the same goat enclosure to see if the goat had made it to his feed. What I saw was something that I was unable to bear.
A truck with three men arrived. Their job was to pick up dead bodies.
My Alpha Male had breathed its last!
The men put in their best effort to lift the Alpha Male and swing him up into the truck. My dear goat joined two other dead ones to a journey that I too someday will go. I went over to see the lifeless goat up-close. The once tough, powerful and majestic male was reduced to a lump of waste bone and meat. His head was turned heavenward, as if it had said its last prayer before its final minutes. I looked into the eyes that a few hours ago had stared at me – not with venom, but with something else that I still am unable to describe. Now those blurry eyes were looking into space and oblivion. I wished those eyes could look at me once again, just once more.
Whenever opportunity arrives, I take the chance to revisit these photographs I took, and use these photographs to attempt to understand the meaning of life and death. One day I discovered something else in the photographs. I failed to notice then that a female goat and its kid were always there in the midst of the dying Alpha Male, even during the last moments.
17 September, 2012