One day, Shen spotted a mother-dog at the gate of the mansion, with four little puppies behind her. He rushed towards the gate to drive the dog away.
Shen lived in a huge mansion in a village. The house, which was located in the middle of a sprawling compound, dated back two centuries or more. It had more than ten bedrooms (in addition to many other rooms) and was meant to accommodate a large joint family. It was the most prominent structure for miles around.
Once home to almost forty people spanning four generations, the only people who lived in the mansion now were Shen, his aged mother and three domestic help…along with a dozen or so what Shen’s mother called ‘guests of God’: ‘stray’ dogs and cats who wandered in and out of the house as they pleased. “God sends these creatures to us to feed and love,” Shen’s mother would explain. “Serving these guests of God is a way to serve God.”
Shen didn’t agree with his mother’s views about the animals. He thought they were an utter nuisance. “Why waste money on feeding them?” he would badger his mother. But she would give the same reply, about the animals being ‘guests’ sent by God who should be loved and served.
When Shen’s mother died and he became the ‘owner’ of the house, among the first things he did was to instruct the ‘servants’ to strictly forbid the dogs and cats from entering the compound. The ‘servants’ didn’t like the idea they remembered what Shen’s mother had taught them about the animals being guests of God but they were too scared of Shen to question him.
Shortly afterwards, Shen hit upon an idea. He decided to convert the mansion into a money-spinning hotel. He got professional designers to do up the building, spending for this purpose a good portion of the money he inherited from his mother. Then, he hired an advertising firm to run a media campaign, promoting the mansion as a ‘tropical resort’, ‘an ideal getaway from the urban chaos’.
The hotel proved to be an instant hit to begin with, that is. Urbanites with plenty of cash to waste flocked to the hotel, on the weekends especially, when there was much dancing and feasting and heavy drinking. For the so-called celebrities of town, it was the place to be and to be seen.
Now, it had been just a few weeks since Shen’s mother had died, and so the guests of God, who had been visiting the mansion for years, hadn’t realised that they were longer wanted there. Every day, a couple of cats and a pack of dogs would slip into the compound which had been their home for years in the hope of being fed, only to meet with stones and sticks and fiery abuse from Shen. “Chase them all out. Break their legs and beat them black and blue if they dare come in” he would bark at his ‘servants’. “If they hang around here, we’ll lose our customers they don’t want these creatures here.”
Shen’s strong-arm tactics had already caused the death of a puppy. Two dogs had turned lame and a cat had lost an eye as a result of Shen’s stone-pelting.
The hotel did brisk business for some months. But soon, the flood of customers turned into a trickle, and not even half a year after it had opened business turned so bad that it was with difficulty that the hotel would get a single customer in a week! Shen was at his wits’ end, unable to understand why. The fact that he had spent much of the money he had inherited on the hotel made things even worse for him. The collapse of his hotel venture rapidly turned him into a psychological wreck. He would spend hours locked up in his room, drinking heavily and not wanting to face the world.
One day, Shen spotted a mother-dog at the gate of the mansion, with four little puppies behind her. He rushed towards the gate to drive the dog away. But before he got there, Muji, the gardener, called out to him. “Sir, please don’t chase away the dog. It has innocent hungry babies with it, and they haven’t eaten for days. You can see their ribs sticking out! It’s such a pathetic sight. If your mother were still here, she would never have sent them away. She would have instructed me to call them in and give them milk and bread and things like that. You remember, don’t you, that she would call them ‘guests of God?’” Muji said.
Muji was an old man, who had come to the mansion to work as a young man, even before Shen was born. He had spent many years in Shen’s mother’s service and was one of her few trusted confidantes. That is why although he was, as Shen considered him, ‘simply a gardener’, Shen couldn’t dismiss him lightly or answer him back. He stopped in his tracks while Muji continued.
“And Sir, now that I have at last spoken out, let me tell you something else. You’ve completely wasted your mother’s money, turning this beautiful house into a cheap hotel, where all sorts of shady characters flock. Your mother and all your ancestors would have been appalled,” Muji berated Shen.
“And do you want to know why almost no guests come to your hotel now?” Muji went on. “It is because you have turned away the ‘guests of God’, like this dog and her hungry babies, who have been coming here all these years and whom your mother served with love and devotion till her last day.”
Muji’s words struck Shen like a bolt from the blue. An image of his mother feeding the cats and dogs and lovingly conversing with them flashed in his mind’s eye for a brief moment, and he realised how right Muji was.
“You may accept my words or reject them,” Muji continued, “but I know well that your misery won’t end unless you receive back into this house with honour and love the guests of God these cats and dogs to whom this house belongs just as much as it does to anyone else.” Saying this, Muji went towards his room in order to fetch some bread for the dog and her puppies. And after a brief moment of hesitation, Shen turned around and silently followed him.