Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Dog Dramas: Part I

Other Half had been following my blog rather enthusiastically (he seems to have stopped now, though). He didn’t care much for the posts that deal with poetry; said those are too esoteric for his tastes (and in case he reads this, am sure that my use of the word ‘esoteric’ will definitely induce a snort from him). He would remain tactfully silent on these posts but the others he appreciated actively and generously. So when he put forward a request to me to write a post about dogs, I couldn’t refuse. Though to tell the truth, I was a little miffed: here I was, wanting to write of grand things like World Peace, Romantic Odes and other such earthshaking matters and here he was asking me to write about dogs! But then Other Half being after all my other half (can’t deny that, even though sometimes I wish I could just chew his head off) … as also the fact that one cannot afford to lose a blog follower .., here is one about ‘Dogs’.

I’ve always had dogs in my life. Though in my childhood we never had what could formally qualify as a pet (unless you count the fishes in our aquarium or the time when we had Munias in a cage whom, after one died, my Dad set free), we had Sheru. Sheru was the street dog that our neighbour’s daughter, Babydidi adopted. Though Sheru was never allowed inside Babydidi’s home or ours, he was for all purposes, her very own pet dog. Since we were close as neighbours, by default (and by the virtues of a few mutton bones dispensed effectively as bribe...), Sheru became our pet dog too.

Sheru was white with prominent black patches over his trunk and because of a particularly dark black patch placed strategically over one of his eyes; he looked like a canine version of Jack Sparrow. But while Jack Sparrow is lean, thin and sometimes mean, Sheru was stocky, plump and always kind. His signature was his tail, a lush affair that curled gracefully into a full circle over his ample behind. He spent his days lounging around either our backyard or Babydidi’s, eating four full square meals a day, two at Babydidis and two at our place. In the mornings, when my brother and I would walk to the bus stand, he would accompany us like a responsible guardian, loiter around till our respective school buses left and then return home. Most afternoons, he would stretch out flat on the second step of the set of three steps that led from our rear door to the yard while we kids would rest our feet on his back as if it were a comfy foot cushion. Sometimes, Babydidi would call us to play Chinese Whispers (we called it ‘Telephone’ then) and Sheru would play along with us, putting his mouth to Babydidi’s ears as if whispering, much to our amazed delight. He was very intelligent, never barked without purpose, easily distinguished strangers from family and was both a protector and a friend. He grew up with us, was very much a part of our family and part of our lives… till one day he went gallivanting somewhere and never came back. Babydidi, his distraught parent, searched for him all over our neighbourhood but Sheru was never found. We were young then and in the rush of childhood, did not really grieve for him, though we did miss him. But now in this jaded middle age, I think of him sometimes and grieve his loss with the occasional prickle of tears. Logic tells me that dogs have short lives and obviously he would never have lived to this day; what I feel sad about is that if he had stayed on, for just the rest of our childhood, it would have been, simply put, so nice! But then again I console myself thinking that though short, we did have good times together, we i.e. Babydidi, my brother, myself and Sheru, wonderful times that not only created beautiful memories but also helped shape our attitudes of acceptance and affection for all creatures, animals or birds.

Then many years and many dogs later (mostly strays, like that pup in college whom Deccan Queen had rescued from somewhere and whom we spent vainly trying to de-flea and de-tick with the violently smelling ‘new in the market’ coconut shampoo from Tata), there was Phunti! In the beginning, she was just this nameless stray whom I had befriended (I generally land up befriending strays wherever I go). But then Tall n Pretty, my room-mate and dear friend named her ‘Phunti’ and in gratitude Phunti adopted both of us. She was black, scrawny, flea infested and of indeterminate age; but let me tell you, her looks belied her character and how! Phunti is the bravest dog that I have known and I have known a sizeable number, of all breeds and kinds…There is this tagline of a popular Bengali newspaper that goes “Except God, we fear none!” This line seems to have been written for Phunti. She was absolutely devoid of fear and I often found her chasing after dogs, cats, goats, cows, buffalos, cars, buses, trucks and even the few rare humans she did not approve of, without hesitation and without an iota of fear. She was a tomboy (or ‘tom’dog’ if you please) and had actually taken on the role of the neighbourhood goondi. She dominated all four legged creatures in the area and if found weak, a few two legged ones also. She had cultivated this funny pastime of lying in ambush behind bushes or culverts lining the main road, springing upon unsuspecting motorcyclists and cyclists and then chasing them at top speed down the road. Though she did this throughout the day, after dusk this antic was especially scary. Both Tall n Pretty and I would watch with amusement from our balcony as she did this and though it amused us, we did feel sorry for the poor unsuspecting cyclist. Imagine yourself cycling on a dark and empty road, minding your own business when a shadowy slithery thing suddenly jumps at you from the darkness and then chases you down the road, all the while in complete sinister silence! I for one would certainly have had a heart attack. She would chase the petrified man till the very end of the road and then trot back triumphantly; and if she found us nearby, she would come up , tail wagging ingratiatingly, asking for a treat as reward for a job well done.

Phunti was also a hoarder. I had got into this habit of buying a trans-fat laden doughnut from the local grocer and having it for my noon tea every day. Invariably, Phunti would be hovering nearby and so I would have to give her a share. She would take the doughnut, eat half and bury the other half in the earth just below the balcony of our first floor room. And woe-betide the next stray that came sniffing around. She would hiss and snarl with such ferocity that the latter would flee with its tail between its legs. I would often wonder how she could actually eat that doughnut later because in the heat, sun and soil, it would have invariably rotted. Of course, thinking back I don’t really recall having seen her dig out her hoard for snacking. The whole exercise, I presume was just for the simple pleasures of hoarding.

She grew very close to us and began sleeping just outside our door. When hungry she would knock on the door like any polite human guest and we perforce had to open up and give her a snack, usually biscuits. This nocturnal knocking was so unique that it  amused me no end ; though later I was to know of another canine friend called Kaloo who was a similar ‘door-knocker’.

Then we moved on, both Tall n Pretty and myself, while Phunti stayed behind. But about 2-3 years later when I was back in that neighbourhood again for a short while, I was pleasantly surprised to find Phunti still ruling roost, her position as ‘Queen of the Strays’ intact. And she had not forgotten me. On spotting me from afar, she came running, tail wagging furiously and quietly rising up placed her front paws over my body, the canine equivalent of a hug for an old friend. So we renewed our friendship for about two months, cementing it with more sinful doughnuts and the odd cream biscuit. But again, life called me elsewhere and I left, this time perhaps for good. Now, many years have passed since that second sojourn and Phunti must have by now passed on over to the other Happier Side.

When we think back on past relationships, we humans have this tendency to quantify them in terms of gains and losses; and being the typical human that I am, I have done the same for Phunti’s relationship with me. And though I am not aware of what gain or loss there was in it for her,  for me it was doubtless an all ‘gain’ and no ‘loss’ thing, the unquantifiable gain of a great comradeship, absolutely unconditional (except maybe for that one small condition called ‘doughnut’)!

(to be continued......)

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