It was another hot summer evening. Board exams were over and there was no summer homework to worry about. Life was a dream. Of course the exam’s results were a terrifying black cloud, but at about 2 months away, it was still a very small and distant cloud. I was happy to do nothing, just whiling away time; had so much of it hand, oh those wonderful days 😦
All of sudden the quiet shattered. Barks, whines and cries rang out in the entire neighbourhood. My grandfather (Papaji), the patron saint of all abandoned animals raced out, followed by his army of helpers (all of us children), wielding sticks, pails of water, muzzles, leashes, treats and what not. A dog fight was at hand and these were our weapons. The sight that greeted us was gruesome. A little white and brown colored pup lay dead, brutally mangled. Three small tan-colored puppies were cowering in fear as Jinda advanced towards them. Jinda was the alpha dog of the community’s resident dog pack. He was fiercely possessive of his territory and often went overboard in his attempts to protect it. But his is a story for another day. Jinda had obviously killed the pup and intended to mete out a similar fate to the other pups too. But that was not happening today. Papaji had arrived.
One loud, stern shout from papaji and Jinda was instantly transformed into a meek, obedient dog. With the fight being over, it was time for a salvage-cleanup operation. Some carried the surviving three puppies back home while the rest got busy with the burial and thorough cleaning of the crime scene. After a brief and tearful ceremony, the little pup was laid to rest and a small plant planted on the burial site, to mark his presence. Once home, we found two of the pups, a male and a female had happily eaten the food offered and were busy playing. The third, a small male, had hidden himself under a chair and was refusing to come out. The poor thing was shivering and obviously petrified.
But for some reason, the minute I stretched my hand out to him, he latched on to my fingers. And in that moment, forged a bond that has lasted more than 15 years. It is a bond that has survived my erratic university schedules, the arrival and death of Tiger (his best friend and my dog brother), my marriage and subsequent ‘flying the coop’.
I left him behind at my mum’s when I went away to university and again when I got married. I have been adopted by other dogs. He took over from Jinda and become a terror. Many things have changed. But the equation we share hasn’t. We are equals, like best friends, I don’t boss him and he doesn’t boss me. As and how the situation demands we stand up for each other.
He has rescued me from many unfriendly dogs and I, him from similar humans. See I have to try to interact with any mongrel I meet. Now most mutts are friendly creatures, likely to reciprocate. But a few are not. Those are likely to want to growl or snap at you. But if you have a growling, menacing, dangerous looking dog with you, it helps. Lalu was that dog and he played it to the hilt. Now he is not.
Age has now caught up with him. The strong dog who would match me step for step on long brisk walks, now has to stop and rest after a few paces. A turn around the block is just about all he can manage. His senses of smell, sight and hearing have all been compromised. But what has remain unchanged is the bond we share.
He still is the first to know when I visit mum. He recognizes my car and howls to let the whole neighbourhood known. We have a routine. I spend my first few minutes ‘chatting’ with him. He introduces me to all the newcomers in his world, people, pups, kittens, toys, pet peeves… Then he leads me into the house, lets ma know and settles down for a nap, exhausted by all the activity. Leaving is an equally noisy affair. Loud, very loud protests and thorough investigations of my car are all part of his farewell.
I cannot imagine a visit to ma’s without Lalu, but I know that day isn’t too far. I pray each day that it not be today.