True Love – the K9 kind
The first canine love in my life was my grandfather’s Daschund, Bhulo, sleek black and short, who would let me cuddle her, which I did whenever we visited. She had a keen musical ear, and would join in with mournful howls whenever anyone sang, whether in protest or appreciation we were not quite clear. I was a toddler then, and professed my desire to marry her when older. I also remember crying copiously when we heard of her demise.
My next was a communally owned mongrel called Jimmy, whom I called Makua, and fed my school lunch in exchange for being licked all over. But she wasn’t allowed indoors.
But the first dog of my very own was Kumkum, a Fox Terrier Pomeranian cross, whom I picked up from my cousin, and hand reared with milk fed through eye drop dispensers.
Having been trained by me, the poor creature grew up thoroughly confused, but with an uncanny human cunning. For example, she was prohibited from sleeping on the bed, and obediently slept in her basket till my mother bid us goodnight and then promptly leapt into bed and snuggled under the covers. She was equally quick to return to her basket just before my mom came to wake us up.
We were partners in crime. I used to be locked up in a room with my books when exams approached, and she would keep me company. The couch being banned to her, she would peacefully curl up on the rug till the door was locked. Moments later, she would spring up on the sofa to curl up, and the book in my hands would immediately be switched for something more readable. And when mom came back to check, the alert canine ears picked up the footsteps well in time, so that the switch happened before the door opened, she back on the floor, textbook back in my hands.
She was also a sneak thief. Convinced that what we ate at the table was way better than what was served in her dish, she would not be content to merely beg for scraps with melting eyes, in which endeavor she was extremely successful, but also sneak off some tasty tit bit from the plate if it was left unwatched for a moment. Her post crime strategy was to go into hiding, so whenever she wasn’t underfoot we knew some rule had been broken.
Kumkum knew very well who mattered at home, and gave no attention to any commands from anyone except my mother, and to get her to do our bidding all we had to say was “Ma ke dakbo” which is Call mom.
An essentially Bengali dog, she loved her fish and rice, sweets, luchi, muri, Singara or samosa and would not touch dog food.
She understood idiomatic Bengali and could almost speak. She joined our games, fielding expertly in cricket, except that being a free spirit she wouldn’t follow the rules, but made her own, which involved the whole team chasing her to retrieve the ball. Cricket balls survived the ordeal with some loss of shine, but tennis balls and badminton shuttles did not usually survive her intervention. Being a product of my training school, the idea of discipline was totally alien to her.
I left for college, and moving to a new city and an exciting independent life kept me engrossed enough not to miss her. On my return home for vacations, I discovered what I missed.
Even before I reached the door, a major commotion broke out. Her expression of joy in dashing around the house, upsetting furniture, leaping up on me and knocking off my glasses, her welcome home barking alerting the neighbourhood that something special is happening, made it amply evident that here was someone who really missed me, and was glad to see me back.
She was a jealous dog, and when I returned home some years later with a new bride, made it clear that not everyone was happy with this development. Whenever we sat next to each other, she would promptly get in between us, and slyly show her teeth to my wife. By now Kumkum was a senior citizen, and her right to the couch was well established.
Over time and many visits home, the two loves of my life learnt to tolerate and even grow quite fond of each other.
A few years later, at the ripe old age of 15, or 105 in human terms, a much mellowed Kumkum died fighting cancer, during a post surgery relapse, and was cremated in a quiet animal crematorium. Her timing was perfect, she waited till all three of us brothers were home together, something that rarely happened any more.
After Kumkum we swore not to keep a dog again, and not expose ourselves to this trauma, but when my brother turned up with a tiny Doberman pup, the resolve wavered, and Police came home to guard us when she grew up.
Trained by an official trainer of police dogs, she grew to be a complete terror, with loyalty only to my dad, tolerating the rest of us only for his sake.
Visitors to our family home dwindled, my father’s bridge group met elsewhere, no one came home to deliver groceries, pick up the laundry, read the meters or solicit for charity.
But she held no terror for my two kids, one just a toddler and Police patiently bore with their exuberant affections. It must have chaffed her proud spirit to be pulled by the year by a child, ignoring her rumbling growls, and took it out on the next hapless visitor to our compound, two legged or four. Trouble was, she refused food if father wasn’t around, and he grew completely home bound, my mother taking to visiting her sons in different continents by turn. Police celebrated her absence by sharing my dad’s bed, sleeping with her head on my mom’s pillow.
The worst part of having a K9 love is that we have vastly different life spans. A much mellowed Police, 14 winters down, could hardly see, eat or walk, but still her reputation was enough to keep our home and gardens free from trespassers, visitors and even cats. When the vet gave up hope, my dad refused to put her down or send her to the hospital where she would miss the family. She survived on saline and intravenous drips for three days, till my brothers arrived from USA and Pune, and we buried her in our garden. My father decreed no more dogs in the family.
Not long after, my father too left to join his favourite companion, and was not around to impose his decree. We succumbed to our children’s entreaties, and a black lab puppy came home. The condition was, that all poop cleaning, puppy sitting, walks, wash, feed, training, housebreaking was exclusively in my kids department.
Kola, as she was christened, short for Boka Kola, which was a misnomer, as she proved humanly intelligent, and was of an angelic temperament. Trained with military precision by my daughter, she was as obedient as no dogs I have seen outside of the cinema. She wouldn’t eat from the floor or drink from the toilet, there being no question of begging at the table leave alone stealing food. In fact she would start eating from her own bowl only on receiving the command “Eat! “ A nerdier creature you couldn’t imagine, who actually didn’t speak unless she was spoken to. One never ever heard her bark, except on the command “Speak!” The standard commands of “Heel, Sit, Down, Stay” were automatically followed. She would patiently play fetch, bring in the morning newspaper, and act as cushion, pillow, horse or whatever role was assigned to her. Gandhian by temperament, she did not know how to snarl. Being very gentle by nature, she would allow mice to play within her reach and even steal food from her bowl.
Her best friend was a stray cat, Hazel, who had adopted us. They shared space, food and affection without rancour. On walks, Hazel would walk under Kola, weaving around between her legs. When troubled by other dogs or Tom cats, she would send a special mew, which brought Kola bounding to her rescue, a lady knight in shining black armour.
Despite her gentle soul, she inherited the legend of the ferocious black beast, people vividly remembering her predecessor, Police, and a large black dog looks very like another to most people. Her friendly nature which made her gambol at all visitors with the intention of playing didn’t help. We had to, on occasion; rescue a visitor who had climbed a tree to escape her friendly overtures.
I remember a passage in JKJs immortal classic about the three men not to speak of the dog, where Montmorency, who incidentally looked like my Kumkum in the illustrations, looked so angelic that they wondered why she wasn’t snatched off to heaven, till her behaviour exposed her. My Kola looked and behaved angelically, and wasn’t fit to remain in the mortal realm for long. A debilitating genetic disease, a curse of inbred kennel animals, brought her untold pain. Obedient and sweet natured to the last, she hopped on the vets examining table, submitted to all tests stoically, only whimpering faintly when the pain was too much to bear.
I was alone those days, my eldest in the hostel, and wife and kiddo relocated to another city. At times I was lonely and depressed. Kola would sense it and forgetting her own pain, nuzzle me gently till I cheered up. She would patiently allow me to change her dressings, carry her out for her ‘natures call’ wash and brush her despite my natural clumsiness and ineptitude. But when she was off her biggest passion, food, I guessed the end was near. She waited till our whole family was together for a vacation, and surrounded by all, her head on my lap, she left the unfair world of humans, convinced till the last that she was one.
I swore not to have a short lived love living with me ever again, but promise I will share more stories of my best friends and companions, whether you like it or not.
I just learnt that my little one has adopted a stray, keeping her secretly in her PG accommodation. The cycle starts again…..