Pets, Chapter 22 of Memory, a Novella
Written for Nanowrimo extended
Copyright© Soumya Mukherjee
Boy believes that True Love is the K9 kind
His first canine love was his grandfather’s Daschund, Bhulo, sleek black and short, who would let him cuddle her, which he did whenever they visited. She had a keen musical ear, and would join in with mournful howls whenever anyone sang, whether in protest or appreciation Boy was not quite clear. He was a toddler then, and professed his desire to marry her when older. Boy also remembers crying copiously when he heard of her demise.
His next was a communally owned mongrel called Jimmy, whom Boy called Makua, and fed his school lunch in exchange for being licked all over. But she wasn’t allowed indoors.
But the first dog of Boy’s very own was Kumkum, a Fox Terrier Pomeranian cross, whom he picked up from his cousin, and hand reared with milk fed through eye drop dispensers.
Having been trained by Boy, 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 Boy’s mother bid him goodnight and then promptly leapt into bed and snuggled under the covers. She was equally quick to return to her basket just before mom came to wake Boy up.
They were partners in crime. Boy used to be locked up in a room with his books when exams approached, and she would keep him 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 Boy’s 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 Boy’s hands.
She was also a sneak thief. Convinced that what Boy 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 Boy knew some rule had been broken.
Kumkum knew very well who mattered at home, and gave no attention to any commands from anyone except mother, and to get her to do our bidding all one 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 Boy’s 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 Boy’s training school, the idea of discipline was totally alien to her.
Boy left for college, and moving to a new city and an exciting independent life kept him engrossed enough not to miss her. On his return home for vacations, he discovered what I missed.
Even before Boy 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 Boy’s glasses, her welcome home barking alerting the neighbourhood that something special is happening, made it amply evident that here was someone who really missed Boy, and was glad to see him back.
She was a jealous dog, and when Boy returned home some years later with a new bride, made it clear that not everyone was happy with this development. Whenever Boy and his new bride sat next to each other, she would promptly get in between them, and slyly show her teeth to Boy’s 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 Boy’s 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 brothers (Boy’s siblings whom we have kept strictly under wraps) were home together, something that rarely happened any more.
After Kumkum Boy swore not to keep a dog again, and not expose himself to this trauma, but when his brother turned up with a tiny Doberman pup, the resolve wavered, and Police came home to guard them when she grew up.
Trained by an official trainer of police dogs, she grew to be a complete terror, with loyalty only to Boy’s dad, tolerating the rest of them only for his sake.
Visitors to Boy’s family home dwindled, his 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 Boy’s 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, myBoy’s mother taking to visiting her sons in different continents by turn. Police celebrated her absence by sharing Boy’s dad’s bed, sleeping with her head on Boy’s 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 the home and gardens free from trespassers, visitors and even cats. When the vet gave up hope, 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 Boy’s brothers arrived from USA and Pune, and they buried her in the garden. Boy’s father decreed no more dogs in the family.
Not long after, Boy’s father too left to join his favourite companion, and was not around to impose his decree. Boy succumbed to his 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 the 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 Boy’s daughter, she was as obedient as no dogs he had 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 usthe family. They shared space, food and affection without rancor. 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. Boy 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. 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.
Boy was alone those days, his eldest in the hostel, and wife and kiddo relocated to another city. At times he was lonely and depressed. Kola would sense it and forgetting her own pain, nuzzle him gently till he cheered up. She would patiently allow Boy to change her dressings, carry her out for her ‘natures call’ wash and brush her despite his natural clumsiness and ineptitude. But when she was off her biggest passion, food, Boy guessed the end was near. She waited till our whole family was together for a vacation, and surrounded by all, her head on Boy’s lap, she left the unfair world of humans, convinced till the last that she was one.
Boy swore not to have a short lived love living with him ever again.
Boy just learnt that his little one has adopted a stray, keeping her secretly in her PG accommodation. The cycle starts again…..