‘Everyone thinks that they have the best dog and none of them is wrong’
On one rainy day, the tiny tots of the family caught me unawares. “Do tell us a story please…..!”
Oh sure, let me start. Once upon a time , not long ago we had an Er…. Er? Was it a monster? “Oh no!,” I replied. “He was a little doggy, you should call him by his name, otherwise he will feel humiliated.” This was what the Khuku 1 of our family taught us. He was an Ibsen terrier of the Tibetan origin, a fluffy round ball of sheer cuteness. We decided to call him Gido, which I guess is an Italian name.
One evening, he was out of the house on his own, possibly for some fresh air and was chased by a huge black and ferocious street dog. Khuku cried in horror, “Look, look, he gobbled up our Gido! Oh No”. The adults were impatient and vexed. “Why on earth did the foolish dog venture out?” Khuku wailed again, “He is already dead, eaten away. Now why do you call him a dog? Does he not have a name?” The older brigade were exasperated. What are things coming to now? Can we not call a dog, a dog? At this moment Gido crept out from under the bed, licking his limbs. No one had noticed him slipping back into the house. He remained unconcerned, his demeanour suggesting that nothing untoward had happened. A quick quenching of thirst followed. “Carry on,” cried the children. I realised that Gido captured their heart.
When he first arrived, we used to feed Gido milk with the help of a cotton wick which later we replaced with to a dropper. After that he used to curl up peacefully inside large shoes where he felt warm and comfortable. His favourite meal? Milk and soggy biscuits. Very soon, he began to play around wreaking havoc everywhere. He had a temper too. A little bed with mattress was put together out of a shoebox for him; it became his siesta nook. Needless to say, his nights were spent on our bed.
Once the entire family was down with fever. After recovering, all of us suffered from loss of appetite and ripe mangoes was the only food in the summer heat that seemed most appealing to the taste buds. In the general fluster, we suddenly discovered that some of our stuff were disappearing, things like loose coins, bus tickets, vouchers and imagine even Granny’s pickle jar lids. Where on Earth were these? Podu, the maid declared, “It is a very serious matter, a puja must be organised for the sake of the house.” When everyone recovered, the house underwent a spring cleaning. Lo and behold! What were under the bed in Gido’s box? All looted treasures, including mango seeds licked clean white. Every things neatly arranged under his so called mattress. A mild reprimand drove the quaking, yapping Gido under our bed. The air of displeasure around deterred him from even emerging for meals. After much cajoling, his highness partook of some bread and milk and followed by a light soup at night, as if we were the ones at fault. To teach anyone a lesson was well-nigh impossible!
Our Gido belonged to a small breed and he was growing steadily at his own pace. It was an absolute sight when he was being given a bath. The moment he was taken out from under the shower, he would resemble a well-squeezed mop. To tease or laugh at him that time was an absolute taboo. It was after he was completely dried and groomed that he would emerge as his normal self. He didnot have the luxury of a grooming parlour, nor did he need one!
Once we had to move house. As this was before the time of professional Packers and Movers, it was a phenomenal work. At this awfully busy time our doggy darling decided, one day, to go on hunger-strike. When served food, he stood still without budging. Peering into his meal, I noticed a spot of purple in the rice-chicken combo and realised what was offensive. In the meantime, Gido ran to my husband as he returned home. He started barking in a peculiar manner, as if lodging a complaint and dragged him near his food-bowl, and quite a ruckus broke out. Ultimately he gleefully accepted the replaced new food. A drop of potassium powder somehow fell on his rice and got mixed up. Extremely delighted, Gido went under the bed after a hot fresh meal.
In spite of not being human, he had many human like traits. One late evening, I climbed up to the terrace and found our Gido appreciating the glow of the setting sun, his brown-white fur gently fluttering in the wind. He kind of ignored me. When the boys played cricket, Gido would compensate the absence of a fielder being very efficient with fetching the ball, without any complaints. That made him very popular with children and basked in their attention and flattery. This affected both his body and mind, he seemed to be uplifted. He was an expert mouse-hunter too, easily put the big hullows 2 of the locality to shame. He used to trap the victim with a quick stride of his paws. Initially we thought he was of a rather lofty spirit when he abstained from killing them. He used to clutch the creature pressing hard on it the entire day, only to display his talent at hunting rodents to the master of house on his return home in the evening. He would earn his praise and then he would relax. Just to remind everyone that by this time the unfortunate mouse would have long forsaken its earthy existence. Our little hunter would be in a bellicose frame of mind the entire day and it would be practically impossible to even venture close to him.
Once I had lain my baby son on the divan of the living room and was sitting next to him. I was alone and there were guests at home. When the doorbell rang, Gido leapt on divan and gently began swinging the baby, so that he wouldn’t be upset while I went to open the door. One of the guests exclaimed, “Wow! What’s this, he seems so human!”
Gido became concerned and possessive whenever anyone in the family took ill. We discovered that the doctors loathed to visit us, not even for the aromatic Darjeeling tea and the homemade cakes on offer. Gido remained under the bed in constant vigil and kept up a growl. The fact that unfamiliar men wearing strange clothes armed with a peculiar instrument invaded our privacy was extremely disconcerting. Do you think any doctor would come to our aid in the face of his aggressive stance? Tears swell up as I ponder that these small creatures are much kinder than us, homo-sapiens; they are so much more humane in the trust and the love they generate. This is the emotion he evokes in me.
In the midst of all this we were transferred from Kolkata to North Bengal where in the mountainous terrain, I had spent my childhood. Sadly now, after relocating I realised that the joys of childhood had quite vanished. We had been young, full of dreams and laughter, ensconced in the love and care of our parents. That was a time when the sound of the rain crashing down on the tin roof of our bungalow in the night aroused a feeling of warmth and security. As an adult with a family of my own now, things were different. We were in the middle of rains, and my heart had a sinking feeling at the sight of cows lazily chewing cud in front of my husband’s so-called dream residence, the veranda spattered with cow dung. As our stuff had not arrived, we had to resort to having meals at a local eatery; our digestion system gave in. Gido used to relieve himself outside, standing on one leg and returning absolutely drenched. A quick cleaning followed otherwise he would begin to fret. He started looking out of the window with a forlorn look visibly upset and depressed, possibly missing our Kolkata home. I could empathise with his emotions. By this time all our things arrived, stove was lit and the first meal was that of hot khichdi. How delicious it tasted! Food for the Gods! Even the doggy realised the virtues of home-cooked fare.
Anyway, days passed. The monthly groceries used to come on a rickshaw. The boy from the shop used to leap into the room unload and vault back leaving Gido on his part growling in frustration as he could not snap at his fast running prey. He often used to jump at passing rickshaws forcing the fearful driver to abandon his vehicle in fright; only after much coaxing and cajoling would Gido come back into the house.
On one occasion, the whole family accompanied my husband to Malda 3 for a temporary stay. A car was allotted to us; as there was enough space, I asked the office staff to join us. However, no one accepted my invitation after hearing Gido’s angry, low growls. So we travelled in comfort. Arriving at the circuit house, we found a small crowd peeking into the car curiously. Those days Malda was a small provincial town bordering on being quite rural. After hearing the angry snarl, the space cleared up in the twinkle of an eye. Next day we were travelling down a road running through villages on either side. In one place the village headman welcomed us politely and in a rather ingratiating manner requested the Saheb if he could kindly display his foreign cat! So there you are! I felt like crying and laughing at the same time. Only Gido had understood what was being said and how identity had morphed. Anyway..
We once travelled to Siliguri to be with my in-laws. Gido’s happiness was writ large on this face. Spotlessly clean ambience, western style etiquette and conduct all around, the bungalow sported a beautiful green lawn and cemented pathways all around. One day I found him running around with his mouth closed and to my horror, out came one little sparrow. Its injured body hitting the ground before it flew away. On another occasion, a little chick accidentally got out of the coop and immediately Gido pounced on it and shook the poor soul so hard that life ebbed out of it. In a state of panic, I flicked the dead bird out of the boundary. During dinner as we discussed the incident, my father in law casually said, “You needn’t have thrown it; she would have made a delicious stew for him.”
Gido’s head was always full of mischiefs. My father-in-law conducted meetings in his office. He would follow him silently and sit at the back and make the situation impossible to berate anyone. At the end of the meeting, the doggy would be the first one to push open the swing door and make a hasty exit. He was basically very inquisitive and kept poking his nose into everything. It was here once that my son got stuck in the bathroom as the door jammed. While plans to extricate him by up-hinging the window grill, were taking shape, we fed the child with water and biscuits. In the emergency situation office work had come to a halt for the day as all the staff gathered near the rescue point. In this melee, Gido kept on running excitedly almost as if there was a picnic in progress.
Sometime later, Gido fell sick. He lay listlessly in bed, his normal energy missing. Just imagine! We were very concerned. My son’s first birthday was approaching and it would be impossible to enjoy without Gido. The vet diagnosed it was worms. The hilly locale was notorious for two things, thick mountain leeches and worms. After Gido’s condition gradually improved he started having his favourite rice and stew. Our entire household was overjoyed. The normal rhythm of life was back.
Like Gido, our baby boy had similar habits. If he was down with fever he would clutch onto his pillow, come into our room and plonk himself on the bed. During doggy dear’s illness my husband had to put up with lots of scratches on him. Once his patience gave away and before I got up, he whisked him off on a rickshaw with the intention of handing him over to the first person. As they set off, little doggy’s fur began swaying gently in the breeze! Within seconds my hubby felt so much pity and love that he relented. On his return, Gido gobbled up biscuits and milk and sat on the veranda watching the sparrows fly past.
It was a rainy day when I found long weeds had covered the courtyard. The wooden staircase to the roof also was very moist and seemed coated with moss. On a closer look to my horror I discovered they were all nothing but huge healthy leeches. God knows whose blood they fed on. I was hovering around when suddenly Gido broke into a mad bark. I stared in front, a huge snake with full fangs stood amidst the weeds. I was motionless and sort of mesmerised and numb with fear, unable to move. He never stopped barking and going up and down, I cannot recall what happened but the serpent lowered itself and slithered down the concrete drain under the wall towards outside. It was marshy land all around. I climbed back. Gido kept growling and I flopped down on a chair. All strength had left me. I hugged Gido and started crying. I was seven months pregnant then and there was just the two of us at home.
Once on a flight to Bagdogra, the doggy felt fretful as he was muzzled as it was only to be expected. He remained cramped and in a nervous state. A well-dressed Nepali lady sitting next to me was quite disapproving. We were very uneasy. Anyway our flight landed to all our relief and we disembarked. Later we learnt that our co-passenger was Tenzing Norgay’s second wife. I also remember a Delhi trip where due to some miscalculation our car didn’t arrive. In a hurry to reach office we were compelled to avail a large “phatphatti”4 with two children, Gido and huge luggage. The doggy positioned himself comfortably and stood in front. The vehicle sped through the busy street of Delhi and again his fur playing in the wind created a funny scene. Thus I have endless tales to relate about our Gido. He was really a huge part of our life. I realised this later.
On our transfer to Delhi, all through our Delhi stay, Gido remained a happy soul, in very high spirits. By this time he had acquired two playmates in our sons. Clean walking paths beside lovely flower beds stole his heart. His joy knew no bounds. The doggy was praised for his attractive furry looks and none at all for his nature. Surprisingly, he never developed any friendships, least of all for the other gender. As parents we tried our best to get him a lady friend but all went in vain. Every time he used to return shouting, crying and virtually taking to fasting. After that we never attempted to get him out of his celibacy. Our day to day activities remained his primary concern, least bothered about the outside world. Thus he remained our household’s eternal bachelor.
Due to official commitments on some days my husband would return home very late at night. I had a full time job then. Managing family along with domestic chores left me exhausted at the end of the day and I would be wrapped in deep slumber once I hit the bed. However, wherever I stirred awake I would find Gido staring through the window with his unblinking gaze on the road. The moment he heard the sound of the car he would jump to the floor, stretch his limbs and fall asleep. Nothing, not even an attack of the dacoits would induce him to wake up at this juncture. Sometimes a bad dream would produce teeth gnashing and a wild shaking of legs. He possessed another interesting trait. If there were guests at home he would initially bark his head off and later it would be impossible to leave him with them, he would constantly accompany me into the kitchen and keenly supervise the edibles. He did not care if the strangers were left alone. I sometimes wondered about his exact species. What was he? I doubted about Gido being a dog…or was he a….? I hope you kids are not offended by this in anyway.
I barely noticed when our tiny puppy had grown up through adolescence and youth. Now he was advanced in years, unable to rush up the stairs as quickly as before. Even then his antics kept the household constantly engaged. Small built though he was, he definitely had a personality of his own. He would never ever put up with any kind of expression of annoyance towards him. But as his parent, let me share a secret. Deep inside, Gido forever remained the same playful child. His slight gait aroused a desire in him to maintain a façade of extra exuberance. But now he was began to be afflicted by age. We were becoming aware of this but it wasn’t easy to accept. We went to Shillong, but this time we did not take him along. A few days after our return from Shillong, Gido fell quite ill. Hospital visits became frequent. The doctor prescribed vitamins and injections. Gradually he began to get breathless. I used to keep him besides my bed away from the notice of visitors. His health deteriorated a little further. Tears welled up as he was hospitalised again. My husband went along to be with him but alas only to return with his lifeless body. “I tried till the end to do everything possible and left nothing undone,” he broke down lamenting. Gido’s last rites were performed.
I remember clearly the day he was gone. It was dark and cloudy. I wandered around the entire house. Such loneliness, such desolation! Why is the house so quiet? The jingle of his collar bell kept resonating everywhere as I moved from one room to another as if searching for him. I was completely engulfed in sorrow. My younger son was stunned and benumbed. The elder one was in his boarding school. After a day, Maharaj, a monk, visited us to give solace. I remember replying, “I do comprehend but I will shed tears nevertheless for I will never see him again.”
It is now so many years that he has left us but I haven’t never forgotten a single incident. There was a small playroom for the boys and Gido would always give them company while they were playing. If he was irritated with the boisterous games they played, he would run to me accusingly. But that was for a brief while, he just could not resist going back to them. That particular day of his passing away, inside the room I noticed the sudden swaying of the pendulum of the cuckoo clock on the wall. The oscillation was rather fast, I noted. No breeze or sound to trigger this motion. I continued staring at it and saw the swinging die down gradually. Everything was quiet again and peace seemed to descend. Perhaps his presence had briefly permeated the room. May be he had appeared to console us. “I have not left you, don’t grieve Mamma, I will remain in your heart forever,” my mind said, and this is how Gido bid us farewell. It has been so many years ago since he left us; no other Gido replaced him. The sense of not having him still haunts us.
“If there were no dogs in Heaven,
Then when I die I want to go where they went.” – Will Rogers
Post script: Years have gone by, where are those little boys and girls eager for a story? Our little khuku is now a mother herself. I dedicate this story to her and to all the dog-lovers around the world.
Translated by the author and Dr. Joyshree Roy