Dog-gone…

[This was a piece I’d written for The Hindu’s Open Page (a page for readers’ writerly contributions in the leading daily in Chennai) a year ago. Dug it out and decided to include it here, with minor modifications.]

It was just two weeks since I had moved back to Chennai. I was returning from my weekly supplies’ shopping when two furry mini-masses from the adjacent house caught my dog-loving attention. I went up to the gate and the mini-masses bounded close to it in return. I could barely get my thumb through the fenced gate and they their nose and tongue – but there was an instant connection. I thus caught the two pups twice more, and both times, despite the fence between, there was tremendous bonding on both sides. Soon, they had grown big enough to not be fettered by the fence anymore and were now at large on the streets.

Now, I could also see them better. The bigger pup was a mix of brown and white. I named her Sandy – a mixture of brown sand and white sand. The smaller one was all black, and I wanted to go beyond the standard ‘Blackie’. But what? He had become very friendly with me almost at once, offering his paw the first time (the second surest sign that a dog trusts you), and the next time rolling over and offering his belly to rub (the surest sign that a dog trusts you). Thus, it struck me. ‘Rai’. Hindi for the mustard seed. That small, round, black seed used as an enjoyable spice – just like small, round, black, seed-of-a-dog and equally enjoyable Rai.

What started continued. Rai would bound to me when I returned from work and then immediately roll over for a rub. I would lift him, shake him up, cuddle him, let him lick me – the dog-lover works. Rai was growing, and our bond too. The little fellow would even sneak in through our locked gate and I would reluctantly pick him up and deposit him back outside.

One night, I ended up meeting another dog-lover when returning home. And promptly got him to meet my fellows. As ever, I picked up Rai and introduced him to the man. He informed me that Rai seemed most probably a Lab mix. I began dreaming at this… Rai would grow to be a lovely, big, friendly dog – as Labs are wont to be. I would nurture him and see him grow, and hopefully the licks and belly rubs would continue.

However, a few weeks back, I noticed Rai had become quieter. Was he jealous that I petted Sandy too and sometimes before him? (This was only because Sandy had recently injured her leg in a bike accident.) Was he growing up and therefore becoming less friendly?

And then he went missing. While this is more typical of cats, I reasoned to myself that perhaps dogs too do this at times. So, I didn’t think too much of it, and figured we’d be back to our normal ways when he came back.

But he didn’t. What did come was a call from the other dog-lover a few days back. “That black Indian mongrel died.” I didn’t realise who he was talking about. For I know my street-hearts (street sweethearts) more by their names than by their breed and fur colour. And then it hit me. So, Rai wasn’t jealous. He was unwell. He had had a vomiting bout, retreated into seclusion, and sigh, eventually passed away.

Having stayed away from my near and dear ones for long years, I have never been around when someone close passed away. But this one – “just” an animal – has wrenched me a bit. Rai was so small, so cute, so friendly. And I had nurtured thoughts of him, and our bond, growing big and strong. That is not to be now. All I have left of Rai are those few times I held him in my hands and rubbed his belly and his black eyes looked back at me in gooey delight.

They say, all dogs go to heaven. No doubt Rai is bounding around freely offering his paw and belly to some other dog-lover there. Hopefully, depending on my deeds and health, I’ll get there eventually. Until then, sweet black fellow, say hi to all the dogs there. Or woof, in your language.

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