My father was a dog lover. Since the time I can remember, we have always had dogs in the house. He would take very good care of them and they were equally attached to him. German shepherds, Lhasa apsos, pomeranians, labradors, dachshunds — at various phases, I can remember different species at home as pets.
A kennel was always part of the house, irrespective of where we relocated. It needed a lot of maintenance. Regular walks, baths, grooming their coat. The local butcher was always told to send a boy with meat in the morning for them. And I always remember their food cooking in the house as regularly as ours.The surefire way to see my Dad explode in anger was to leave the dogs leashed somewhere in the sun without a bowl of water. He would fly into a rage, if he found any of us so careless.
Though we have had several dogs in the house, the one I was most attached to was Rani— a gentle German shepherd. The previous owner perhaps had a pair of dogs called Raja and Rani, and he sold this one to us. While we, the kids, were all excited to have her at home, my mother was the hesitant one. She didn’t quite want a dog walking into her kitchen. And strangely Rani understood. She would walk everywhere, but never cross the Laxman-rekha of my mother’s kitchen. She would patiently wait outside the kitchen for my mother, and follow her all around the house. Needless to add, in a few months, my mother was as attached to Rani as we all were.
Travelling was tough, as someone always had to be told to take care of her while we were away. I distinctly remember Dad’s transfer from Pondicherry to Chandrapur. We had to travel over 1200 km by road, simply because we had Rani with us. She stayed with us for over 12 years. Defending and guarding the house against intruders. A friend to us in our growing up years.
One memory imprinted in my head is the day Rani died. She had grown old and had contracted jaundice. Her yellow eyes looked so sad, and often, we would catch her vomiting. We knew it was time. That day, she walked up to my Dad, and pulled at his clothes till he followed her to the bathroom. As he knelt next to her, she laid her head on his lap, breathing heavily. She got up to vomit once, and she lay down in his lap and breathed her last. I still remember my mother crying as if a family member had departed. It was a silent night that we all spent together, with the sound of thunder in the background.
They says dogs are some of the most loyal creatures in this planet. In the year 2000, my father was on his deathbed. He had been on the ventilator in a coma for over two weeks. We were over 1000 km from home, in a big hospital. At that time, we had six dogs together at home. Different breeds. Despite the crisis, they were well cared for at home.
The locals at home said that dogs reciprocated affection and demonstrated their loyalty by borrowing the deaths of their owner. Just another superstition, I thought. But in a way that none of us could explain, in the next two weeks, one after the other, each one of those six dogs died.
It was very strange. Here in the hospital, my father was battling for life, and each time we thought he was gone, we received a call from home that one of the dogs had died— and my father survived the moment. The manner in which the six dogs died one after the other was weird. One dog jumped from the balcony — I have never known a dog who died like that. Another was jumping to catch a piece of bread, and fell over a pair of exposed iron rods in an unfinished construction— the rods pierced through its belly. And though I tried hard to dispel these notions as humbug, they were hard to ignore. The day I received information that the last dog had died, I knew my Dad’s time had come. And that’s exactly what happened. Some things in life are incompletely understood. It is best they remain that way.