This morning your fish passed away. Bubbles was a Chinese moor, you’d state and point out how she was different from our earlier moor, a Japanese one. Something to do with the shape of the body and the length of the tail. I am not much of a fish person - I grew up with dogs.
My mother, your Nanima, who grew up on a farm with cows, dogs, horses and camels, yup!, has a thing for animals and I think she was trying to recreate that exotic menagerie in our home which was located in a town, and therefore constrained by the lack of space and the presence of concrete.
We had hens for some time - with little chicks that I’d pick up to feel their soft down, a parakeet called Mitthu whom I recall as a rabble rouser with a penchant for screeching my kid brother’s name - which would invariably get him food from my delighted mother (bird brain you say - go figure how the bird was smart enough to crank my mum’s levers), and a parade of dogs. The earliest I recall is Caesar, an Alsatian mongrel who took a flying leap from our rooftop in pursuit of a cat. Deemed unfit for city living he was transported to our farm on the outskirts of town. By the end of next day he had managed to find his way back home - a distance of some 20 kms over a route through a busy bazaar and the town’s main road heaving with assorted vehicles. Then came Sherry, a brown mongrel pomeranian, whom my elder sister appropriated - which of course meant that she attempted to ration the favours ‘her’ dog would grant other children in the house. I don’t recall if the others were miffed by this but I was. When Sherry died from rabies I begged my mother to let me have the next dog as ‘mine’. She agreed. The title deed was unimportant - she was the primary caregiver but she could do with a dog walker and I was up to the task.
And so Jinny arrived. I was going on 12 when my elder sister’s friend’s dog Sandy had a litter. Sandy was a fluffy brown Lhasa Apso I was smitten by and had queued up for one of her forthcoming pups. One holiday, perhaps Sunday, Vandana didi trooped up the stairs to our first-floor terrace, a white ball in one hand. She deposited Sandy’s 3-week-old pup in my mum’s lap as I gazed with wonder. The mewling mite soon wound its way around Mama’s lap and nestled within one salwar pauncha. I remember Jinny mewling for some days - Mama said she was seeking her mum - as she’d scour dark, warm corners to snuggle in. We fed her with a baby milk bottle.
My next memory of Jinny - yup I got to name ‘my’ dog - is a bundle of white Lhasa Apsoan fur that spun joyous circles at the mention of ‘sair’ - Punjabi for walk, darted as a bullet at ‘billee’ - Punjabi for cat, and hopped on hind legs for either of mango or chicken. Jinny and I went for long walks every evening after I finished my homework. Those days fields stretched in endless green from behind our short row of houses. Once in the fields I’d unleash her and she’d go nosing around, a bobbing plume of white cotton amidst the green. I’d hum and skip and throw twigs and watch the birds and peer down a discarded well and traipse around an ancient banyan, Jinny weaving in-out. What wonderful wonderful days - I don’t recall such regular unadulterated joy since. Thereafter, as I grew older, Physics and Maths started to impinge on my ‘sair’ moments but the walk with Jinny was my dose of joy in an increasingly study-addled world.
Jinny was a curious dog - patrician, I swear there were occasions when she looked down her nose - and my two younger siblings knew she regarded herself as the elder. She took a particular affinity to my younger brother, of a sort different from Mitthu the parakeet. We squabbled constantly but as we grew my brother became physically stronger and much to my dismay began to easily pinion me. No worry. I discovered that all I had to do was bellow ‘Jinneee’ and the next instant my brother’s ankle would find itself gripped in the fine canines of my Lhasa Apso - the furball had pincers.
For the longest time Jinny showed no interest in mating which upset my mother’s plan to breed some fine furballs of her own. One particular mate she picked - borrowed for that purpose from the friend of a friend - was driven out of our home by Jinny and we spent the better part of one evening searching for the missing dog. We located his shivering self and returned him to his glaring owners and came back to glower at Jinny who was giving Papa and his chicken tikka company.
Eventually though, when she was five, she had a suitor - a neighbour’s black pom who’d sidle up to our house - and I watched her belly go low-slung and Mama told me to be gentle with her. One day I found her trying to dig up the concrete floor in our dark store room - Mama said she was getting ready to deliver. With old soft sheets she set up a cozy corner where Jinny spent most of her time before voila, we’d two tiny pups. Mama allowed me to see them after she’d cleaned up Jinny and removed the mess of childbirth. She cautioned me to approach Jinny slowly - a new Mum can be cranky - and as I crept close, Jinny kept her eyes on me watching my progress. It was eerie, she’d never been that guarded with me. Reaching her, I paused, on my haunches, and watched the hours-old pups snug against her pink flaccid belly. I held out a tentative hand, okay thus far, then ventured to touch my dog slowly, the crown of her head and all the way to her back. We were okay.
The other children were forbidden from entering - the ‘dragon’s lair’, my brother mocked - but I took to taking my books and sitting with Jinny and watching her pups as they knocked about blindly, seeking her teats or walking like a drunk, only on milk. One male, one female - Taffy and Tipsy I named them.
Soon Jinny shed her prickly self and ventured into the winter sun and enjoyed lazing in it with her two pups. Tipsy found a home at my aunt’s place and we kept Taffy. Taffy was such a delight and I spent so much time fussing over him that Jinny started sulking and I teased her ‘Buddhi’ - Punjabi for old woman.
My new walk routine involved two dogs on two leashes, one round white furball, another white more angular floppy creature. Life was a lark. I was in first year of college, drowning in subjects I wasn’t interested in studying, but Jinny and Taffy were my best friends and who could be luckier than that?
Then one morning I woke up early as usual to study. It was dawn and Mama was taking the dogs down for a stroll in the garden. I could hear the door open, which would let them out. Jinny would linger in the garden, check the hedgerow that bordered the footpath and meander back. We didn’t need a leash with her - unless there were other dogs around. Taffy though was just a year old. He loved bounding - bounding about furniture, bounding through flowers and fields, and a leash was handy with him.
It was early morning, everything lay quiet and as I heard the latch open, my heart tightened. Then I hear a loud ‘thwack’ and my heart dropped. It was the first time I experienced something I’d only read. It was also my first case of premonition.
Sitting in my bed beneath that razai that winter morning I knew Taffy had died.
He had, as was his nature, bounded out and onto the Mall Road in front of our house. A passing car had hit him at great speed. When I took him in my arms, there was no blood on him but he was dying. Mama said the impact had killed him. I held Taffy in my arms for many hours. I learnt what rigor mortis is. Taffy was snuggled in my lap and then he went stiff.
We buried him in the flower bed of our garden. You know this story. You’ve asked me whether his bones are still there. It’s been 28 years - do bones decompose in that time, I don’t know.
In my heart though he is alive. There is no fixed place for him - the heart has no compartments - but all the joy and love of flying fur and molten eyes and pink tongue lolling with exhaustion is there. Some days, it surges through and fills my eyes - like today.
Li’l M, know this: Bubbles, your majestic black beauty with with headlight eyes, is a part of you now. And that’s where you’ll go to find her.
23 April 2013
|Li'l M's Bubbles|