Saturday, October 16, 2010


Last summer would have just left behind pages of scorched memories but for a few frugal bouts of drizzle, which could almost be counted on finger tips. Monsoon bade a hasty “sayonara” leaving the Capital huffing and puffing in the scalding, seething heat, which soon gave way to muggy days and nights, unbearable and exhausting. Then suddenly one fine evening, dark, demonic clouds appeared on the horizon and whimsically decided to unburden on the parched cityscape. The Met Department was taken unawares but hastily regained composure soon and proclaimed it to be an unexpected reversal of the monsoons. Sighs of immense relief escaped from millions of Delhites and condensed into more clouds which kept on pouring incessantly for days and nights.

On one such drenched late evening, I was just about to retire to bed when there were repeated, urgent knocks on the backdoor. I hurriedly opened the door to find two rain-soaked figures happily grinning and beckoning me to come out quickly – my brother-in-law and nephew. I did as bidden and was propelled outside. My front balcony opened to a strip of space which was a sort of no man’s and at the same time every man’s land. I had placed a number of flower pots and planted a few trees there. To prevent water logging, which it was prone to, I had cemented the portion too so that it formed a kind of unfenced, rectangular table, a few inches high. I called it my “garden”, a misnomer that is. My kitchen and drawing room windows opened to it and the awnings thereon partially shaded the so called “garden” from rain and sun.

Here under the kitchen awning were nine miniscule, wet pups entwined and shivering. These were born of two mothers in the colony park adjacent to our flat. The mothers had gone in search of food when the rain started. The mothers generally dig the ground into oval shaped bowls which form a cradle for their new born and wherein they remain till they are able to crawl out and wander around. The bowls and the park itself had filled with water due to heavy rainfall almost drowning the pups. My brother-in-law and nephew had heard their weak squeaks of help from the floor above and had rushed to save them. Where best to keep them but the place where they were laid now! We were thinking how to feed the pups and keep them strong when the mother arrived, at first scared not to find her children where she had left them, but was soon relieved and united with the estranged ones. The pack ensconced themselves for a week or so in my “garden”.

We are a family of animal lovers and often in our urge to help the stray ones we put ourselves in such predicaments wherein our self imposed responsibility gets converted into a dilemma. The pups grew healthy and strong day by day; the mess and stench of their “growth” permeating the whole flat creating the most unhygienic condition which an entire Sanitation Department would have fallen short if summoned to sterilize. But we were handicapped and knew not what to do till the rains stopped. Then one day the sun shone bright and the mother herself carried the pups back to the park. But the story did not end there.

The brood was still our neighbours! We witnessed them grow up into sturdy, grateful mongrels. Soon they came back with a vengeance to repay their life savers. As a token of gratitude, they destroyed my plants, chewed away the barks of the trees, tore the moss grass and in general wreaked havoc in my “garden” so much so that I had to put up iron grills to fence the table. But the worst was yet to come.

As they grew up, only two were left out of the pack of nine – some wandered away, some were picked up and some just did not survive. Both the survivors were bitches - one with a shiny black coat and a white chest. We fondly named her Kaalu. The second one was of a light brown shade, very adventurous and fidgety by nature. The latter would often disappear for weeks and suddenly appear one day like Jack in a box, play around awhile and then again vanish into thin air. Both were exceedingly fond of my pet, Mr. Snow Boot, an Indian mix breed. Their fondness for Snow became the source of all my problems.

Kaalu was a permanent fixture around our flat and would playfully follow, nudge and tickle Snow as soon as he was out on his early morning walks, especially when, he was at his most disadvantageous position, i.e. while emptying his “leaky cauldron” or answering Nature’s call. Snow would, understandably, get enraged and growl, shoo and chase her. I’d pull Snow by the chain to prevent him from hurting Kaalu. In this tug of war, I was the most aggrieved one. Snow is a big dog and controlling him when irritated is very difficult. One day, while keeping a control on a vexed Snow, I got a terrible cramp in my leg which tormented me for days. On another day I fell headlong on the road while Snow happily ran after Kaalu. The situation worsened when Kaalu was joined by her sibling, the light brown one. I decided on quick action.

One morning I placed a bowl of milk in the “garden”, lured Kaalu in and latched the grill gate from inside, closed the front balcony door so that Kaalu was locked in the “garden”. Now the miscreant was trapped and would not be able to follow us! I left with Snow by the back door. We followed the same routine every morning. First few days, we could hear Kaalu whining and yelping in protest. Later, she resigned to the “new system” and often after coming back I would find her stretched in the “garden” lazily admiring the morning stars.

Morning walks were becoming a peaceful event when one day the brown one popped in to say “hullo”. That day I placed two bowls of milk, lured both of them in and followed the same ritual before going out with Snow. My new prisoner seemed restless but I ignored. We took an unusually long route and came back more than an hour later to find Kaalu sitting patiently and waiting for us while her sister was gone.

I was surprised. How could she escape when the grill gate was locked? The height of the grill and the gate was such that once locked from inside it could not be opened from outside. It was, therefore, out of question that the dog had jumped over the fence and scooted off. 5 o’clock in the morning was like midnight for the block residents. So, no Good Samaritan was around to offer a helping hand. The night guards would not dare do such things and I had noticed that they generally kept a safe distance from stray dogs. The car cleaners were by then up and about but were too busy finishing their job before the hustle and bustle of the day started. Therefore, they would not bother to waste much time to help a street mongrel in her escapade. Nevertheless, I was pretty sure that there was somebody around as my nasal antennae had picked up a whiff of cigarette smoke in the air!

An uneventful week passed by before the brown one appeared once again. I followed the same routine. As usual, when I returned, Kaalu was alone and a strong smell of cigarette puff wafted through the “garden”! This bothered me. Who could it be? Did he have any other ulterior motive or was just driven by sympathy towards a caged soul? If altruism was the driving force, then what made the invisible philanthropist partial towards the brown one? Why not Kaalu too? I thought of lodging a complaint with the Block Security, but in the absence of substantive evidence, apart from the cigarette smoke, I felt a little stupid doing so. My foremost concern was burglary. Perhaps, somebody was keeping a tab on my movement and had vicious plans in mind waiting to be put into action in an opportune moment.

However, the morning walks were indispensable and could not be put a stop to. The next time, I locked in both the siblings I made it a point to come back quickly. Snow also appeared to be in no mood for a long walk and did not object to an early return. As I approached my front yard I found the brown one in the quirkiest of pursuits. Her hind legs were placed on the rim of a stone pot close to the fence and forelimbs were on the edge of the grill. She was, supported by the plant pot, trying her level best to heave herself over the grill and was half successful as she swung precariously, almost half of her body dangling over the top of the fence. I was relieved and at the same time worried. I now knew how she managed to escape but in the process could either break my expensive pot or hurt herself as the fence was too high for such canine acrobatics. I opened the grill door and coaxed her for a more dignified departure. As she left, I deeply inhaled the clean, clear morning air and felt a bit heady thereafter.

As the day broke in, I rearranged the pots in the “garden” and removed them from the fence so that there was no next time for Ms. Brown to indulge in her gimmicks. She happened to appear the very next day, frisky and frolicsome as ever. I followed the same game plan and was out in a jiffy with Snow. The early morning breeze was soothing though there was a bit of a chill in the air. Both I and Mr. Snow were in light spirits and completed the stroll in a gay trot. We might have taken a little longer than usual in our relief and happiness. When we returned Kaalu was sprawled on the cemented floor happily snoozing. But Ms. Brown was nowhere around! How come? Had I not removed the pots on which she balanced herself to jump over? Yes, I had. The pots were still there where I had placed them away from the grill. They were heavy and could not be displaced easily. Then how did she manage to go scot free? The answer was right there! In front of my nose! My eyes watered as I stared hard at the shadowy “garden” and around helplessly while a thick wisp of cigarette smoke hung in the early morning breeze burning my lungs and nostrils.

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