Last night, after finishing my previous post, I went to sleep at four. At seven in the morning, I got a call from Kanpur. I was fast asleep when the phone rang, but the moment I saw 'Home' blinking on the phone, I was wide awake. It was unusual for my parents to call so early. Could it be some bad news? It was.
"Naano has died," my mother was sobbing. Naano was an Indian breed dog who was adopted by my parents two years ago when he was just a few weeks old. He was the most handsome dog I'd ever seen: well-built, athletic with naughty, smiling eyes whose colour turned fluorescent green in pictures.
For two years he kept my aging parents on their toes, distracting them from the fact that both their sons are away. Naano was very demanding when it came to attention, and he hated to be left alone. If left alone in the lawn, he would dig apart the plants and if left alone inside, he would pull down the curtains. And when my parents got back home, he would give them a piece of his mind by letting out a different kind of a howl.
In the nights he would sleep with my parents on the same bed, his head placed comfortably on a pillow. He would, however, ditch them when my brother or I were visiting home. He would then sleep with us, and always be curious about what we were up to. If we went upstairs for a drink, he would follow us and hang around till we finished. If any of us got dressed, he would get excited. For he knew that if we are dressing up, we must be going out, and if we are going out, we must take him along too. He would jump around with glee the moment he would see me or my brother putting on a shirt.
In fact, the only expression he responded to most animatedly was, "Bairey jaabi?" -- "Want to go out?" His joy would know no bounds when we teased him with these two words, and that was the only time when he willingly allowed the leash to be tied around his neck. In fact, he could not wait for it to be tied. But the moment we stepped out of the gate, it would be impossible to keep pace with Naano. He would run as if he was tasting freedom for the first time, and it needed great muscle power and agility to keep him in control. Taking him out for a walk was like working out in the gym.
No wonder my father, when we were not around, preferred that Naano stayed home. At 65, he neither has strong muscles as us nor the agility. But that only increased Naano's determination to get out whenever he got a chance. So every now and then, when an unsuspecting visitor would open the gate, Naano would barge out through the gap and run away. My poor father would then take out his scooter out and look for him in every nook and corner of the neighourhood. The moment Naano would see my father approaching, he would run even faster. For him, a two-year-old dog, it was a game. He would be enjoying the freedom with the glee of a child who has been taken to a park. But that was dangerous: as a dog who had grown up in a home, he was not equipped with the traffic sense of a street dog. A street dog might be sleeping or playing on the road but it knows when exactly to move away if a vehicle is approaching. Naano, the innocent child, did not know all that. And that turned out to be his nemesis.
Of late, Naano had developed this habit of waking up at four in the morning and ask to be taken out. How did he ask? He would first beat his paws on the bed and bark, and if that did not cut any ice, he would start banging at the door. My father would wake up and let him out to the garden, but within minutes he would be banging at the door again, asking to be let in. Once in, he would again start banging at the door, asking to be let out. Basically he wanted to go out on the road. A couple of times, my father, out of sheer irritation, had let him out of the main gate. It is a different matter that he regretted his move each time, for he would be spending several anxious hours till Naano got back home. Most of the time, he would go out on his scooter to look for him and bring him back.
Last morning too, Naano woke up at four and wanted to be taken out. After putting up with his antics for two hours, my father finally opened the gate and let him go, out of sheer irritation. He has many more things worrying him, primary among them being my mother's fragile health. Anyway, Naano sprang out of the house in sheer joy. It was a pleasant summer morning, after all.
At 6.45, my parents found a lifeless Naano lying outside the gate. My father went and touched him, upon which he got up and came in but collapsed under the porch. He was bleeding from the mouth. My mother then ran her hand over him and called out his name, upon which he suddenly got up and walked up to the lawn and tried eating grass. But he could not eat and he came back and slid under the car, one of his favourite hiding places whenever he wanted to spring a surprise on us, and collapsed again. Within minutes he was dead. That's when the call came.
I was barely asleep for three hours when my mother called, and after that call, there was no question of going back to sleep. I was angry with my mother for having called me up so early just to deliver the news of the death of a dog. It's only a dog that has died, so why ruin my sleep? Couldn't she have waited for a couple for hours?
Actually, I was angry with her for having delivered the news in the first place. It was a piece of news that I didn't want to hear or believe. Since the call came at a time when I was fast asleep, I kept wondering for long if my mother's call was only a bad dream or whether she had actually called to tell me about his death. In fact, I still choose to believe that it was a bad dream and that Naano is still alive and sprinting around the garden.
But the fact is that Naano is now lies buried in the same garden. My parents gave him a decent funeral -- sprinkling him with Ganga water before burying him in a white shroud along with flowers and coins. He was a good dog.
Now, I don't know whether to shed a tear for Naano or for my father. Naano is dead and gone, but I alone know what my father must be going through. He is kindness personified when it comes to animals: way back in 1975, when he had come to Madras for a training programme, he had rescued a puppy stuck in a manhole in one of the streets in the city. Today, if I happen to love animals and if I am patient with street dogs, it's because of him. He always bonded with animals. While letting Naano out of the gate this morning, he obviously had no idea that the dog would sprint around so joyously on the road that it would be oblivious to the danger from an oncoming, speeding van. Naano was hit on the head by a school van. He died of brain haemorrhage. The saving grace was that he didn't die on the road, but chose to keep himself alive till he came home. His home.
That's Naano, bonding with my younger brother and my wife: