We lived at the second floor and felt comparatively free from animals, dust and pests commonly found at the ground level dwellings. One morning, I heard some commotion outside the door. As I opened the door more out of inquisitiveness, I was surprised to see a dog trying to reach in the kitchen dust bin for the last nights discards. It was a huge dog, brown and white in patches and above all suffering from the chronic ailment of dogs; Scabies (khujli) – where the animal looses its fur in effected places and due to itching it bites itself so much that they frequently bleed and raw scabs form all over. The dog is never at peace and runs about wildly, and is generally shunned by its friends. Thoroughly irritated, hungry, cold and friendless the animal is always in a great distress.
The dog looked up at me, completely unwillingly to give up its treat. I saw a sea of emotions in his large brown eyes. There was a plea to not being shooed away, guilt of having toppled my dust bin and a mute request to be treated honourably. I was over come by his sad plight instantly and shut the door quietly. Then, it started to appear regularly at my dust bin and on my part I would leave a chapati, or some other tangible left overs every time. Problem was that some times other dogs would find the refuse first and this dog was denied of my friendly offerings. I began to wait for it every morning and when it apprehensively appeared thee I would fetch him his bit of breakfast. A week later I noticed for the first time that it actually wagged its tail when he saw me, I was pleased at the new acquaintance.
Next day I was prepared to meet him. I had kept an old enameled plate and had spoken to the local veterinary doctor regarding the dogs ailment. He asked me to apply a lotion called Scabiol on his wounds and give him some multi-vitamins. I purchased these from the chemist. The problem how would I administer the medicine to a street dog. I put the Vitamin syrup in some milk and put it in his plate, he lapped it up happily. But applying the tincture was a real challenge. I took courage in one hand and a wad of wool dipped in Scabiol in the other and began to dab it at a wound on its back. It must have burnt like mad, but the dog stayed on and I could treat some deep wounds in its back and behind. When it could not bear it any further he retreated; I watched him lie on his back, trying to rub it off. I thought that it was the last of my meeting with him. I came in and described the story of my good deed to the family. My husband shrugged his usual displeasure. My son said that I need to be careful, “Good! The hero did not snap at you Mom”.
Next day I waited more keenly at the appointed time and was indeed surprised when I heard a scratching at my door! I rushed to open it and was very pleased to see him. I bent and patted him on his broad head. Hero looked pleased and a little relieved of discomfort. I gave him a bigger portion of milk and roti from left over from dinner. As he lapped it up, I bent and began to apply a fresh coat of the tincture. Hero, as I had begun to call him, paused, and looked up at me with a gratified look. He put his head down to his plate and I could reach newer wounds on his skin. He tried to bear it as much as he could, and when it became unbearable he just went away uncomfortable. I watched again as he lay upside down in the ground floor garden trying to wipe off the burning liquid. In a weeks time he looked good and I could sense a re-growth of tuft on the dried up patches. He was healing well and now, appeared to be more relaxed. He could eat well, sleep well and above all appreciate me better. Our friendship had started off and he introduced himself to other family members. This made him as a family friend: he wagged his tail and they all patted him.
The begin of a beautiful relationship.
As winter was at its peak, Hero would make several trips to our second floor. Often, when someone opened the door hero would be there to welcome. He began to follow me where ever I went. If I visited a friend he would patiently wait outside and if I took my own time, he would give out a whining cry to express his boredom. When I came out for my journey back he would strut around, pleased like a worshiper whose prayer had been answered. If stood talking to the hostess at her door for a long period he would express his annoyance by barking at unsuspecting passersby. Otherwise Hero was very mild mannered and docile, but this chaperoning had become his prestigious duty. If by chance I went home without his coming to know of my departure, he would scratch at the friends door and the friend had difficult time to let him know I had left. Gradually, neighbourhood children began to refer to me as Hero’s Mom.
If I came down with Hero trailing me and boarded a car, he was most upset. He had a thing against cars and never trusted them, so he would stand at a distance and look at me as if asking me to abandon my silly journey. Actually, he had scant respect for cars. He would cross a road at will, not bothering about an oncoming car. Worse, he had the bad habit to reach the middle of a road and stand on three legs while scratching his underside with the fourth. I always had my heart beating in the mouth when he did this. Sometimes cars would screech to avoid him, but nothing deterred him. Another bad habit he would display to embarrass me was that he would go and put his wet cold nose against some one walking ahead. He particularly targeted ladies and, perhaps, liked the screaming scene that would follow. His big size always prevented a showdown.
The height of embarrassment from him was revealed as summers broke in. To cool himself, he would quickly sit in the roadside drain for a while then begin his walk as close as possible. The dripping water fell on the clothes as he shook him self. Actually, dirtier and smellier the water, the better. He enjoyed doing this and if I was smart and hid my self behind a tree while he was away, he obliged any other passing walker.
Back to the front entrance of the house, Hero enacted the Camel in the Story of Traveler and Camel in the cool of the desert night. The camel who had asked to just put his nose for warmth into the tent of the traveler, eventually ended up in the traveler put outside and the camel in. Hero would like to come to just inside the main door and sleep on the doormat. Against great family opposition, I won the concession for him. Soon, Hero became the priority person on the doormat. He next preferred to have his milk plate also placed close by. One night we some how forgot to lock the front door. When my husband got up early next day for his walk, he was stunned to see the door fully open. His heart sank and perhaps his temper mercury began to rise uncontrollably, he saw Hero sprawled in the doorway. Best protection, he thought as his anger subsided and he said a silent prayer to God and Hero for favours granted.
From this day onwards Hero had unrestricted entry into the house and he would choose a place to sleep away from general movement pattern. He loved sleeping so much that he would even sacrifice food for it. Another habit that he formed that day was to accompany my husband for his walks. Since hero was always on the loose, he walked ahead and since he did not know which route my husband would take, he would proceed along any road from the four road crossing and then when he saw no one was following him, he would make a dash back to the intersection and begin to loudly wail his displeasure. Husband was always obliged to make his position known. Then he had to be prepared for a very pleased huge dog jumping all over him. Other morning walkers thought it was his Waterloo.
Morning is also time for other packs of dog families to exercise their presence to all intruders. The collection would consist of some 7-8 members of dog-families chasing cars, barking hoarse at passing Bulls and generally making a nuisance of themselves. They chased all stray dogs out of their domain and fought them to humble submission. For Hero they did not matter. In his deep growl he would announce his presence whenever he suspected that such dog-families would be present. Then, as he spotted them, he would just walk to the middle of the pack, his head held high and his growl growing deeper. A round of sniffing would follow and Hero would extract himself from the mess and follow the ritual of being lost again. Husband would always be upset as to what he could do if a fight broke? He began to stuff his pockets with stones and even began to carry a two foot stick. He was scared to use any of his weaponry, lest the stray dogs declare a dog-fight to the end.
Next option for him was to avoid taking Hero for a walk. Easier said than done. Hero made it his life’s mission to follow, without fail. Husbandji would open the door as quietly as the rusted hinges would permit; then, go down the thirty two odd steps softly. He stood in the shadow of the garage and looked to see if Hero was out of sight. He succeeded a few times. Meanwhile, Hero was analyzing his failure; he was working on the problem in his dogged mind. He found the solution at last. He would wait either just outside the only door leading out of the flat or rest comfortably by the garage door. Both places were sure shot traps for a scheming master. He went on every day and every day. Husbandji would came back upset at some unseemly antique of Hero. Some day he would have missed a speeding Qualis of some Call Centre, or was very nearly into a brawl with the stray dog families and some days it would be innocent smelling the tips of some unsuspecting morning walker; usually ladies who would yell in surprise and were always unsure who the owner was for venting out their embarrassment ire, though they suspected the right person. All attempts to mislead him were futile at road crossings as Hero had learned to fall back at such susceptible areas. To him a leash was unthinkable and a big insult to his Doggie ego.
He was a favourite with dog-catchers. One day as I stood on the balcony I watched Hero barking at a person. The man held in his hand a long bamboo, which finally turned out to be a tongs like implement to catch dogs. The man stood still and Hero became bolder by the bark. He kept creeping closer to the man. Then in a flash of action the man had fastened the tong like implement around Hero’s waist. I was shocked and began to plead for releasing the dog. The man was adamant and did not wish to loose his prized catch of the day. I took time to get dressed to go down and plead for Hero’s release again. When I went down I saw Hero had been thrown over a mass of dying and dead dogs from earlier catch. Hero wasn’t moving and I was sure that he also had died. With heavy heart I came up again.
My daughter had been working at a location on the periphery of the town. One day as the bus she was in was slowly meandering its way along unprepared road, she thought she saw Hero outside. She involuntarily called out his name, the dog looked up and a glint of recognition came in to his large pained eyes. Next morning I walked into the authority office and demanded what they did with dogs they would catch. An official told me that they buried all dead animals and if there were some healthy and living ones, they would give those shots of anti rabies vaccine and leave them in wilderness. One of such areas was where he was last spotted. The family was very pleased that after all Hero was surviving, where ever he was. That night as I was shutting down the house after the usual Saas-Bahu episode, I thought I heard the famous scratching outside. I looked outside into darkness from a slight crack in the door and could not believe what I saw. Mr. Hero was standing and looking me back, squarely in the eye. I opened the door and very dirty and tired animal just walked in. The whole family came awake and there waas great celebration. From that time onwards, Hero was some times stay in the house by night.
After this we began to see many personality changes in Hero’s behaviour. He had never dirtied the house, now he began to understand commands like sit, come here, no, and even learned to shake hands (paw, actually). His health also started to improve and due to his size gave the impression of a Labrador. Visitors to our house began to consider him as a family member. When we went out for short while and if Hero was sleeping in some corner or under the cooler in summers and near a room heater in winters’ we would just lock him and go. He never made any damage.
One day I was returning from a walk with my daughter and as usual, Hero had been walking ahead of us. There were two boys, standing near the sector gate. We did not like their looks. I quietly told her that they might be chain snatchers or road side Romeos. Some how Hero sensed our concern and in the next second he had turned back and made a charge at the two, all the time growling in his heavy baritone. The youth took flight. Back home Hero was rewarded with a plate full of milk.
At another time, when my husband was not in town, we saw a snake parked just under our stairs. Me and my children raised an alarm. Many people gathered and ultimately killed the snake. After his return a neighbour was narrating his heroic deed to my husband. We were at that point of time standing at the base of the stairs. The story teller had a stick in his hand and he began to demonstrate how he landed the fatal blow to the snake. His voice slightly raised in excitement and the stick held high above his head, he was about to bring it down. Hero sensed this as a possible attack on Husbandji. In a trice he pounced on the story-teller and grabbed his shawl. There was absolute quiet. Then I told him to drop the stick and he complied. Hero let go of grip and came sheepishly to me. We all understood the sentiment and were very proud of him. That night Hero had chicken for dinner.
Hero had presumably adopted us and looked after us as his own. He had taken on human nature and began to understand all our emotions. He was fully conversant with our pattern of living; he knew exactly when a family member was due back from work. Life had begun to go on normal for all of us, and……………
Then on day, as a whiff of wind had blown Hero my way, it took him away. One morning he lay by the road. He had been hit by a passing vehicle. The sweepers had put his body and were wheeling it away when I had a final glimpse of him.