I was four months old when the rains came. And with the rain, the sticks. It was a Sunday afternoon. I was making my way back to the building after scavenging from the municipality garbage bin across the road. The watchman on duty shouted at me before I reached the gate, the threatening tone in his voice saying, “Go away, you ugly thing, and don’t come back!” This confused me.
How was I to know that Harichander and his friends had decided that I was no longer a good idea, and that the rainy season would be the best time to get rid of me?
Being small, I evaded the watchman, darted under one of the gates, and tried to make for cover under one of the parked cars. Unfortunately Harichander saw me, and lunged at me with a huge bamboo.
I crouched in fear under the car, but he knelt down, and poked at me hard with the stick, forcing me out. I ran towards the gate, and he ran after me brandishing the stick, while Tiger circled us both barking loudly.
He was quite bewildered, and kept asking Harichander to stop this nonsense, but Harichander just ignored him. I don’t think he even understood him. None of this made any sense to either Tiger or me. Here was the man who still fed me occasionally, now holding up a big stick to beat me.
I ran back out into the rain, wet and miserable, and hung around just outside the building hoping Harichander would change his mind. But he stood there menacingly, while Tiger slunk back under a car. “Don’t take this personally,” he explained to me from the safety of his spot, “but I’m not about to stand up for you and stand in the rain at the same time. Hope you understand”. Of course I did. I’m a dog after all, but I think a human might have felt let down.
I hunched my shoulders, drew my tail in between my legs, and crept away. Every few minutes or so I went stupidly back to’“Brindavan”, and got shooed off again. By now I was so completely wet that I think I completely forgot what it felt like to be dry and accepted being wet all the time as a new state to be. It wasn’t unfamiliar to me. I remembered being wet before, when I lived inside my mom’s tummy.
I limped up and down the street woefully, no longer bothered by the rain, just wanting to be home. To a little puppy that’s been around humans for some time, home tends to be anywhere there’s a human. For a while, I took to following people walking down the street with strange looking curved roofs over their heads, hoping one of them would notice me, pack me up and take me with him. But no one did. Like me they were also keen to get home soon. Once or twice, one of them would reach out a leg and try to kick me away.
Then a strange resolve came over me. I said to myself, “I am going back again to Brindavan, and what’s more, I will insist on staying there. How can they just throw me out? Surely my friend Tiger will protect me. And those Pintos. And Golu. Besides, it’s time I grow up a little and learn to snarl and bark, and do all the things that dogs do to defend themselves. Perhaps I can even venture a good strong bite, straight into Harichander’s juicy calf”.
Now I wonder how those nasty thoughts came into my head. I had never seen a dog bite anyone before – so it must have been pure instinct. What a foolish little pup I was! One must never ever take on humans single handed, and certainly not if you’re a lame little pup that they could easily over come with their size and strength.
This time I was greeted by not just one but two men with sticks, Harichander and the watchman. And this time, they actually beat me. Soundly.
I resolutely stood my ground, giving voice to my first few snarls, while they trashed me repeatedly on my thin back, and my legs, yes even the broken one.
Biting was not as easy as I thought. My teeth and jaws were still too small, and I couldn’t quite get a grip on anything more substantial than the hem of Harichander’s torn khakhi pants.
It was time for lesson number two in dog etiquette, this one I taught myself. When in real trouble, scream for help. Don’t feel shy, just let those lungs loose.
I switched over to yelping and howling out loud with all my might, while still refusing to budge from the spot near the gate where I was crouching, more from terror than courage.
Right enough, the Pinto girl heard me, opened her window, looked down at all the commotion, and shouted out to Harichander to stop the beating at once.
“Why are you pushing him out?” she asked him.
“We don’t want to keep this dog” he replied. “So we are sending him away, while he is still small and not so used to us”.
“But why are you doing it in the rain? Where will he go? He will catch cold, as it is he is so weak”.
“Oh, he’s just a dog, he will look after himself. They all do”, scoffed the watchman, and started beating me again.
“You just stop beating him at once”, she shouted.
“If you don’t, I’ll come down and beat you myself with a stick and show you how it feels”. After that warning they did stop. But by then so had the rain, and I was too frightened to hang around there any more, so I crept out of the gate, and sat under the tree, licking myself where the blows had struck.
Tiger came out to meet me, and sniffed me carefully all over, reassuring himself that I was still alive.
“Listen, buddy”, he said kindly, “You’re going to have to learn to take care of yourself now. It’s a rough would, but you’re already four months old and I’m sure you’ll manage. I’m around if you need any advice, and if you want to have a good time, but basically when it comes to eating and surviving; you’re on your own. You’re an animal, not a human like Golu, just remember that. Animals are supposed to take care of themselves”.
Then he casually went off for a pee, and later strolled back into the building. I knew he genuinely cared for me but he never ever fussed over me. Now I realized it was for my own good.
I think I must have dozed off in exhaustion, because the next thing I was aware off was nightfall, and a new watchman on duty, with a calm stillness all around. I checked to see that I was unobserved, and quietly slipped back into the building, under a car, and went off to sleep. My last wakeful thought was that I must be up before dawn broke when that hateful Harichander made those gargly sounds that scared all the birds away every morning.
This became the pattern of my life, for the next few days. Up in the morning, forage for food in the dustbin, sleep under the tree across the road during the day, back under the car at night.
The Pinto girl started getting me a saucer of milk twice a day at the tree, but made no more attempts to convince Harichander to let me back into the building. May be she had talked to the building Secretary, and he had refused to let me stay, which wasn’t surprising because she wasn’t at all popular with the building folks, who all thought she acted too proud and uppity with them.
It rained now and then, mostly just drizzles and light showers, and I realized that I quite liked the feel of the drops on my back when they were cool and gentle. So I often scampered up and down the street, exploring the neighbourhood a bit, and sometimes got into minor arguments with the other dogs in the area, who ran behind me and covered up my pee with their own.
Tiger was usually around to defend me if the arguments got too loud, and it was in his shadow that I got the courage to explore some of the other neighbouring streets and buildings and make new friends. Being a puppy, I was no threat to anyone really, and most of the female dogs in the area were quite nice to me, especially since they were all really pally with Tiger.
I had now become a “stray” dog. A dog that lives in the streets and feeds off the garbage bins, slinks around by day and howls annoyingly at night, (not that I personally did any of those things), owned by no one, nuisance to all – at least that is what most people feel.
I never did meet any of my littermates or my mom again though, or may be if I did perhaps we just didn’t recognize each other. I know now that had my relations seen me, they would surely have left me alone because of my broken hip. As Tiger had taught me, out on the streets and in the wild, we animals believe only in the survival of the fittest.
Well, this part of my story is not unique to me. Many stray dogs start out as pets, but are later thrown out and abandoned when their owners realize that looking after a dog is not a piece of cake, unless one is really committed to the concept and willing to accept the little creature for good or for bad.
(To be continued in the next issue…)