I was standing over watching the starving litter of stray pups feed, lest any greedy interlopers steal the food, when I saw him. A strange dog bounding full speed from the other end of the park. Maybe chasing a cat or a squirrel, I thought. But no, he came to a skidding stop right at my feet and gave two sharp woofs. I was taken aback by the impudence. The haq se, by right, style with which he demanded his share! No obsequous tail wags, no liquid stares full of longing, the usual doggy tricks, in him. The beggar had smelled food and he wanted it. Straight forward.
“ Want to steal from pups is it? Bad dog.” I scolded him.
He sat on his haunches, listening to my stern tone, looking very solemn and attentive. When I got busy checking which pup still needed to be fed, ladling broth and bread, Ana saw him lowering himself on his tummy. He crawled imperceptibly, till he was close to one of the discarded ice-cream tubs cum feeding bowls. Before I could turn, I heard a low rumbling growl and he was upon the food, a whimpering pup shoved aside. He wharfed or rather inhaled the slop in an instant, uncaring of all rebuke. When done, he turned attention to me, bread hanging from his wet moustache and all, with a look of such dignified innocence, it would have been cute on any other dog.
This one though, was a regular rapscallion. He had the compact body, the thuggish bearing and distinct smelliness of a garbage dump don. Fearing that he would maul the pups, I tried to shoo him. He took it as an invitation to gambol. Playfully touching paws with the pups and running away, stopping to let them chew his tail, sprinting, skidding and doing that happy skip of a dog in for a game. From time to time, he would invite me to join the game by jumping on me and pushing me with his forelegs no matter how much I shouted 'No'.
Despite his resplendent ugliness, there was a regal fluidity in his bearing, an economy of movement that spoke of complete confidence. His colour was a dirty brown, speckled with grey bands. Yellow discharge hung from the corners of his amber eyes. His very broad head and wide strong jaw ended in an elongated black snout; his ears went horizontal before twisting in a slight down turn. On his chest he wore a white tie like patch with a courtly air. His paws were big and white, completing the hilarious feet-in-socks, office-goer look. He bore his thick, proud tail like a flag of some victorious cricket team. Always up. Sitting on his haunches, on the green bench, to fob the the pups who eagerly pursued him, mewling and sniping, he could have been the National Geographic poster boy of genetic diversity. He was too noble to snipe back at them.
When I started walking the three blocks to home, he ran along and ahead as if showing me the way. He would run full speed ahead, come to a skidding stop and then look back, slack tongued and furiously panting. When I reached near him, the show was repeated. This style of his, created a hullabaloo on the road, causing genteel, uptight strollers walking their immaculate pure -bred, tightly leashed dogs to stare and roll their eyes. A horrified lady squealed in disgust. I felt mortified at this creature who had adopted me. I was new to the locality and this stupid fellow who was not even a pet of mine, was creating a ruckus and giving me a bad name. I pretended not to know him. What must my neighbors think of me ! Shucks !!
As soon as I unlatched the gate, he bounded in as if he owned the place. He peed on a planter, exchanged a friendly, put-in-the- place growl with Sheru the young white dog who was the troublemaker -in- residence, and installed himself on the porch.
My, My !! Such audacity. Wait till the man of the house comes and shows you the door, I thought.
When Purushottam came, the dog sat very gravely, erect on his haunches, as if a convenor of a seminar on saving canines of the world. No hint of ill manners he had freely displayed minutes before. My husband, connoisseur of breeds, saw him and fell in love. He said he had the broad head, the thick muscled neck, the speckled coat and the bearing of a pit-bull. Definitely some pit-bull DNA in there. Hearing the male voice, or perhaps the praise, there was a slight tail wag and complete attentiveness. When he got a chewy bone, he knew he had passed the test and went rolling on the grass.
Ananya immediately christened him ABP. Ajeeb Badsoorat pet. The strangely ugly pet. He indeed looked very strange and ugly to us then. He was underfed, street hardened, a bit haggard and behaved with a peculiar mix of affection and aloofness. Domestic enough to wag a tail or sit on the porch but growly, grouchy and wild when any efforts to bathe, cuddle, groom or leash him were made. He wanted us to be his friends, but he was a free spirit, nobody’s slave.
Soon other names got appended to him. The one that stuck was Ammo, as his live wire sprints reminded us of live ammunition. He would present himself, every morning, when I unlocked the front gate, no doubt after spending the night trawling the garbage bins and fighting turf wars. He would not beg or implore, just accept the meat, milk and broth as his due. Lots of it. Stomach full, he would run to the playground opposite our house for a gambol and sleep. His favorite places were a mud pit in summers or a warm sunny corner in winters. Whenever he saw anyone of us, his adopted family, emerge for a walk, he would lead and escort us, for our own safety. Running ahead with a playful sense of duty and pride. He dropped and picked up children from the bus-stop. He spent Sundays with them on the cricket field being spectator, cheerleader, guardian and digger of mud-pits.
Monsoon came and mating season hit him like a tornado, making him disappear for days. Coming only for an occasional feed. I saw him now and then during my walks, but engrossed in his affairs, he would ignore me. He was clearly the Top Dog : fearless, virile and ready to take on singlehandedly, any bunch of gangsters who came between him and his lady loves. No tail between the legs and no belly upping in him.
Then we did not see him at all for three whole months. I looked around the numerous parks, calling out to him, but to no avail. How could he just disappear like that, was the question we asked again and again. One cold night in December, when my husband was coming back from the gym, he saw a skeletal, four- legged figure emerge from the darkness and creep up to him. It was Ammo.
I came running and switched on the porch lights. Ammo was badly hurt. There was a fetid-sour smell of sickness about him, a dying animal’s mute acceptance in his eyes. A huge chunk of flesh had been taken from the mid-back; the wound had been festering with maggots for some time. He could not even lick it, nor could he stand my coming near him, let alone allow me to minister to the wound.
“There is nothing we can do for him at this stage,” Purushottam said. I agreed, “except feeding and sheltering him. I don’t think he will last for another two days. Let’s just let him be. Make a warm bed for him. Let him die in peace”
The whole night I worried that I would find a dead dog on my porch in the morning. Twice I got up to check. But he survived the night. He would surely be gone by evening, I thought. Let me feed him a grand meal- his last supper. I got Qaleem to get me choice bone cuts and meat chunks and made a super meaty –garlicky-marrowy broth. I spoke to the vet and he told me there was a turpentine based spray which could be spritzed on maggot wounds to seal them.
Like a cunning General plotting a battle strategy, I got ready for the operation. First came the broth bowl with a big fat marrow bone in center. He loved meat so much, that even in the semi-conscious fog of pain, he raised his head and held himself up to slurp.
I surreptitiously positioned myself above and behind him. Not so near as to alarm him, but near enough to give a good spritz midback. It was awfully smelly and I could see his exposed spine, under the billowing, pulsing, worm laden miasma of raw tissue.
I whooshed the spray, just as he was on to the marrow. I think his delight at that divine taste made him overlook the outrage. He merely gave himself a shake and carried on. I heaved a sigh of relief. Then came part two. Novaclox ladoo, twice a day. He gulped it and I clapped. He had survived another evening. And the one after it. And the one after it. Till death no more crouched on his back. Till he retrieved a little more of his ugly dog brightness everyday.
We did this marrow bone, turpentine spray and Novaclox wrapped in sweet ladoo thingie for a month. Very soon, he cottoned on to my treachery. He knew I was hiding the horrid smelling spray behind my back every time I came smiling with a broth bowl. He would growl at the whoosh of turpentine, but also keep slurping. How I loved those growls of life seeping back into him!
He understood now, that the ladoos needed to be chewed carefully and tested for hidden contraband. More and more, I had to pick up and throw the blue -white capsule after the ladoo containing it was carefully eaten.
Ammo’s wound started drying and filling. His fur gained shine and his body girth. Instinct made him just rest at nights instead of waging battles. By spring, the spring in his step was back. There was a bald scar on his back which itched all the time, but he was again the regular old ruffian that he used to be.
But he might not survive this again, we thought. He being the crazy fight- to- death kind of creature he was, his instincts needed pruning. He required sterilization. So I chained and bound him by cunning, to be taken to Friendicoes for the surgery. He looked at me imploringly as the Friendicoe's guy dragged him with a wire hoop around his chained neck and finally shut him in the iron cage mounted on his Tata 407. That look he gave me from behind the bars. He would never speak to me again. I was sure.
Three days later, I found him returned, hale and hearty, well- pruned, bounding with abandon when I got down from the car. The big nut pouch had shrunk and shrivelled but his happiness was intact. However, he got into the habit of chasing any vehicles that reminded him of his ordeal. Clattering autos, Tata 407s , dumpers, they were all dog stealing prisons. He hated them. Ears pinned back, body low and taut like a speeding arrow, running neck to neck with big wheels, he barked menacingly and chased them.
This scared us. This could cause serious accidents. It earned him a bad name with the big bureaucrats who lived in the colony. Complaints were lodged by them and one day a Dog Van came and caught him - no doubt with a wire lasso that he so dreaded, and took him away. When I came back from office I heard of what had happened from the gardener.
I made inquiries. Spoke to the dog van driver and found that he had been let off some where near the Asian Games Village. I took a drive in the night to the place, racking my wits. Walking. Calling out.
How do you find one medium-sized brownish-grey stray dog with upright bushy tail, who loves to dig the earth, roll in puddles and sprint like a bullet in a 100 acre locality, thirty kilometres away from his habitat? And would the resident stray -dogs allow him to stay alive even for a day? Without food, without any understanding of what had befallen him, how would he manage survival?
After two days of search, I gave him up as a lost cause. All our conversations were what would Ammo be doing? And remember when Ammo did that? Seven days later, it was still dark, when I unlocked the gates. Drums beat for early morning parade practice for Republic Day in the adjoining cantonment. The streetlights had been switched off, the sun had not risen and the moon was yet to sink. A haggard, scruffy looking Ammo stood silhouetted in the silvery moonlight, wagging his proud tail furiously, nudging and looking at me with clear amber eyes. I took him in my lap stroked him and baby-talked him and for once he did not mind. The whole household got up and he deigned to come inside. He ate and ate and ate and slept and slept and we marveled and marveled.
He had walked seven nights, and God knows how many miles, from Siri to Chanakyapuri, guided only by his canine GPS of smells and memories and reached Home. Fighting hunger, thirst, mean dog gangs and his own monumental smallness in this big bad world. Who were mere men to relocate or displace him? This place was his. He had staked a claim. He had earned the right.
He was my Darling Ammo, the Prince Of Dogs , to me, the most Handsome Dog in the Entire Universe .
Varsha Tiwary hates housework, loves dogs and eats books. Currently on a sabbatical from her nine to five life, she is engaged in turning her piles of unreadable journals into readable prose.
Now That I am a Bat
I do not want to drink your blood. I do not long to be tangled in your hair. What I have sacrificed in eyesight is more than made up for in hearing. I have come to appreciate sleeping upside down. The Schaefers, whom I have never really gotten along with, now love to have me over, especially in the early evening. They have even built me a house, affixing it to the side of their garage. I may decide to live there, since I am angry with the zookeepers. They play practical jokes on me and my fellow bats, keeping the lights on all night to trick us into sleeping so that we will remain awake during the day, darting about our cage to thrill and terrify the groups of third graders that pause by our glass on their way to the monkey house.
The Cows’ Ennui
We were grazing in the meadow beside the highway. No surprise there. Dorothy was sitting down. She thought it was going to rain. She always thinks it is going to rain. Esther turned back to look at me with her massive eyes. She seemed to want to say something but continued her silent masticating. I had an itch on my flank but didn’t feel like going over to the fence to rub it. Esther lifted her tail straight up into the air. She let out a lengthy, powerful torrent of urine. There must be more to life than this.
A librarian, as well as three time Pushcart Prize nominee, Thomas O’Connell’s poetry and short fiction has appeared in Caketrain, NANO Fiction, The Broken Plate, and The Los Angeles Review, as well as other print and online journals.