Sometimes mind purging turns out to be a necessary activity. Old memories should be retraced, shaken and, if necessary, evicted. This cleansing mechanism is not always a deliberate process. I was a child when my mother used to frequent her mother’s house. I was always a part of the baggage whenever she went to granny’s house to meet her bed-ridden mother and her elder brother. Apart from the two, the house had one more inhabitant, the maid – Ketaki. She was about my mother’s age – dark skinned, robust and characterised by a permanent grumpy expression and a hoarse voice. She took care of my grandma with least earnestness and my mother’s presence never pleased her. I disliked my sojourn to my maternal house mostly because I couldn’t find a companion in the family. I was always vexed with Mom for spoiling my school holidays.
The spacious library which my late grandfather created was like an oasis in the desert. I can still remember how I spent the squalid afternoons immersed in the tales of Tintin, Holmes, Poirot, David Copperfield, Tom Sawyer, and other doyens of human imagination. My uncle, a civil contractor by profession, mostly came back in the late evenings after toiling the entire day on various job sites. He was a man of effervescent spirits who always brought gifts for me when he came back – chocolates, sweets, toys and the like. He despised my habit of reading and the library to him was a mere memorabilia of his deceased father. He would time and again advice me to take up outdoor sports. “It is important to have good health, you see. Too much reading would spoil your vision.” I felt strange when a man of such frail health who hardly did anything to groom his physique advised me to remain in shape. The sole exercise he preferred was to drink three to four glasses of what the family members mentioned to me as “medicine” regularly in the evening in his small room. I personally felt that the intake instead of making him vivacious, sulked his spirit and slurred his speech. Mother remained busy the whole day looking after my ailing grandmother and quarrelling with the unrelenting maid.
Things were pretty usual until one afternoon in the summer of 1991, my uncle’s homecoming in a state of bizarre euphoria shocked everyone. The amazement was not on account of my uncle but the new found companion he brought along in the sultry afternoon. My uncle was in all smiles and a low-pitched growl of his companion was pervading the moment. Ketaki and Mom were guarding the gate and I was inches behind evidencing the spectacle. The guest waiting at our doorstep was in my uncle’s arms and it was observing us minutely but not very silently. It had black and round small eyes, a pygmy tail and a sharply pointed jaw. Judging by the enthusiasm of my uncle, I could easily make out that the puppy was here to stay. The two women who were pretty much dismayed by uncle’s infantile action admonished him vehemently. That was indeed one of the rare occasions when I had seen Mother and Ketaki concur on a subject. Their opinion was justified – my grandma was severely ill and rearing a pet dog can only imply added trouble. Uncle was unmoved despite incessant bickering and harsh reprimanding from the opposition and displayed his resolute to adopt the canine. The criticisms, forewarnings and every other form of feminine impediments were dispelled and the young doberman got the recognition of being the newest member of the family. I was never too fond of pets, especially dogs. The reason behind that was the preoccupation of the fear in mind that the animal may bite me. I mostly stayed aloof when Uncle initially used to bathe the puppy or tied buckle around its neck or fed it in the morning. Mom and Ketaki took turns to feed it in the remaining hours of the day. I only accompanied my uncle to the local veterinary when the dog was clasped tenderly in the latter’s arms. Uncle seemed rejuvenated upon the arrival of this animal. The rest of the members except me were getting used to the pet. I never mingled and days passed by. The dog was also given a name, Kudo. Uncle had coined it. My holidays were drawing to a close and a retreat seemed evitable.
Winter arrived and I went along with mother again to Granny’s house. The moment I entered the house, I saw it. The tiny beast had evolved into a large creature – a rare feat for the doberman species. Upon seeing us, the giant stature which was chained in the veranda stood up. The sharpness of the eyes and the firmness of the jaws aggravated. Its eyes seemed fierce, burning and the demeanour possessed a piercing threat. It started to scream savagely and in desperation attempted to break the shackle. I was totally shaken. The dog seemed hell-bent to pounce on me. For a second I felt like dropping the polythene bag which I was carrying then and there and making a sprint to save my life. Ketaki was struggling to mellow the cur’s spur. Things finally came under a bit of a control after much dissuasion. I was very stirred on account of such an unnecessary hostility from Kudo and sensed the premonition that the vacation was not going to be a smooth one.
My mother sometimes caressed Kudo, Ketaki fed it regularly and Uncle played with it during leisure hours. My stance was unchanged. In fact, I distanced myself further away from the creature. This only implied that I made sure that the dog was always chained or under the strict vigilance of its doting owner. The wretched dog always howled whenever I was in its visibility range. I although was not the only one tormented. The newspaper boy who used to come fortnightly to fetch payment told my uncle to make the same in his outlet. Govind, the milkman, dropped the milk packet in our neighbour’s house and Ketaki routinely had to bring it from there. No salespersons, peddlers, cobblers dared to enter the premises. Even the neighbours and relatives who flocked regularly stopped coming. Even if they did, the first condition they imposed at the very doorstep was to tie up Kudo. Quite often the phone rang and there were requests like “For God’s sake make your dog silent”. However, no matter how petrified everyone became, how much alienation or ostracism we had to face, Kudo didn’t show any sign of reformation.
One night as we were in the arms of Morpheus, Kudo began to bark infuriatingly. We were propelled back to our senses and rushed immediately towards the direction from where the chaos emanated. The dog was tied to the extreme end of the porch facing the prime entrance. Kudo was uncontrollable. It was jumping frivolously, barking at the top of its voice. I glanced at the wall clock and the two hands showed it was 30 minutes past two. My Uncle and the two women collaborated to soften Kudo’s temper. Even my Grandmother was feebly pleading from inside her room, “Kudo calm down”. All the exhortations seemed to go in vain. The beast was prancing, gasping and yelling rabidly as if in a state of delirium. This was very unusual. Kudo generally disturbed no one during the night. Uncle looked concerned and opined that Kudo should be taken to the local vet the very next day. We all retracted to our rooms in a state of bizarre inquisition after half an hour when Kudo was understandably tired.
The local vet instead of prescribing medicines deduced the quandary as the dog’s visualisation of something or someone unusual. My uncle interpreted it that a cat must have been lurking near the door and Kudo was lured. Next day it was my turn to visit a medical practitioner (obviously a different one) and I was diagnosed with viral fever. The consequence was that I remained glued to the bed for the next three days. My mother and the maid’s tasks increased manifold on account of two patients in the family. Kudo was allowed to remain unchained but the surprising thing was, it hardly uttered a sound. To everyone’s astonishment, it sat continuously besides my bed with a look of profound concern and piety. Whenever I got up and proceeded towards the washroom or dining table, it moved to the opposite corner of the room standing at two back legs with the front two poised up in front. I noticed Kudo’s eyes. It bore a gaze of gratitude and love. My health recovered within a week and after that my animosity with Kudo metamorphosed into amity. I now patted its head gently and it would roll out its tongue and lick me in appreciation. Kudo was no longer chained to fancy my whims. It now accompanied me to the library and I voluntarily took the onus of serving it food everyday. We took a stroll regularly in the streets. Kudo’s mangy counterparts often assembled and incited it collectively. Kudo often retorted with equal rage but I was able to soothe its temper every time. Not much effort was required. Only a mild verbal diktat of “Quiet Kudo” along with a gentle stroke on the head was sufficient.
And then the Friday morning came with the omen. Normally Kudo acted as our alarm clock or so as to say for the entire neighbourhood, but today the clock was silent. The alarm this time came from Ketaki – a dreadful scream. We rushed and the sight still haunts me. Kudo was lying motionless with its legs stretched out and the body pointing towards the door. Its eyes were steel cold. The mouth was partially open revealing the wet molars. A half-eaten dog biscuit was nearby. It was moist with lull indicating that it was bitten by the dog. I stood at the corner observing everything pensively. Uncle started sobbing like a child. Ketaki and Mother were patting the inert body gently. The neighbours who previously distanced themselves for Kudo also started gathering. Words of consolation came from varied mouths but uncle was still weeping. The Vet came, the procedures were carried out and the remnant of the jubilant canine soul was cremated in the nearby dog cemetery. For the next few days, a stony silence prevailed in the household. Dogs generally have a short life span but such a way of meeting the end was unacceptable to all.
Years have passed by, we have moved on. Grandmother has left for her heavenly abode. Ketaki has left the job in the quest of more rewarding pursuits. My uncle is now an old bachelor under strict medical supervision. My mother now rarely visits her paternal house because of her own arthritis. I sometimes pay a visit to my ailing uncle. Last time I went there with my newlywed wife, Soumi. She was exuberantly ambling across the house observing the library, the garden, the vast wooden dining table, the ebony shelf, my grandfather’s small studio, paintings – all these which formed a part of a childhood which has long ago marooned me. Soumi was delighted to witness all this probably because it was a stark contrast to the congested arrangements of the flat system in which we reside. I told her about my long-lost association with everything around the house. The only thing I remained silent about was a chain and buckle which she found in a pile of debris in one of the abandoned corners of the house.