Humans are unpredictable and their behaviors are very easy to predict, therefore. On a late cold Delhi winter night, as we frantically waited with worry, for my father to come home, the doorbell rang. My mother and my two sisters and I rushed to answer the door and as soon as we saw our father safe and sound, our concern changed into irritation and indifference. We gave him the silent treatment and huddled into a corner totally ignoring him and pretended to be deep in conversation about something inconsequential. My father, waited for us to acknowledge him and a small BOAC air-bag in hand. When we insisted on ignoring him, he shrugged his shoulders went inside his room.
Suddenly we heard a small soft whimpering sound and again thinking the worse, we rushed to his room.
My father was holding the bag in his left hand carefully. He saw us and taking our cue, ignored us and continued to look at the small BOAC bag. And the whimpering continued. My mother, who by now was sick of our silent games, asked him what was happening inside the bag. Slowly and with extreme care, he unzipped the bag from a small opening that had been left in the zipper and took out a small puppy. A beautiful small white puppy, with the most beautiful, black as button eyes. Forgetting that we were not talking to our father and everything else, we first jumped on him and then collectively on the little puppy.
The puppy was a couple of weeks old and belonged to my father’s friend. His dog had had a litter and my father saw the puppies and impulsively brought one home. We were beyond ourselves with joy and shrieked and squealed our happiness. I don’t remember whether I hugged my father more or the dog! My mother who by how had regained her composure turned to my father and menacingly told him that this puppy has to be taken back tomorrow morning. We pleaded, begged, argued, and pleaded some more but my mother was resolute in her decision. The dog had to go. Our household it seemed to me had its fair share of villains and my very placid mother, donned the role of the meanest one possible. I pleaded I was her favorite, she said no. I turned to my dad, I pleaded, and I was his favorite too. He shrugged his shoulders. We all took turns to ask our mother, but she was being practical, sensible, logical, and rational; she said we just don’t have the capacity to care for a puppy right now.
Sadly, we took the little puppy from my father. By now the little thing was stressed and cold and hungry. My sister looked for something to feed the dog. Suddenly, my mother came to the kitchen, heated some milk, took some bread, and made a small mash for the puppy, fed her slowly, all the while patting her and making soft soothing sounds. The poor little thing, starved both for affection and food, responded appropriately and started licking my mother’s fingers. Sweetly, silently and very effectively, the little puppy was in control and had made a place in my mother’s heart and our house. Within fifteen minutes the equation had changed and there was no going back after this.
My mother told us to line the house with newspapers and to stop shrieking so as to not make the little puppy nervous. She made a makeshift bed for her next to her bed and stayed awake most night with the little thing. She was used to dogs and had grown up with dogs in her father’s house. And all this ‘don’t want a dog’ was because she was worried as to what will the dog do at home alone when we all went to school and she went to work.
The next few days, the talk of returning the pup completely disappeared with everyone chipping in to adjust to the little puppy’s time. We named her Naffy after the beautiful Egyptian queen, Nefertiti. My father delayed his office hours, my mother came home early from work, and we earnestly contributed with her training and her feeding and walking schedule. Soon enough Naffy became a part of our lives and our house. She was a beautiful dog, and she was a sensitive soul. She was not aggressive and she was not rambunctious. She was calm, very self-assured and extremely dignified. Her intelligence surprised us. She didn’t have to be told anything twice. She was trained in a couple of days. She understood or at least gave an impression of holding a conversation with us. She was mild-mannered and only barked at visitors whom she sensed something uncomfortable about. She brought a welcome change in our house, we became so much happier. All of our efforts were concentrated on making her think well of us. True to her name, she was royal and she understood that we all lived for her approval. And she was very measured in doling it out. We were besotted with her and no decision was taken by us without first understanding its impact on her. She regulated my father’s timings, for he had to take her for an early morning walk since the rest of us had to go to school. My mother, already a very punctual person would rush back home to make sure Naffy was not alone for long. The three of us, the laziest normal kids you ever saw, were dedicated to taking her for her walks, bathing her, taking her for her shots, her vet visits and making sure she was free of ticks. Her sickness became ours and her happiness became ours, soon we came to be called the three sisters with a dog.
However much we loved her, it soon became clear to us that Naffy lived only for my father. She was in awe of him. She would wait for him, fight with him if he got late in the evenings and refused to let go of his side when he was home. In part because, he was the only one who treated her with dignified love and affection, unlike the rest of us, showered her with sloppy kisses and hugs. She made it abundantly clear to us how she wanted to be treated but we loved her all the more for it.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, Naffy had a litter of two and despite much medical intervention and prayers; one of the two didn’t make it. We kept the second puppy with us and named him Sparky. And just as Naffy was besotted with my father, Sparky too preferred his company to ours and was willing to make concessions only for my mother. From being called the three sisters with one dog, we were now called the three sisters with two dogs. Their will was our devotion, and it was done.
Our dependence on Naffy and Sparky increased and our life underwent a complete change. We didn’t take holidays, didn’t attend any out-of the-station functions, we didn’t even go out very much. My two elder sisters got married in quick succession and our household now consisted of my parents, our two dogs and I.
My sister’s and I had our bedrooms on the first floor of our house. And as a rule, Naffy and Sparky slept downstairs with my parents while the three of us slept upstairs. After my sisters left, I refused to sleep alone, it was decided that Naffy and Sparky would sleep upstairs with me. And then the tantrums began. They refused to come up with me. I would entice them with a treat and take them upstairs and the moment they ate it, they would rush downstairs. I started locking the door from inside so that they couldn’t leave and the whole night they would sleep near the door and wag their tails and look at me with such sadness that eventually I had no option but to let them go downstairs and follow them there myself. I knew that I had to train myself to sleep alone upstairs, but most days, we would go up and after my parents turned in for the night, the three of us would very stealthily sneak back and find an odd corner to sleep. My mother, a really early riser, would find me curled up in her bed, with the other two, at my father’s feet. But we were dealing with too many things, missing my sisters, getting used to fewer people in the house, so my parents didn’t really mind our antics.
Sparky was a well-built dog, handsome and a thinker. He would be in some deep thoughts all the time and often gave an impression of being a philosopher. My father’s morning routine with Naffy and Sparky, was the talk of the block. Every morning, the three of them would leave at sharp 5.45, go to the Gurudwara, there my father would tie the two inside in the verandah like structure and go inside to pay his respects to the holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib. These two would sit down, not a whimper, not a voice, no irritation, no barking; just silently and respectfully waiting for my father to return. Other early morning visitors to the Gurudwara were initially scared of them, but these two would sit meditatively and silently. Soon the fear turned to admiration and then to deeper respect. The conversation always was how graceful and good-natured these two were. And how divine their souls were.
However much pride I may take in their ownership, for the vet’s card mentioned me as the owner, they were essentially my mother’s dogs. She took care of them, fed them, bathed them, hand fed them when they were sick and held them close to her when she was in pain. They loved her back unconditionally and would never take kindly to us if we ever had an argument with her. We used to call them ‘ Mohini di Paltan.’ My mother’s affection for them was unbounded and when she was unable to move around much due to crippling arthritis, she would still take them out, because she had to go for an evening walk. And they walked in line with her, slow measured step, so as to not pull at the lease and upset her balance. Their love bordered on the divine and we would often tease her and remind her of her momentary refusal to let Naffy stay.
They ruled over our lives as Monarchs, gentle ones though. All four, my parents and their precious dogs, are gone now, to a better world, to spread their grace and gentleness to others. Their memories linger, like a gentle fragrance of an early morning rain and a gentle breeze. They taught us to live better and be better than what we were meant to be and what we intended to be. They taught us to love unconditionally.
My love for them is everlasting.