April 12, 2019
West Jalukbari, Assam, India
Like any other yoga enthusiast, I lingered for that perfect moment when my breathing blended rhythmically with the chirping birds. It was a regular spring morning, and my practice fused with the smell of foxtail orchids, blooming in abundance. Usually, I would not have to wait this long in order to get a glimpse of Bholu. He is my only friend currently (and some would say, “She deserves it!” After leaving a troublesome marriage, a woman in India cannot really expect unconditional friendship.)
I did feed a few from Bholu’s tribe some years back. Gradually, they became territorial— incessantly urinating and marking themselves near the gate. Bholu, being a courteous dog, was not too pleased. He chased most of them away and now has an injured limb following a brawl with his erstwhile pals. To make matters worse, he would often run into speeding cycle rickshaws that have no mercy for the four-legged.
After having wrapped up my practice, I headed towards the cupboard where I kept Bholu’s eating bowl. It has been an ordeal hiding it. My sister is quite scared of dogs; she was bitten by a Pomeranian when she was six years old. My parents, meanwhile, felt that stray dogs were agents of infectious diseases. Frowning on my affection for them, they have rebuked me: “You’ll end up with rabies in no time. Do you even know how costly are the shots?”
I will not lie; I live frugally these days. I am trying to save money to fund my PhD. The state of higher education is abysmal here, so the task is tiring. Whenever I fix my gaze into Bholu’s eyes, I see mirrored that same exhaustion. He’s adjusted to the low-cost biscuits and leftovers from my plate, and doesn’t whine anymore. For the past few years, I had been hiding his eatables in between my books and clothes. I fear I might have lost count of the dozen cookies stuffed inside and elsewhere. In order to lure him from a distance, I would break them into tiny crumbles and whistle. “Some more, you miser, some more,” he seemed to call out, galloping in excitement.
It may sound strange, but some hooligans have painted Bholu’s blunt nails pink and blue. It worried me; the amounts of formaldehyde in human nail paint could be toxic. I suspected this could be a group-act of emasculating him. Rowdy men in my neighborhood exhibit sadomasochism of the worst kind. Women, newly born pups, monkeys and the elderly are all victimised. Once while Bholu went out to poop in the wild, they kicked him ruthlessly. They also called him names. “Maiki kukur bey”! (What an effeminate dog this is!)
Unable to hear his bark early morning, I walked towards the local stationery shop in the hope of finding some dog acetone. They would open about an hour post noon since sellers in the suburbs are relatively lazy. I decided I would eat my lunch at a nearby dhaba where one can have a meal for just forty rupees.
In the afternoon, while eating my lump sum meal, the dhaba owner’s hands struck my eye. They were all colour dyed with gulaal. He was serving the thalis noisily with those hands. His anger was very evident in the manner he was producing the noise. Was he frustrated with his job? I didn’t bother to ask for more food or even enquire about his hands.A single thali of steamed rice, some vegetables, boiled pulses and raw lemons did the job for me. They tasted like the usual bland curries which completely change flavor once you add raw lemon juice. The mild citric acid really works wonders for digestion. All this while, my thoughts meandered here and there. What is Bholu eating for the day after all? Is he gonna be starving?
My neighbour’s pet became a victim of a festival’s drunken revelry. Now, she visits the vet every week and the doctor forbade her dog any further human contact. Even minute carelessness with the prescribed medicines can cause serious skin damage. How hard it must be, to be unable to snuggle up with the ball of fur anymore!
I did not manage to get a dog nail polish remover, but I got a human one. Reluctantly, I kept telling myself that the trauma of removing Bholu’s nail paint could be worse. Probably the colours would wear out soon, I prayed. I packed some good food for him; occasionally he deserved a treat, does he not? With my leftover coins and his favorite mutton bones, I walked briskly.
When I was about to reach the gate, I could see my sister feeding a dog with red blisters all over his body. The sight was enough to repel any new dog visitor. This was quite a rare event—what had gone wrong with my sister? I hurried towards them and began opening my box of bones. There was no bark, no galloping and no excitement. My neighbour’s pet had crossed over the wall. I hesitated, and waited but eventually, those familiar eyes won and I gave away Bholu’s treat.
The thunderstorms had approached for the evening, and with much distress, I entered my room. Bholu’s eating bowl remained staring at me. My sister knocked on my door to say, “Ahi jabo. He will come back again.”
It was already heavily pouring by then and I knew that my sister was referring to the red-blister dog.