I urge any of you reading this who love me even a little bit: Get me a puppy(I am looking at you, H)
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved dogs. I’ve basked in borrowed pride when I was told the stories of my father caring for both a cat and a dog decades earlier. Growing up, I’ve wanted to bring home every puppy I saw on the streets. That this never happened, not once, didn’t deter me one bit. I still look at every pup I see, homeless or not, with a slight wistfulness and wish that I could take it home.
The first dog about whom I heard a bunch of stories was of course, Caesar the first. This was the stray that dad picked up somewhere. Caesar would apparently eat curd rice (he’s definitely not the first Indian dog to do so). He would leave our home when he pleased to loiter about and return when he was hungry. He would run behind my dad every time dad left. He slept in dad’s bed. Hearing many stories about this dog fondly recollected, made a big impression on me. We had a bunch of dogs after that. As a child, I remember Lassie, who gave us five puppies (two were given to the postman and two for us. My brother (I think?) named them Caesar (the second) and Brutus.) The fifth pup I really wanted to keep also, but here my parents drew the line. I had even named him “Roger”, in my optimism that having him named would mean I get to keep him. The gardener took Roger home. Later, we had Caesar the third. I really wanted to name this one “Alex” or “Max”. I remember a pure white puppy with no tail, Simba, that was with us for a very short while. My insistence on these Western names came from my then-preoccupation with Enid Blyton novels (where a Roger always showed up, seems like). I suspect Alex/Max were inspired by some books as well but I do not remember which. Either ways, our gardener (and grandfather-figure to me that I’ve written about previously), Perumal thatha, couldn’t say “Alex” OR “Max” at all. I tried to to teach him these names, but “Alec” and “Mac” were the most he could pronounce in this strange new language. It must have been no small torture to him, having a bossy little girl asking him to repeat “Alex” over and over again. He humored me for a while, but in the end I gave up in the end and we named this puppy Caesar as well. This was also when I realised that every dog we have from now on would be named Caesar.
This Caesar was a little dynamo. He was a scrawny little thing but had a massive amount of energy. His favorite activity involved running circles around me, on our patio, at great speed until I couldn’t follow him with my eyes any more. The little idiot would run and run until he collapsed, exhausted and jubilant, at my feet, waiting to be congratulated. You couldn’t help but be totally conquered by this mad abandon. This absolute and complete surrender. I loved him to bits, and have never experienced such a display of exuberance before or after. When you have a dog, even returning home from the store becomes a matter of great celebration. You are welcomed with such joy, homecomings are never the same after that. He loved grapes, and I would sneak out routinely, feeding him sweet, cold grapes.
My grandmother was scared of dogs. But that changed one night, during Diwali. He was terrified that night, with all the fireworks and noise and smoke around him. He crept underneath chairs and would lie there, trembling, not eating, not moving. None of us knew what to do, and really, there isn’t any way you can muffle the noise that happens during the week of Diwali. Suddenly, he shot up and ran to where my grandmom was seated, and hid under her chair. She was mostly blind by this time, but could tell that there was a scared dog at her feet. She bent down and reached out to him and patted his head. I will confess that though he had never hurt any of us, I was afraid for her that moment. I didn’t know how he might react to her, shaken as he was. But he let her pat him awkwardly for a few moments and she relaxed around him. Perhaps he relaxed too. From that day on, she lost her fear of dogs and would pet him happily every now and then, calling his name again and again. Somehow, he had managed to win over someone with decades of fear for dogs.
It’s more than a decade since this memory. And now we have yet another Caesar. Cheechu. This one was brought home one day by my cousin, a tiny little fawn colored pariah dog that has won my mother’s heart the same way his predecessor won her mother’s heart. He’s five years old now, a strapping dog that hates being left alone, that bristles at the mere sight of someone outside our gates, that goes mad with joy when he sees us all. He’s a beauty.
Sitting here in my apartment in the US, I wish for a dog sometimes. If I do get one, I know that it will be a much different experience from the many dogs I have known back home in India. I don’t know the first thing about caring for one, here, alone. Especially without Perumal thatha who could only say Caesar. But dogs once loved leave a very strong imprint behind. Perhaps the H, who has never had a dog (nor wants one, in honesty) and I will get to share this experience in our future someday.