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  • Tuesday, 6 November 2012


    He rolled into my life as a grey furry ball. Eyes hardly open. Rapid breathing and an occasional whimper, almost inaudible, were the indication that he was alive. I was not in favour of pets. A dog, especially, did not feel too good in a house where orthodox Brahmin old women lived. The fact that I was an electrical contractor had something to do with this decision to have a pet.
    The not so large area around the house was often filled with large bobbins of copper wire, insulators and other necessities of my profession. There was a vice to grip conduits while they were cut.  There were boxes too, painted only with primer, to be later painted with enamel paint. These were targets for petty thieves who managed to sneak in and steal in spite of a locked gate and high compound wall, the top surface embedded with shards of glass and bushes planted close to the wall. A ferocious dog would be just fine, Kittu, my eldest son who was assisting me in my business, insisted. Of course he loved to have a dog and this was his argument to convince me to get one for him.

    As luck would have it a family friend, Monnappa, had a few Alsatians. When there was a new litter he offered me one recited the same reason – to protect the stuff lying in the compound. I somehow had the feeling that Kittu had a hand in this. I was concerned about feeding the dog. Since Monnappa was a Kodava and Kodavas eat meat regularly, it was not too much trouble for him to feed the dogs with meat and bones regularly. He was also well to do and could afford to. Neither was the case with me.

    He even offered to feed the dog meat once a week, if someone took it to his house. Seeing all forces ranged against me and a recent loss seriously upsetting my commitment to a client, I agreed to have the dog. That is how Caesar came into my life. Before we knew what was happening he had grown into a fine dog. This is interesting! I had never referred to a dog as ‘he’ before! I had seen many dog lovers, including Monnappa, talk of their dogs in human terms and chided them for it. And here I am, “he” indeed!

    It was quite an effort to train Caesar not to enter the house beyond the verandah to make sure that the house did not become unclean. This concept, called maDi, is an elaborate set of rules un-understandable to all except regulation practitioners who are born in a family that practiced it.
    I had somehow gotten into the habit of being around when Caesar was fed in the evenings. Sometimes when I was not home at that time, Caesar would be reluctant to eat. He had to be coaxed to eat by young children. Sometimes he only ate when his hunger overcame him. This was touching since I never petted him much. Once in a while, just before having my bath, I may pat him on the head. Once I realized that he ate only when I was around, I tried my best to be home by that time without letting anyone noticing this change in me.

    Once, when Caesar was about a year old, I had a sever bout flu and had to stay in bed for a few days. When he did not see me in the morning, he became restless and kept looking at the door to my room which opened into the verandah. That was just a figure of speech as that door was never opened because there was another door that opened into the hall. Everyone was surprised as to how he knew that my room was beyond that door. Finally it was opened and he sneaked in and refused to leave. He slept under my cot, hardly ate and he eat a bit when I asked him to. He was his usual self only after I was out of bed and was normal again. That is when I realized how much Caesar was attached to me.

    Soon after my bout of flu, the festival of Deepavali was upon us. I never liked the noisy part of this festival. Of course, the good food, ritual bath after soaking up oil liberally smeared all over the body and the rows of oil lamps adorning the house on the festive night and for many subsequent nights made the other part bearable – just about. Deepavali was heralded by some youngsters bursting crackers well ahead of the festival. This seemed to disturb Caesar and he again came to the door of my room and looked beseechingly at me. I let him in and he looked a little better. The day before the actual day when most crackers are burst there many crackers were going off. Caesar became more and more desperate. Early on Deepavali day when I went out and opened the gate Caesar slipped out of the gate and ran as if running for dear life. I shouted at him to come back and he just ignored me. He had never done this before.

    I was very concerned. When he was not back after an hour, I sent some of my electricians on cycles and Kittu on his motorbike to look for him. Of course, he was not found. That was one of the worst Deepavalis of my already long life. A Deepavali worse than this was when my granddaughter’s dress had caught fire and she had badly injured.

    There was a pall of gloom again on this occasion too. Everyone repeatedly went out to see if he was back. No such luck. We were all worried and imagined all kinds of horrible fate befalling him. We were slowly recovering from the loss when one early morning I dreamt that I heard him bark feebly! I woke up and was telling myself that it was just a dream when my wife confirmed that she heard it too. I rushed out and was overjoyed to see him at the gate and I opened the gate and hugged him -another first. He stood there looking very guilty and apologetic. He looked up into my eyes and wagged his tail as if apologizing. By that time the whole household was up and was at the gate. The younger children were unrestrained in their joy and hugged him and petted him ignoring his dirty coat.

    Soon Caesar was bathed till his coat had regained some of the former lustre. Food was hurriedly cooked and brought to him. He waited for me to come to him and once I had asked him to eat, gruffly, to avoid the others knowing of the knot in my throat, he ate his food hungrily.

    No one knew where he was in the intervening few days and what he had eaten, if anything at all. It took him more than a fortnight to regain his former weight. He then continued to grow till he reached his full size. Every Deepavali thereafter, soon after the early crackers started going off, he would disappear from the city and returned only after Deepavali was over. He somehow managed not to run away on utthAna dwAdasi when some people burst crackers saved from the original Deepavali supplies for the purpose.

    From then on, my dislike for the almost uncultured custom of bursting crackers was complete. I had to spend the next ten or so Deepavalis with the worry about his welfare shadowing the festivities.