It is a truth universally acknowledged that every happy home should have a dog. Ours was a happy family but missed a dog. Our family comprised us four siblings, the parents and the grandfather. Our grandfather, who we called dadaji, was an awesome person — a strict disciplinarian and a bit whimsical. Most of the time he was angry with somebody or the other for some reason; sometimes he was angry without any reason.
One fine morning happiness exploded in our courtyard. Our maid had rescued a puppy from being crushed on the road and she came straight to our house. He was the cutest puppy we had ever seen. He was not a pedigreed one but was intelligent and had playful eyes. His white coat bore dark black tiger stripes. No sooner had he come to our house he started playing with us as if he had found his old friends. Our maid called him Moti and it was approved by all instantaneously.
But there was a catch. Dadaji never liked dogs. Our happiness was doused with the clearly visualised apprehension that Dadaji would throw away the puppy along with the maid from the house. Sensing the problem our mother devised a cogent argument to convince him of the utility of the puppy. Our house was located on the outskirts of the town where thieves and anti-social elements roamed around freely in the night. Mother tried to convince Dadaji that the puppy, when he grew up, would protect the house against thieves. Dadaji looked at the puppy in a measured way and derisively commented: “Let’s see,” and reclined on the easy chair with a newspaper in his hands. It was typical of him — whenever he would concede somebody’s argument he would recline on his favourite easy chair with a newspaper.
For three months ours was the happiest family in the world. We bunked school to play with Moti. Within three months Moti started showing his mettle. He barked loudly in the night whenever he heard any unusual sound or movement in our backyard. He kept vigil sitting commandingly in the courtyard the whole of the night.
But dogs will be dogs. Moti committed a huge mistake. Our Dadaji used wooden sandals with leather straps as footwear. He used to keep the sandals ceremoniously just under his cot in the night.
On that fateful night Moti, nothing else attracting his attention, smelled something leathery and started chewing the leather straps off the sandals. By morning the leather straps were reduced to smithereens.
When Dadaji woke up in the morning and lowered his feet to wear the sandals he was aghast. The sandals were missing.
In the courtyard he saw the shocking scene of the total destruction of his sandals. From disbelief to anger and from anger to rage, within two minutes Dadaji was a fireball. “Where is Moti?” he shouted, heaving heavily. All of us including mom were looking for cover. Moti too realised his mistake and its consequences. He sheepishly sneaked behind the dining table.
But his fate had been sealed. Dadaji called up the domestic help Shivpoojan, who ferreted out an old gunny bag from the store room. He caught Moti by the neck and forced him into the gunny bag. We kids were just watching the episode with moist eyes. Our mother tried to mumble something but she was shouted down by Dadaji. “I know these dogs,” he snarled ferociously. “They are habitually mischievous and this one is no different. He has to go.”
It was all over for Moti – or so it appeared.
Dadaji took his walking stick and beckoned Shivpoojan to follow him. Moti was meekly whimpering in the gunny bag. They strode towards the outskirts of the town where a canal passed through the jungle. After nearly two hours Dadaji and Shivpoojan returned. The gunny bag was empty. Moti was gone — exiled for all time. Shivpoojan told us they left him on the other side of the canal in the jungle. He was left to fend for himself or die.
Dadaji gave eight annas to Shivpoojan for the duty he performed and sent him off. Then he washed his hands and feet and eased down smugly on his cot to go through the newspaper.
Everybody was silent. We kids stood in the corners withholding our tears. After just a few minutes something moved beneath Dadaji’s cot. It was Moti. He had followed them on their footsteps and reached home only a few minutes behind them. Only God knows how he managed to dodge them and follow them at the same time.
On seeing Moti back, the whole house exploded with the cheers, ‘Moti, Moti, Moti‘. Everyone was kissing and hugging him. And Dadaji looked flabbergasted. “How come he has got back?” he mumbled meekly. Our mother intervened: “Babuji, you don`t kill a puppy only for one mistake.”
Dadaji did not argue; he took the newspaper and reclined on the easy chair without uttering a word.
Moti lived with us for 12 years. His loyalty, intelligence and bravery became a matter of legend in the locality. After some time Dadaji also mellowed towards him. When Dadaji died after a few years, Moti was sad and forlorn. When his body was being taken out for cremation Moti walked beside his bier up to the main road. He didn’t eat for two days.
James Herriot, the veterinarian and author, has commented: “If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.” I am sure Moti possessed a decent soul.