They came in three editions at three different periods in our lives. The first two when we had no children. The present pup, Hachiko, joined us when our daughter was fully grown up.
Like pet dogs everywhere, they were a pain and a delight at the same time; a joyous burden. Despite our earnest attempts to make them learn good manners, our dogs remained single-mindedly undisciplined.
The first fellow was a Tibetan mongrel, brown and bushy. We called him Tashi, much to the dismay of our office staff some of whom were also Tashi. My boss remarked one day, “Why don’t you call him Peter or something?”
Anyway, those who worked at our place and in the office and some neighbour kids became fond of Tashi and would readily take care of him whenever we had to go away, which was quite often.
Then Tashi would be sad. I suppose like any faithful dog he must have waited and waited for us to return. When we did return, Tashi would go crazy and despite his small size, he would jump and leap and bite and lick, all the time wagging his little tail incessantly, barking now and then and running around in little circles till he was quite exhausted.
Tashi was especially playful with my wife Xantippe and would keep plucking at her gown and bite her ankles and not let go of her slippers, many pairs of which he must have chewed out of shape.
Kyelang being a cold place, Tashi had earlier on learnt to snuggle into our bed at night and sleep till he was woken up.
One day during a session, we diluted some strong local brew and gave it to Tashi. He sniffed, stepped back, as dogs are wont to do, but then surprisingly lapped up the whole thing in one go.
After a while Tashi went berserk. He jumped at us as if demanding a snack and then at the table nearly knocking off our glasses. On being shooed away, he ran around like crazy knocking into furniture and doors and intermittently letting out weird howls – of pleasure or penitence one could not say.
Clearly the dog was tipsy. He cooled down after we gave him a handful of bones which he chewed and gobbled quickly. And then mercifully fell sound asleep. He must have had a terrible hangover, for Tashi never showed any interest in alcohol again.
We had to leave behind Tashi in April when we walked out of the snow bound Lahaul valley. He was entrusted to the care of a colleague, a locally acclaimed dog-lover. But Tashi was to live 80 km away from Kyelang.
When we returned after two and half months or so, Tashi was brought back. He took a while to recognise us but remained kind of detached, seemingly unable to decide where his home was and who his masters were.
He began to wander and would show up only when he was hungry. Then we had to go away again for a while. We returned, but Tashi did not.
I vowed never to keep a dog again.
A couple of years later I was posted at place where a number of gaddis came to graze their herds in winter. One day I returned home to find that a gaddi had gifted a shepherd dog pup and Xantippe was quick to seize the chance.
So again we began bringing up a doggie. We named him something, but soon in the colony where we lived, everyone started calling him “Saab da Kutta”. And that came to be his name.
Like hill shepherd dogs, Saab da Kutta grew up quickly, became aggressive and soon our house and compound was out of bounds for visitors, stray dogs and cattle and most moving things. He had to be chained for a good part of the day.
When taken out for walks, other dogs would slink out of his sight and children would scatter shouting “Saab da kutta, Saab da kutta”!
Summers were scorching where we were. Saab da kutta would love getting doused with water which was always warm but helped him cool off a bit. When he came of age and was let off the chain, Saab da kutta would take off, God knows where, and return home just before dark, not look us in the eye and lie down quietly.
He was kind of a free ranging fellow. With us being away for several days at a time, Saab da kutta gradually became a loafer. And one day he loafed out of our lives. Rumours floated that some gaddi took him away.
This time Xantippe too vowed never to keep a dog again.
We kept the vow, almost. Over two decades went by. Then by some chance Xantippe saw that Richard Gere and his dog movie and wanted to keep a dog again! No amount of dissuasion worked and when I refused to get another dog, she went ahead and asked for a gaddi pup through colleagues.
So the door bell rang one night and before I could go down to see who it was, Xantippe was coming up the stairs with a little black pup cuddled in her arms.
I had lost again.
This time we also had a grown up daughter to contribute to our general failure to discipline doggies.
So Hatichiko or Hachi as he was christened (after that movie star) started off into high living by peeing and doing worse everywhere. I was admonished that he was “just a half blind pup” and it was winter.
Well it is now summer and Hachi has sound vision, but still I suspect that Xantippe gets up very early, surreptitiously, to check if the fellow has ‘done’ it somewhere in the house.
Bringing up dogs had changed by now. Like babies, the fellow has an immunization card and a monthly injections schedule, calcium supplement and bath with special shampoos to kill bugs, lice and other itching inhabitants in a dog’s body.
Disagreeing with Xantippe I thought all this would make the guy a sissy. Which Hachi is turning out to be!
Though a shepherd dog, Hachi is quite unlike his ilk. He wags his tail at all strangers and monkeys when they come a visiting and is generally scared of the dark.
Fellow expects to be provided with a torch or what! He is plain scared of vehicles and it took quite an effort to get him to do his morning walk on Shimla’s traffic ridden roads.
His in-house past time is to chew anything that fits into his big mouth, an early victim being Xantippe’s cellphone.
The way it’s going, it would be a very unkind cut were Hachi to confide to another, “It’s a dog’s life”.
Those who claim to know dogs say that dogs take after their masters. But they also say that if you treat you dog like a human, then he will treat you like a dog!
Leave Hachi alone in your room for a while and he’ll be comfortably snoring on your bed soon.