By Savitri Narayanan
“I am getting late!” thought Golu as he gulped down his parantha, “Hope they’ll wait for me to start the match!”
The match was against the Chillagaon team and Golu was the opening batsman. By now he would have been in the Panchayat Maidan, if only he didn’t have to gather the green chilies from the backyard!
“Pass it on to uncleji,” Maji had said, “And ask him for some mustard seeds and jeera on your way back!”
It was a common practice in the village to exchange a pumpkin, a gourd or some chillies for some spices, salt or a bag of tea at the grocer’s.
A class V student in the local primary school, Golu was a familiar figure, everybody’s friend and also an errand boy! Rathod uncle was already outside his gate with Hero on the leash.
“Maji asked to collect the green chillies from the backyard,” said Golu, “Sorry to keep you waiting!”
“No problem, young man! Good you help your mother,” he said, handing over the leash to Golu, “You know well that I am retired and have nothing much to do!”
He went in and closed the gate with parting instructions to his dog, “Hero, hang around Captain Golu, ok? Don’t get lost!”
Hero was the key to their friendship which started a few weeks ago on a similar cold morning. As usual, Golu had completed his errands at home and was heading for the ground when he met the Colonel standing at his gate with his dog. After retirement, from Jalandhar, Colonel Rathod had recently moved into his bungalow. A widower with grown up children settled abroad, his pet dog Hero was the Colonel’s companion.
A young couple who stayed in the servants’ quarters did the housekeeping. Some friends visited on some days. Rathod Sir spent his time reading in the verandah or strolling in the lawn. Hero hung around, amusing himself with his ball, dozing or just gazing at the gate.
At their first meeting, Golu and Hero had taken an instant liking for each other. Golu’s mind was in the playground as he rushed through his routine of helping his mother in the household tasks and also tending to the plants in the backyard. The kitchen garden was an idea to save money but over the months, both, Golu and Maji had grown to like working there. Now, they hardly ever purchased vegetables, but often shared their crop with their neighbours.
“Golu, pluck some beans and some spinach leaves,” Maji had called out as she dried the washing on the clothesline.
‘I’ll be late for the match!’ thought Golu as he plucked the beans. He was usually among the first few to arrive but, today, he was bound to be late! He ran superfast to make up for the time. That’s when he saw Rathod uncle standing at his gate with a dog on the leash.
“Looks like Hero likes you!” Rathod Uncle had said with a warm smile, “See him wagging his tail!”
Golu was fond of dogs but didn’t own one because Maji wouldn’t agree. “They are a nuisance,” she said. So Golu played with the dogs in the neighbourhood !
“Uncle, may I take him for a walk?” Golu suggested one morning and soon it became a routine. Rathod Uncle would wait at the gate with Hero. With a greeting, Golu would take the leash and head for the ground. While Golu and his friends played cricket, Hero made his own friends and amused himself – chasing a ball or running after some children. On the way back home, Golu would hand over Hero to Rathod Sir.
One evening Hero got lost! The game was over and it was time to go home but Hero was nowhere to be seen! The leash was there on the grass but where was Hero? Golu and his friends walked all over the ground, went in and out of the lanes calling out his name, walked all the way to the main road but couldn’t find Hero! It was getting dark so they went home.
‘What to tell Rathod Sir?’ thought Golu as he approached the bungalow gate. What if the Colonel gets angry?
The bungalow gate was closed. May be the Colonel had dinner and was watching TV, what’s the point in disturbing him now? Was Hero back home? Did he come back on his own? What to do? Whom to ask? Where to search?
“You are late, Golu!” chided Veeru kaka from across the road, “Run home, it’s getting dark!”
As Golu walked in, Maji just nodded and signalled to close the door. She had freshened up, lit the lamp and was about to recite her prayers. After that, she cooked dinner while Golu watched TV. Golu washed the dishes and then they watched more TV and went to bed. Sleep evaded Golu. Where was Hero? Was he safe? Had he come under some car? What would Rathod uncle do when he came to know?
‘If only I had rung the bell and informed him on the way back! Somehow they would have searched and found Hero by now!’ thought Golu. He kept repeating whatever prayers he knew and drifted to sleep.
When the alarm rang, Maji switched it off and was up on her feet. She was an early morning person. Usually by the time Golu woke up she would have finished sweeping and swabbing, had her bath and told her prayers.
Golu got up, quietly opened the kitchen door and stepped out. It was still dark. ‘It will be morning soon,’ Golu told himself as he opened the gate and started the search. ‘Hero must be somewhere in the village,’ thought Golu, ‘Before Rathod Sir opens the gate I will find him!’
The road was deserted except for a dog or two strolling around. The eastern sky was getting brighter so Golu knew soon it would be day and the morning walkers would be out! Three or four old people walked on the Panchayat road daily with their walking sticks –both in the mornings and evenings. They must be out soon!
Golu searched all over, in and out of the lanes, all the way till the Panchayat with no results. ‘If only Hero were hiding behind a tree or in a bush and would give me a surprise!’ he thought but there was no sign of the lost dog!
‘When Rathod Sir comes out, I will tell him the truth!’ Golu thought and waited near the tamarind tree.
‘Will he be angry? Would he have informed the police? Will he shout at me?’ he thought, ‘If only I had told him last evening!’
The road was coming to life. “Why are you out so early? Alone?” two gentlemen walking past paused to question, “Any problem?”
Golu shook his head and said a silent prayer for Hero’s safe return. Had Hero walked home last evening? Dogs were known for their memory, isn’t it?
“Rathod Sir will come out any time!” thought Golu. There was a movement in the hedge near the tamarind tree. Golu moved away afraid it could be a snake. His joy knew no bounds when he saw it was none other than Hero!
“Why so early, Golu? What’s the matter?” The Colonel opened the door and came out. “Welcome back, Hero! Had a good outing last night?” he patted Hero affectionately.
Golu was surprised to see how casual the Colonel was! No panic, no shouting, no reproach, no blame, not even a question! When Golu told him about the trauma he went through last evening and the night, the Colonel listened in amusement. “A dog rarely gets lost,” he explained. “At times they go away but always come back! He may get friendly with a pack and go along with them but sooner or later, return home. They are gifted with remarkable memory and a strong sense of smell so they always come back!”
“This is good learning Sir, thank you for being so understanding!” said Golu as he took his leave, “Soon Maji might be out looking for me, the way I was searching for Hero!!”