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Those Who Crossed Over

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By GANESH SAILI

It’s fair to say that you could divide this world into dogpersons and non-dog-persons.

For instance, just the other day I was making a friend comfortable with our dog when, in passing, he said that he had three Rottweilers.

‘Three?’ I ask, intrigued. ‘Is this for real? I’d be scared of owning just one!’

‘Loyalty, Ganesh, comes at a premium,’ he says, explaining: ‘Just before I came up to the hills, there was a storm and one of the horses in my stables bolted. One of the dogs munched through a thick pipe like it was confetti and took off in chase of the runaway. Later on they found him six miles away, sitting next to an exhausted horse, who he’d growl at if he moved another inch.’

And that is how it has always been. I guess loyalty and love always come at a premium. My own dog provides me solace on dark, cold nights. Even though down the years we have had canines of all shapes and sizes to fill up our lives, most have come without the privilege of high birth. Another like us was Manori, the chowkidar at the Landour Cemetery who lived with his Himalayan mastiffs, guarding those who needed no further care.

Many years ago I chanced upon a note pinned to the board of the dry cleaners which declared: ‘Puppies Available! But if you want a guard, get one! These puppies are for adoption – not free chowkidars!’

Cradling a puppy of indeterminate descent, I returned home. I must say Sikander managed to live up to his name, given his free spirit – he was a true freelancer, refusing attempts at domestication. Occasionally we would see him on our walks, when like a long lost friend, he would jump for joy upon seeing us but would soon vanish into the alleys he now called home.

He loved hanging around the mess of the Landour Police Station. Don’t ask me why. Then he simply vanished. We never did lament his going, for we knew he had gone off to resettle elsewhere, or liberated himself of worldly ties. Always a winner, he would have found happiness anywhere.

Generally, dogs hear much more than they let on. Dumrooh, our present one, recognises the whine of my rickety car even on a busy road. That’s how he knows to wait at the gate long before I turn up.

They say when Adam was thrown out of the Garden of Eden, a chasm opened up between man and the animal kingdom. At the last minute a dog leapt across over to the man’s side.

Can one ask for more? I certainly did not ask for Dumrooh. He came like a preordered meal, all named, cooked and ready. And thereby wags this tale. A bunch of youngsters trekking in Himachal bought a cute little puppy from a shepherd. Come to think of it, aren’t all puppies cute? Fifty rupees changed pockets in the lush green meadows and they came back to their home in a block of newly built flats, where they had to tie him to the railings of the common passage. Trouble came knocking when the growing puppy would lunge at anyone walking by.

‘Get rid of this dog!’ yelled the neighbours. ‘What a nuisance!’

That’s when my phone rang.

‘Ganesh! We’ve voted you as the best dog lover in town! We’re bringing you a puppy tomorrow!’ And the phone went dead. The next day, I found this gangly creature deposited at my gate. That was it. Another dog had entered our lives. And this was one that simply would not stop growing. That made me worried. I turned to ‘Aunty Google Kaur’ who told us that we had been adopted by a leopard-hound or Gaddi from the steppes of Himachal. As I write, he has turned out to be an excellent guard dog. He keeps the monkeys from ripping out the flowers growing on our patio. Yes! He does bark at any eagle or avian visitor who intrudes into his airspace.

After all, from his point of view, we are the herd that he has to protect.

(Ganesh Saili born and home-grown in the hills belongs to those select few whose words are illustrated by their own pictures. Author of two dozen books; some translated into twenty languages, his work has found recognition world-wide.)