“Amar, come out fast,” it was the voice of Amar’s ten year old neighbour Roshni.
Amar looked up. He was just finishing the last question of his English homework.
He quickly completed the assignment and ran out.
Roshni was standing outside the door, her eye shining with excitement and her face all smiles.
“You know, Bijlee has given birth to seven pups in Satpathy Uncle’s servant quarters.”
Bijlee was a street dog that no one owned but everyone fed. She would spend her time either in Roshni’s garden, or Satpathy Uncle’s backyard. Satpathy Uncle had been transferred a couple of months ago. Since no one had moved in, it was still called Satpathy Uncle’s house.
“Come I’ll show you,” Roshni said and together they ran.
Roshni led him to the door of the one room house. She gently pushed the door pen. Peeping over her shoulder Amar saw a sight that he wouldn’t forget for a long, long time. Seven tiny, cuddly pups were drinking milk as Bijli was lying on the floor her eyes closed. The pups were of varying shades of brown, grey and black, each more adorable than the other. Their eyes were shut and the struggle to reach the source of food was resulting in a scene that was so cute and comical that Amar couldn’t help laughing.
A pup which was jet black (Amar mentally named him Blacky) had lost contact with his mother. He climbed up her tail, ‘travelled’ along her stomach and pushing his face between two of his struggling siblings was now trying to reach her nipple. Just as he reached his target he lost his balance and fell with a plop beside one of his sisters who merely gave him a kick and continued with her breakfast. Another pup who was brown and grey (Bee gee), in his quest to reach his target, tried getting between the legs of his brother, who was all brown and hence Brownie. Brownie refused to budge and continued straddling Bee gee while merrily gulping down the milk. As the seven siblings struggled to get and retain the position their tails stood erect like antennae, each catching the vibrations of the competition.
Suddenly two of them dropped off to the ground and promptly fell asleep. Begee and Blacky took their positions and the feast continued.
Five minutes later everyone had had their share and were sleeping in a perfect circle with each one’s head on the other’s tail and so on.
Amar felt he could continue watching this scene forever.
“Aren’t they so cuddly-wuddly?” Roshni asked.
“Yes, they are cute and their antics cuter.”
“I am going to adopt one of them,” Roshni said.
“I wish I could.” Amar had a wistful look in his eyes.
“Then why don’t you? I don’t think Bijlee would mind. The little ones are only ten days old. Once they open their eyes and start taking ‘outside’ food we can wean them away from their mother,” Roshni explained, sounding terribly grown up.
“You don’t know my mum. She’s simply terrified of dogs. She would never allow one inside her house. Every time I wanted to feed Bijlee, I had to go outside our gate.”
“Tough luck, Amar. But do try convincing your mum. In fact I am quite sure if she takes one look at these little darlings she’ll fall in love with them.”
“I don’t think so. I am fated to have a ‘puppy-less’ existence,” was Amar’s philosophical response.
Next day when he reached home after school, he threw his bag and rushed out. The ‘Magnificent Seven’ were still there, but this time not in an ‘eatful’ but in a playful mood.
Amar had already named three. He now decided to name the other four. The one with a shiny black coat liberally sprinkled with white spots became Spotty. One of the pups was a crazy mix of black, brown, grey and white. ‘He should be called Remix,’ Amar thought. His eye fell on another pup that was pulling the tail of Blacky while at the same instant trying to kick Spotty in the eye with one of his hind legs. Naturally he could only be called Naughty. Now only one remained. This one was lying with her front paws extended in front and her hind paws stretched fully behind. This pose reminded him of devotees prostrating before God in any temple. All around, her siblings were pushing, jumping and fighting but she was lying with her eyes closed completely oblivious to everything. ‘This one is Shanti,’ Amar decided. The list was complete. ‘Wait till I tell Roshni, she’ll be thrilled’, Amar thought.
Amar started spending as much time as he could with the pups. He found each day there was something new to notice and enjoy. Roshni and he started feeding them milk, which they got from their houses – Roshni with her mother’s permission and Amar secretly. In the beginning the pups hesitated but soon got used to the new ‘dish’ and lapped it up eagerly.
Roshni was more adventurous than Amar and started picking up the pups and caressing them. Gradually Amar joined her and was elated when the pups acknowledged his affection with a little wag of their mini tails. Soon they began recognising him. When he would go near the door and call out they would be a scurrying of little feet, wagging of tiny tails and a euphony of distinctly audible woofs. Each woof sounded like an enthusiastic Donald duck screaming for attention. They would gather around him trying to climb up his legs, bite into his jeans and fill up his feet with tiny licks. When he would pick up one the others would turn their heads up, reproachful looks in their eyes and their wags a trifle less enthusiastic.
After a few days they were old enough to feed even when Bijlee was on all fours. They would stand on their hind legs, stretching their mouths out to reach the source of food. In the process they would lose their balance and tumble over. Often when one was feeding the other would jump on him, knock him down and ‘claim’ his food. Naughty was the craftiest of the lot. He would be the first to reach Bijlee have his fill till he was knocked over. After that his job would be to knock down his siblings systematically and gobble their share. He being the quickest and the strongest ended up with the maximum booty.
The main gate of Satpathy uncle’s house had a pathway, which led to the room, that housed the puppies. Amar would quietly open the gate and whistle. In a few seconds the puppies would start tumbling out – seven eager, enthusiastic, energetic bundles of pure love, joy and fun. Leading the pack would be Naughty (who else?) and bringing up the rear Shanti. As they ran, they would frequently miss a step, keel over, get up and with the same spirit jump on him as he knelt down to gather them up.
A week later Roshni told Amar, “The time has come for their adoption. Their mother is hardly able to feed them. If homes are not found for them they’ll die of hunger.”
“How do you know so much about dogs?”
“From my mother’s brother Sunil uncle. He is a great animal lover. And you know even though he has a pet parrot and a Labrador he is willing to adopt two of Bijlee’s babies. I think we can give him Spotty and Shanthi.”
“Our maali’s son wants to take Remix and I shall keep Bee gee and Blacky. My maidservant’s nephew, who lives behind the bakery, wants a pup. Brownie can be passed on to him,” Roshni said looking at Amar.
He was feeling sad. For the past one month or so the puppies had become such an integral part of his life. Early every morning, even before his mum was up he would go to them with their milk. While leaving for school he would lean over the hedge and wave them goodbye. As soon as he came back from school he would rush to play with them. Now how was he going to……
His train of thought was interrupted. “Where are you, Amar. I was asking you about Naughty. What shall we do with him?”
“I…I…let’s see. I have an idea. I only hope it works,” Amar said and with a resolute step entered his house.
His mother Meera was in the drawing room painting. She was an accomplished artist and painted on canvases, saris and even on old gramophone records.
“You remember when I got the first rank in the second term you promised me anything I wanted.”
Meera looked up. Her twelve year old son was standing in front of her – his face anxious, his eyes appealing and his hair tousled. She braced herself. She didn’t know what was coming but she was pretty certain his demand would be quite outlandish, that is why he was indulging in the build up.
“Yes, I remember.”
“I wan to adopt a pup. Bijlee has given birth to seven – six have already been adopted – only one remains – the most adorable creature in the world – his name is Naughty – I....I mean even though his name is Naughty he is very, very well behaved – almost as quiet as a mouse – I know, I know, I won’t bring him inside – he will be in the veranda – tied to a chain – I’ll train him properly – he won’t trouble you at all, you won’t even feel his presence – please ma, please,” Amar said and collapsed on the sofa, exhausted with all the effort. He had said what all he had to in one single breath and was now staring anxiously at his mum.
Meera looked at Amar and burst out laughing. “My, my what a persuasive way of presenting a case. I think you should forget about your dreams of becoming a computer engineer and focus on a career as a lawyer.”
Amar jumped up. “That means you –”
“Yes, that means I agree. Provided of course you meet all the conditions you just recited.”
“Yippee,” Amar shouted and hugged his mum. He then did an impromptu jig in front of her.
An hour later Naughty was brought home, but not before he had been given a good bath under the tap in Roshni’s garden.
Naughty, naturally didn’t like his first proper tryst with water and yelped and howled and squirmed. But Roshni and Amar somehow managed to complete the task. Naughty was then scrubbed with a towel, dried in the Sun and introduced to Meera. Mum and pup eyed each other very cautiously from a safe distance.
“He…he is quite cute,” Meera said and Naughty thanked her with an enthusiastic wag.
“Just hold him and see. He is so cuddly-wuddly,” Amar said thrusting Naughty within touching distance.
“No,” she screamed backing off. “Keep him away. You know I am scared of dogs.”
“Okay, mum, peace,” Amar said.
Naughty’s training programme began in earnest. However, Amar found training Naughty was even more difficult than understanding the complexities of geometry and algebra combined. He seemed to have been born to play pranks and had loads of attitude!
Amar’s back yard was enclosed on all four sides by a seven-foot high wall. In the afternoons when Meera was inside Naughty was left free to explore. Clothes were hung on a clothesline in the backyard in such a way that they were always beyond the pup’s reach.
One day there was a strong breeze and a towel came within the reach of Naughty. He grabbed it with relish between his jaws and tugged it with all his might. The towel remained where it was. And then began the battle between the Indian Naughty and the Turkish towel. With the towel’s edge between his sharp teeth Naughty jumped up and down and scampered here and there in a frenzy. Finally something had to give - either Naughty’s energy or the clothesline. Well, the clothesline came unstuck and fell on him. Naughty thought the end of the planet had come. His world had suddenly been turned into a cloth shop. He was caught between two shirts, one vest, three hankies and a pair of Amar’s undergarments. Naughty howled, yelped and ran around in circles getting more deeply enmeshed.
Meera heard the commotion and came down to investigate. The scene she saw made her gasp with horror. All the freshly washed clothes were now the colour of mud and dirt. Some of them were torn and others were filled with intricate designs made by Naughty’s paws. Right in the middle of the mess was Naughty - his head poking out from a hole in Meera’s latest sari, a pair of socks on his ears, his feet in Amar’s shorts and around his tail a bright red hanky.
That evening both Amar and Naughty were punished. Naughty wasn’t taken out for his evening walk and Amar was not allowed to see India’s batting in the India–Pakistan one-day international.
A couple of uneventful months went by. Naughty learnt to avoid Meera. It had got into his small, but thick head that the only way to a happy and healthy life was to steer clear of Amar’s mum.
A doghouse had been built in the front garden for Naughty. It was between two huge trees and even in the summer it was quite pleasant. He was kept chained during the day and released at night.
One day Naughty was dozing when he heard the gate click open and someone enter. Meera looked out of the window and groaned. It was Mrs. Pinky Gulati – the Treasurer of their Ladies Club. She was a pushy, overbearing person completely full of herself. She bored Meera to death. She had this uncanny habit of landing up at the most inopportune moment and making herself at home. She would invariable arrive just before lunch and stay on much after tea.
It was half past one and Meera had planned to take a quick lunch and then start on a new painting. She was about to sit down for lunch when she saw Pinky Gulati waddling in like a garishly dressed hippopotamus, swinging her key chain. Pinky Gulati was an obese woman with three chins and oodles of flesh in all the wrong places. As usual she was heavily made up with lots of jewellery and was clad in a salwar kameez two sizes too small for her.
As she reached Naughty’s dog house the key chain fell out of her hand and landed right in front. Pinky Gulati bend down to pick it up.
Naughty found himself staring at the biggest backside he had ever encountered in his young life. It was huge and fleshy and now within reach. Resisting temptation had never been one of Naughty’s strong points. He believed in living in the present moment without bothering about past punishments or future consequences.
He jumped up and launched into the sea of flesh in front of him. One juicy bite was enough. Pinky Gulati jumped up screaming, displaying an athleticism which would have done a Chinese gymnast proud. She glanced in horror at Naughty turned and ran, her screams echoing in the lazy afternoon air.
Meera who had been a witness to Naughty’s successful skirmish burs tout laughing. The site of eighty kgs of quivering, shaking flesh doing a P.T. Usha was enough to send anyone into paroxysms of laughter. Meera laughed and laughed, tears rolling down her cheeks.
After ten minutes, the telephone bell rang.
“Meera, I though you were my dearest friend. Oh! How I have been betrayed. First you train that vicious monster of a dog to attack me and after that you roar with laughter at my predicament. I shall never, ever forgive you. And even if you beg me with folded hands I’ll never visit your house again,” with these profound words Pinky Gulati banged down the receiver.
Meera ran into the garden and going straight to the doghouse hugged a startled Naughty. “My darling, my hero. What I couldn’t do in three years you have done in less than three minutes.”
From that day onwards Naughty’s status in the house has zoomed. He is now allowed a free reign of the entire house. At night he sleeps under Meera’s bed with his head resting on her slippers. He follows her everywhere. Amar no longer calls him Naughty. He now calls him Shadow – his mum’s Shadow.