A loud bark described how punishing air travel had been. And being only a puppy,even more so. Traumatized, frightened, yet curious, the fresh air was a welcome change.
Sitting in the lap of its breeder, it used its flat, black nose to take a sniff of its owner-to-be. The mist was good enough to make it jump into his arms. The puppy started licking his palms. They tasted sweet, of something sugary it hadn’t tasted before.
“An instant liking it has taking for you eh?” The breeder remarked.
“Not me. That would be the chashni. I was having rasgulla. Couldn’t help having one of those at the store near the carousel!” The man jauntily replied. Both had a hearty laugh.
The two men shook hands. Payment had been made before. This man had been very specific with what kind of dog he wanted-a pug. And he paid the best price, without the haggling customers usually indulged in. He was that kind of customer-the one for whose satisfaction the seller is willing to go the extra mile.
On the way home, the man could see the pug closely observing him. The seat belt managed to restrain the puppy to the seat-but not the curiosity in its sparkling eyes, that surveyed and tried to memorize the dark-complexioned face, with the well-kept beard, the new owner-its new master-carried. The inviting mist-that was a mixture of aftershave and cologne, filled its flat, twitching nose, and it sneezed. “So that’s the smell of my new master. Must commit to memory. Don’t think that would be a problem-it’s so strong! What was that sweet taste I licked off his hand? Hope I will get more of that,in the days to come.”
The wrought iron door opened with a shrill creak. The pug, comfortable in the burly lap of his master, got about, bobbing its head in all directions, observing the surroundings. Its ears, soft as snow,swayed in the wind, slapping the prickly beard of its master.
Out through the door came two women-one young;one slightly older.
“Awwww! He’s so cute!!” Exclaimed both, almost in unison.
“It’s a baby pug.” Replied the master.
“It? Baaaby boy! He you should say!” With reproach said the elder woman.
“What shall we call it, Manoj bhaiya?”,asked the younger one, patting its forehead.
“You tell me. What say, Shefali?”
“Suggest something, Shivali”
The puppy swayed his head from the older to the younger lady. “They look so similar! Must be siblings”. It continued to look on, as they got into an animated discussion that was to be his christening.
“Let’s call him….Pooh!” Exclaimed the younger one.
“Yes!That’s a good name!” cheerfully supported Shefali.
“Ok. Hello Pooh!” The master exclaimed and tickled the puppy.
“Bow! Wow!” Pooh barked cheerfully,with the little strength his young throat could muster,as if it understood each and every word they said.
It took some days before he could understand the house and recognise every family member with ease. And this wasn’t an easy process-neither for Pooh, nor for the people in the house. One day, while on one of its “inquisitive adventures” through the house, he stepped into the bathroom, where his master’s mother -called”Badi Mummy” by everyone- accustomed to not locking the door,was taking bath. “Ahhhhh! This son of the devil! What are you doing here? Get out!” shrieked her panic stricken voice. Scared, Pooh darted out to the laughing faces of Shefali and Shivali. The other day, he was playing with a ball, when he kicked it so hard, that it went and shattered the ornate glass swan that decorated the centre of the dining table. “Haaai! This vermin!!That was one of the last remaining memories of Bade Bhaiya!” Groaned Chhote Papa- as if it was he whom the ball had hurt.He was the only person in the house Pooh wasn’t very comfortable with.
“Let it go! Whatever happens, happens for good.” Consoled Chhoti Mummy with the same softness, as she patted and cuddled Pooh, who apologetically tried to hide his head between its forelegs. That was how Chhoti Mummy always was. Loving him like her own child, never minding any mistakes he may have made, and indulging him in his newfound love-rasgulla!
“Pooh, rasgulla?” Holding the white ball, dripping with chashni, driving him mad with its tantalising gleam. And then bam she would let it drop, spinning in the air, carefully, with great precision, landing straight into his wagging tongue. With great satisfaction, he relished it. The expression he gave afterwards was that of a yogi-who has attained moksha! And mystically, Shivali would always be present to see him eat it, and disappear with a giggle.
But more than all these misadventures, it was the pure love he received in the house that Pooh really enjoyed, and returned. Chotti Mummy, Badi Mummy-with her short temper,Chhote Papa, Shefali, Shivali, had soon became the world for him, and made him feel that he was their world, too. And who can forget his master? Pooh was not like those regular dogs who had to sleep in kennels. He would sleep next to Manoj-on his king sized bed!
It was in this environment of love and affection that Pooh grew up into a fluffy, golden-haired pug-active and athletic, nimble and strong. His nose could easily detect when his master was home from work, even if he were around ten meters away from entering the compound.The entire house would be either busy, or quiet, but Pooh would bark energetically, and run to welcome Manoj back home.
He had become a famous canine, winning a series of trophies and medals-mostly gold, in contests. “Canine Mr Olympian” was the title with which “The Daily News” had captioned the photo where he stood on top of the podium, gilded by gold medals, shining in the flash of the cameras.
Manoj felt like a proud father every time he saw the overloaded trophy cabinet in his room that held the accomplishments of his child.
And Pooh was motivated to accomplish more, every time he saw the proud look on his master’s face. That look meant the world to him-more valuable than any trophy or medal ever won.
“Congratulations, champ!” Came the shrill chirp from the cage in the courtyard. It was Mitthu-the parrot-who had been an old inhabitant of the house since a long time, much before Shivali was born. The story goes that-Mitthu had perched on Bade Papa’s shoulder while he was riding a scooter on the busy city streets. And he did not budge from the shoulder till the scooter reached home. Bade Papa had given him some chana- and adopted him. After his death, Mitthu became the living memory of Bade papa, with Badi Mummy believing that his souls had taken eternal rest in the parrot’s tiny body.
“Thank you, Mitthu.” Replied Pooh, as they sat together, observing Chotti and Badi mummy gossiping and washing clothes in the courtyard,wet and overlooked by the Sunday sun.
“Tell me one thing, Mitthu. Hope you don’t mind the question.”
“No, go on.”
“Why do you live in a cage?”
“Well, call it the disadvantage of being a pet! You can never go back to being a normal animal. Try, and the wild ones try to kill you. I had once been attacked by a wild parrot while I was sitting in the courtyard. The wild brute severely injured me! I was immediately rushed to the nearest vet, who stitched my wounds. The moment I recovered, Bade Papa put me in a cage, and I obliged without any resistance.”
And it was that day Pooh realised why the street dogs barked so angrily whenever they saw him.
There was a lot of hustle and bustle in the house. Everyone was busy in getting ready for something, it seemed.
“Where is my Kurta?”
“In your cupboard”
“I can’t find it there.”
“Ahh! Found it!”
“This boy. He is going to meet his prospective bride today, and he can’t even find his clothes!”
Pooh was watching the circus seated in one corner of the hall. “Seems they are going out. Another boring evening that means for me.” he sighed.
Everyone was ready. His master looked handsome in the cream coloured pyjama. Shefali and Shivali too were in their best salwar kameez. Chotte Papa was like always, in formals. Badi Mummy and Chhoti Mummy were draped gracefully in yellow and green sarees respectively.
“If only his father were alive to see him today…”sobbed Badi Mummy.
“May no one’s evil look cast their shadow over you”. Added Chotti Mummy. Saying this, she took some kohl from her eyelashes and applied it to Manoj’s neck. Pooh watched as his master took their blessings.
“Let’s go! We are getting late!” hollered Chhote Papa.
“Bye -bye Pooh! We will be back soon!”waved Shivali.
The rumble of the engine caught Pooh’s attention. He rushed to the gate, eager to see everyone.
There was a mysterious smile on everyone’s face. Even Chhote Papa was smiling.
“Good news, Pooh! Manoj bhaiya is going to get married very soon!” Exclaimed Shivali.
“Your Master is now going to become the mastered!” quipped Shefali.
Pooh looked on quizzically as his master blushed a bright red, while everyone else had a hearty laugh.
Little did the naive canine know that that was the last time all of them were to laugh together…..
Manoj and Ritu stepped into the house amongst a shower of flowers, twice blest by prayers and blessings.Pooh had been sleeping in Manoj’s room. The past few weeks had been tough for him. Everyone, being busy with the marriage, had not been able to give him the attention he had gotten used to. So he spent the majority of his time sleeping.
Seeing the couple step into the room, he got excited. “Who is she?” his mind wondered.
“Pooh. Meet Ritu. She is going to be your new friend.”
“And Manoj’s masterni” giggled a few girls, standing behind them.
Pooh looked at her.Fair complexioned, she was at least a feet shorter than his master.She was wearing a mist that was a mix of rose and apple.Although she looked resplendent, and very friendly, he did not get a very good feeling about her. So he proceeded to greet her.
No sooner had he licked her toe then she recoiled in disgust. “Eww! Get that mongrel out of this place!!” Pooh retraced his steps in shock. Tears welled up in his eyes.
“Come on Pooh. Let’s go and have some rasgullas.”came Shefali’s command.
Pooh trailed out of the room in her direction.”Manoj!I never want to see that thing ever again in this room! Either he stays in this room. Or I.Your choice.” He did not understand, but the angry tone of her voice echoed in his ears. Rasgulla did not taste sweet that day.That night, he had to sleep in front of the closed doors of his master’s room.
A week had passed since the bride had moved in. Already, she had begun to cause differences among the family members-inciting,plotting, and doing everything to divide both the house and her husband’s attention to her advantage.
Heated arguments had become the norm in the house, mostly between Chhoti mummy and Badi mummy.
Pooh was the worst affected by her shrewd behaviour. Manoj, blindly in love with his wife, stopped caring and paying attention towards him. Badi Mummy, too, stopped taking care of him, incited by some false stories filled into her ears by Ritu.”You know, that dog is a bad omen for you. If you don’t stay away from it, you will become very ill. And so will Manoj.”Or, “If it gets angry, it might just eat your face off in cold blood. ” and so on, so forth, feeding her ignorant mind with tales strong enough to remove the innocent dog from her conscious and care- someone whom it loved so dearly.
So it was only Chhoti Mummy who, along with Shivali and Shefali, took care of him. But without the proper care about which only Manoj knew, he started degrading into a lazy, lethargic dog, becoming bulkier and weaker day by day. He could no longer run or jump around, like in his golden days.
Try as much as he might, Manoj no longer, even pretended, to pat him, play with him, or cuddle him. It was as if he never knew a pug named Pooh.
“Mummy! I am taking Ritu to the hospital! I think she is in labour!”
“Did you call the ambulance?”
“Well she is critical. Can’t wait for something that is never on time!”
“Wait, I will come with you.”
“No time. Will call you from there.”
An hour later, the phone rang. Chhoti Mummy picked it up. She put it up on speaker mode.
“Judwaa hue hain. One girl and one boy!” The happiness bursting through the phone. Everyone in the house beamed with joy.
Ritu and Manoj came home a few days later, holding the twins in their hands.
“Congratulations didi!Shefali didi,let’s go and think of good names!”
“Leave that to me,Badi mummy and Manoj! Who are you to name them? They are OUR children. We are their direct blood relations. Not YOU!”
Shivali broke into tears and ran into her room. Shefali looked at Ritu disapprovingly and went chasing her little sister. Pooh was observing this from a distance. He had seen the tears rolling down Shivali and Chhoti Mummy’s eyes. He saw the shock on Chhote Papa and Shefali’s face. Quizzically, he looked on as Ritu walked away, a smirk across her face.
“Rude and insolent! Please speak some sense into her!”
“She is my bahu! You don’t tell me how to be a good saasu maa!”
“Didi! Be respectful!” screamed Chhoti Mummy.
“Ohhhh.”snapped Badi Mummy. “So now you will run your tongue against me?”
Pooh, unable to witness such a hostile environment, turned around and started towards the dining room. While on his way,he caught a glimpse of Ritu laughing scornfully, lost in a soliloquy that smelt cunning and wicked.
“That’s it. My children will bring this house in my control! Chotte papa, very soon, you are going to lose possession of this house….”
Day by day, the children- Sonu and Sonia grew up, toddling and crawling until they learnt how to walk. From the day they came home, they had been told to keep away from Chhoti Mummy, Chhote Papa, Shefali, and Shivali by their mother. “Don’t go near them. They know the daayan. They don’t like you. ” Their inncocent minds poisoned by the evil designs of their mother,day-by-day.
The differences in the house continued to create deeper rifts between the members. Manoj, Ritu and Badi Mummy used to have regular heated exchanges with Chhoti Mummy and Papa. Things had become so heated at an occasion, that Manoj took Shefali right by her wrist and pushed her out of the house, when she came to support Chhote Papa in the midst of an argument. Pooh grabbed Manoj’s trousers to stop him from doing so. Instead, he got kicked aside, slamming into the wall.
Later in the evening, Shefali nursed his wounded forehead. He could still see the tears rolling down her eyes. The tears carried with them all the respect he had for his master.
The trophy cabinet was emptied of its trophies and medals, and replaced by soft toys and photographs of Manoj Ritu, Sonia, Sonu, and Badi Mummy. The laurels won had become pieces of rubble which had been sold off to the bhangaar waala by Ritu, something that fetched her a good price. Pooh could only watch in muted anguish, as all of the happy days spent in the house came to his mind. Sobs, damped and silent, were all he could muster, as he remembered the proud face of his master, looking at the trophies and medals won by him.
Shefali and Shivali had gone off for higher studies. Good for them, they must have gone to a better place, to explore the world, pondered Pooh, reminded of the wound on its forehead, filled and dry, but still fresh with Shivali’s tears, and bereaved by the loss of trust.
The courtyard had turned dry. It seemed the sun had lost its desire to shine on the courtyard,too. Chhoti and Badi mummy could no longer be seen in animated discussion, ever again. The house had been cursed to an unending silence, broken only occasionally by the cries and laughs of the children. All conversation teased the walls of the house with their hushed and secretive tone. It was this silence that terrified Pooh more than any air travel ever could.
“What has happened to our house, oh wise Mithhu?”
“Every home has its growth and decline. Seems this one has reached its. Fortunately, we have seen its best days.” sighed Mithhu.
“Yes, probably we have.” Sighed Pooh.
The next day, Mithhu passed away.
It was only Chhoti Mummy and Chhote Papa, joined by Pooh, who grieved for the departed soul-believed to hold the essence of Bade Papa.
“A loyal parrot, he was the true extension of Bade Bhaiya. May God give eternal rest to his soul. ” Said Chhote Papa, with a shaky voice.
“Those namak harams! They have not even come to give respects to His last living memory, let alone take care of him!” angrily remarked Chhoti mummy, in her sobbing voice.
“Let’s not say anything impure in this moment of silence.” Whispered Chhote papa.
Pooh looked on as Mithhu got a grand burial ceremony. Children from the neighbourhood came to watch the ceremony. They were each given a laddu as a “gift” by Mithhu mama.
“So long, Mithhu….” whispered Pooh, as he saw the flame take away the parrot’s soul to the heavenly abode that awaited.
Winter was around the corner.Everyone had started removing their woollen clothes. Pooh was no longer young, and hence started shivering before the cold could set in with its full vigour. He started sneezing, and shivering, in the abence of warm clothes, which, he would be well protected in, had he still been cared for by his master. Every winter Manoj would remove his woolens from the loft in his room, and keep them back, dry-cleaned and neatly folded, once spring set in.
Chhoti Mummy was the first to notice Pooh’s delicate condition. She went to Manoj’s room to search for his woollens.
“What do you want?” asked Ritu, in an interrogative tone.
“I was looking for Pooh’s woollens.”
“Well, Badi mummy made sweaters and mufflers out of them for Sonu and Sonia. Look how lovely they look!”pointing towards the children playing in the hallway.
“What is Pooh supposed to wear then?” angrily asked Chhoti Mummy.
“Well, if you are so concerned for that dog, why don’t you give it your shawl? Or better still, Chhote Papa’s sweater?”
A tight slap greeted her smirking face,replacing it by a throbbing indent on the right cheek.
“Enough with your disrespect! Once more you behave like this,and you will get another one of those. And that was only my left hand!” Saying this, she exited the room, anger in every step.
She went back to her room, took out her shawl, and blanketed the shivering one with all the warmth she could find in it. Patting its feverish forehead lovingly, she broke into tears. “What has happened to our home, Pooh? We lived so lovingly, such a lovely family we were! That girl is a curse, who has consumed the goodness of Manoj and Badi didi and blinded their conscience with all the wickedness she possesses. May her children not be endowed with the darkness that flows in her blood.”
Chhote papa returned home, to find Chhoti Mummy and Pooh sleeping in each other’s embrace. Sighing, he covered them in a thick blanket that would provide them some protection from the cold there was, both in the air, and in the home, which no longer was one.
“Hey Pooh! How are you?”Pooh was dreaming.
“Mithhu? Where are you?”
“In heaven, my friend! Here I get channa whenever I want! I have my own bed too! How about you?”
“Just carrying on. The home is just breaking apart. And I am not doing great either, with the cold.”
“That home is no longer one, Pooh. It is a house divided. You should probably leave it.”
“But then, where do I go?”
“Come here to me. You have lived your life. And a meaningful and fulfilling one too.”
“What are you saying? What about Chotti Mummy, Papa, Shefali, Shivali?”
“They all will understand. They will realize that this was the best future for you, considering the hallowed place you currently are in. Heaven awaits you, Champ!”
And so, as the Moon began to set, and the Sun began to rise, the wind carried with it the soul of Pooh-“Canine Mr Olympian”, the pug with an unbelievably strong sense of smell, the pug with an adorable curiosity, the lover of Rasgullas-to the heavenly realm so dearly invited to by his friend.
Next morning, there was a loud wail that reverberated throughout the house, and echoed into the neighbourhood.
“Pooh is no more. He passed away in his sleep!” Chhoti mummy was crying inconsolably. Chhote papa sat consoling her while she held the lifeless body of the pug she loved like her own son.
The tears reached Shefali and Shivali, who sobbed like their mother, consoled by their friends, who had gathered in their hostel rooms.
A metaphysical force carried the same words from the conscious of Chhoti Mummy,Papa, Shefali and Shivali to the deepest corner of heaven, into the eternal soul of the pug named Pooh.
“Wherever you have gone, you will be in peace. You deserved much better than this place which was not worthy of your loyalty and love anymore.You were a blessing in our life. Each moment spent with you will be cherished. Love you, Pooh.”
“Sonu! Soniya! Look, I have brought rasgullas for you!”
“Wow! Thank you papa!” Both of them rushed to grab the bag containing the sweets.
“I will eat the first one. ”
In this childish argument and tugging, the bag fell and burst, splattering the rasgullas, and the chashni on the floor.
“Satyaanash! Now none of you can have it! Go tell mummy to clean this mess!” Groaned Manoj.
Chhoti mummy looked out of the corner of the curtain and smiled.
“Maybe they were meant for Pooh.”