Those who do not know what having a pet is are the second most unfortunate group of people on earth. (The first of course are those who have never enjoyed a fine drink in the company of good friends.) Our fox-terrier Chorki, aka Chakradhar Sinha went to meet his maker on a pleasant spring morning five years ago, but he still seems to be around.
If the introduction has given you the impression that Chorki was a loving pet, a dog that was eager to please people around him, I am sorry. Nothing could be farther from truth. In fact, I have never seen a more self-centred and opinionated dog than Chorki. Like all authentic fox-terriers, he honestly believed that the main purpose behind the existence of the universe was to please him. He loved to be at the centre of everything and instinctively knew where he ought to be in order to make his presence felt. For example, if any one of us was packing a suitcase, he would calmly move into the suitcase and pretend to be sleeping. He loved good food and saw to it that he was given the biggest slice of cake and the largest scoop of ice cream. He was a strong believer of the hedonistic philosophy: Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. On a summer day he would always sleep directly under the fan or the ac vent. In a frosty winter night, it would be impossible to nudge him out of his blanket. What was worse, he had a huge chip on his shoulder and was always ready to take offence. Unlike most people with dogs, we couldn’t tell people: ‘Don’t worry, our dog doesn’t bite.’
Sorry, but our dog does bite. On a conservative estimate, Chorki bit seventeen people in his career, and many of his victims had to experience the pain multiple times. Some of them were nice people who would themselves pay for the prophylactic anti-rabies shots, making us feel even guiltier, but to many others, besides apologies, we would offer medical facilities. It came to such a stage that if we hadn’t bought the shots for a couple of months, our friendly street-corner pharmacist Sona would ask me, ‘Ki dada, Rabipur laagbena?’
And if there was one dog whose bark was worse than his formidable bite, it was Chorki. He would be easily disturbed by any legitimate noise that passers-by made and would respond by increasing the noise pollution manifold. So if you had a car screeching to a stop or a cyclist ringing his bell in front of our house, Chorki would start barking, continuing for at least ten minutes after the reason for his displeasure abated. Mornings were the worst time. We Bengalis being broadminded people, whenever we say ‘Good morning’, we don’t just wish just one person, but the rest of the humanity too. So every time a morning walker said ‘Good morning’ a little loudly, Chorki would take off. And sound was not the only stimulus for him to bark.
Chorki firmly believed that whatever area he could see from our windows was out-of bounds for other dogs. So even if he saw the tail of a stray dog curled up at a distance, he would try to enforce his no-fly zone. Things were so bad that we would give directions to our house as follows. ‘Come to Parnashree bus stand and if you do not hear a dog barking already, wait for a few minutes. You will hear a shrill bark coming from a fourth-floor flat. Just follow the sound, and hey, Bob is your uncle.’
You might think: what kind of people could fall in love with such a cantankerous dog and why should anyone write about him five years after what should surely have been good riddance? And there lies the nub, Gentle Reader. Despite all his failings, Chorki had such a magnetic pull … and he loved us madly. He could understand practically every word of Bengali (except modern poetry) and if ever anyone could express feelings, information, and ideas with just their eyes, it was Chakradhar.
Once we took him to Bangalore to my daughter’s place. The plan was to leave him there for six months as we would leave for the US, where my son and daughter-in-law had just set up their home. The day we were to leave for Kolkata, Chorki understood the situation clearly and behaved like a dog possessed. He stopped eating and drinking and would run alternately to my wife and me. He would bark as softly as he could – in fact it was the only time he whimpered in his life – and look into our eyes with as much pathos as he could muster. No language could have expressed more clearly what he wanted to say: “Don’t go away. Please don’t leave me here.”
We were heartbroken but we had to leave. After much cajoling, my daughter managed to take him for a walk in the afternoon and we slipped away during the time. When Chorki returned, he realised what had happened and shot off immediately. There was a taxi with a driver waiting in front of the house and to the utter horror of the driver, a dog suddenly jumped into the vehicle. Chorki had correctly reckoned that the only way to catch us would be to take a cab.
But as Paulo Coelho has said, if you really want something, the whole universe conspires to help you get it. The present chief minister of West Bengal was a firebrand opposition leader then. A few days before our departure, she had called the nth bandh in West Bengal, as a result of which the train services had been disrupted. When we reached Krishna Raja Puram Station, our train had been cancelled.
Saturday, 04 April 2015