Wednesday, June 27, 2012

In memory of a beautiful, brave child

For Fox, with all our love (June 23, 2008 – June 16, 2012)


One Sunday afternoon in August 2007, I was standing in the little lane behind our new flat in Saket – the flat my wife and I had moved into after our wedding – and supervising the installation of a new booster for our water tank. In posts of that time (this one for instance) I grumbled profusely about the many teething troubles we faced in the new house. The booster installation was part of all that – it had to be done, it would take a few hours and someone had to be outside with the plumber’s helpers, checking wires and switches and things.

I had a deadline to review Hari Kunzru’s book My Revolutions, so I took it down with me. Reading it there in the sun, to the rhythm of metal pipes being fit and bolts being unscrewed, I remember being moved by a short passage. The book’s protagonist needs to steal an identity, so he visits a graveyard and searches for names of infants who were born around the same time as he was, but who had died very young (so that there is little or no complicating paperwork about their existence). On the tombstone of a child who had lived for less than two years, he reads the epitaph: “Resting where no shadows fall”.
 

Something about that line resonated with me. The picture it created in my mind was that of an unfortunate baby born with a serious medical condition, and the effect this knowledge had on the stricken parents, who experienced countless emotions over the months that followed: praying for a miracle, veering between a selfish desire to see the child live a full life (even if it was suffering) and the numbing realisation that this would not be in anyone’s best interests. Then the coming of the end – the immense grief tempered by an acknowledgement that the child was at peace at last, untouched by the shadows that had plagued it for all of its short life. Finally, choosing the appropriate words for the gravestone.

When I read that passage I had no firsthand experience of being a parent, but in the years ahead I was to understand not just the general feelings involved but also what it was like to have a special child, in need of constant attention and care – and what it was like to see it suffering. And there’s a little coincidence here too: it was in that very same back-lane, almost a year after I stood reading My Revolutions, that I saw my baby for the first time.



At the time, I could have no idea how closely our lives would become linked. She was just one of six pups snuggled up next to each other, fast asleep, limbs twitching sporadically as flies landed on them. In any case, dogs and their possibilities were at the margins of my consciousness: I was fond of them in a distant sort of way, but I had never been seriously close to one despite having lived for years in the same house as my mother’s Pomeranian.

Some of those early days were chronicled on this blog, since we were trying to find homes for the litter. The video in this post is one of the first videos we ever took of the pup who became our Foxie (she’s the one on top, just a little over a month old, wrestling with one of her siblings).

How she became ours, and the centre of my life for nearly four years, is a story I still can’t completely make sense of. But things slowly fell together. We were taking milk and bread down for the pups every day for weeks, and my mother had her eye on Fox from the very beginning (her features reminded mum of another street dog whom she had fed for close to a decade, and who had died a short while earlier). Coincidentally she was the last pup left after
her surviving brothers were adopted. On the first night that she was alone – whimpering, missing her siblings – Abhilasha and I went to the lane and discovered she had been bitten near the cheek by an adult dog. That decided it: we made a hurried trip to the nearby vet, got the lotion he prescribed, applied it and took her upstairs to our flat for what we thought would be just one night. It wasn’t.  

That was close to four years ago. On the same vet’s table, on the 16th of this month, Foxie passed away, with the three people she loved most by her side. It was a complication related to a chronic intestinal problem – one that had been diagnosed in February 2010 and had cast a shadow over her life. At no point in the last two-and-a-half years had she been really healthy, but her condition had improved in the final 10-11 months, and the end – coming as it did – was a huge shock. Two hours before she began showing the symptoms that set alarms bells off in my head, she had been fine, greedily gulping down her afternoon meal.

Nothing I write here can come close to capturing what she meant to me – language has never been so inadequate – and I’ve felt exhausted just thinking of writing about this. But I’ll try.


For her first year with us, Foxie was the most energetic, brightest-eyed, most personable dog you could imagine. Her early life is a blur in some ways, partly because the first 9-10 months of her time as a house dog overlapped with the final months of my nani’s illness (and the attendant chaos in the house); but also partly because Fox herself was healthy and “normal” throughout that period.

It’s impossible to know how one comes to develop a particular type of closeness with a particular creature. (I was flummoxed by a comment on this old post about the need to know the “difference” between a relationship with a human and an animal – as if it is possible to set such boundaries and chains in place for one’s deepest feelings.) In the case of my relationship with Foxie, much of it had to do with our situation: I was working from home, which meant she was around me all the time. Crabby as I usually am about my writing, she always had the right to barge into my room any time she wanted and demand to be taken down, or to play ball or tug of war. (In the pre-Fox days, I kept my room door locked for much of the day.) My routine became centred around her, the bond between us grew and I began to understand the things that parents feel. Not in the distant, second-hand, vaguely empathetic way where you can imagine what the emotions are like – but really understand.

I knew now what my mother had meant all those years when she would fuss over me, worry about my being out of the house for too long, and mouth annoying platitudes about how I would understand “one day”. When I heard people talking about their kids, I related. Heck, when I heard the Steve Jobs quote about children being “your heart running around outside your body”, I knew exactly what it meant, and I wasn’t embarrassed by the rawness (or triteness) of the sentiment. Little things like that. When Jaane bhi do Yaaro: Seriously Funny Since 1983 came out, I often told friends – only half-jokingly – that the biggest justification for the book’s existence was that I had managed to get
Fox’s photo and name into it. (She was unwell by that time, and the photo in the book - the one here, on the left - is not a flattering one. But I cherish it.)

All these feelings intensified when her illness was diagnosed and her condition required constant monitoring: a strictly regulated diet, enzymes with every meal, newspapers spread out on the terrace because she had to go to the toilet five or six times each day. Even knowing that my mum (the best dadi in the world) was around all the time, it became difficult for me to contemplate going out of town for more than 3-4 days at a stretch. And on the very rare occasions that I did, I would be calling my mother up every few hours to check on Fox’s condition: was she eating okay, showing signs of discomfort or pain? Did she still have trouble walking around?

This may seem like a dark picture, but here is the comforting knowledge that we will hold on to: in the last year of her life,
thanks to some medicinal and dietary changes, she had become happier and more active. The pain in her hind legs and abdomen had greatly reduced; she had regained some of her natural beauty, with many of her skin patches clearing. In this last year I saw her do things I had once reconciled myself to never seeing again: tearing through the house from one balcony to the other to monitor the movements of a dog downstairs; standing briefly on her delicate hind legs, with her front legs on the trunk of a tree, cocking her head as she searched for a squirrel; playing hide-and-seek with Abhilasha and me, and whining – in the petulant, spoilt-brat way she used to as a pup – when one of us was out of sight for longer than she could bear; bringing us her stuffed toys one by one so we could throw them along the floor for her to dash after; slapping a tennis ball about with something approaching the verve she had shown in her early months.

None of this knowledge can take away what I’m feeling now in my heart and in the pit of my stomach – what I have been feeling every second for the past two weeks. (The moment I knew for sure that she was gone, these words leapt into my head: "This is the first day of the rest of my life." That sounds dramatic, and it’s true that at times like this we tend to borrow words from the literature and cinema of grief. But it was exactly how I felt. The world changes: the way you look around you, the things you see, everything has a different colour and texture.) But in the long run, when some of the wounds have healed and it’s possible to focus on the good times, the memories of those final months will be immeasurably precious. If Foxie had gone a year earlier (as she nearly did in May 2011, in similar circumstances), our lasting memories would have been of a very sick, listless dog who staggered about the house on three legs, her back abnormally arched because she was in so much pain. (Well-wishers who had seen her condition at the time had delicately suggested putting her down.) Instead, we had this grace period when she regained something of the vitality of her childhood.

There is much more to write – I’ll do it as I find the energy for it. Meanwhile, here are a few photos.


These three are from the bad days, from around a year and a half ago. The mattress is spread out on the floor in the first pic because she was too weak at the time to climb up on a bed or sofa. (She also has a scarf tied around her, in addition to the coat – that winter was particularly bad given her emaciated condition.)




She is very skinny in the third pic (though she was even worse at one point). The pose is a characteristic one – she is resting her left hind leg, which was always weak.

From happier times: checking out a handsome male dog in the park; competing with Indian Idols; relaxing generally.




Her favourite place – my mother’s balcony, which gave her a fine view of the world she knew.


And two of her very last photos - playing dadi's pet at the dining table and elsewhere.

 


(Other photos and memories in these posts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

49 comments:

  1. Condolences! As you say, happy memories will stay in the long run. In a way, the lesson we learn is 'no one is indispensable' we have to go on carrying an ache in the heart.

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  2. My condolences. When I was 16, our first pet Coco passed away after a protracted illness and that is the first time I saw my dad cry openly. Now with the benefit of greater maturity and hindsight, I so agree with your words.

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  3. It's hard to figure out what to say to anyone going through a time like this. I can only hope all three of you are able to cope as best as you possibly can.

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  4. I have been reading your blog from the pre-foxy days and I think the dog-lover in me loved the Foxy posts the most. I was very thrilled when I saw Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron dedicated to Foxy with her full name written.I can imagine the pain you must be through right now. My condolences and hope our pain eases soon.

    -A

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  5. I started to cry while reading this,my bffs dog who I was quite close to was put to sleep some time back because of a nervous problem so I think that at some sort of level I can relate

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  6. I'm so sorry for your loss. I too had a beautiful baby dog and watched him emaciate and succumb to his illness. It took away a piece of my soul that I will never get back. I still have a dull ache in my heart when I think about itI will not claim to full understand your grief, but I must say that you have written a wonderful tribute, that foxie, up in doggie heaven would appreciate

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  7. My condolences. I think I first found your blog through one of your Foxy posts. There is no "animals" and "humans", there is only the connection, the web. Thank you for expressing this so beautifully.

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  8. Radhika Oltikar8:48 AM, June 28, 2012

    There's no pain quite like this one. I know, have been there. Speaking for myself, I take solace in the fact that I had such a loving being in my life and was able to shower it with all my love and care (though he gave me much much more in return), however briefly.

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  9. I don't have any words...and words would be damn near useless anyway.
    I'm sure she left you with lots of beautiful memories, of caring, love, togetherness...
    My condolences to you, Abhilasha & Aunty. Stay strong.

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  10. I am moved beyond words after reading your condolence. Anyone who has a dog would have have a lump in his throat after reading this.

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  11. My condolences for your loss. I experienced the same thing when our dog of 13 years passed away 5 years ago and I still got teary reading your post. That ache doesn't go away but it dims with time. I hope you all find a way to move on.

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  12. I'm very very sorry for your loss.

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  13. My condolences. I don't know what else to say, except that maybe I understand. My cat got lost and never came home, and for a long time, whenever I heard a banging against the door grill - like she used to do whenever she wanted to get in after her strolls - I would run to the door. It was one of the worst times of my life.

    I hope the pain passes for you, like it eventually did for me. But I'm glad you shared some what you went through. Take care.

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  14. Your tribute is very moving. Had several lumps in my throat, before i actually broke down seeing the piictures..My deepest condolences.

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  15. Jai Bhaiya,

    I have been reading your blog for over three years now and this is the first time that I have been inspired / moved to post a comment.

    Rest assured in the fact that - 'All dogs go to heaven.' Your Foxie is sure to find a place among the brightest stars in heaven and she will always shine upon you and your family who took so much care of her.

    There will be a sense of separation and loss for a while and you will keep whistling for Foxie or keep food for her in her dish without realising that she is gone :(.

    You might also feel here presence in the evenings - I have when my pet passed away and I strongly believe in spirits of loved ones be it human or animal.

    Take care and may God give you strength.

    Sorry if this was too long a comment - my heartfelt condolences, mahesh

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  16. I'm a longtime lurker, but had to comment on this one.

    I'm so sorry for your loss; can't imagine what you must be going through. Foxie appears to have been a fine dog. And it sounds like she had a very fulfilling life with y'all.

    -V

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  17. Beautiful and incredibly moving. Much love to all of you from Beth and her aging dog Leroy.

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  18. God bless her.

    Very nice post.

    Krishna

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  19. So moved by this post. Nothing I say can take away the pain and the grief.. but my love to you all. Especially to lovely Foxy.

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  20. Beautifully written, Jai. Am so sorry for your loss. May Foxie rest in peace.

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  21. Truly sorry to hear it. The missing part of your life doesn't really go away, you learn to live with it. But the happy parts stay as well, making you smile at unexpected times.

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  22. So sorry for your loss, Jai.

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  23. In time...in time, the pain you go through now will meld into beautiful memories.
    But until such time..pain is all we have to comfort ourselves with...inexhorable sadness that teaches us more about us and the meaning of 'unconditional' love.
    Feel your pain Jai...really understand the loss.

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  24. A tear slid down as I started reading this, and they wouldn't stop right upto the end... I can't say I've known anyone yet, who could get me to open the locks on my door and barge in, so I can't even begin to imagine what such a loss must feel like.. condolences ..

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  25. I'm very sorry for your loss, Jai. My father has owned (and accordingly, lost) dogs most of his adult life. For the last 20 years he has refused to have one, says it's too painful to deal with their passing. I remember how much it hurt when our last four dogs died one after the other (we had four together) so, here are virtual hugs from me.

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  26. Really sorry for your loss Jai. Heartfelt condolences. - Gopi Puthran

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  27. What does one say? My heartfelt condolences.
    A tender and beautiful tribute....
    May you find the strength and serenity to deal with this loss.

    priti aisola

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  28. Long time reader , never commented before. Had lost my dog 10 years back. Could not be with her at the end. She was staying with my parents , who held the news back from me till she was gone. Believe me , when I say , I feel the pain.
    As Dr.Herriot used to say , get another pet soon. That's the best healer.

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  29. Thanks for the wishes, everyone. Can't really say much except to reiterate that she wasn't just a "pet" - she was a child in every way that mattered. Am thinking of her every moment, replaying her life in my head constantly.

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  30. Utterly moving and beautiful. I hope that you will one day have the space in your heart to have another baby to dote on and to make more bitter sweet memories...

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  31. your post moved me to tears, Jai...i lost my two pets in 2009, one had stayed with us for 17 yrs and the other 15 yrs...so you can understand that they were no longer our 'pets'...they were our kid brothers, my mom's sons...we sisters could never overcome our grief and even today we act as if they are around...Lipsi, the 17yr old, died on the last day of a wedding function we had at our home...he waited for us to come home after the function and then breathed his last..the worst hit was our mom as they were her sole companions after we left home for studies...she still seems to hear their barks and responds to them involuntarily...sorry i took up so much space but your post just brought up so many memories...

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  32. Every time I see a man smiling at a dog, my faith in humanity reaffirms itself. From one who loves dogs more than himself, heartfelt condolences; Do get another one soon. It won't replace Foxie, but you can relive the life with her. Take care.

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  33. My condolences. As a pet owner and animal lover, I know that no amount of condolences will make it better for a while yet, but your post does ample justice to an incredible soul.

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  34. I can thoroughly understand all that you have said, as my life too changed a whole lot after smart Snoopy entered our lives on his own, showered all his love on us for 13 long years, taught us all about animals, left lots and lots of good memories and almost 2 years of sorrowful memories, when he lost his eye sight, fell sick and had to be put to sleep to save him from severe pain. I cannot forget that last day, when he was panting and crying of pain and my husband and I were comforting him. He could not swallow a drop of water but made great efforts to eat half a biscuit that I offered. I did not stay at the spot to see him breath his last. I cannot pardon myself for having done that, though it was to relieve him of his pain. After him, we are unable to live without pets - dogs or cats! We never compare evil men to animals, because animals are holy and selfless. There are no evil animals. This was taught to us by all the pets that we had and still have. The love that we have for pets can never be explained or compared with the love that we have for our children or others. It is some special bondage, which one can understand only if one experiences.

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  35. Kindly accept my heartfelt condolences. Maybe dogs go to heaven, as someone has said, but your Foxie deserves meta-heaven

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  36. My wife and I have adopted a very old cat whom we were pet sitting for a roommate of mine, and she has had several scares of the past few months. It will be very difficult for us to part ways with her, even as we are resigned to doing it at some point in the not too distant future. And we battled with the same dilemmas regarding putting her down vs keeping her alive through onerous (to her) means. Yeah, it is very emotionally harrowing to have to decide quality of life issues for one's pet. Can relate to your grief and sense of loss. Hope she is in a better place.

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  37. So sorry to hear about your loss Jai, though I am glad you had Foxy and her company and all those wonderful memories for life. I will pray for your pain to reduce (I know it can never go completely) and wish you and your family build up the strength to help another helpless creature desperately waiting to be loved. People like you restore my faith in this world . God bless Foxy's soul

    -P

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  38. Move on in Life! That's the only thing you can do right now and be strong.

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  39. I'm very sad to hear about your baby, Fox. I "accidentally" rescued a "junglee" dog in Nepal a few months ago, and now she is my family. I appreciate your comments about there being no distinction between animal or human when it comes to whom you love.

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  40. So very sorry. I have two kids and could really identify with what you wrote. Really glad that she had a few months' respite.
    Mala

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  41. Hi Jai

    Very sorry for your loss. Cant help but relate it all to my experiences in life. Reading through the Playful acts that Foxy induldged in, and the gaze of her eyes in the pics , I am only more convinced of my rather philosiphical take on my love with my dog - Dont let their body or death distract you. Stay in love and enjoy their beauty. Play host to another one and you'll get Foxy back - maybe in different form, color, temprament etc but you'll know its her and she'll recognise you too.
    This might be true in the larger context of love and punar janam etc a-la bollywood but its easier translated in context of pets as their world has no shades of politics and questionable motives.
    Here's what i had written around the time I was last in situation similar to yours http://ranjanx.blogspot.co.uk/2007/08/ranzish-hi-sahi.html

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  42. May Foxy rest in peace :'(

    "This is the first day of the rest of my life." .. exactly the sentiment I felt when my dog passed away.. the effects were even more magnified. He passed away at the age of 17 yrs, 2 months.. we were extremely grateful for that life span.. and I was also thoroughly conscious of the fact that more than half of my life had been spent in his presence at that time.. I just didn't know how it would pan out from "then" onwards .. the first day of the rest of my life was truly how I felt :'(

    The burial was another absolutely traumatic experience. In retrospect I regret that we hadn't researched it enough before the time came. Because to get buried with dignity and have that spot safe forever is the least one can do. Unfortunately in Sanjay Gandhi's animal care centre in Hari nagar, that is not the case. And apparently the crematorium service was stopped just a year or two before that time.

    Till date I remember those last moments, the burial and everything around it. My sister and I saved some of his locks. To people who don't have a pet this seems ridiculous, but to those who do, they understand this is the last bit of contact forever.

    I thought I would write about it on my blog but the very thought of the entire event would choke me. It was at least 2yrs before I could converse normally without choking when talking abt my pet. And I haven't blogged till date.

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  43. Very sorry to hear about your loss. You will find a way to remember and cherish the happy memories...we all do :)

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  44. saw this post (rather belatedly) today on Abhilasha's FB page and ran through the maze of emotions you and Abhilasha have for Fox but (as you've so rightly pointed out in the blog) language fails to afford adequate expression to me.

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  45. SORRY JAI, I CANNT BELEIVE SHE IS NO MORE...I DIDNT KNOW ABT THT. I KNOW WHAT YOU BOTH FEEL.I DONT HAVE COURAGE TO EVEN TALK TO ABHI U TAKE CARE AND I STILL REMEMBER THAT WHEN MY JUMBO LEFT US MY DAD SAID HE WILL COME BACK TO U IN SOME OTHER WAY HE WILL...I DONT KNOW I STILL MISS HIM..

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