Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Sona, in remembrance (2015-2020)

A month ago, after visiting Pratima Devi and her animals outside PVR Saket, I posted this photo on Facebook. It was partly to show off my Tom and Jerry mask, but the photo was also special because of the fellow sitting behind us, looking fixedly at me, as he usually did.

This is what I wrote with the FB post:

“That’s Sona, my Lara’s brother, who has lived at Pratima Devi’s for nearly five years. He goes berserk whenever he sees me, and usually has to be leashed while I’m there. Then, when I get home, Lara smells him on me and goes crazy in turn. They were almost inseparable as puppies, but haven’t met in all these years despite living just a couple of hundred metres apart. Such is life. A Manmohan Desai film without reunions or resolutions.”

Sona died last night. He was either poisoned deliberately by one of the dog-haters in the area (entirely possible) or just happened to eat some rotten or chemical-infested food (equally possible). Either way, one of the many casualties of the past few weeks, among the animals I know. (There is a cliché, often mouthed by people who don't have enough close experience of these things, that street dogs are "very hardy and resilient" – but that's a bit like saying "poor people are so happy with what little they have", and the truth is more complicated/inconvenient. It has definitely been more complicated in recent months, with poor people and homeless animals continuing to suffer as their benefactors are overwhelmed by the pandemic.)

All considered, though, I suppose Sona had a decent run at Pratima Devi’s place.


Yesterday, as I looked down at his body, mouth slightly open, flies buzzing around him, I was reminded of that busy summer of 2015 when, having finished the final edits on the Hrishikesh Mukherjee book and knowing that it was in production, I started looking around and noticing the world again. (This when I had some respite from my dadi’s medical problems, which often required late-night emergency trips to the hospital.) In doing this, one of the first things that came into my view was the latest litter of pups in the lane behind our flat.

There were only three pups left at this point. They were born in the same lane, and were growing up in the same spaces, where my Foxie and her siblings were born and grew up seven summers earlier, in 2008. Each litter of pups even had a kindly moustached guard – sitting outside the exact same building – looking out for them, doing what he could to keep them alive. (The guard in 2008 was named Shankar; the one in 2015 was Shravan.)

The three surviving pups – Future Lara, Future Sona and their skinny brother, whom I have only ever known as Kaalu – were already three or more months old when I made their acquaintance. We got their mother taken away to be spayed (that’s another story, told here) and then decided (given that a couple of neighbours were being very hostile to them – sticks, stones etc) that we would try to get them adopted. Eventually we spoke to Pratima Devi and she agreed to foster them: the idea at that point was to let her keep them, see if we found another home for them, and if not, I would pay her a regular monthly sum for their upkeep.

I have also been thinking of how, but for a small coin-flip, Sona might have been the one who became our house dog in place of Lara. To be honest, I don’t think there was much chance of that happening – between the two male pups and the female one, we were always more likely to take the female, it was impractical to think of taking more than one, and we had already identified Future Lara as the nervous, jumpy one who wouldn’t survive easily on the street – but then these decisions get made in one fleeting instant sometimes: a pup looks up at you in a certain way, at a certain time, when you’re in a certain sort of mood, and that’s it; you decide he’s yours. Who knows what could have happened.

That deciding moment for me happened on the night of the day when we took the three pups to Pratima Devi’s. Despite constant reassurances, I had been looking at Future Lara, at how scared she was, and wondered if it was right to deposit her in this chaotic, noisy place, even if she had her siblings for company. “Arre, itna phikr mat karo,” Pratima Devi told me, chuckling. She had known hundreds of dogs of all temperaments over the decades, she said, and there would be no problem; this one would settle in like all the others.

But I was restless. At around 9 that night, after my evening walk in a big colony park, while walking home, I knew I had to stop to check on her. Sure enough, the scaredy-cat pup was nowhere to be found – she had run off somewhere, while Pratima Devi and her helper had been sure all the while that she was under a charpoy napping. It took us nearly 15 minutes of desperate searching (and keeping our fingers crossed that she hadn’t tumbled down the slope that led into a naala behind the shack) before we found her cowering and terrified – terrified of Pratima Devi’s loud bellows, the sound of the little TV, the sudden barking of the adult dogs waiting for their dinner.

That’s it. There was no question of leaving her there as far as I was concerned, so I brought her back to our lane, let her hang around downstairs with the other adult dogs…and over the next few days she became ours (eventually moving from the D-block flat where Abhilasha and I stayed to my mother’s flat nearby) while Sona and Kaalu (an unsocial sort who doesn’t live in Pratima Devi’s immediate vicinity but on the far side of the PVR complex, and whom I rarely see) stayed with Amma. The Manmohan Desai script was underway.


In all my visits there in the past few years, one thing was constant: Sona jumping up at me, clawing away proprietorially as if to tell the other dogs “this one has come to see ME”. In recent months I have been writing a bit about my “part-time dogs” – defined as those who aren’t round-the-clock house dogs but for whom one bears and feels a lot of responsibility – and I can’t seriously claim that Sona was one of them; after all, I only met him for a few minutes every month or so. But his persistent whining when he saw me even from a distance, or when I was leaving Pratima Devi’s place, made me feel like he thought of me as much more than his “part-time human”. In an alternate universe somewhere, back in 2015 – that strange transitional period with my mother’s illness just a few months away and life on the verge of being changed forever – we adopted him along with Lara, and he is still with her at home, sturdy and well-groomed... and, well, alive.

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