<%-- Page Title--%> A Roman Column <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 156 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

May 28, 2004

<%-- Navigation Bar--%>
<%-- Navigation Bar--%>

A, Gentle Animal

Neeman Sobhan

Perhaps, only animal lovers will appreciate my story.
When we moved into our villa in Rome, my boys reminded me of my promise about keeping a dog if we had a garden. I could not renege on my word now and Tushaar (the colour of day-old-snow) came into our lives as a puppy.

With his wilful and mischievous personality he became the object of affection for the whole family, including my Bangali housekeeper Sufia who in spite of her traditional attitude of considering dogs as unclean became Tushaar's biggest conquest.

I was his easiest conquest, the sucker who could be manipulated by his deviously doleful eyes to sneak him food when the others trained him not to beg at the table. My boys considered him a sibling and my husband pretended rivalry saying, "I'll throw out your 'laat-shaheb'!" when doggie occupied his leather sofa before the T.V to doze disdainfully through human news.

Well, this story is not about Tushaar. It is only a contrasting backdrop to the real story about my other dog, Tushaar's son, who stole our hearts for being the exact opposite of his vain and self-confident father.

This one came quietly into a family that did not need another dog. But I wanted him, and he became my dog as against Tushaar who belonged to everyone. But this second pet was the underdog, the victim of Tushaar's sibling rivalry. I call it that because Tushaar was only a year old when he precociously sired a litter with Lara next door, and never developed paternal feelings (if such exist in the animal world), considering his son as a rival.

At the birth of Lara's puppies, we felt that the neighbourly thing for us to do was to take on the responsibility for at least one of the puppies before the rest were parcelled off to different families. Among the fluffy white bunch, I glimpsed a fat black and white bundle, bigger than the rest that wobbled and fell as it tried to walk. "That one!" I pointed him out and Motu (fatso) became my dog.

The boys adored both dogs, but the responsibility of caring for them fell on Sufia and me. Tushaar resented Motu's presence and we had to be tactful about showing our affection for the new comer. Even as the young one grew to be double his father's size, he was easily cowed down by his father's temper. Motu never touched his food till Tushaar had okayed both bowls. When their 'brothers' returned from school, it was Tushaar who had to be petted first or else Motu got snarled at.

The meek, undemanding creature never protested. Perhaps Tushaar threatened him in dog language, and there was an unspoken pact by which Motu agreed to play second fiddle. I made up for it secretly and Motu made sure Tushaar was not around when he accepted the extra attention or bigger bone.

Motu vigilantly guarded the house all night while Tushaar slept. If father slipped out during the day to create a ruckus in the neighbourhood, Motu came to us with a worried look. When we scolded the unrepentant rascal after he came home sheepishly, it was Motu that trembled. Tushaar's bark could be heard for miles while Motu never raised his voice without a valid reason. And yet it was he with his huge girth and piratical patch who frightened visitors. 'Oh! Please tie him up!' many would scream, scaring gentle Motu who was shy of people.

Both my dogs contracted a disease called Leishmania, which can be kept under control by daily medication and regular check-ups. In Tushaar's case the disease's recurrence would manifest on his skin and be promptly attended to; in Motu's case, unfortunately, this was not so as it transpired. I came back from my last trip to Dhaka to find Motu shockingly underweight. By the time the vet figured out why medication was not working this time, Motu's kidneys had been affected. Chance of recovery was fifty-fifty and I remained hopeful that Motu would bounce back being a young dog.

The battle started but the dog gave up eating. I ran around the house placing bowls of sugared water to tempt the listless and thin Motu to drink enough to keep his kidneys functioning. He was an outdoor dog who now crept in and stayed close to me. Whichever room I was in he would come and lie down facing me, his brown eyes mutely on mine. Even with closed eyes if he sensed my presence he wagged his tail.

Came the day when he refused to drink, and left the house to go sit in the garden facing the trees and shrubs. I called to him and stroked his head but he did not respond and continued to gaze away pensively. A few hours later I found him in another part of the garden, lying deeper within the shadows of a bush breathing gently but detached from the world as if he were bidding farewell to the living world and reconciling himself to mingling with the earth. But I was not ready to give up, and the vet agreed, carrying him into the house to give him saline and medical infusion intravenously.

But he warned, "If by tomorrow we do not see any improvement, we must put him to sleep. It will be kinder to him." I swallowed and stayed with Motu all night willing him to live. But his eyes already had a distant look. At dawn, I went for a meditative walk. Spring was ready to flower and yet it was chilly as autumn, and the rose buds were tightly clenched as my fists.

When the vet arrived, he carried the once huge and noble beast now light as a fur coat to his office uphill. I was determined to stay with Motu till the end so I stood at the table with my hand resting on his head while his eyes fixed mutely on my overflowing ones. But after he was sedated and anaesthetized the vet said, "I will now inject the fatal dose…" I rushed out like a coward, weeping. Outside it started to rain out of a clear sky. When I entered my gate Tushaar waited, not barking today. Just as I composed myself, the sun came out. I scolded myself for projecting my grief on the play of sunlight and cloudburst, yet my heart insisted that it signified my Motu had not been snuffed out like a crushed flower but that his passing had been noted and embraced into nature's rhythm.

Today, as everyday, I am taking Tushaar for a walk. There is a crunching noise behind us; I look back knowing it is not Motu's once happily lagging steps. It is a scattering of last season's leaves rustling away in the newly warmed breeze. The neighbouring houses have tiaras of roses spilling over walls and hedges. Nature's beauty today is both cruel and comforting: yesterday's death is today's life. I stroke Tushaar's head as a remembered pattering behind us fades but doesn't disappear. We both accept Motu's absence and presence. My heart is grateful for the love of a mute and gentle animal that enriched my spirit.



(C) Copyright The Daily Star. The Daily Star Internet Edition, is published by The Daily Star