Saturday, September 6, 2008

GOOD-BYE, BOOT



We got him fourteen years ago, A tiny ball of fur that seemed to roll in all directions. Jet black with a few protruding white spots were his paws.
"Ma, look, he's got white shoes on," they exclaimed.
Despite my reservation against the canined species, Boot became a part of the family. He was devoted to the girls. They shared their room with him, allowed him on to their bed, sneaked out pieces of meat from their dinner plates for him, walked him whenever free, poured out their hearts to him when the world seemed awry, and considered him – and him alone – their greatest friend and well-wisher. He too reciprocated with those soulful eyes. He would be ecstatically happy when they were happy, ferocious when he felt they were in danger, and sad when they were glum.
Boot was an inseparable part of all their activities. Their games, their walks, their studies, their adventures, their pranks. He curled up under the desk when they did their homework. When they slept he slept at their feet, with one ear cocked up. Boot figured in all their childhood pictures. No festive occasion seemed complete without him. With time he lost his puppy fat and grew into an elegant dog, sleek and handsome. The terror of the colony, he guarded the house zealously, barked his head off at the postman, the gardener, the fruit-vendor, the cleaner, everyone. In the mango season he guarded the mango trees and when the grapes ripened he shooed away the urchins who came to vandalize. No stranger could enter the house easily. But, like Donne's lover, he had two faces, one to show to the world and the other to the ones he loved. With Bulbul and Kokil he was gentle and oh, so patient. He allowed them to pet him, tease him, frisk him playfully. As he grew older, he became more sedate and more tolerant with them. He even allowed their pet cat to paw his nose!
The years rolled by and the girls grew up and left home to seek their own place in the big big world. Boot went into depression. Intuitively he seemed to know that the world he once was a part of had changed irrevocably. He moped about and started refusing his food. Despite all persuasion and cajoling, he sulked. He started staying away from home, wandering the streets for long hours. One day when he was let out early in the morning to relieve himself, he did not return. That was on the 15th of August. The next day was an eclipse. They say eclipses bring about endings, closures, completions. (I recall, there was an eclipse also on 6th Feb this year, a date I cannot forget).
It is now several weeks since Boot disappeared. We have hunted high and low but without any luck. He simply seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth. It is like the closing of a chapter. Bulbul and Kokil's growing years frozen in history forever. The present becoming the past. Packed and sealed, ready to be stored in the musty attics of the memory. A Blakean period of innocence turning into experience. A fully-rigged ship in a bottle. Remote and inaccessible.
I have not stopped searching. When walk around I keep an eye on the road – is that black shadow there, by any chance, a dog crouching by the roadside? I sometimes find myself honking mindlessly on the roads as I drive down, hoping against hope that he will hear it, emerge from the bushes and come bounding down the road. When I come home from work and unlock the door, I catch myself saying involuntarily – "Come on, Boot, come on out."
At night I still leave the gate open, on the off-chance that Boot may re-appear and find it difficult able to enter the house with the gate locked. And I still wake up nights when I imagine a scraping at the door. The scraping of a creature whose presence I had got accustomed to. A creature who was an indispensable part of our lives for fourteen years. A furry ball that grew into a loyal friend and companion until his final call came. A relic from Bulbul and Kokil's childhood now lost forever.

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