What dies in us when a dog dies?
Ayurdhi, the friend I have always known as Professor, pens a heartwarming tribute for Brownie, the desi dog who loved her.
I can never listen to Jagjit Singh’s Chitthi na koi sandes in front of others.
They call us dog-lovers, and I don’t how I feel about that; after all, I have never heard the term baby-lovers, boyfriend-lovers, parent-lovers. I think when people see us, whether it’s the five year old who brings stray puppies home with her, or a grown man who spends half his day catering to the needs of sadak ke kutte, they see people who have made a choice to love something that isn’t inherently lovable. They don’t understand that we never had a choice; we didn’t choose to be the pagal ladki who fights RWAs when they want to poison dogs; neither did we choose to be the kid who waits every day at strategic locations because he knows that people walk their dogs at that time. I don’t remember ever not being a dog-lover, it wasn’t a choice just like love never is one.
I write this in the memory of Brownie – the quintessential big, brown, wise dog that resides in all nukkads and every gali. Brownie was old, so unlike his younger friends (looking at you Merlin), he didn’t chase cars, or stand in the middle of the road challenging his mortality. He wasn’t just old, he was old-school – he didn’t like to enter houses, but would gladly let you feed him, pet him, and talk gibberish to him. He knew that an open wooden door, not an open iron door, meant food was coming. I never saw him get into a fight or eat too greedily. He was thankful for the food my friend gave him, but never begged for it. He was always full of dust and left amorphous puddles of mud wherever he sat – a Rorschach of his butt.
“You’ll get over it…” It’s the clichés that cause the trouble. To lose someone you love is to alter your life for ever. You don’t get over it because ‘it” is the person you loved. The pain stops, there are new people, but the gap never closes. How could it? The particularness of someone who mattered enough to grieve over is not made anodyne by death. This hole in my heart is in the shape of you and no-one else can fit it. Why would I want them to?”
― Jeanette Winterson,
Brownie died recently, for the quintessential desi, he met the quintessential desi death – run over by a car. We – dog lovers – are used to death; after all, loving strays means having to encounter their untimely demise on monthly basis. Despite that, every once in a while, there comes a dog who might not be your slavish lover (Unhel), a desperate pleaser (Marlene), or a sweet soul (Naala, she gets her name from her love for open drains) – but his loss is felt viscerally.
Brownie was that dog.
He greeted me when I got down from a rickshaw – unlike Merlin, he wouldn’t jump excitedly; instead he would walk me home for the last 20 steps till my door. Being walked home by two dogs made me feel like royalty – and while Merlin followed me inside, Brownie was content in making sure I was safely home and then he left – slow in his moves, deliberate in his glances.
See Also: What you lose when you lose your dog?
There are usually a few ways people offer their condolences when a dog dies – people who don’t love dogs are perplexed by the intensity of your grief (the dreaded “yaar kutta hi toh tha” followed by a swift punch to their face), people who love dogs but haven’t lost them fair better (the “I am sorry”, and “I am sure he is happy somewhere”), and then those who have loved and lost – people who react with righteous anger, disappointment, or dark humor — “that dog sure loved getting her butt scratched” or “Remember, when he growled at you and you cried because you were emotionally hurt, hahahahaha”.
Yes, we who love dogs react sometimes weirdly but always intensely – we lose sleep, we listen for paw-steps, we miss the incessant panting. So Brownie – you giant, fluffy son-of-a-bitch (and I bet a beautiful bitch), we will miss you. Merlin will miss you – you were his mentor; I can only hope that dumb-ass learnt some life lessons from you.
Which is why I can’t listen to Jagjit Singh’s Chitthi na koi sandes in front of others:
Ek aah bhari hogi, humne na suni hogi
Jaate jaate tumne awaaz toh di hogi.