Thursday, March 10, 2005

Rani of Ambagan

Rani of Ambagan

It was sometime between nine and ten in the night. I was trudging back home on my rusty old scooter. According to my parents, returning home after nine was heresy. I could almost see the worried look on my father’s face as he opened the door for me and I knew exactly how my mother would scold me. It was not my intention to annoy them but in a teenage orgy one loses track of time easily. I lumbered on anticipating a row.

However when the door of my house opened for me, I was in for a pleasant surprise. My father, far from being anxious, rushed back to his favourite news channel. Mother was bustling in the kitchen. She asked me if I had had a good time and I told her so. It is thrilling to escape an expected scolding and in my joy I confessed to my parents-
“I have always wondered why you get so edgy when I return a little late!”
My mother smiled and said – “ Remember how Rani had wagged her tail?”

A barrage was broken and I was drowned in a flood of fondest memories.

Our Rani of Ambagan!

For the first eight years of my life we lived in a rented house at Ambagan. It was a spacious house – an ideal place for a child to grow. The tall wood framed windows with misted glass panes, the rack of magazines in the red floored toilet, the broad steps that led to the main door, the huge iron gates we loved climbing on. In a moment it had all come back to me. And back came Rani too.

How she came to Ambagan, no one could say. It was a hot summer evening when I first saw her curled up beneath the bougainvillea’s shade – a mass of black amidst bits of pink paper-flowers. My childish interest rose. I called out to her. Coming from my puerile six-year old mouth, probably the harshest curses would have sounded sweet then. She looked at me with murky brown eyes and wagged her sickle tail with a sure-unsure interest. I knelt close to her and patted her shiny head. She closed her eyes in pleasure. A friendship was struck!

I introduced Rani to my family. My brother liked her but my parents were wary. They thought Rani might go berserk and bite me some day. I was to wash my hands every time I touched her and avoid getting close to her. What mystified me was her perennial sluggishness. I asked my mother if Rani was as old as our thakuma (grandmother).
“Rani is going to become a mother like I am. She is carrying her babies in her stomach like I carried dada and you. All that weight gets her tired.”

So we fed the pregnant Rani with rotis. We patted her soft head and let her into the portico when she barked outside the gates. She was a favourite among all my friends and the integral part of our evening games. Everyday I would search the portico for the puppies and would be disappointed to see Rani with her bulbous stomach. After what seemed like ages I asked my mother.
“Have patience,” was her answer.
And then the puppies came.
One was black like her, another gray, two brown and one was a medley. My excitement knew no bounds. When I left for school they would all be huddled up close to their mother with closed black eyelids. When I returned, playing with them became my favourite pastime. My brother called the black one his ‘own’ and named it Blackie. I held up a brown pup with a black patch over its left eye
“This is Brownie and he is mine!”

So Brownie and Blackie enjoyed playing with us when they were not pestering their mother for milk. The others joined us too. We forgot Rani.
But with the puppies came problems too. They would defecate all over the portico; litter the garden with garbage, bones and rusty tin mugs. To my surprise, even their continuous playful yelping annoyed my mother. One day I was told that the dogs were becoming too much of a nuisance and then no amount of pleading could dissuade my parents from shooing them out of our premises. But Rani and her litter were too accustomed to that neat little alcove beneath the bougainvillea, probably too addicted to spending their evenings playing with me on the gravel pathway. So they found a hole in the wall or a gap in the gate and came back in. now my parents had had enough.

“Tomorrow you take the puppies and leave them somewhere far off. They are old enough to fend for themselves now,” my mother told my father.
“Yes, I guess that should end the nuisance.”
“But Ma….” I tried to interrupt.
“Quiet! I have run out of patience – staying here all day listening to them whelp and whine, running around cleaning their droppings!” My mother was really annoyed. That night I cried to sleep and hoped that would mellow my parents. But in the morning nothing had changed. As a consolation I was allowed to accompany my father as he left the puppies afar. A gunny bag was arranged. My father held it open and called to the puppies. They came unsuspecting and unguarded and were thrust into that gloomy bag where I am sure they did not wag their tails any longer. Once the bag was secured, my father and I left. We must have traveled for a quarter of an hour before we stopped.

Their new home did not look all bad. It was a grassy field surrounded by houses on three sides. The puppies came out of the bag with a hurried excitement - they seemed to be expecting us to play some new game, one which involved being packed up in a bag. As we left I craned my neck to see. They were still wagging their puny tails tenderly and looking at us with wonder in their stupefied eyes. I felt a sting within myself I had never felt before.

Back home Rani was puzzled about the disappearance of her pups from their normal place – no yearning yelps for mother’s milk? She sped around – maybe half-expecting the wicked brown dog in the neighbourhood to be devouring at her children. There was so much anxiety in her movement, so much fear and incertitude! At one point, her eyes met mine. I could not tolerate the pain and went inside the house. The whole day she barked and barked. I never went out, afraid that she might realize what the guilt on my face meant. For once in my life I knew what it felt like to do something sorely unjust. That whole night Rani whelped. Her beloved puppies had disappeared completely. She sounded sadder than I had ever heard anyone.

“Poor dog!” My mother said, her guilt as evident as mine. We did not watch the television that evening. My father missed his nine o’ clock news bulletin. We sat together huddled in the living room like Rani’s portico used to, in our portico. All our senses were numb – we could only hear her cries and feel the acerbity it caused inside us. Like a family in grief we sat silent for what seemed a very long time. Finally the silence was broken.

“We must bring her puppies back,” said my mother, wiping her moist eyes with the pallu of her sari.
“Yes,” we three shouted almost immediately.
In no time my brother and mother were patting Rani and consoling her –
“Do not worry. Your kids will be back.”
My father started the scooter and jumped behind him, the gunny bag ensconced between us. As we drove I told my father, “ I hope they are still there.”
“Me too,” he replied.
And they were. Those poor small infant dogs were all there, right where we had left them – no sign of excitement, adventure or inquisitiveness. They had not budged an inch. As soon as they saw us, some magic occurred. The heap of brown and black lying on the ground turned into a litter of yelping dogs swishing and swashing their tails so hard that it would put a swordsman to shame. This time they did not need any invitation to jump into the gunny bag. They knew it meant homecoming.

And when the family finally reunited it was a scene worth watching – two families clung together in sheer joy. A cluster of wagging tails dispelled all gloom and they barked in sheer pleasure. Rani seemed to say to her kids –
“Where had you all disappeared? I was worried sick!”
And the kids? Those hungry pups who had not had a drop of milk down their throat all day cared not about attacking their mother’s nipples. They licked her and she licked them back in a frenzy. Then, at that tender age, I knew I had witnessed the grandeur of love.

So when my mother said –
“Remember how Rani had wagged her tail?”
I knew just what she meant. I smiled and lowered my eyes in acknowledgement.


At 1:35 AM, Blogger Buccaneer said...

well said ! i think raising a pet when one is raised himself as a child is a great joy ! As a child, I wanted to have a pet dog and although I was belligerent about it, my mother was as placid as one could be;promptly ignoring my cries. :(

At 6:11 AM, Blogger Sonia Sinha said...

Hey!you know what....this made me go down memory lane.I m so nostalgic now!! I too owned a puppy once and uummm.....

At 3:56 AM, Blogger Parth said...

Thanx Sonia. I'll go thru ur blog soon too :)
As long as u enjoyed it, my day is done.

At 10:04 PM, Blogger Sultry said...

Well Parth... quite a pleasant change from the newsgroup posts. Read all your posts--when I got to this one, just had to leave a comment... it's a story well told--having had dogs at home ever since I can remember, this one spoke to my soul...

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