30 August 2007

The fighter dog who was born to love

This incident dates back to the late Forties to early Fifties. I lived with my parents, brothers, grandparents, uncles, aunts and others in our ancestral house in Ranchi. Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand is located at 250 miles from Calcutta and 300 miles from Patna and lies on the Subaranarekha River. Once being the summer capital of Bihar, Ranchi lies in the tribal heartland of India called Chotanagpur. Surrounded by tiny hills, meandering streams & cascading waterfalls, it is the quiet & dreamy town that can be visited at any time of the year. For the adventurous, there are wildlife parks to be explored. At that time Ranchi was in the state of Bihar. It was a home to the tribal people viz. Oraon and Munda. Though in Bihar at that time there were few Biharis living in Ranchi. Many Bengalis like us started to settle in Ranchi. Almost all the employees of the Accountant General’s Office of Bihar and the railways were Bengalis. Ranchi was also famous for a lunatic asylum which was one of the best in eastern India. From the middle of the ninetieth century Bengal began playing dominant roles in social, cultural and political arenas of India. Calcutta was the main city of the British India and was its capital for a long time before finally the British shifted the capital in Delhi. So it was natural that in the early period of the British rule Bengalis were most closed to the English in comparison to other communities of India. As a consequence –most government jobs were held by educated Bengalis. OLD COURT HOUSE ST. IN BRITISH CALCUTTA
My grandfather migrated to Ranchi from the then undivided Bengal and secured a job in the Office of the Accountant General (A.G) of Bihar. Though the offices of all the Accountant Generals were, as per convention, always situated in the capital cities of the respected states, Ranchi was preferred by the English as the seat of office of the AG- Bihar instead of Patna-the capital city of Bihar. This was because the English liked natural surroundings of Ranchi and also for its pleasant climate. My grandfather built two houses-one beside the other in Ranchi. All his Bengali colleagues in AG office bought lands and built their houses in the same locality-which was named as Office-Para (office locality) because of its proximity to the AG office which was situated in Dorunda. So it was totally a Bengali community –where every family lived happily being closely related to one another. A TOWER ON THE TOP OF A HILL
My father, after his marriage, left his earlier employer (AG-Bihar) and joined in a private bank as an accountant of the Ranchi branch of the bank. In 1947 India became independent. The English left the country. But still there were stray Englishmen who still just could not make up their mind about their future residence. They could be seen lingering in and around Ranchi abeautiful place-which they liked very much and to which they were long acclimated. It was like –when the sky is still visible I see a fading light even after the sunset (sundown as they say in America). But
the light had had to go with the setting of the imperial Sun of the British. I mentioned the two adjacent houses we had there. My grandfather rented one house (the bigger and the better) to Mr. Morgan-an Englishman who had some business in Ranchi. He lived with his family comprising his wife, a son-named Clive and daughter Dorothy. I seem to remember that he had another daughter but I am not certain. But the number of his servants including chauffeurs, butlers, and gardeners far outnumbered the number of family members. They lived lavishly –which they could not not have afforded to do had they been in England. Mr. Morgan had horses and a dog that he called Leo. My father was also fond of dogs. We had one-of mixed breed, whose name was Blackie. Leo was ferocious at least whenever Blackie came on his way. After Independence Mr. Morgan decided to move to Sheffield in Britain to settle there. The day before his leaving Ranchi he shot Leo and the horse. Mr. Morgan had two choices to make between-either to leave them to us, the Indians, who could not be their true father- and so might treat the animals as commodities only or to kill them. He chose the latter. I can not say that he was cruel and possessive. He was rather a perfect and kind gentleman. I think we should understand his personal position-a very critical one-where he felt the options for his animals were either a loving home or a loveless existence. No ethical or moral judgment has any place in matters of love. If one asks me what I would have done in that position-I would have never been able to kill them. that's how I would treat my loved ones, if I were compelled to depart for good.But it’s only my way to behave with my loved ones especially when I am compelled to depart for good. But it’s only my way and can not be taken as a criterion for others in similar situation. After they had gone we shifted to the house-they had lived in from the very beginning. Mr. Morgan had many friends in Ranchi and they had on many occasions visited his house. One of them Mr. Hamilton also had a dog whom he called as Dusky. It was a German- Shepherded trained and used as a fighter dog in the War. Dusky had lost one of his eyes during a battle in Europe. Now Mr. Hamilton,inspired by Mr. Morgan's move, also decided to leave for Europe getting an inspiration from Mr. Morgan. But Mr. Hamilton, unlike his friend, left the dog in the wayside near our house and sped away in his car for good. This was his way to ger rid of the dog- which he also seemed to love. So Dusky in his weird loneliness roamed like a vagabond here and there-but never went too far from the place where he had been abandoned by Mr Hamilton, perhaps in the hope of seeing his master to return by the same path. At that time there were few cars seen in the roads of Ranchi. So whenever he found a car –he ran after it barking. He fondly hoped that it was the very car carrying his master. After sometime the car owners began to be afraid of him thinking perhaps he had turned mad him in the tropical climate. Dusky did not have food and shelter. But he did not seek them. He had forgotten or lost the sense of all the biological needs in his deep anguish. My father was much pained to see his plight and especially hearing his long moaning bark at night. My father's earlier efforts to endear himself to the dog failed as Dusky did not allow anyone to go near him. He liked to confine himself under a big tree. He did not even touch any food that my father threw near him. Dusky after a week began to look haggard and emaciated. My father did not lose heart and by this time he had developed an intense love for the suffering dog. After a month, by dint of his perseverance and unflagging efforts there was a thaw-the dog looked up and the dog began to take biscuits and pieces of breads that my father offered him while sitting nearby. That was the beginning of a relationship. One day Dusky was brought to our house. We had a big and flat canned chair upholstered with padding. It now became Dusky's resting place. Dusky gradually regained his health and looked happy-wagging his tail at the sight of my father. We also fell in love with him and he reciprocated our love. We felt pampered. Dusky –although he was a German by birth but he understood only English because of his grooming under Mr. Hamilton. So we conversed with Dusky in our English and gave some commands in small sentences like “Come here”, “Sit down” or “Bring the paper” etc to manage a working relation. But at the beginning there was a problem. It was because of the accents of our English pronunciation. Dusky had not been accustomed to such English with Mr. Hamilton. But gradually he succeded in making sense of our English. He was very sincere. Whenever he failed or faltered to make out the meaning of our command he raised his head with all seriousness and asked us to repeat in his usual soft and broken barking. But Dusky –whenever he found any white-skinned man (always the Englishmen or Anglo-Indians) he became furious and ran to him with disapproving barking. We had to manage him with much effort and had to beg an apology to the victim on his behalf. Actually he had got a bad impression of white people because of the treacherous behaviour of Mr. Hamilton. It took him a year to get rid of this feeling. Early in the morning he knocked upon my father’s door in his own way. My father came out of his bed room and would open the rear gate of the house-for Dusky to go out in the bush near a pond for his morning releases. Dusky was like a perfect gentleman. He never showed any avarice for any food that others ate near him and did not ask for a bit. He never picked up any piece of food that was on the floor-as he liked to take his due from a plate placed near his chair. Dusky accompanied my father on his morning stroll. He never cared when the street dogs barked at him. And also like a gentleman he never showed any interest in any bitches he happened to meet during the stroll. After a year my father was transferred to the Benaras (now Varanasi) office of the bank. So he took us the brothers and my mother with him to Benaras. After a week we received a letter from my uncle informing my father that Dusky had become much depressed. He sat alone on the door-step of my father’s room-guarding it all the time and allowed none to enter. He only allowed the maid for cleaning the room and he watched her while standing on the door. If she touched anything on the table Dusky started barking loudly. He did not respond to anyone’s call –only took his food when it was placed on his plate. The news disturbed my father who had already been depressed. A year passed on. Dusky remained unchanged maintaining his vigil for the room and never slept on his chair. Only when one of the family discussed about us and uttered the name of my father he raised his ears with all eagerness. My father felt helpless and perhaps more so as dogs can not read a letter which he wished very much to write to his dear Dusky. He enquired every week about Dusky and his health. He applied for his transfer to Ranchi on health ground-as it was the only valid ground for transfer by the authority. But it was not considered. So after sometime he contrived a plan that he thought might work. Then one day he feigned to faint in the office. After four or five such feigned happenings the office found no way other than to transfer him to his home town-Ranchi as a special case. So we all became happy-that we might return to our native place.
A CYCLE RICKSHAW One day we arrived at the Ranchi railway station. We took rickshaws home. At that time only the very rich people had cars of their own and as we were not a wealthy our only option was to hire rickshaws. Taxis or cabs were not available in Ranchi as it was a small town where few could afford them. Thus it was in all of India except the large cities. We Indians had nothing after two hundred years of subjugation under foreign rule.
So we headed off sitting on rickshaws, to our house in Office Para. I sat with my father in one rickshaw. We reached near the Loreto School-from where our house could be seen. It was a straight path from the Loreto School to our house which measured about two hundred metres. All the family members had known the time of our coming and so they all gathered at the gate to welcome us. Dusky sensed something unusual was going to happen. So he was also there with the gathering. Now when we came within their view –all of a sudden Dusky
A TEMPLE ON A HILL
jumped over the gate and started running with a speed enviable to any dog of this world. He was running towards us and when there was a distance of ten feet between us he simply flew into the air –the air of two years’ absence –to embrace my father. The rickshaw driver, seeing a dog running toward him with such a formidable speed, tried to flee by jumping to the ground. He was so much scared with the apparently attacking dog that he fell down badly. In a moment Dusky thudded onto my father’s lap. I was also a bit scared by this sudden outburst of the dog’s emotion. Dusky, with his two front legs on the shoulders of my father smelled and kissed my father’s face and smeared it with his saliva all over. Long after this incident when I was mature enough to think of love and its uncontrolled expression –I came to the conclusion that such expression of wild joy is not possible in human beings with a developed mind even in sensual relations. It was a pure joy-the joy of getting everything anew. The Mother Nature found her way unchecked through this dog. So there were happy days again for every one of us afterwards. Dusky was back to his normal self and relinquished his duty of guarding my father’s room which he had taken up voluntarily two years ago and had followed with fierce discipline. He went to sleep on his chair again from the very first day of our return. After some years it appeared that Dusky had started growing old. He was losing his erstwhile agility that had never allowed a single mouse to escape from his invincible paws. On his last day in this mundane world he made his usual knock at my father’s door in the morning and after the main door was opened he went out. But he did not return. My father found him in a place near the pond. Dusky had not gone there for his usual releasing. He knew that my father was fastidious about cleanliness and there could be no dirt when my father was around. My father uttered in a soliloquy “Dusky did not want me to be disturbed with his corpse”. With Dusky being a companion one need not find a friend elsewhere.
**The above writing was thoroughly revised by Kathleen Sutherland and for that I feel indebted to her