In the week of Makar Sankranti, it was almost customary for the rain gods to wet the coalfields. As temperatures dropped, people further draped themselves in woolens. Since blowers were unheard of, it was the old coal stove (coal was available in plenty) that kept the house warm.
Some creatures missed out on the warmth though. What made things worse was that this was their first winter on earth.
Football, Hunter’s daughter and now his wife, had given birth to five handsome puppies around two weeks ago. Their eyes had opened and even though I had put a barricade around their small tent that I had constructed for them, they followed their mother outside in the cold.
They were growing up and little did I know that misfortune was coming their way.
A mad dog has entered the colony – Mumtaz Chacha had come with the news in the evening, and other dogs were attesting to its truth with their continuous barking.
Dogs, suffering from rabies, become outcastes in their tribe. The disease spreads if the affected dog bites another dog. Dogs protect their territory and themselves with their continuous barking. The young ones are more vulnerable. Normally it is the mothers who would stay with the puppies to ensure their safety.
Although I had books before me, I wasn’t able to concentrate on studies. My attention was diverted each time I heard the soft barking of puppies from our backyard.
Papa had strict instructions for me to not go outside. Mad dogs also attacked men and the treatment involved fourteen injections in the stomach.
Although I feared injections, I couldn’t stop myself from secretly opening the back door to see that the mother-son group was safe. Each time Football wagged her tail, as if telling that she is guarding the fort valiantly.
As night drew, the barking of dogs didn’t cease. So did my concern for the puppies.
“Shall we not bring the puppies inside”, I pleaded to Ma.
Although Ma had a soft heart for dogs, she was a pious Hindu woman as well. There was a drain close to the puppies’ tent and they often fell into it. Each time I pulled them out of the drain, Ma would have me bathe in the open. The puppies weren’t potty trained and so couldn’t be brought inside the house.
“They will need their mother’s milk”, she gave an excuse. She was my last hope. I had little hope from Papa who had become apathetic to dogs ever since Tiger passed away (He lived with us for his full 14 years and I saw Papa cry for the first time when Tiger died of Pneumonia).
I wasn’t able to sleep that night. The back door was locked now and the key was under father’s pillow. A wall stood between me and the backyard. I brought my ears close to the wall and tried to listen to any sound. Ensuring that I don’t wake father, I made a sound. I was relieved when one of the puppies reverted with a soft bark.
Although I had planned to keep vigil the entire night, my eyes closed in the wee hours of the morning.
When my eyes opened the next day, Ma was standing next to my bed and looked very guilty but nervous. I knew instantly that not everything was right. I jerked off the bed and ran for the backyard.
The tent had been razed. I had constructed a barricade of bricks. It had been brought down and bricks were lying around a foot away. It looked as if a fight had ensued here. I pulled the tarpaulin to check if any of the puppies was not caught inside. There was none but I saw some blood stains on the tarpaulin. They were still fresh and it appeared that the mad dog had attacked around 4 o’clock.
Just then Deepak came with the news. Around a few metres away, he had spotted something white in the drain and suspected it to be one of the puppies. I ran towards that direction. Mother followed me with a stick.
It was really one of them. The mad dog had had his prey. His head had been torn of his body.
I began to cry holding mother. Just then another soft bark attracted my attention.
Football was standing some distance away, along with her four children. She had spent the last night under a staircase. Oblivious to all that had happened a night ago, the puppies were busy sucking milk from their mother’s nipples.
A smile returned to my face and I ran to embrace them.
Yet another tragic encounter…this time with a small little kitten