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If at all

By Shobha Nandavar

The purple Jacaranda flower perched on his snout did not arouse the familiar playful instinct. A friendly woof from his Doberman buddy was greeted with little cheer. It was straight third day Mani was looking for his lost master in vain at the open-air crematorium.

Abhay, a blue-eyed college going lad was my parent. He was living with his mother in an upscale Sadashivanagar apartment in Bangalore. Two years ago, he adopted me, a sprightly, cute, brown little Mani, as they called me. His mother a lady of few words, in her fifties was a  good – natured home maker. Amma was fearful of dogs though. After much cajoling, Abhay was permitted to bring me home. I was allotted a separate room, and was allowed only into Abhay’s room. Amma remained aloof and was not happy about the non-vegetarian dog feeds brought for me, as she was a vegan.

My ears could hear Abhay’s KTM bike from quite a distance when he returned home from college. I would hide behind the door and pounce on Abhay and lick him, unable to control my excitement, at his arrival. I liked his soft hand caressing my forehead. I would close my eyes and daydream on his lap.

Fast forward one year, Abhay landed a plum job, was seeing his highschool sweetheart Anju. Amma liked Anju as she was a fine blend of the traditional and modern. Anju looked adorable to my doggy eyes too. The moment she entered the house, it was as if a thousand diyas (lamps) were lit. The house became a home filled with much joy and warmth. She would ask for me if I was not around. The invite was enough for me to catapult into her arms and cuddle up to the exotic fragrance of Miss Dior.

I always looked forward to Sundays when Abhay and Anju took me out for long walks. The Naagasampige flower was Anju’s favourite. Abhay would pluck and tuck it into her long hair. It was very enticing for me to prance around Anju and prey on the undulating, heavily scented Naagasampige in her hair. But I remembered Abhay admonishing me in the past, when I tried to hang on to Anju’s long plait which tantalizingly oscillated like a pendulum while she walked.

The stroll under the canopy of pink Tabebuia and the scarlet Gulmohar looked surreal and culminated in  a stop at the Baskin Robbins for ice creams. I was fed with ‘strawberry jelly paradise’ by my pet parents against a backdrop of Alan Walker’s ‘End of time’ number. Time stands still….

And then there was Vishu, the new year. They were in two minds about celebrating Vishu. The Covid forecast for the upcoming months for Bangalore was grim. Nonetheless they decided to go ahead with the celebrations as a small family affair. Four of Abhay’s friends, Anju and an aunt with family were invited for the calebrations.

 Although they lived in Bangalore for long and even spoke the local language Kannada, the culture and traditions of Kerala, their ancestral state were followed. Their home was a melting pot, the true spirit of contemporary India. Vishu was the time when the sun enterd the tropic of cancer. Mythology tells us the festival commemorates the day when Krishna killed Narakasura, the demon. The  ‘Vishu Kani’ , an auspicious bowl which has to be the object that needs to be seen first on waking up to herald a good year, was placed by Amma the night before, after all the guests and Abhay went to bed. A shallow bell metal vessel was filled with rice, fruits. The photo of Krishna was adorned with flowers. The arrangement was replete with auspicious articles like mirrors, combs, gold coins, new dresses, betel leaves.

Waking up at 3 AM, they walked blindfolded to the prayer room and saw the kani first for a propitious new year. All of them received kaineettam, the first gift of the year given to the children. Nilavilakku, the bronze oil lamp dispelled the darkness and gave a golden yellow tinge to the ambience and everything around took on a divine hue. A couple of devotional songs by Anju added to the ethereal quotient of the unearthly hour. The day unfurled with pooja and was followed by the sumptuous Vishu Sadhya for lunch. Suddenly I could smell millions of particles twirling around and they were precariously moving around in the hall and entangling all the guests, while they were busy with the various board games. None of them were masked; all caution had been abandoned. I tried to warn them by bawling in a different manner to catch their attention. Alas, they mistook it for hunger and started feeding me!  I could sense something amiss, but the group unmindful of this, happily had more fun and frolic and rounded off the day with masala tea and pakodas or fried fritters.

Three days later, Amma developed fever and cough. Abhay attributed it to the evening showers. Nevertheless I could sense imminent danger. I had never entered Amma’s room before. Today I felt a strong urge to get into her room and inform her of the dark shadow looming large and I howled. A petrified Amma shooed me away and tried to thrash me for misbehaving. I was duty-bound to inform them that I could smell something ominous, the same smell which emanated from a neighbour who was ushered into an ambulance and never made it!

Early next morning Amma fell unconscious in the washroom. Abhay panicked, picked her up, carried her in his arms like a baby and rushed to the hospital in his car. The telephone rang unabatedly, if at all I could pick up the receiver and reciprocate! Hours dragged on and I trudged across the empty house. It was dusk; I was hungry and decided to feed on the milk packet left at the door by the milkman.

I was never left alone this long ever since my arrival into this house as a pup. I meandered into the grilled balcony. The neon street lights shone bright on the deserted road below. Overnight the garden city had been transformed into a graveyard. Ambulance sirens ruled the roost. Roads wore a solemn look.

My heart skipped a beat, when I saw Abhay’s black Scorpio in the driveway. He dashed in and left the main door ajar and slumped into the sofa sobbing. He was oblivious of my presence or whimpers. He made hasty calls to Anju, his voice quivering. I could not make head or tail of things. I stood at the doorway awaiting Amma.

I could smell the same, strange, noxious smell, time and again, the COVID smell in human parlance. It was unmistakable. Abhay soon slipped into a deep slumber. I had to alert my hero. I paced up and down the room, I licked his childlike face and tried to open his eyes, but of no avail. Abhay was getting breathless, flinging his limbs violently; he was making a desperate attempt to breathe. The Covid stink was getting stronger and more and more dangerous. My pet parent became livid and limp.  I wailed, yowled and yelped. My leader was sinking and something sinister was on cards.

A vigilant good Samaritan walked in and took charge of the situation. An ambulance was summoned. Anju hastily arrived, her heart pounding. The medical crew examined Abhay and declared him dead! It was a bolt from the blue. The life saving ambulance sped away to make way for the hearse..

Anju was shocked beyond words. She swooned. She woke up and walked around as if in a trance. She looked aghast, lost and turned into a stone. Tears flowed incessantly.

I was not allowed into the hearse. I ran after it until my legs gave way, possibly a kilometre or so.

If at all, I could speak…

If at all, my master had heeded my advice….

If at all, humans had acknowledged my olfactory prowess, which was easily fifty times theirs..

Here I lie down on the green grass, which smells sweet no more.

The moonlit night without Abhay and Anju in tow, has lost meaning. I fall asleep, subdued, to the distant lullaby of “Diamond Heart” by Alan Walker….         

Shobha Nandavar is a Neurologist and Stroke Physician based in Bangalore. She writes during her leisure hours. She has about 40 publications in medical journals. She has contributed articles to Deccan Herald, Live Wire and Indus Women Writing.

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8 replies on “If at all”

As a neurologist the writer has the ability to analyse the animal mindset which was most appropriate to the situation. Each of us think only about the feelings of human being and not even put the slightest effort to understand the emotions of those unfortunate living beings who cannot express like us
Very well written and lots of emotion

Liked by 1 person

Very well articulated and emotional fictional but true to life story
It carries a social message too of how small lapses lead to major disasters
Kudos to the neurologist author for this piece of literary work

Liked by 1 person

Deep sense of association with every character of this story
Doctor you have captured the emotions of all the characters of this story
How animals could play a role in human beings life and what difference they bring to our lives

It’s just that we need to understand when they try telling it to us

Liked by 1 person

Emotions of animals which we rarely acknowledge, …nicely brought out. I read this story as I woke up this morning, shook me a bit. Few days ago I got a message saying a puppy was orphaned as it lost his owners to covid. I felt this story so real that I could sense those feelings of orphaned puppy…. Wish I could adopt him.

Liked by 1 person

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