Monday, August 26, 2013

The Living Daylights

Winter mornings in Kerala aren't symbolic or significant. There is a nip in the morning air and the rest is quite the usual. Winters in most parts of Kerala are only indicative of dates on a calendar. They are not a season to expect or experience, particularly along the coastline that is weathered down with searing heat and insufferable humidity.

Some seven hours and a hundred and forty miles away, in Ooty, one wouldn't dare say the same! Nestled in blue mountains, and dotted with conifer and oak, the winds there have a reputation, a notoriety of sorts. Even the arriving sun wouldn't muster enough courage to battle the dew drops of the night before or the omnipresent breeze that can be bone-chilling. Refuge, therefore, is best sought under the covers, many layers of them, until it is deemed appropriate to set about into the day that wouldn't be very different from how it began - sleepy, cold and lethargic!

On the morning of 26 January 2001, when i was roused earlier than usual, i knew it had to be something very important, rather significant. Groggily walking up to the telephone and placing it to my ear, which had now been numbed by the chills, i was greeted by an excited voice who sought to urgently but happily convey an 'arrival.' There were four, she had remarked, and all of them entirely different. I sat up listening to the details and a surge of excitement energized me into exhilaration. As i replaced the receiver onto the cradle, i smiled to myself. Unbeknown to me, i was setting off a chain of events that would last over twelve years. Twelve years today, is close to a third of my life.

Less than forty days after that telephone call, i set foot in Cannanore to begin a new phase. It would be my home for over two years. No sooner had i landed, i paid the 'arrivals' a visit. They were four. Very different, and no larger than fully grown squirrels, huddled up in a corner with their mother. Mixed in lineage, of Chihuahua, Daschund and Terrier, they were a curious lot. Noisy, frolicking and funny, the first you'd notice of them was the attitude they wore and carried; four bundles of fur and the mother were seen trudging along like royalty, never letting go of an opportunity to bark away even at the tiniest object that evoked curiosity or fright.

After a protracted battle with fellow contenders, owners-in-waiting, i settled on one, the one - the little girl with a sandstone coat, not unlike a lion cub, with a fierce temperament, whose idea of a warm welcome was to deliver a sharp bite. For some four weeks that i was her custodian, our roles transformed. Our identities had differed. She was no longer a pet and i no longer a custodian. We were contemporaries instead; she quadruped and i biped. Though devoid of a tail, and different in constitution, i became fast friends with her and it increasingly appeared that she chose me as opposed to the notion that i picked her. Soon, she had a name, one that reflected her person, nature, attitude and being, in all appropriateness and likening - i named her Simbha; signifying the fearless.

April of 2001 we set about to begin a journey that would take us southward, to what would be her ultimate home, in the mountains, in Ooty. Dog and human, in feverish excitement, yet thick of wariness, began their journey mindful that each hadn't undertaken such a monumental feat ever before. Several pairs of curious eyes spied us as we seated ourselves in a bus that was to conduct us to the end of an eight hour journey, transporting us across two neighbouring states, from one home to another!

Arriving home, in Ooty, we received a rousing reception, the new arrival and me, her batman! But Dad would instantly, at his first meeting with her, quip loudly about how tiny as a kitten she looked - a remark that wouldn't go well with her and remain unforgotten till the very end. A month later, when i returned to check on her, she had ingrained herself into the family and bonded very well, having established a place in the hierarchy. Dad was the man who brought supplies - essential in the pecking order, but not one to be very good friends with. Mum was the 'master,' or the mistress in this case; head of the family, an institution to be served with love and loyalty. And then, there were us, Deepu and i, brothers, who were her pets! So, in effect, we had a dog that looked like a cat, and kept pet humans!

The biped 'pets' had rooms for themselves, but visited no more than twice or thrice every year. Their bedding could thus be used to sleep over, jump about like a trampoline and mess up at will. Carpets served as nap stations. The telephone was an object of never-ending curiosity and the television was a mystic glowing box that was to be stared into along with Mum, every evening. The driveway served as a sunning cum watch station, spent barking at passers and chasing birds and cats. And Dad, the supplies guy, was only useful for the late evening snack he offered, before and after which he could be barked, snarled and growled at.

Years passed. My quests took me across the country, crisscrossing Delhi, Pune, Chennai and Mumbai. She remained at home with Mum all along, by her side, supplying her with unending love and limitless compassion. She mastered the art of multiplying happiness, without condition, and spoke volumes with her loving eyes and baring fangs! She charmed us, every bit of the way and we lapped it up seeking more of what she could offer, and offer she did beyond our needs, much further than what each of us were destined for.

In 2009, Mum was diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy - a process resulting in damage to nerves of the peripheral nervous system. It was a sunny summer afternoon in Pune, after my short visit to Ooty, when my phone buzzed indicating Dad's call and the details thereafter. I wasn't sure of how to receive the news and rattled at what the implications could be. Ignorance apart from being blissful can also be scary, when met with a sudden realization of what would be. Deepu was away in Chennai. This meant either of us were a few hours from home, painfully unable to respond to any crisis that may emerge. Eventually, Mum would seek medical assistance outside of Ooty for over 10 months leaving Simbha devastated, depressed and on the brink. I cannot recollect another period in time when she hasn't been by Mum's side other than this excruciating phase which had taken a miserable toll on either. Being reunited with Mum in 2010 was perhaps the happiest part of Simbha's life. Her joy seemed limitless and there appeared a promise of hope. Since then, like before, she would always accompany Mum on her long-distance travels wherever she went, dutifully by her side, slinking away into the shadows, but steadfastly remaining with her at all times. While Mum's doctors continue to wonder and often remark about the brilliant progress she has made at recovery, we have known better - of Simbha's perseverance and consequent success in making the impossible happen. It was dramatic and moving to watch her prod Mum to walk, as she laboured hard to make even one step possible. Bounding off a distance, pausing to look behind and then mildly letting out a woof, she would urge Mum to go forward to her. The activity continued for months, until the patient felt little of the terrible woes that once incapacitated her. I wouldn't attribute it to medical sciences alone. Miracles surely are a part of life too, and in our case, it came on four legs, brandishing a short tail.

Returning home on vacations, Deepu and i were accorded receptions befitting royalty, complete with a welcoming ceremony that would last almost forever. No sooner had that come to a close, she quickly reminded us where our respective places in the hierarchy stood - but not once, without love or kindness, of which she was a living embodiment. She was cuddled, treasured and celebrated, and in return blessed us with love, the kind we hadn't ever seen or experienced before.

Earlier this year, when i visited Ooty for the last time as a resident, Simbha appeared to look her age. She had turned twelve only days before. Her gait and disposition hadn't slowed one bit though. With boundless energy, she charged forward and lept into my arms dressing my face with warm snuzzles and spoke to me with the same intonation that she was used to. However, i couldn't help but notice how twelve years had transformed her - from a bouncing pup to an octogenarian lady at the prime of her age, at the evening of it. There weren't many outward signs of her deterioration, but i knew she was rapidly being consumed from within. Time is an unkind element, badgering the weak, accelerating their pace to oblivion faster than it can possibly be imagined. Perhaps, it is nature's way of deliverance, of liberation, from the woes of the inevitable. Even so, her fire never vanquished. I gather it was too powerful even for time to quell with its pitiless spell. Happy and full of life, running about and deep spirited she carried herself with the disposition of a warrior, surveying the expanses of her empire with the air of a conqueror. I wondered if i'd meet her again. The thought hung on vividly like a bad memory, recalled at every passing instant. Her eyes conveyed reassurance; comforting me that this wasn't about to be the end. I dabbled with doubt and belief, torn in anxiety while she looked up at me more than once with a glance as if to chide me for having tormented myself about something that hadn't yet happened. I returned to Mumbai, not comforted but hopeful. It was a promise that i felt would be honoured. Eventually, the cacophony of everyday life replaced my bother.

Seeking warmer climes, my parents decided to relocate from Ooty this March. Dad had relocated there in 1966 and Mum followed in 1978 after her marriage to him. I arrived in 1979 and Deepu in 1983. Simbha, the third in the line of a tribe of luminary-extraordinaire, arrived in 2001. My quests set me from home in 1996. Returning periodically and setting off to where my pursuits took me, Ooty remained, until earlier this year, home to return to. Though I hadn't been living in Ooty for over a decade now, to imagine permanent relocation of what was home wasn't easy. As a family, we hadn't done it ever before, much less imagined it. Ooty was our base, our hub of life. To conjure the image of another destination in its place was simply unthinkable. But the realities of life often permit that the unthinkable happens! Our home of some three decades sold, parents and Simbha moved to Wayanad, solely assisted by Deepu. I stayed out of the operation, frightfully intimidated at coming to terms with the colossal change.

Early in May this year, i arrived in Wayanad on my maiden visit. As is custom, Simbha welcomed me with unwavering love and livened up my holiday. Extremely cheerful and playful, she brought out the child in me, constantly reminding me that happiness and contentment are central themes of life, all important inspirations upon which our fundamentals should be based. A week sped by in minutes. The close of any vacation isn't easy. This one was doubly difficult. Preparing to leave before daybreak, i strode into her room and picked up a sleeping Simbha. I was surprised at the absence of the usual growl when disturbed. Holding her under her forelegs, clasped within my palms, her paws shot skywards while her hinds loosely hung in the air - a position i often put her in, not unlike the description of Mocassin, Piscine Patel's cat, from Yann Martel's celebrated book Life of Pi. She looked at me groggily, struck by the sudden unease at being roused up at an ungodly hour. Bringing her close, i kissed on her forehead and cheeks and hugged her firm. Still no growls. Her eyes conveyed nothing. They seemed to absorb, and not reflect. I was puzzled. Setting her on the floor, i strode out while she scampered off to her cushion to continue her momentarily troubled slumber. Hours later, when i got off the plane in Mumbai, i was still wondering if i would be blessed to meet her again. There were no answers. Only questions remained.

August 19 was different. It began on a very promising and interesting note. A sense of victory in casting away bygones into the past was endearing. That Monday morning, i began with zeal and energy that hadn't been felt in a long time. Tim Robbins couldn't have been more accurate when, as banker Andy Dufresne, in Shawshank Redemption, he remarked to Ellis Redding (Morgan Freeman) that "hope drives a man insane." My sentiment that Monday morning was not any different. But, remember Baz Luhrmann and his Sunscreen, where he says "The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday." Well, only this time, it was a Monday evening and strangely at 4pm!

I hadn't noticed Mum's call coming in at 1810. Neither did i observe Deepu's text of some 10 minutes after. Mum and Dad were in Cannanore attending a family occasion. They had arrived there with Simbha some two days ago and were set to return soon.

At about 1945, as i ambled out, i fished out my phone and ran through a list of unanswered calls, emails and texts. Those from Mum and Deepu stood out like a sore thumb. Even before reading Deepu's message, i knew instinctively what had happened. Deepu's text merely confirmed it. Oddly, i was greeted by the sight of an intrigued Labrador pup intently looking at me as he was being led away. His eyes were transfixed on me. I was puzzled. It took an awfully long while for the bolt to sink in. I decided against returning Mum's call, instead texted Deepu and set about going, not knowing how or what i felt. My mind was fighting the feeling. An increasing sense of denial was to set in, soon giving way for realization that dawned in a rather dull and ugly comportment. My thoughts mirrored the commotion outside, like endless blinding lights of automobiles, scattered and vying to find a way toward a destination their masters intended them to. Blazing horns and the painful clamour of an evening commute made the feeling worse, close to gut wrenching. It soon grew to become anger.

At 2034, i dialled Mum and heard a somber voice that battled hard to keep tears at bay. I fought too. The sense of anger that had now enveloped me made it easier. Gritting my teeth and clenching my fist, i restrained as hard as i could, aware that every beginning had to have a definite end. Less than 3 minutes into the call, i hung up asking to call later. We both wanted time to reorganize ourselves, comprehend and come to terms with a situation that was complex. In such times, silence is a preferred alternative.

At 2127, i rang up Mum a second time. She recounted the day and how they had been troubled by Simbha's growing unease. Handfed meagerly and accepting no more than a few drops of water from Mum, she bounded off, away from watchful eyes and into immortality. The end had come at about 1610. We both agreed on what had truly been a monumental being of extraordinary love.

Between 2151 and 2224, Deepu and i exchanged calls, often stopping off to ring back. Difficult moments ensued. Sobbing painfully, he recounted his lasting meeting with her and how he had departed without farewell, something that was bizarre. I sensed enormous guilt and grief, but did little to console, knowing that time would do a better job. We cried together. Nothing had united us so much in pain and grief before. It was a first. I recollected how Simbha's predecessors had passed on in our youth. Perhaps childhood offers a better mechanism to deal with bereavement, i thought. Or maybe we were too oblivious to comprehend back then. Possibly the strength of adolescence was formidable. Age can make a destitute of emotion.

Alone and bewildered, i made my way to the refrigerator and emptied some cola. It seemed tasteless and reeked of fizz. I gulped it down anyway and made to the shower and let the cold jet sprinkle on me. Vivid accounts of the past, safely etched in memory now came to fore and translated into tears, streaming down my face. I cried. And smiled.

That night as i attempted to sleep, glowing dreams transported me to faraway places, in the mountains, awash with endless hues of green and blue. I tossed about fitfully, shifting through places and time.

And then, i set about to write this post. I needed to write, express in words. This was my way, this is my way. A way of catharsis, a path towards deliverance. A paltry attempt at recounting a splendid existence that can never really be explained.

This is by no means an obituary, that is not how i would want it to be read. That is not how i wrote it. It is a fragmented account, severely limited in expression, of a superhuman life that intimately and absolutely transformed the lives of four people who, i realize, are truly blessed!

We have all, since, returned to our lives, largely out of necessity and partly out of choice. Eventually, time will consign memories to more manageable spaces where recollection would be possible with more cheer than grief.

That is indeed the purpose. To write; to remember and to come to terms with - to remember and celebrate the grace, love and cheer and to come to terms with the grief and pain.

But truth be told, she will always remain what she has always been - iconic.

16 comments:

  1. I guess she was as lucky to get a wonderful family, as you are. This maybe your longest article in recent times, but I truly wanted to read more.

    Destination Infinity

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  2. such a touching remembrance and post...sometimes such beings re establish my faith in the world...when all of humanity is hell bent on doing unspeakable things...i have always believed that dogs have infinite love for us....

    http://www.myunfinishedlife.com

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  3. Fascinating write up… almost dragged me into a state of apprehend. I could well relate to your experiences with Simbha and the attachment between u r mum and her, is not so different what my mom and our pet dog Maya shares. I quite moved reading through your emotional drive, and ever expected a post like this from you, apart being lengthy, and your sentiment touched me at core.

    I know memories are greatest gift a man could expect in this world to everlasting, how much devastation take place, they never die really rather forgotten is a part of mind, certain things are exceptional. Simbha seems reminder of life’s significance. Hope her memories cherish and cheer up you always.

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  4. oh this was beautiful...i am sure you will continue to love and remember her always

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  5. Rakesh, I always, since I came into contact with you, had known you to be a man with feelings. Keep this feel alive, brother, because it is not found in everyone.

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  6. Rakesh, whatever I know of you, I think the love that comes out of you is only proportional to the the love received.
    You can die for those who love you and I am kinda jealous that you could spend some time with Simbha.

    I know there will be another sunshine, when someone special will wait for you to reach home and lick you to death (I am talking about dogs only)

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  7. Rakesh, now u can follow my art at https://www.facebook.com/ashokism.ashok

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  8. Touching tribute Rakesh! May happy memories of Simbha stay with you forever...
    Cheers!
    Vineeth

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  9. Touching tribute Rakesh...May happy memories of Simbha stay with you and family forever...

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