It was one of the sunny weekends of 1996 which saw me grumpily doing school homework when a relative of mine walked in with a cardboard box saying ‘Horlicks’ on one side and ‘This side up’ on the other. After lunch and lot of polite conversation, he casually mentioned, “Oh there is a puppy inside that box by the way”. My sister and I raced to it and we opened it to find a round dirty fur ball of a black and white puppy happily snoozing inside. He woke up and tried getting out of the box. All he had to do was lean against it and it toppled over. He happily ran about and peed on the floor, much to my mom’s dismay. He could hardly climb the steps or catch up with me when i walked, so plump that he was. He would just plonk down on his plump butt and slurp bowls of milk in one go. That’s how Pappu entered our lives and continued to be an integral part of our family for the next 15 years.
I chose the name Padmanabhan. Wanted a typical Mallu name you see, than a Jimmy or Caesar. Well he didn’t look the part any way. He always maintained a scrawny status no matter how much we fed him. Very friendly to all and hence butt of many jokes like he would personally show where the safe is if somebody broke into our house. He was also nice to my cats but chased those of my neighbour’s away. Once I looked out on a rainy night to see him sleeping on the floor and his bed occupied by tiny warm kittens.
All my efforts to break Pappu into a Timmy from Famous Five (Tim is a mongrel btw) were met with looks of disdain and a rear end. He wouldn’t fetch unless it was a piece of bread and wouldn’t come when I called him for bath, but came running if it was for a walk but we had fun digging together in the garden, running across dry paddy fields and watching the sun set atop the backyard wall. I taught him how to jump the fence, how to scratch on the window glass to get some attention so that my mom will come running from inside the house in alarm and to catch biscuit in mid-air and in those days I got naughty and got a dose of scolding from mom, I would bawl my eyes in front of him and he would fake interest. Oh, he was such a guy!
Then we grew up and I moved out of the house for studies and work. He was always in my calls to home. Mom would complain that he ran off again (jumping the wall the way I taught him to) to appear after a few hours or that he dug up all the plants that my father had lovingly planted (again the way I taught him). But it was just a tiny village and everybody knew him with his collar on, so he faced no threats when he ran away for a few hours. His escapades never grew less even when he grew to be 15 years of age. I would tell my mom to watch out for his pregnant girlfriends making a dramatic appearance in front of house.
Pappu grew deaf with time. He calmly walked around crackers and didn’t cower away from them anymore. We tried removing ear wax and pouring ear drops. The weekends I went home, I would surprise him by walking up to where he slept in the morning. He would wake up with a start when I touched him and then wag his tail non-stop. He moved less and laid a lot in the sun. He also became a total hug-bug; something which he used to run away from on his greener days.
One day my mom called and told me that Pappu had not been home for days. They had looked everywhere and asked my neighbours. They had gone the entire stretch on different days to see if they could find him. My mom, who has had many dogs when she was growing up, said some dogs, when they are about to die, move away from home to spare their loved ones the pain. I can totally see Pappu doing that and more for us.