Friday, July 20, 2018

Yoyo-nama Chapter 8

With the coming of Tatsat in our lives, day-long outings to pretty locations where the dogs could run loose in hills or meadows, increased rapidly. We would pack a few things and simply take off – at first with Snoopy and Yoyo, and later with Yoyo and Jugnu.
Now, in Yoyo’s scheme of things, Tatsat was to be in the driving seat, he in the front passenger, and me and the other dog at the back. His idea of fun was to ‘catch’ my place in the front passenger seat, by vaulting on to it from the back seat where he had climbed in. He would root himself firmly there, hoping to relegate me to the back while he and Tatsat, mano-a-mano, drove into the sunset. I would make him get off from the front passenger door, and climb right back in to the back, from the back door. I would have to quickly get into my front seat, because he would coil himself up to spring into the front seat again. I would bar him, but he would threaten to land on my lap with a diagonal jump. To stop him, you had to put your arm firmly across, and lock eyes with him, with a NO. If he computed from that long eye-lock, that you were firm but amused, he would sneeze on your arm, justforfun.

Our little see-saw tussle about who gets to sit where carried on for many years over many outings. At times he has also jumped into the driver’s seat as we loaded the car, and look ahead with a silly grin. He would move off only when you demonstrated some kind of mock horror, shock and awe and at the prospect of him driving the car. “Show me your license,” one of us would say. Or ‘Your legs wont reach the pedals, Short-stuff.” What words he understood, I don’t know, but the whole joke put him in a terrific mood. And he would bounce back into the backseat with an air of mission-accomplished. The excitement over the outing would invariably lead to a need to go potty, 10 minutes into a drive anywhere. This was expressed in a low, descending three-note groan which ended on a pleading note. After the stopover at the roadside, he would rush back into the car in a good mood, try to capture the front seat again, kick his hind legs in the air as he vaulted into the back seat, and we would be on our way. Once we reached the destination, there would be another instalment of what came to be known as picnic potty – this time for some reason on a hill slope at a perilous angle, with his hind higher than his front. This would cause some of his potty to roll down past him, and he would watch this with a kind of mild interest.
While the earlier lessons of coming back when he was called usually worked, of course, he continued to be a dog who marched to his own drummer, most times. Going on picnics to a large meadow or a hill slope, at first he would stick to Snoopy and shadow his every move, sticking to him, however much Snoopy tried to shake him off.
The picture of only the tops of their tails showing, one beige and one white, moving in sync, above tall golden winter grasses on hill slopes,  with them suddenly leaping like Springboks over the ticklish grass, is one of my most abiding and favourite mind-pictures. At one such spot, from here, we would then put them back on their leashes, cross the highway to a dhaba to have omelettes and chai. The seating here was thick razais on the Indian rope-cots, the khaats. Snoopy would sit on the floor, and of course, Yoyo would jump nimbly on to the khaat. The Sikh owner would watch on with some indulgence, and a saucer of milk was sent out to both dogs. Yoyo would greet the approaching waiter with a small flutter of his lips to show him a brief glimpse of his teeth, and then proceed to haughtily drink the milk when the man hastily moved away. The message was: leave that saucer here, and take yourself off, man.
When Yoyo became a little older and more smarmy, foolishly overconfident, at times he would unilaterally declare the picnic over and suddenly head for the road below and choose to walk in the middle of it. Often we were near country roads without much traffic, but on which rattling ST buses could appear suddenly, thundering down. At such times, the stentorian voice commands that I would summon up worked to make him veer back towards you and rush back into your arms. But at times you had to simply scramble downslope, catch up with him and smack him one tight smack. In later years, this meant putting him back on the leash and continuing the picnic with him sitting looking out over the vista philosophically.
On one particular outing, it was the reverse. He simply did not want to leave the gentle water spot that we had found, and when we picked up our things and headed to the car, he disappeared. We called, we hid and hoped he would emerge, we whacked the bushes to flush him out like they do on fox hunts. Simply no sign of him. I tried the Imcountingtillfive thing; still nothing.
I even wondered briefly and absurdly whether he had got back into the water, gone under, and was holding his breath, just to mess with us. Finally, we had to start the car and pretend to leave, slowly, when he appeared out of nowhere. Obviously the little rat had been watching us, hiding somewhere, all the while. The minute we stopped the car and opened the door, he crawled deep under the car, and sat there, completely inaccessible. It was getting hot, we were tired, and it really was time to go home. Finally we cut down a long stout stick and jabbed at him, ourselves almost flat out on the ground. He simply growled and took a couple of bites at the stick. We finally decided to start the car, hoping the sound of the engine purring would flush him out. It did not. We even drove the car forward a few inches, and he actually rolled over; we had to stop at once. Finally, Tatsat managed to grab his tail and pull. I gave Yoyo two very solid whacks on his rump, put the leash around him and almost hurled him into the car with frustration, fatigue and fury. While at most times his cartloads of personality was something we not only lived with, but quite cherished, on some days, on-the-ground, it was exhausting.

‘Kaali chappal, Athawtay? remember??’ was another of my tools to get him to stop doing something at once. Well after he had settled in, stopped teething, and there was a system in place so that he was rarely alone for long hours, he arbitrarily shredded a beaded black slipper that I was particularly fond of. Unlike the time that he had shredded the books, this time I felt no guilt or need to introspect about why he had thrown this tantrum, and how I could have prevented it. It seemed to be a random act of wanton destruction from him, and this time I picked up the other slipper, and so bite me, I whacked his rump a couple of times and asked him loudly, why, why did you destroy my slipper? “Kaa chaawlis mazhi kaaali chappal?” was the string of words, which I used while giving him those few sound whacks.
He was contrite enough to not growl, or stalk off in a thatsyourproblem kind of strut. Came right to my feet and submitted himself in an inverted puddle of apology. After this, if he was up to no-good sometimes, I would simply have to say in an ominous, sepulchral voice, “Remember the black slipper? Athawtiye na kaali chappal?” and he would drop whatever mischief he was up to – digging up newly laid plants, sneaking up on the garbage bin, gnawing at furniture legs just for fun, at once, and come sit at my feet with an I’m such a good dog aren’t I expression.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Chapter 7 Yoyo-nama

I found myself too often in bad-cop mode, calling out to Yoyo to come out of wherever he was hiding, many times a day. It was like callingout to a hiding holed-up fugitive who would need to be flushed out after due warnings: “Yoyo, I’m going to count till 5, and if you don’t come out from under the bed…then just you watch…” Sometimes in English, sometimes in Marathi. How much of this he at first understood I don’t know, but the first time, when I hit the number 5, I went in all guns blazing, shouting in three languages, “Come out, baher yay, niklo abhi, puray zala, enough, bass hogaya natak,” and accompanied this with an impressive shower of slippers and newspapers. He got flushed out of wherever he was holed up, and looked impressed; not scared, but impressed at the show of strength and intention. He quickly came to me and went for his walk. The next time I tried it, and all other times in the future, I had to get only to One…Two…Threee…and he would quietly come out and submit to whatever he was hiding from – walk, bath, meds, nail clipping, etc. On occasion, I would have to get to Four, Four-point-five…to give him and me some leeway to keep our dignity…but never right up to Five.
This “I’m going to count till Five” technique remained an important device in the tool-shed needed for Yoyo management. But I used it sparingly, because Yoyo had the personality that would quickly become blasé about it. “Dheet” is the word for this kind of personality. I wanted very much to let him be a Dheet, and that was part of his extreme charm, but I wanted to be able to have him obey, without negotiation, sometimes purely because I-said-so. This came in handy at times when we took him and Snoopy into wide open spaces, and Yoyo would go perilously close to the edge of an unmarked, unwalled well, or decide to suddenly get to a nearby road and walk in the middle of it, justforfun, playing chicken with a roaring-rattling oncoming ST bus, or hide under the car when he did not want to leave the picnic spot, and many other unreasonably crazy stunts he would pull, thinking he knew better and we were just being party-poopers. This was the time the bad-cop stentorian voice that I would conjure up to announce Imcountingtillfive, was very useful. Needless to say, whatever it was he submitted himself to, he would keep up a lowish growl and a flutter of his lips that was well short of a snarl, but served to signal that he was just putting up with my interference with the state of his nails, teeth, ears or skin. I too would keep up a schizoid chatter that ranged from very loving and admiring to warnings to him not to even try to jump off and stalk off. His growls and my warnings were a kind of strategy of mutual containment.
And yet, inspite of all of this jaggedness, Yoyo could be a caring nurse-companion if you were prone in bed. Throughout the six weeks of me nursing a broken angle, he would sit right against my leg, and look at my face with worried concern, every once in a while.

The intimations of our mortality come to us in many little ways, which we choose to ignore, or to soberly accept. The intimations of our dogs’ mortality too are there, loud and clear, but we choose to ignore and deny them, till they are simply inescapable. Snoopy was now 14 years old. In sound health, but we had simply omitted to accept that he was rapidly losing his hearing. When he stopped even looking in Yoyo’s direction when he barked, we thought that Snoopy was busy honing the craft of ignoring Yoyo into a fine art. Every obedient and uncomplicated, he seemed to now ignore our calls or whistles, and one day, when he most uncharacteristically kept simply ignoring us and kept walking determinedly in the wrong direction, away from us, it struck us squarely: Snoopy had gone stone deaf. The vet kindly told us that it was to be expected, at the age of 14. He also pointed out that one of his beautiful kohl-lined eyes seemed to be drooping, slightly askew. Within a few days, Snoopy had a massive seizure – so severe that he fell off the step on which he was standing. There was probably a tumour somewhere in his brain, pushing at his eye, and causing the seizure. There was some medication for it, but the young vet gently told us that if he had more of them, we would have to consider putting him down. A few days later, he had three seizures in one day – leaving him gasping, disoriented, terrified. It was time. The vet gave us a day or two to get our minds around this idea. And one day we called him to come. Ever-trusting and obedient, Snoopy simply came to me when I called him, and sat down. The vet administered the injection, his stout heart beat for several minutes even after, and then he was gone, taking with him a whole part of my life, and the grace and uncomplicatedness of our love for each other. We buried him at the back, and planted an Indian Cork Tree, which to date drops fragrant flowers through the months of September and October. Yoyo had disappeared upstairs when the vet came for Snoopy. Whether he understood what had happened or not, we don’t quite know. But there are pictures of us from that time, all looking tired, sober; continuing our fun activities with Yoyo like grooming, playing ball, but not quite ourselves, neither him, nor us.
In these some months, when there was just Yoyo and me, with Snoopy laid to rest, the front passenger seat of my car was now clearly Yoyo’s domain. He would jump in and sit down with a happy grin. We had a routine. I once sang Chuukar, mere mannko, kiya tunay kya ishaara,(Just that one gesture from you, and you touched my heart) to him. Really, the next line of that song applied too: badala yeh mausam, lagay pyara jaggsara (the season has changed (with your coming), now everything feels charmed and joyful); and the third line seemed to fit perfectly too: Mere geeton mein tujhe dhoonde jag saara (People look for you and find you in all the songs that I write).
Yoyo now took the fourth line of this song, Tu jo kahe Jeevan bhar… tere liye maen gaoon (If you like, I will sing for you all my life) very seriously. The minute he settled on the seat and I began to drive, he would push his nose into my hand and force it off the gear shift, so that I had to pat his head. He would go stock still in sheer pleasure, whenever I began to sing ‘our’ song. If I didn’t, he would get restless and give a kind of whine-groan and a few sideways glances, to remind me to sing. Sometimes this could escalate into a little, gentle fake nip of your hand or of the gear stick itself.
Jaya, my then teenaged niece-daughter, reminded me archly that this was in fact ‘her’, song that I sang to her when she was little. She then magnanimously said “Ok, I’m giving it to Yoyo, like you give an old teddy bear to a younger sister or brother.”
We were in a happy bubble then. I had finished with my training in counselling in Mumbai, and settled firmly in Pune, happily and mercifully rid of useless relationships. This bubble changed its contours somewhat, with the coming of Tatsat. When Tatsat first visited my home for the first time, I issued the usual warnings that I did to first-time visitors about Yoyo, who was about 3 years old by then:. “Walk in, but wait for him to sniff you down. Do not extend your arm or hand towards him, do not pet him, move towards the front door from the gate and the garden part only when he moves away and goes in, not before that.”
However, quite magically, Yoyo simply bypassed all those protocols, and ushered Tatsat in, into the house and into his life, with such ease, that me and my long-suffering housekeeper, who had had to earn her stripes with Yoyo, slowly and with great diligence and care, were left gobsmacked.
In retrospect, it was a historical meeting: life was never the same again for both of them, after that moment. Tatsat soon became a self-declared slave to Yoyo. They had found unconditional mutual love. When Tatsat visited (and before he moved in fully), Yoyo would claim proprietorship of him by sitting on his lap – not like any itsy-bitsy lapdog, but like a hunter stands with one foot on a slain tiger. Tatsat would submit willingly to this subjugation.  

And I was now even more firmly the bad cop, while Tatsat became the permanent good cop. This was something I would go on to resent, rave and rant about in later years, but more on that later – right now, it was sheer alchemy, to see Yoyo and Tatsat bonding instantly, without the preamble of the sniff-down, the elaborate US immigration type of pat-down and protocols that other visitors and friends had to go through.
Tatsat would go on to being his chief walker, driver, even massagist.  Yoyo was, or rather, Tatsat turned him into, something of a massage addict. He would bark sharply, one short waarf, eyes flashing, to indicate to Tatsat that he must continue massaging him, if he dared to stop during a grooming session. At one stage, we had an electric massager, which, if I dared to ask Tatsat to use on my back, would instantly bring Yoyo out from wherever he was, and he would insert himself firmly between me and Tatsat, and position himself so that the massager would be diverted from my shoulder to his body. All that Yoyo didn’t actually do is shout ‘Ay chall hatt,” to me, to ask me to make myself scarce and leave him massage time with Tatsat and the machine. 

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Chapter 6 Yoyo-nama

The Chronicle of a Foundling turned Dictator

Chapter 6

A little before Yoyo had come to stay with us for good, and was still at his previous house nearby, I had heard amidst much giggling and hushed whispers from the neighbourhood watchman and domestic help from that house, that this new dog Yoyo had caught and eaten a piece of bhaakri that was used for ‘ovaaluntaaknay’. It is a ritual in rural Maharashtra, where a piece of dry food is circled around the head of a new groom and bride and then thrown away, so that the evil spirits can’t harm them. Usually a crow or a cat or just the ants will eat up this piece once it landed safely somewhere. There had been a wedding in the ‘servant’s quarters’ at his first home, and Yoyo, standing at the periphery watching on, had apparently darted out and deftly caught the piece of bhakri once it was flung away, and simply gobbled it up. And this meant surely that there was a wicked and/or wayward spirit now firmly lodged inside of him, was the general consensus. And the way to get an evil spirit to leave someone’s body would be to smack the person with the soft end of a broom, was another belief. I don’t know if someone there had tried it, but Yoyo did have a life-long vengeful-visceral hate of brooms, and would often growl at broom-wielders.
One of the things that to Yoyo were totally optional was going for a walk. I had a hired dog walker who would take both dogs out for 3 walks a day, whether I was in or not. Yoyo would love to go out with me and later with my partner Tatsat, who entered our lives. All we had to do is, even when he got pretty old, pick up his leash, and say and signal ‘Chall walk la, tu ani mi tu ani me’ – meaning just us, no walkers. He would be out in a flash. We began to wonder if the walker Parma was abusing him in some way or just annoying him by sitting in one place and smoking his bidis. But this was simply not true; he as well as Vijaya who walked him in the afternoon, were sincere walkers, and it was just Yoyo’s cussedness at play. Vijaya would even allege: “I do so much for him and with such love, but see, he thinks of me just as an employee and prefers you people any day.” At times she would try and use the pet-names that Tatsat and I used  - and you could almost hear the “quote marks”: “Chall Manchu,” she would try to say, using Tatsat’s term of endearment, when calling him for a walk. Or “Yoyuski, Yoyoppa,” she would call him, like me, leash in hand. Yoyo would look blankly stonily (the Marathi word is ‘makkha’) back at her.
Vijaya had seen me whisper to Yoyo, ‘come let’s go’, and then in Marathi, ‘to-ani-mi-tu-ani-mi’ – meaning just you and me you and me no one else. This would bring him out instantly. When Vijaya tried it, he would actually turn around and show her his butt and fall asleep. “Aik mazya dhugna,” she would label this action of his. Something like, as if he was saying to her: ‘talk to the butt’. Again she ruefully repeated … “How much I do for this dog, cook, feed, even clean up after him, rub his belly, put up with his nonsense, but he still thinks of me as paid help, not like you.”
I tried to tell her that he couldn’t make that distinction in his mind, but then I wasn’t even that sure. One of her other grouses was, that even if he did go for a walk with her, he would employ a series of vocalizations that sounded so un-dog like, that people walking ahead of her or behind her would look curiously at her, as if she was making them. One of the sounds was a sort of yawn-turned-burp with a question-mark ending. People would turn around to look at her, never at the dog. She would lamely try to say, the dog made that sound. And she claimed that people would think she was a bit mad. Or worse, that she was burping and/or farting musically.
Another sound that Yoyo produced was a meow – not just any meow, a sound like a human imitating a cat meow sound. Again, Vijaya claimed, people thought she was walking around meowing. There was also a duck-like quack he would emanate at times. Right to his last days he would surprise us with the kind of new utterances and vocalizations that he could come up with. Haan (downward inflection) eeee (upward) was one of them, which was the yawn turned into a joyful outburst, when he waited impatiently for something good in the offing, like a car ride or a game. He would produce this sound if Vijaya stopped to talk to someone on their walks too, and she would come home crossly declaring that yet again, this dog was hell-bent on making her look silly. She claimed that people laughed at her, asking her if she was walking a kutra or a gaadhav - a dog or a donkey.
The long-suffering Vijaya, however, was truly his fan. At one time, she actually asked me to take a picture of Yoyo pooping out in the open, because she felt he did it so elegantly and had such a cute look of concentration on his face!
On days that I could not walk him, Yoyo would simply make himself very tiny and vanish in the house somewhere, so that none of the other walkers could access him. (Equally, he could make himself huge and take up more than half a bed, if he chose to. He was highly elastic, that way.) Sometimes, to avoid detection, he would sit at the bottom of a long window, behind the curtain that came right down to the floor. Here his nose was in plain view actually, but he would have covered his eyes and head and most of his body with the edge of the curtain. His rump would be sticking out from under the curtain, in plain view actually, but he thought that he was clad in a magic cloak of invisibility. Ostrich-asana, we used to call it. The walker Parma or Vijaya would stand right there patiently calling out to him, Parma laughing and saying “Saaf dikhayi deta hai, usko lagtaay chupa hai,” – Can be clearly seen, but he thinks he has hidden himself. Vijaya would say wearily in Marathi, “Chall, ata natak banda karr, mala ajoon kaama padleli ahet,” – Quit these games and come out, I have other chores to finish. Or on occasion she would say “Dolyawarr patti ani magcha sagla ughda-nagda.” – ‘A band over your eyes but your backside all exposed.’ Yoyo would not budge, even when they stood right next to him saying We can see you, comeon! And then I would hear an appeal from them, shouted out to me: ‘Yoyo is not coming for his walk… Gouritai do something. 
Why any of the devoted long-suffering paid walkers were a no-no for Yoyo, is simply not clear. I once, absurdly, even followed Parma the watchman-walkman at a distance to see if he was simply tying Yoyo up to a tree and going off to chit-chat with his cronies, or pulling his leash too tight, or even maybe whacking him with the leash (as if anyone would dare and then live to tell the tale) – because there had to be some explanation about Yoyo’s extreme and open reluctance to walk with them.
The morning walk, at least, after 8 hours of being in the house and not relieving himself, I thought I must insist on, even if I was working and the walker arrived. Yoyo would have sensed who was headed towards the house to walk him, or heard the gate and would quietly melt away. He would not appear when called, and wait it out. Till I raised my voice. Only when I shouted loud and threateningly, he would scamper out of his hiding place in utter glee, run past the waiting walker to the gate, and turn around and look at the man standing with his leash, giving him a ‘come on, what’s keeping you’ expression.
“Yoyo, Why Why WHY do you make me shout at you first thing in the morning?” I would ask him angrily. And he would look back with an unfathomable expression in his eyes. “Because I’m me” he must have been saying. “And it’s fun to watch you being you,” he might have added.
(Next instalment of Yoyo-nama on 13 July 2018)

Friday, June 29, 2018

Chapter 5 Yoyo-nama

The Chronicle of a Foundling turned Dictator

Chapter 5
Under Bonnie’s watchful eye, some protocols were put into place that day. I had established with Yoyo, somewhat, that I would not stand for utter disobedience and disregard for house rules. Impressed and a bit chastised at the fact that I could be strict with him, Yoyo made the first placatory move. He came to me studiously avoiding looking at the plate of biscuits, and butted me with his forehead. I hugged him, under Bonnie’s just-about-approving smile. From then on, I was, I wouldn’t go so far as to say Boss, but it simply got accepted between Yoyo and I, that on most matters, he had a free hand, but on some matters I would intervene and he would obey.
This balance made for a much easier time as he grew, so that he could be around when human food was served, without us having to guard it from him. And that he would simply come when called, no questions asked, no teeth-show. Of course, Yoyo would push the limits of this balance. Soon after this, one day he didn’t listen at all when I asked him to come to me. As a half joke, I began a countdown delivered in drill-sergeant volume  (thereafter, always causing people from neighbouring buildings to laugh out loud). “IM COUNTING TILL FIVE. ONE…TWO…THREE…” I shouted as if on a megaphone. When he didn’t budge when I reached FIVE, I wasn’t quite sure what to do, and simply invented, on the spot, a pretend whirling displeasure, throwing a couple of light objects at him and using of a tone of deep sadness and disappointment and anger all cleverly rolled into one. He came out at once at this point and sat down with a saintly expression, all-attention. From then on, the countdown worked beautifully even if it had to sometimes be dragged out to four-point-five, at which point he would quietly come to me. This come-when-you’re-called learning is not just a power-play ego thing between human and dog. It is essential for various things like stopping them from doing something dangerous or stupid. This allowed us to take him outdoors often, to the wide open spaces, and have him return to us when called (most times, but more on that later).
The Maverick

Yoyo also learnt to walk on the leash at a beautiful trot, or a canter if you speeded things up, and he and I would walk 3 km to the circle and 3 km back most mornings, with the leash slack. He seemed to be almost on wheels as he walked, and with the characteristic side-winder walk that he had now developed – he looked like he was on a diagonal, but walked straight ahead on the pavement. He now had strong stocky legs, with the fur grown thick and straight, which gave him the appearance of someone wearing straight boot-cut trousers. Unlike small white dogs like the Pomeranian, Yoyo did not taper into spindly legs with itty-bitty feet. His legs and paws gave him a distinct polar bear appearance. Those broad paws served him well. He could hold his ground and not budge or be tipped over, once he planted all four on the ground and decided not to move. But on walks with me, he was the model of well-behavedness.

The first time that I had to leave Yoyo alone, after Mathangi had left, I went on a quick 24 hour trip to Mumbai. Vijaya my help, and the watchman, took turns to walk, feed, play with him. And there was Snoopy too, so in that sense, Yoyo was not all alone. However, during one stretch of these 24 hours, he was left to his own devices for a few hours, with no one around. This may have been not more than two hours. It was during this time, that he famously (the story did the rounds of the neighbourhood and other circles, for various reasons) clambered on to a diwan, from there on to a book shelf, and systematically pulled down and tore up what must have been at least 30 books. Whether my absence had set off some deep abandonment issues, or whether he was just being a complete haraami, we will never know, but I did think it was the former, at the time. So when I returned, and was told in hushed whispers by a neighbour that Yoyo had torn ‘all’ my books, I only felt anguished at his anguish, and rushed inside to greet him. The books were now a pile of shredded covers, paper, gummy spines, binding and thread, swept up and kept in the corner for me as evidence by Vijaya.
The neighbour, who followed me in with a grim expression, picked out some scraps from the heap – there was the half-chewed autograph of a well-known writer whose book I had edited. Not one of my favourites, the writer or the book, by a long chalk. I said ‘good riddance’ and laughed, much to Vijaya and my neighbour’s shock. I just asked for it all to be thrown away, much to the disappointment of my neighbour, who had followed me hoping to witness a good chastising, if not an actual inquisition and burning at the stake of Yoyo.
Vijaya the help too looked on in stunned disapproval as I hugged Yoyo. I had missed him, and I felt deeply guilty about having left him alone and about what must have gone on in his little head while I was away. I muttered sorry-sorry into his fur. This drew a massive snort from Vijaya. And as she cleared the heap of paper, she muttered sulkily: “He tore up your books and YOU are saying sorry to HIM? And what would you have done to me, if I had torn or broken something? I would have really got an earful from you.” I could only giggle helplessly at the image of her sitting amidst a heap of books that she had torn asunder.
As she tidied up, she said to the departing back of the disappointed neighbour: “Next life…I tell you, we should pray, pray hard this life, that next life we should be born as Yoyo in this Gouritai’s house. Just do what you please, and get away with it. Now that’s the life I want. Just no consequences to face, in this house, if you are a dog.” She then rounded on Snoopy, and asked him why he hadn’t stopped Yoyo from tearing the books. Snoopy, who had quite early decided that everything about Yoyo was simply to be studiously avoided, and the only way to cope with this new pest was to white-ink him out of his visual and mental space, looked back stoically. He must have been appalled at Yoyo’s book-tearing spree while it was going on, but had already developed an older person’s attitude of a kind of detached disdain to the new entrant and his shenanigans.
The Stoic
(Next instalment of Yoyo-nama on 6 July 2018)

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Yoyo-nama (The Chronicle of a Foundling turned Dictator)

Chapter 4

Yoyo had come to us without the benefit of any rabies and other shots, no deworming either, we gathered. (Talk about unplanned and then unwanted dog-owning! – Mathangi and I said to each other in grim dismay about his recent past.)  So pretty soon, a vet visit had to be scheduled. Both my earlier dogs, Annie the boxer, and Snoopy the Mumbai street-find, had always been a vet’s delight, taking shots, gland cleanings, teeth and ear clean ups, nail-clipping, medication with grace and forbearance. ‘A model patient’, as the various vets who attended to them over the 14 years of their respective lives, always said. The two of them were greeted with much joy and hugging at any vet’s clinic over the years. For their vets and their assistants, it was a break from the daily snarling, pulling, barking, growling, and frantic resistance and struggle that most of their patients put up. With my two dogs, none of this ever happened. No muzzles and restraints were needed on Annie and Snoopy, ever. This meant, that for the previous 10-12 years I had been lulled into thinking that going to the vet was a routine chore.
Yoyo turned that upside down from his very first visit, to the very last one that he had in his life. Most vets and their helpers were caught off their guard because Yoyo did not look like a nasty-tempered dog or a very strong one. He looked like any practised person could quickly overpower him, immobilize him for a few seconds, and deftly do what was needed.
Never, no way. Not till the very end.
On our very first visit to the vet, we got off the car and headed to the small open enclosure where other patients waited. Yoyo took one look/whiff, and got wind of the fact that this was not good news at all. Smells like trouble. He about-turned and pulled with all his might away and towards my car parked across the road. When I wouldn’t comply, he twisted this way and that, tried to sever the leash with his teeth and then with both front paws-claws.  He then did a double-flip, lateral, and then vertical, thereby almost choking himself. After a huge struggle he also managed to slip out of his collar and dash across the very busy street towards my car, causing two-wheelers to brake and teeter and cars to skid to a halt and people to shake angry fists at me while my house-help, the up-until-then in-love-with-Yoyo Vijayabai and I stood helplessly and ineffectually on the road, trying to look like responsible and apologetic citizens. This is when we learnt that for Yoyo, we would have to get a choker-chain. Collars were only for wussy obedient dogs, apparently.
Subsequent visits always involved the vet coming to the car and trying to muzzle him, which was almost never accomplished. He would then get someone to yank Yoyo’s choke-chain in a way that his face was scrunched up briefly against the seat or dashboard for a few seconds, and manage to jab a calming-down injection into him.
The sight of this infamous chain usually had most dog owners standing around tsk-tsking at us while we wound it around a seat or some object that would hold out to Yoyo’s angry struggle. We would then sit around and watch his internal tussle against the sedative shot, trying his damnedest to not let go and relax, and to remain on high alert. He fought that sedative mightily. Always, thence-forth, any vet would have to leave his other patients, come and check in the car to see if Yoyo had become calm enough to allow him to vaccinate him, or to anaesthetize him, if his teeth or glands needed cleaning, nails needed trimming. Why don’t you use a muzzle, people around would ask us, puzzled. In answer to which the vet would demonstrate how impossible it was to get a muzzle on to him. People would simply fall back in shock and awe at the massive whirling storm this attempt would create. Suddenly that choker chain would not look like such a cruel option, to them.
We tried out many different vets at many different locations, including ones that came home, come vaccination time, hoping that Yoyo would not suspect our motives as we approached a new place, but the story everywhere was the same. Vets for miles and miles around knew of him, his reputation having spread quickly, and I suspect they avoided us after witnessing even once, the giant tamasha that he could produce. There was only one rare occasion when Yoyo was tricked into wearing a muzzle. Here he is, below, in full-on Hannibal the Cannibal mode.

It was funny, sad and exhausting, all rolled into one, these vet visits. Luckily for us all, Yoyo enjoyed a basic robustness, which meant that vet visits were soon settled into a ritual that had to be braved but once a year for his shots. As for all the other services that normal dogs allow vets to deliver, I had developed some counter aggression tactics, so that I could bully him into coming to me and allowing his teeth to be cleaned, nails to be clipped, be bathed and towel dried, groomed, and dewormed.
Oral medicines, like the deworming tabs, he would simply not allow me to shove down his throat. Every four months, for the deworming tablet, the strategy would have to be changed.  You got a pedha, powdered the med thoroughly, mixed it with the pedha and reconstituted it. This would work once. The next time, he would sniff suspiciously, and simply reject it, and stalk off in high dudgeon. He loved pedhas, so a contaminated pedha, he felt, was a really mean cut on our part.
Come medicating time, it was important to come up with elaborate ruses, which included laced tandoori chicken, doctored cheese spread, spiked mutton stock, and suchlike. When he got older, we simply gave up on deworming him that regularly. When I recently heard about little beef pouches that you can buy in the US, in which medicines can be pushed in, it was after Yoyo had gone. And anyway, we thought, the SOF would have smelt a rat most probably. He acquired the title SOF when he was quite young – Suspicious Old Fart – because of his habit of first sniffing out, after much stretching of the neck and twitching of nose and whiskers, any unscheduled tidbit that you offered him. Not for him the gulp first think later trustingness of other less complex canines.
Quite early on, a few weeks into his coming fully into my home, a visiting friend had warned me that if I let him get away with simply not listening to me, it would be very difficult to take care of him. I would need to handle him with a firm hand and tone, for his own good, she cautioned me. So this soon involved playing good cop bad cop, several times in one day. This worked to have him come readily to me when I called, instead of his earlier ‘Try and make me’ stance.
A few weeks after he came to stay, my friend and one of Yoyo’s favourite people, Bonnie (Nilanjan Mukherjee), dropped in and he too advised me strongly to take charge as Yoyo’s dog-owner and not dog-fan. He noted that Yoyo was fast taking over the household, bending the power equation completely in his favour, and basically had me wrapped around his little finger. Though much charmed by Yoyo’s looks and demeanour (the book cover portrait of Yoyo is by him), Bonnie warned me plainly: “This gorgeous haraami is going to be a handful very soon, and if you don’t want this to end in tragedy where you’re giving him away or keeping him tied, because he destroys stuff, snaps at people, refuses to come when called, does not drop something that he has picked up to destroy, sits wherever he likes, steals food, refuses medication, and generally becomes a complete law unto himself, you’ll have to do better than just bleating at him.” This was his firm advice, in these exact words.
Up until then, he had seen my interacting with the saintly Snoopy – my dog who was now in his middle years, and was also just naturally obedient. And before him, there had been the boxer Annie, a regal and stately sort, but not at all above eating entire  unattended mithai dabbas and deftly pressing the pedals of garbage pails if there were bones in there, and eating blocks of Kraft cheese off the dining table, eating it all in one sitting foil, carton and all.
Now Bonnie had been watching me trying to ineffectually get Yoyo not to sniff and try to inhale our tea biscuits sitting on a low coffee table. He politely asked me if he could demonstrate how Yoyo would need to be handled, rolled up a newspaper, gave it to me in my hands and said make a loud noise on the floor with it near him to stop him from whatever he is doing.
A few minutes later, the occasion arose, as Yoyo began gnawing at the leg of the table (a beautiful old swing turned into a table, with the addition of sturdy teak legs). I shouted STOP THAT – to which he just looked back with laughter in his eyes. I then banged the rolled up paper on the floor and shouted STOP IT. I could see that Yoyo was impressed, but he quickly tried to recover the balance by showing me his teeth (an enormous impressive set in a small dog).

With Bonnie coaching me from across the room, I stepped away, crouched, and called him to me in a stentorian voice, IKDAY YAY TABADTOP – COME HERE THIS INSTANT.
This was the turning point. Utterly impressed at the sheer volume of my voice and determination in my tone, he hastily covered his gum-teeth show, and ran out from under the table and turned into a puddle at my feet. Bonnie hissed to me: “Now you don’t go all aww and hug him, just show him you are satisfied with his response.”
(Next instalment of Yoyo-nama on 29 June 2018)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Yoyo-nama; Chapter 3

The Chronicle of a Foundling turned Dictator

Chapter 3
There is a Hindi expression about beautiful people: ‘Khuda ney phursat sey banaya hai’ – meaning God really took his time to create and perfect this person. With Yoyo, it seemed quite the opposite had happened. As if he had been hastily put together by his Maker and sent off quickly, because he simply would not hold steady or sit still during the creation process.
He had, under his snout fur, a skin that was some parts pale pink and some parts dark. The nose was pitch black except for a little pink in one nostril. One of his lower eyelids was pink while the other one was fully black. This gave the impression that one eye was smaller than the other, and in later years, when he would show us his temper, this earned him the name Lalita Pawar, the actor with the one-smaller-eye, who played the proverbial nasty old lady in many films. My friends David and Charmayne and I have spent many (wo)man hours talking about the utterly perfect aspect of imperfection.

At about 3 months old, he was at that stage of growing when for some reason he was growing long but not very tall. So his jaunty walk was something like a goods train, with the wagons moving slightly independent of each other. Head and snout was the engine, shoulders and front legs one wagon, middle body another wagon, hind legs, butt and tail a third one. On top of it, his head was rather large for his body at the time, and during this stage he looked like an actor wearing the head of a donkey in a production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream.

He was all white, except for faintly golden-auburn ears, which looked like satin-silky corn hair. There was one coin-sized orange patch on his lower spine area, as if to designate where his curled tail would rest. Unlike full-fledged Westies, with their signature carrot-tail as the websites described it, Yoyo had a turned tail.
We have debated many times, throughout his life, whether Yoyo was aware of how extremely adorable his entire body and face looked, the effect those eyes had on people…And the consensus was that he did not. He just was. Also, he took himself too seriously to consider himself in terms of being words like adorable, cuddly, or cute, is what someone once pointed out.
Yoyo had begun to show us the many facets of his eccentric, jaunty, jagged personality, minutes after his full move to my place. He had become fiercely territorial about my little yard, as soon as he came to stay permanently with me. It was as if, overnight, he had realized that his shaky position as a not-wanted, barely-tolerated pest in his first home, had been restored to firm, most-cherished status. The gate was now his beat, and Snoopy, never much of a watchdog, and always ready to welcome guests, workers, salesmen, thieves and dacoits with equal joy, now seemed happy to let Yoyo fulfil any expectations of patrolling the borders.
This meant that when the bell rang, Yoyo would rush out and stand what he thought was menacingly and bark a pretty impressive and surprisingly deep bark from such a little dog. If the person on the other side found his small stature unimpressive, and proceeded to try and open the gate, the bark would turn into a growl that came from inside his chest and was projected mightily outwards; that would have people hastily remove their hand from the gate and step back.  Once I got to the gate and let them in myself, he would quieten, sniff them down, and let them pass. My getting there and letting people in was important, in his scheme of things.
Some people couldn’t help giggling at what they thought was a comical little fellow doing a watchdog act, and would ignore my ‘Wait, wait, don’t come in till I let you in’ that I would shout from inside the house. A couple of them made the mistake of laughing and teasing him with a counter-bark, or worse, a mocking high-pitched yap. Yoyo straightened that matter out by going for their calves as soon as they were let into the yard. He never actually drew blood, but that could be only because they were wearing thick legwear. He did leave a lasting impression, on the calf as well as on the psyche of such visitors.
One such person he had marked out as persona non grata; and this was in perpetuity, permanently. Any future attempts to get him to let the matter go were never successful. He would growl throughout her visits. You could bully him into retreating, but then he would sit on the staircase landing, kind of hanging over the edge, like an eagle waiting to swoop down. From here, he would watch her every move, growling menacingly when she reached for her drink or got up from her seat. None of our nerves could take this, and after a few attempts to broker peace, we accepted that something had got hard-wired in Yoyo’s mind. From then we would have to simply round him up and lock him in a room upstairs well before she came over. From there too, he would bark whenever he heard her voice. Which meant that she had to speak sotto voce throughout her visit with us. On a few occasions, if we passed her on the street, us in the car with the windows rolled up, he would even then hurl himself at the windows with a “let me get at her, I say”.
But mostly, he would warm up to people once they had strictly followed the protocol that he had established. It went something like this: a) do not address any remarks to him, particularly no exuberant Hiiis and flailing of arms and attempts at head patting b) but do not sweep past him ignoring him c) do not laugh at him or imitate him, however comic or cute you find his fierce stance d) let him sniff you out and only offer a muted ‘hello yoyo’ f) do not hug me, the host e) glide, don’t stride, towards the front door, once he stops sniffing you out f) let him then come to you once you are seated.
Being received by the Queen, meeting and greeting her at B-Palace, possibly involved a less intricate network of conventions to follow.
But it was worth following through, because anyone who followed this routine was then rewarded with a swift and wonderful reversal of fortunes. It was like they do it once you pass the hard-eyed examination by the US Immigration Services as a visitor. Suddenly, after treating you as a potential terrorist, a possible alien who will vanish inside their land, once you pass all the requirements at entry point, the same suspicious and paranoid officer is suddenly all smiles and trills: ‘Welcome to the US of A, have a good stay, here’s your free map,’ and whatnot.
Once the new visitor was seated, Yoyo would proceed to get friendly, whether the person wanted it or not. This could be in the form of suddenly turning into a puddle near the person’s feet, with all four legs in the air, for a belly-rub. Or he would sometimes decide to jump up on the divan and sit with one proprietorial elbow and arm firmly placed on the person’s lap. The whole demeanour was of those hunters of yore who stood with one foot on a tiger that they had slain. And in this way, many of my friends and associates and relatives, including my ageing father, who had never particularly liked dogs, got drawn willy-nilly into accounting for him, if not outright falling for him. “And how’s that Yoyo?” they would find themselves asking on the phone, and would end up buying him little gifts from their travels, and put up with him gnawing gently at their socked feet under the dining table or sneaking into their razais if they spent the night. I began to hang a sticky-roller by the exit gate, so people could brush off the wiry white fur that he liberally left on their clothes.
His pride and joy at now belonging unambiguously to us, he would display elaborately, when we walked past his previous house. He would stiffen a little, slow down, and kind of goose step starchily past their gate, his butt doing the talking. It was like he was mooning that household. If anyone from that house happened to be around and called out to him, he would ignore them completely, and sometimes pointedly take a grown-dog one-leg-up leak on a plant nearby, looking studiously away from their gate. He would relax his formal butt-stride only when we went out of sight of that house.
The only person he dropped this act for, and turned himself into a little smudge of affection for, was the resident house help there, from whom even a ‘Kay rey Yoyo?’ would have him curling and uncurling like a caterpillar, in great affection of an uncharacteristically shy-child kind. This is the same person who fed him and allowed him to gnaw at her hair justforfun, when she rested in her quarters in the afternoon, during his early few months there.
At first he had just the one soft short wavy coat. As he settled into my house, he grew a second coat, a luxurious, longer wiry top layer. He grew a ‘snow-fringe’ – to keep out the snow from his eyes, were he to ever visit his native Highlands. The borders of his ears grew silken pale orange-gold long fur, like corn cobs.
(Next instalment, 22 June)

Thursday, June 7, 2018

(The Chronicle of a Foundling turned Dictator)
Chapter 2
A few weeks into his house-arrest and regimented routine at his first home, after we had sadly and firmly decided that he had just been a comet in our firmament, now gone, one late morning he turned up at my gate. I let him in, and he was allowed past the gate only after Snoopy gave him the US Immigration Services treatment…a thorough once-over, just short of a cavity search. Once cleared gruffly by Snoopy, he came in shyly, but simply decided not to leave till evening. He seemed to tide over his mealtime and hunger, and when I broke my rule of not feeding him full meals (since he usually went off on his own when it was his mealtime; this way we could all keep up the pretence, the self-deception, that he wasn’t our dog or meant to be in our lives in any kind of permanent committed way, but was just a wayfarer), I offered him some of Snoopy’s khichdi without any meat in it, as he was now just about 4 months old. He came up to the plate, but stepped back from it at once, and waited. As if the only explanation for no meat in his food was that I had forgotten, or that it was still being cooked. The second I added a tablespoon of mince, he ate hungrily.
And thus, he had trained me in one shot, never to forget meat in his meal forevermore. For the rest of his life, if you gave him only vegetarian food, he would sit watching you archly. ‘Where is that ‘saamthing’ extra’ (which for some reason we pronounced in a Bengali accent), we thought he was asking pointedly. But I’m getting ahead of the story. We weren’t yet into forevermore. He was just a dog who would slip away from his house-arrest, and drop in on us.
That evening, the doorbell rang.  It was his politely irate owner standing outside my gate, leash in hand. He had come to take his dog back, he said. Yoyo, who had come up behind me, now quietly hid, behind my legs. He was now grown enough to be certainly most visible, with a nice round rump, and big corn-silk ears, but he seemed to be convinced that if he stood very still behind my legs, he would not be seen, and the man would go away muttering to himself, ‘where the heck did that dog go’, and then forget all about Yoyo.
Not wanting neighbourhood awkwardness, I did not ask the gentleman why he had left his dog to wander the streets, over the last some months. I did not point out that Yoyo was often in all kinds of perilous places, like the time I saw him standing looking down from the second storey of a half constructed building without any sides to it, or the time that a workman had rescued him deep from the rubble of a swimming pool being dug out, where he must have gone exploring and been unable to clamber back up the steep 12-foot deep pile of excavated mud and rolling stones.
I stepped away, clearly signalling that I was not hiding the dog, and asked Yoyo to please go home. I took the leash (just a rope actually) from the man, put it around him, and handed him over. He left, looking askance at me over his shoulder. Again, I pulled my mind-shutter down.
Only, of course, to have it rolled open firmly again, a few weeks later. Yoyo’s family had gone on vacation, and only one aged great-grandmother was holding fort. From her seat in a patch of sunlight in their garden, she called out to me as I walked Snoopy past their home, and said, “Look, please take this dog. No one has time for him, no one was prepared for a dog, just an impulse purchase…please take him. He’s just lying there tied at the back of the house.” If I take him, I will get involved, I won’t be able to let him go again, I said to her. That was my polite, tangential indication that I did not want to risk having him yanked away from me (on a rope) after the family returned from vacation and was in the mood to have a dog again. She assured me it wouldn’t happen.
I went to the back of the house, and there he was, tied near a genset, sleeping against its warm and loud vibrations. He looked sad and tense but stood up. I led him away, and as soon as we were out of his sitting-sleeping area, he sort of let go and produced a mighty, spreading puddle of pee. He watched solemnly, helplessly, as the puddle grew all around him and under all four paws. He had been holding on for long, not wanting to dirty the area in which he had been sitting for hours and hours. When he was done, he neatly jumped clear of the puddle and began to walk with sprightly determination on the leash, towards my gate.
And just like that, Yoyo came to stay. And life became a new flavour of madness for us - me and my then flatmate Mathangi, who had been encouraging me to just keep him. He adored her till the very end; over the next 15 years, when she would visit, he would have a special ‘my person’ expression on his face – as she was part of his early years. She was also a willing victim of his arbitrarily made rules like no coming downstairs at night or I will snipe at your pyjama leg, but I can crawl into your bed and up your blanket and emerge to sit on your face.
Yoyo’s coming and my taking him in was clearly a redefining of who I was and where I really would and should put my energies. The person I was seeing then asked me challengingly, “I see, so taking in one more dog…this means that you’re signalling to me ‘Love me, love my dogs’, right?” Some of Yoyo’s sparkiness had already rubbed off on me, and I had rediscovered my temporarily silenced snarkiness to reply: “No, the signal is that you should go back under the flat stone I lifted that you came out from under” (or words to that effect).  And with that, I pulled the plug on a limbo-relationship in which I had been floundering for longer than I care to disclose.
Yoyo seemed to have recognized fully that this was now his home. He ate, drank, slept, and took his first pee and dump neatly and discreetly under a clump of bamboo. And would never after that, ever, do it in the house. Very soon, he began to relieve himself only when he was taken for a walk along with Snoopy – who had now resigned himself to having a feisty housemate under foot. He continued to be frosty, and Yoyo continued to either not notice, or deftly wheedle some leeway out of Snoopy, so that his aggression simply died down, and sometimes he even allowed Yoyo to almost snuggle up.
Snoopy must have noticed how very captivated everyone was by this maverick new entrant, but he took it with much grace.

Here he is, Yoyo, a few days after he had become decidedly my dog and I had decidedly become his human: 

There continued to be people for whom Snoopy was their one-and-only, with his gentle, noble manner, right from the time he had jumped off the garbage pile at Seven Bungalows, Mumbai, and decided to become our dog. Much had happened after that, and now just he and I had lived companionably and uneventfully, a monastic existence, for several years. We walked, worked, we met old and made new friends, we ate simple and regular, and occasionally treated ourselves to a shared plate of chicken haka noodles from Kiran Dhaba, the only eatery for miles around at the time, in the far-flung Pune suburb that we had moved to, from our ex-life in Mumbai. The dog that we had had when Snoopy came into our lives, Annie the boxer and his biggest buddy, had been gone for a while. The niece who grew up with us for some years, had left.
Khudsey juda, aur, jaggsey paraye…hum dono they saath, a sort of quiet evensong, is how it was between me and Snoopy, after our exit from Mumbai and the dismantling of what used to be our family unit.
My nieces and nephew and sundry other people were Snoopy loyalists, but even his old die-hard fans could not help being drawn into the unconscious charms of the newbie Yoyo when he burst most unceremoniously into this quiet scene. 
(Next instalment of Yoyo-nama on 15 June 2018)