Friday, September 21, 2018

Yoyo-nama Chapter 16 - Catch Me If You Can

Chapter 16
Yoyo was ridiculously overconfident about roads. Off leash, his thing was to walk bang in the middle of any road, even in the colony we lived in, with the fearlessness and determination of an armoured tank. You could scream yourself blue in the face for him to move, if a car or larger vehicle approached. He would just keep walking, and the vehicle driver would either with an understanding smile or an irritated frown, drive the vehicle partially on the verge, almost in the gutter, to pass Yoyo. 
When we took him out to forested areas a few miles from home, he would have plenty of fun exploring, and in the early years would shadow the older Snoopy, walking as if they were both tethered together like a pair of horses, much to Snoopy’s irritation. But once puberty and independence blossomed in full technicolour in Yoyo’s mind and body, these outings meant that if it got too hot, or he unilaterally felt that the picnic/exploration was over, he would simply start walking in the middle of the road and find his way, over quite a distance, unwaveringly to where the car was parked. These were country roads, but the occasional rattling ST bus would thunder down them, or a gang of speeding motorcyclists could have easily flattened him. His huge enjoyment of the car ride as well as the wide open spaces or a water body was what made us go on these trips, in spite of this dangerous pig-headedness of his that would spring up towards the end of the outing. 

On one particular outing, he played the opposite trick. The cool cloudy day on which we had set out, had gotten suddenly very sunny and hot, and we decided to return home. He as well as Jugnu had had a great time in a shallow flowing stream, and he was in no mood to end the day out so abruptly. Jugnu reluctantly but obediently came out, stood near the car, let himself be dried off, and jumped into the car.

When we had picked up our things and headed to the car, Yoyo 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. As we stood under the blazing overhead sun, he simply made himself comfortable under the shade of the car, and would not come out from underneath. We pleaded. We commanded. We issued warnings. At one point, we lay flat on the ground like a pair of mechanics, begging, cajoling, threatening him to come on out from there.
He simply lay there watching us, and if I remember right, even fell into a light refreshing doze as we hyperventilated there trying to get him out. At one point, we cut down a long stout stick from a tree, and jabbed at him.  To this his response was to give the stick a good hard bite. Thinking quickly, I tried to pull the stick out with him attached to it, but when he felt the drag, he simply let go, and I fell backwards from my haunch-sitting position, in a classical Tom-and-Jerry way. 
Finally we decided to try to call his bluff by getting into the car, closing the doors, calling out 'bye Yoyo'. It didn’t work. We then turned on the engine, quite sure that this would flush him out. But we were dealing with a past master of Who-blinks-first, and Yoyo simply stayed put. I then got off, and guided Tatsat to start to drive forward a few inches verrrry slowly…hoping this would scare Yoyo out. He actually rolled over under it; we had to stop at once.
Cruel you say? But we were now desperate, as we had been out there for over half hour in the come-on-out-please mode under a blazing sky. As the car moved slowly, he actually got sort of rolled a little, under the car, but he still did not budge. 
However, as the car had now moved forward about 8 inches, I could get hold of Yoyo’s tail and pull him out. (Strangely, for such an uppity character, Yoyo never minded his tail being grabbed, and would sometimes find it extremely funny and urge you to pull his tail.) I gave him 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.
Once inside the car, he took his seat (after the usual wrestle with me for the front passenger seat) with a grin splitting his face, and glanced at us impatiently, as we staggered back inside the car, as if to say: “Comeon, what’s keeping you, let’s go.”

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Yoyo-nama Chapter 15

Alliances – Easy and Uneasy
It is amazing, though, that none of Yoyo’s fan-victims took a dislike to him. They referred to him with all kinds of names, like Chakram, Paagal, Werewolf, Holy Terror, Sannki, Crackpot…and Vijaya’s favourite name for him: Chyappterr - all of which reflected in some way the unpredictability of him, as well as the effect that his towering personality had on them. Even their friends’ friends’ friends heard of his many shenanigans. They would, gleefully or with awe, recall and report all the newly minted and absurd atrocities that he heaped on them. These stories became part of the folklore that formed itself around Yoyo, with much, much affection. For them too, after he passed away, some of the delicious arbitrary madness suddenly disappeared from their lives.
My friends Ira and Vaishali entered the Yoyo equation later, and were quickly recruited by him as part of his retinue. He adored them quite unabashedly, having mellowed now into a dog who did not have to show attitude at first and then let people in slowly. He simply made them his own on the very first day that he met them, sitting with his ownership arm on them or turning into that silly puddle, all paws in the air, for a belly rub.
There was another whole bunch of people, who simply did not like dogs and steered clear of them. Yoyo managed to insinuate himself into their consciousness too. He would come sit next to them and place one side of his entire face along their thigh and nudge them with it. Sometimes he would even sit alongside on the divan and place an elbow firmly on their lap, in a most proprietorial way, and push his weight against them. After initially saying ‘Ay go ya Yoyo,’ or asking me nervously if he was trying to shove them off the divan, they soon got quite used to him and began to consider it quite a privilege that Yoyo chose to come to them.
Many of them would bemusedly tell their other friends: ‘I don’t know why, but because of Yoyo, I am not scared of dogs.’ Or my friends David and Charmayne, not pet people as such, became tuned in to the specialness of Yoyo. And would make a stopover at my home on their way from Mumbai to Goa, as much to meet Yoyo as to meet us. Once a month, the taciturn and busy electricity meter reading man would always ask Yoyo’s permission to be let in near the meter box. He would call out the question in deference, with a half-smile, ‘Yeu ka rey baba?’ Yoyo would watch him without barking and would get a small pat on the head from outside the gate.
My friend and guru in counselling, psychotherapist Minnu, not a dog-person, became one of his admirers, and had a special place in her heart for him. Yoyo would return the compliment by stretching out behind and alongside her like a bolster, with a contented sigh when she visited and sat on the divan. She knew me just a little before Yoyo came into my life, and while I was training with her in counselling. She later had no doubt in her mind that Yoyo was a soul mate, who came along just when he and I both needed each other. Minnu understood Yoyo’s special comet-like appearance in my life from the first time that she met him, to the very last visit, when she said her farewells
My father and Yoyo, was an uneasy alliance as flat-mates, when he came to stay for a few months at a time, dividing his time between my home and my sister’s. Never a dog lover, he had willy-nilly been co-habiting with dogs since we were kids, and he was in a minority of 1 – the majority rule included my mother and 3 of us siblings and various dog-loving house help. So some manner of dog was always around, and my father tried to be okay with it all. Now, however, he was in his late eighties. He was afraid of falling, and there was Yoyo and Jugnu, streaking across at the sound of a cat outside, or simply just sitting in the way, all sprawled out. I kept them out in the yard as much as possible when he was with me, but there were strange little interactions that were unavoidable.
For instance, my dad would pace inside the house after his lunch, what in Marathi is called Shatapauli or a post-parandial 100 steps before lying down for a nap. At this time, if Yoyo was indoors, he would have some esoteric problem in his head with the swishing of my dad’s white pyjama legs as he walked. Yoyo would suddenly, without a sound, get up and follow him in a kind of stalking crouch, taking mock snaps at the flapping material. Luckily my father would simply not notice the runt snapping at his heels silently. And one of us would quickly head Yoyo off.
During this time, Yoyo had briefly become a fussy non-commital eater. He would go to his food, sniff it, and sit back, watching you archly, or he would simply abandon it and go off. My father, ever the fussy nurturer when it came to anyone’s eating habits, would come and report to me: “That dog hasn’t eaten.” I would say “Ignore him, he’ll eat if he’s hungry. I will leave it there for 10 minutes and then put it away.”
I was not going to be played by Yoyo over food, I had decided, and I also did think that perhaps as he was now firmly in middle age, maybe his appetite was getting smaller. Yet he would wait outside the kitchen for his food, so we would have to serve it, in case he did eat. Someone would have to stand guard to see that Jugnu, now a strapping young dog, didn’t help himself to a second round of lunch. To this elaborate square-dance, got added my father’s step. He would pace anxiously past the full food bowl every couple of minutes, and take peeks to see if Yoyo had eaten yet. Now Yoyo, who was (surprisingly) always very easy-going about who approached him while he was eating or touched his food, would get a bit suspicious of my father’s motives, and rush possessively to his plate, but then sit there and not eat it. This would almost trip my father, who would let out a choice gaali, like Ay saalya, or the milder muttering, dambiss ahay, or badmaash ahay (something like a rogue, a rascal).
One day, I firmly firmly told my dad to simply stop obsessing on whether Yoyo had eaten or not. He would offer some technical explanation about his concern: ‘flies will come’ or ‘it is meat, it will deteriorate and then if one of them eats it they will fall sick’ etc. (My mother called him ‘health inspector’ because of his habit of playing food detective in the house after he retired. He would check out the state of leftovers in the fridge, check if the milk and dahi were covered properly, throw out old biscuits from tins, and would trot out words like ptomaine poisoning, about which he would read up in The Lancet, which he would read cover to cover in the British Library, though he was not a medical field person at all!) But under all this, he was a worry-wart who wanted everyone to eat well and on time and poop on schedule – his wife first, then his kids, then his grandkids, and now even a dog who he didn’t even particularly like.
So I began to place Yoyo’s food on the half-landing of a small flight of stairs to my bedrooms upstairs. This way, my dad couldn’t pace past it and examine it, and Yoyo could play whatever yes-no-yes-maybe games he needed to play with his food. One day, I saw my dad, sneaking, literally sneaking to that spot, not by climbing the stairs, but by standing at a spot on the ground floor from where he could reach out and check the contents of Yoyo’s dish. I found myself exasperatedly saying, “Whyy do you need to check…let it BE. What if Yoyo comes rushing at your hand? Or what if the food tips over on to your head, when you’re checking from such a precarious spot?” We both ended up laughing at that image, and he promised to let it be.
However, I soon found that he would then secretly introduce a tiny piece of sausage or salami that he had reserved from his breakfast, into Yoyo’s abandoned meal, though there was already chicken mince in the food. This was utterly to Yoyo’s satisfaction, as he had achieved a) Bringing some esoteric element to his food ritual – the adding of ‘saamthing extra’ to induce him to eat. b) Recruiting yet another baffled person into his valet-staff retinue, this time my father, who wasn’t even remotely a fan!
Jugnu too, would gamely take Yoyo's frosty attitude to him and give him a wide berth. On some occasions, they would have to sit close in the car, which would make Jugnu quite happy, like a fan forced into a small space with a celeb.
It was Jaya who discovered, that Yoyo, for all his esoteric rules of engagement that we had all learnt to respect, surprisingly did not mind you passing close to his food, or even moving his plate while he was eating. When he ate, he ate slowly, ruminatively, with a faraway look in his eyes. It reminded me of the way physically hard-working men and women eat when they break from work – concentrating on the job in a single-minded way, to the exclusion of all other distractions; but not eating greedily or with gusto. There is a certain understated satisfaction rather than enjoyment in the act, never interrupted by the more urban and urbane chatting, looking around, smiling…not at all a social or sociable action; a more purposeful thing, without any social niceties. In a quiet bubble, of well-earned food intake. When he ate rusk or the dog biscuits that I made him, he would eat with that ‘khraau, khraau, khraau’ sound as he munched – a sound that I simply love in any dog. Like Lord Emsworth enjoying the sound of his sow, the Empress of Blandings, eating noisily at her food trough, for me too, this sound has always been music to the ears.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Chapter 14 Yoyo-nama - Shifting the goal posts

Chapter 14
Changing the goal posts - justforfun

Yoyo’s speciality was sabotaging any and every arrangement that you made for him if you went out of town. We never dared to keep him in a pet facility, because we were sure he would come up with something so totally unexpected, and find a way to run off. A friend’s beagle had done just that, never to be found again, and the idea terrified us. He was, over the years, simply better off in his own space, with a series of paid people or unsuspecting or brave friends who volunteered to house and dog-sit.
My going away meant that he would completely stop going out for walks, and yet not relieve himself in the little yard, as far as we could see. He just kept it all in, which was part tantrum and part laziness. It was something I feared he would have to pay for dearly, healthwise, as he grew older. Once I was gone, no one could (and Tatsat wouldn’t) take on the hard task of cajole-threatening him over things, whether it was walks, or nail clipping or medicines (though, thank god, he was a sturdy little fellow and rarely fell ill).
Yoyo would be saddish and sober when I was away, going all quiet as soon as any suitcase came out. But he would handle it fairly philosophically – no whining, moaning, barking or destruction once he was an adult. You see, that would be too obvious and unpolished a form of protest for the likes of him. He had a whole highly-imaginative armoury of disruptive acts that he could deploy when you were away.
So going out of town, even for a day or two, for me meant putting in place a series of arrangements in the house, involving a watchman-walker, a cook-feeder, friends and neighbours who would come to look him up and give him some warmth and love as well as put up with the convoluted and alternating love-cum-a-hard-time that he would hand out to them.
Young, unsuspecting Yashoda and Harini probably had the most ‘interesting and instructive’ time at Yoyo’s hands during one of my month-long vacations away. A whole lot of other people were kept on their toes and put through their paces by Yoyo over the years whenever I was away. (But more on that, later.)
He would change the goal-posts every time, and throw a googly ball too (to mix my sporting metaphors). And so, whatever elaborate arrangements I had made, with whatever combination of people for when I was away, there would always be an incident that involved calling in additional troops. This included simply refusing to go on walks with anyone for over 24 hours, so that those taking care of him could almost hear the backed-up pee and poo sloshing around in his system, but had to watch on helplessly. Serious man-hours would be spent in trying to trick him out of the gate. No one dared to simply let him loose out in the colony, to do his business, because perhaps I was the only person who could round him up if he decided to run about and stay just that one foot out of reach, playing catch-me-if-you-can.
Why not bung the wretch in a pet-sitting facility, you ask? I never dared to, frankly. Quite early in the day I had figured out that he would find devious and ingenious ways to somehow buck the system and escape or vanish. While Yoyo had the ability to take up a huge amount of space with his personality and by stretching his small body to tiger-like proportions, a la Hobbes, he also had the uncanny knack of becoming tiny and near invisible or transparent (this is why Mathangi began to call him ‘white-ghost’, and Charmayne called him the ‘shape-shifter’). He would hide most successfully when he wanted to, most times, except sometimes for a give-away tuft showing from somewhere.
The vision of Yoyo Houdini-ing himself out of a pet-sitting place and taking off determinedly in search of home on completely unfamiliar streets, was a terrifying prospect – the friend whose dog had done just that, and was never to be found again, was haunted by that incident, as was the pet sitting facility.
If there was a way to buck the system and do something outlandish, Yoyo would find it, this we knew. So in-house dog-sitting it had to be. That too came with its many complications and many unsuspecting victims.
In Yoyo’s head, there was a very clear-cut hierarchy of who he would and would not obey, I realized. When I travelled, leaving him to just the watchman, Parma and Vijaya to feed and walk, it could mean that he would scuttle all your best laid plans. Besides the refusal to come out for a walk, he would play bait-and-switch with them even over how and when he (and Snoopy, or later he and Jugnu) could be fed.
Or on one occasion, when there was no in-house caretaker, but a system of feeders and walkers in place, he decided to suddenly not allow any of them to approach the fridge at all, where his cooked food, meat, chappatis, etc were kept. Knowing him, it was not like he thought they were ‘outsiders’ against whose incursions he must protect our house. It only meant that he had thought up one more ruse to keep everyone on their toes and ensure that I get SOS calls in the middle of meetings or vacations or whatever thing I had dared to unleash myself and go to.
So on some days, I would get helpless calls when I was away, saying “Because you’re not there, Yoyo is not letting me approach the fridge to take out the cooker and make fresh food or approach the dry dog food tin.” Parma, the by-now resourceful watchman-walker-feeder had to learn to think on his feet. Per force, he would come up with some alternative food arrangement. The first time that Yoyo pulled this trick, Parma went out and bought dry dog food and fed them, carefully keeping the packet with himself, and not leaving it in the house, in case Yoyo decided to bar him from approaching the packet too. Sometimes he or Vijaya would get him chappatis out of their own meagre cash resources, or embarrassedly approach a tolerant neighbour and ask for some money for this, or cook something in their homes and bring it to feed the dogs.
When I returned, they would always report to me, deleting the expletives they no doubt must have had running through their heads, that after this bout of blocking them from the fridge, and them foraging for food for him from outside, Yoyo would then heartily eat what they served him and stalk off to take a large snooze under a bed or table. From this point on, he did not bother with who came in and out of the house. Now someone could trespass and take away the entire fridge for all he cared. The mission, of making people around wring their hands and dance around for solutions, had been accomplished.
I had long since given up locking our house when I went away, which would be open 24/7 so that the dogs could go in and out of the place, and the caretakers too could come and go, without the complication of door locks and keys, where or who to keep them with, the fear of Yoyo not letting people approach the front or back garden door, and any of those imponderables that he could suddenly mastermind and manifest.

Like all tyrants, Yoyo would change his rules and make you feel utterly stupid for doing so much bandobast for him. On some days when I was away, he would be sweet and completely sane and co-operative, and not pull any of these stunts. Quite soon, I found myself throwing in a dog-sitter into the mix, for when I needed to travel – even on short 2-day trips to Mumbai. He would happily, or at least quietly, go out for walks with these sitter-friends. Tatsat’s pleas and half-hearted attempts to be strict with him, he would in the beginning not pay any heed to, but once their bond deepened, he would agree to go out with him.
When Tatsat could not be here full-time, Yoyo had a slew of visiting temp staff-cum-fans. This was primarily four people, over the years. Jaya, my niece-daughter, who would stay sometimes, and house and Yoyo-sit when I travelled. Jaya took in her stride his many little rules and regulations. For instance, moving furniture meant that he would bite the leg of the chair or stool or table being moved, so she would be cautious about lifting a chair and never dragging it!
Mathangi was another recruit, when she visited from her stints in Mumbai, or Austin, or Chennai. He would be thrilled to have her around, but with her, there was that business of growling and fake-nipping at her pyjama leg if she came downstairs after lights-out and Yoyo had chosen to sleep downstairs. Mathangi would take everything upstairs, cold water, a snack, books, papers, anything that she might need from the pantry or fridge, to avoid Yoyo doing that white-ghost-attack on her. She too later learnt to tell him sharply to just stop-it, and he would then let it go.
Later there was a friend’s daughter, Harini, doing her MA here in Pune, who stayed for a couple of terms. She adored Yoyo, but had got his number and knew how to deal with him. While she indulged him, played with him, even dressed up his head hair in what she called a Yohawk, marked and respected every strange quirk of his, she dealt with him mostly with a firm hand when it came to him insisting on sleeping on her bed or hanging around her desk and asking to be petted, when she needed to concentrate on her reading and writing.
They would have subtle, pitched battles, and she would find ways to keep him firmly out of the room, to which he most surprisingly conceded – surely a sign that Yoyo was ageing, mellowing. Or like all bullies, had learnt to recognize and respect stiff resistance when he encountered it.
For one bout, of a month, Harini was joined by another friend Yashoda in my house, while I was away all of that time. Yashoda, he probably played fast-and-loose with, the most. She had not co-habited with a dog before, and certainly not a personality-packed fellow like Yoyo. In those 30 days he had ample opportunity to show them all his facets in technicolour.
He liked them both, but there was some degree of disorientation in his head, because Yashoda was housed in my room. Both Harini and Yashoda would not let him sleep there in the night. So he would come up with little acts of revenge. He did not de-bar her, as he would have the watchman and domestic help, from entering my room, but he would climb on the bed when she was away and dig it up, and even broke his usual excellent and unswerving potty-training to take a dump or a pee on the bed a couple of times. Both Harini and Yashoda and before them Mathangi, have been blessed with a neat round production of vomited food, specially upchucked for them in case they were slacking in their ministrations towards him. They all gamely mopped it up, knowing full well that he was not ill…and only being perverse.
He would be alternately sweet and then do something like this to them. Yashoda famously declared in complete exhaustion after a month at Yoyo’s hands: “Yoyo makes you feel like those women who are married to abusive men, you know…where they behave horribly with you, you never know if you’re displeasing them, but then suddenly they can be so damned sweet and sooo charming and so apologetic, that you forgive them everything, and hope that things are going to get better and the bad times have been put behind you, and that’s the time they begin to quietly prepare how they’ll give you a tough time again. And so the cycle of abuse begins again.”

(picture shows Harini and Yoyo - she styled his hair to look like a 'Yohawk-Mohawk' as she called it )

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Chapter 13 Yoyo-nama

A dose of Yoyo-forte

Yoyo saved me from snakes three times. He was utterly fearless, and yet instinctively smart about snakes (unlike his stupid nonchalance about cars on a road). One night, I heard a peculiar short loud series of insistent barks from him that I had never heard before. It had the quality of sounding outraged-but-cautioning. Each bark was prefixed with a short low growl. It was a kind of bark that I quickly learnt to take very seriously, when he used it. It was the proverbial 12-midnight witching hour. Suddenly, I heard Yoyo’s nails clicking rapidly as he walked stiffly towards my first floor balcony attached to my bedroom. I heard his short sharp bark, and assuming that it was the civet that sometimes passed through, or the Bulbul that was nesting in the creeper, I shouted out to Yoyo to SHUT UP. Ignoring me, Yoyo kept up that bark, and when I switched on a light, I saw that he was looking up, towards a flowering climber.
Before I realized there was a snake or anything of the sort, I was out in the balcony looking up at where Yoyo had been looking, trying to figure what it was that he was so angry about. What was later identified as a Russel’s Viper, literally uprooted by the frantic construction activity in my area and by the searing heat, had found its way up my Madhumalati creeper and into this first floor bedroom sit-out.
It had first made a light snack out of two new-born bulbul chicks in a nest, and was then planning to possibly lie quietly amongst the freshly watered leaves, ruminating on whatever it is that his species ruminates on, and picking new-born bulbul meat from its teeth, when Yoyo heard its rustlings, and began his bark. I believe they are deaf, but possibly the vibrations from that extremely loud bark caused the snake to get distracted and it lost its balance and fell into my balcony.
Like something out of a bad Ramsay Bros film, it chose the time of 12 midnight to do this. I would have slept right through, and it may have let itself out with a polite excuse me…but that was not to be. Now it could not move easily on the tiled floor, and turned itself into something like a fat tire, and began to spin. Yoyo kept barking his head off and held it at bay, even after it fell a couple of feet away from me and him. For 5-7 minutes, they were both engaged in a mutual d├ętente of sorts – the snake bizarrely buzzing very loudly like a pressure cooker married to a chain saw and spinning in a dervish-like circle, Yoyo keeping a foot away, but holding it at bay, and barking like his life depended on it (it did). By the time I could get my feet and vocal chords wide awake, snake and dog were in this awful dance together. I ran down and yelled for help, which came from 4 watchmen from sundry buildings, who asked no questions, managed to move Yoyo out of the way, delivered 2 whacks and ended the snake’s life.
The second time round, it was another dramatic appearance, of a Cobra, right on Mahashivratri night. This time, there was Jugnu too – both he and Yoyo raised the alarm in the backyard. They kept their distance, but barked insistently, with that overtone of outrage mixed with caution that dogs use and you come to recognize as a tone that you take seriously. This time, a snake-catcher came and took it away.
A few years later, Yoyo and Jugnu cornered and held off an 8 foot long angry rat-snake in my tiny kitchen, in the middle of a mellow afternoon. While Jugnu raised the alarm, Yoyo was almost on top of the snake, who lunged at him several times, in a very confined space. We were assured by the catcher, later, that these are non-poisonous snakes, but he did say that their bite is a horrible painful and jagged one, difficult to stitch up – a dog could easily bleed out with that kind of bite, before you got medical help. Yet again, Yoyo had shown that not for nothing did he have so much attitude…it came with its own advantages.
In retrospect, I could read the pattern. Yoyo had protected me from three snakes as well as a pretty poisonous relationship. That one, he had not had to bark in outrage and draw my attention to. He had simply inserted himself so firmly into my life in such a timely manner, that I was grounded, literally as well as figuratively. By appearing at that juncture in my life, Yoyo had forced me to grow roots again. My misguided notion that I must keep my lifestyle all lean and ‘unencumbered’ so that I would be seen as ‘re-marriage material’ was firmly erased, from my mind and from the realm of possibilities, with the warped person that I was seeing at the time. With the coming of Yoyo, that particular person had simply slithered off, looking for other victims. His one parting question had been: “I see, so now it is love me, love my dogs, is it?” I could answer with an unqualified Yes, and could also wake up into the clarity of a ‘What was I thinking’ state, and recalibrate my concept of love and commitment.
Overnight, Yoyo had turned me and my life from vulnerable into fortified.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Chapter 12 Yoyonama

Chapter 11 Yoyo-nama
The one time that Yoyo got quite seriously knocked off his jaunty perch, was when we suddenly let in a tiny new puppy into our lives. One winter, late evening, the time when fireflies appear, I found a three-four week old mongrel puppy simply waiting politely on my threshold, like someone who had appeared a little early for his appointment. From where he appeared, remains a mystery. Snoopy had recently passed away, and in spite of our resolve not to get any more dogs, we simply could not turn away this tiny creature (who without any intimation, proceeded to grow rapidly into a huge Collie-like fellow, towering easily a foot over Yoyo.

Yoyo was out for a walk with Tatsat then, and when they returned, Yoyo took one sniff-whiff of the tiny puppy, shrank from its overtures, and exaggeratedly steered clear of him, skirting him widely and running into the house and straight upstairs and on to Tatsat’s bed. The entire body language was so much like Melvin, the Jack Nicholson character in As Good as it Gets.
When Yoyo realised we had named this new entrant (Jugnu, which means firefly, as he had appeared tiny, with eyes shining, in the twilight) and heard us talking in terms of endearment to this new kid on the block, he stalked off to the narrow back strip of the house, sat under the struts of a water tank, and stayed there for ten full days. He was about 6 years old, then, and quickly turned into a curmudgeon in front of our eyes, not letting the new dog anywhere near him, not coming to us, and only staring out at us with one baleful, disappointed eye, from under the water tank. We began referring to him as Melvin. ‘Has Melvin eaten?’ ‘Any tail wags from Melvin?’ ‘Is Melvin willing to come out for a walk’? The answer, most times, was No. The only time we heard any sound from him was when he would growl at Jugnu if he tried to bat at him with one tiny paw, cajoling him to come out and play, or worse, let him snuggle up!
 Food bowls had to be slid across to Yoyo, which he would half-heartedly eat. Getting him to go for walks involved bullying him to get out and go.  He kind of came round, in 10 days, but proceeded to ignore Jugnu completely. Just like Snoopy and him before, Yoyo and Jugnu too shared an uncommunicative, definitely not playful relationship, rarely or never cuddling up.

A few weeks later, we fostered another wandering puppy, and much to Yoyo’s horror and utter disgust, kept him for several months. Yoyo spent another few days sulking under the water tank, and would snarl at Bertie, every opportunity that he got.
While Jugnu learnt to give Yoyo a wide berth, Bertie was one of those characters who simply could not resist teasing and baiting Yoyo to try to get him off his high horse. He would brush past him, or snipe jovially at his tail, or even push his nose inside Yoyo’s ear and give a sharp yap and leap out of the way with a mad grin splitting his fac. Sometimes he would irritate Yoyo merely by sitting at a safe distance and stare in adoration at Yoyo, which of course Yoyo disliked deeply. As Bertie grew taller than Yoyo, they would look ridiculously funny together – Yoyo stiffly holding on to his dignity, while Bertie pranced over him as if he was a low-slung hurdle to be cleared. When Bertie finally left for a farmhouse, Yoyo became slightly warmer towards Jugnu – at least you know how to keep your distance, he was saying. And once in a while, when he thought no one was looking, he would do a nose-to-nose hello-brother kind of greeting to Jugnu, even wagging his tail slightly at him. Jugnu too soon began to tower over Yoyo, but remained respectful, even deferential, towards him.  

Friday, August 10, 2018

Yoyo-nama Chapter 11

Yoyo-nama Chapter 11
Yoyo was never ever unsure of his welcome anywhere, once he came to stay. His patchy sense of self from his early months at his first home, had now filled out fully, with no chinks for self-doubt or tentativeness. He felt totally free to scamper out some mornings and into the neighbouring house, wander around, go up the stairs to the bedrooms, and stand staring at or breathing on the retired army man next door. He would be greeted with a surprised smile and a treat, and be gently escorted home again. Or he would try to enter a super-clean neighbour’s home, where he was allowed only up to the threshold. There, he enjoyed leaving his large flower-shaped paw print on the super-clean doormat or on the three spotless marble steps and would be indulged with a ‘Ay what ya yoyo?’ He would look up yearningly towards the top storey, wanting very much to be admitted in, but he was firmly and lovingly kept at bay. But nowhere was he shunned or shooed away. Even those visitors to my home who weren’t much into dogs, would gamely submit to being leaned on, sat on, or at the very least be melted into submission with him butting their knees with his strong little coconut-head and looking up at them with the full power of his liquid black eyes.
On some days he would take a whirlwind tour of the large compound of a newly occupied building nearby. He would dash into the half open gate, sprint across its lawns, past its clubhouse, through its spic-and-span foyer, and come darting out before anyone could say anything. If he was a small human boy, he would have darted into the lift, pressed all the buttons for all the floors before he ran off – it was in that spirit that he entered here. The guard, who meticulously stopped and took down the name of anyone who entered, would look surprised when Yoyo whizzed past at first, and get up as if he should do something, but the entire foray was over in a few fuzzy-furry seconds, as he exited kicking up his heels and grinning in an eat-my-dust way. Soon the guard took to just smiling and saying to me, “bhawaal hai, bhawaal” – a whirlwind.
So sure was Yoyo of himself, that one day, off the leash and walking in the winter sun on our colony road, he strode most purposefully towards the large closed iron gates of a gated community that he had never explored. I called out to him to stop, desist, no! His entire body language was all about the head-toss, rump-shake, jaunty-stride, ignoring me completely. As he stopped short of the big gates and expected to be let in, he was greeted with a sound that he was quite unfamiliar with, and is usually reserved for Indian street dogs: “Ay huddd,” shouted the security man and waved a baton at him. Ever the face-saver, Yoyo quickly recovered from this blow to his poise, and veered away, pretending he didn’t mean to visit there anyway. I laughed very hard and had to sit on a culvert to regain my breath at this tableau.
The whole sequence - his shruggy-smarmy ignoring of my warning, then the rude shooing that he got, his utter shock, and his quick pretend recovery – sets me laughing out loud even today. That was perhaps the only time he was actively shooed away from anywhere in such street language as a Ay huddd, and his cool-dudeness had taken a small but of course temporary dent.
Yoyo’s first experience of the monsoon and Diwali had him rattled to the core. He didn’t even try to pretend that he was not terrified. But in that psychedelic circuitry of his mind, he decided that I had personally arranged to make life miserable for him. So no amount of asking him to come huddle and cuddle in my room, with the doors and windows shut tight and the music going loud would be of any use. He would give you a long withering look once the noise began, and go slowly and determinedly deep under a bed. He could never decide whether the noise was worse upstairs or downstairs. So at every bout of crackers, he would solemnly, tail at half-mast, go up and hide. When it started up again after some silence, he would wearily take himself downstairs again, thinking he would be better off there. No tranquilizers worked on him, not mainstream, not alternative, nothing. Running away to a quieter place in Diwali became the only option. 

Quite soon into his young adulthood, Yoyo learnt the teenage art of appearing super cool at all times. Not for Yoyo the open begging or praying to the kitchen for his meals. He would appear from somewhere, and sit not directly in front of you, but at a 10 or 2 o’clock position, so that you could see him, but he didn’t appear to be asking for food. Or he would sit on the staircase, taking up three steps, so that if you were to go upstairs or come downstairs, you would have to vault over him, and thereby remember it was time to feed him – spread out that way, he was sure that you would figure out, oh ya, mealtime.

On outings where he roamed free in a meadow or on a lake front or in a forest or hillside, he would ignore our calling him; he would broadly stick to moving with us, but never appeared to be following. He was quite afraid of being left alone, but would never ever show it.
At first, Tatsat simply refused to believe that a dog could manipulate anyone. He simply did not believe him capable of deviousness or premeditated games of this kind. He held on firmly to the belief that I was reading too much into Yoyo’s behaviour, and I was anthropomorphizing rather too imaginatively. Till one day, when we had taken him out for a run to a nearby hillock and wooded area. When it was time to go home, Yoyo was out of sight. Snoopy came at once, but there was no sign of Yoyo when Tatsat began calling out to him. I signalled to Tatsat to just remain silent and wait, not even take a step on the crunchy dry leaves. I knew that as long as Yoyo knew we were near by, he would simply not come; but if he thought that we had left, he would get worried and appear at once. Tatsat just smiled and wagged his head at me, as if to say, ‘There you go again, imputing convoluted motives to that sweet and simple little dog’. But he did go quiet, and as we waited, within less than half a minute, an anxious looking Yoyo came round the hillock at a brisk canter, looking for us with a worried expression. The very second that he spotted us, from quite a distance, he immediately covered up his anxious demeanour. He abruptly changed his body language to languid, unconcerned, and stopped here and there to smell things even sitting down as if to enjoy the atmosphere, clearly hoping that we had not seen his frantic run in search of us. Coolness, at all costs.
For the first time, there came out of Tatsat’s mouth, a cussword, part angry and part impressed at the devious game-playing of this dog. ‘Haan rey, haraami hai yeh,’ he said in wonderment at how this had played out. Tatsat would be witness (and victim) of many more such tableaus, in the years to come.
When we left him in the yard for a few hours, well past his destructive phase, he would not like it, and by all accounts, he would be hanging around near the gate waiting quite anxiously for us to return. However, many of us observed this, and it is not just my overreading his cool-stance: the second he spotted us coming down the lane, he would run to the back of the house, to appear as if he was, in no way, waiting for you or anything. In fact I have been busy chasing cats and napping at the back, was the message. He would then come running round the corner of the house in a jaunty canter, as if in happy surprise, that we had returned. 'No appearing needy', was clearly Yoyo's memo to himself, which is the motto of so many people who start off life feeling vulnerable and starved for love.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Chapter 10

Chapter 10

Terriers have powerful jaws, and they need to be exercised. Bhutanese terriers, I had read, would carry heavy bags of provisions for the monks climbing back up the hill to their high-altitude monasteries, after visiting the weekly market at the foothills. These dogs would walk some parts of the way backwards, the bag firmly gripped in their jaws.
I could well imagine Yoyo, with his West Highland mountain blood in him, doing this. I suppose life in the West Highlands, where Yoyo’s ancestry lay, also provided jaw-work and climbing of this kind.
Here, in an urban home in Pune, Yoyo would device his own jaw-exercising games and routines. He would regularly delight in grabbing my laundry bag of ironed clothes, weighing easily as much as him at the time, and haul it upstairs, bumping it up step by step, walking backwards.
Two people who came in with heavyish handbags were his favourites, Raju, the electrician, and Sultana, the beautician/massagist. He would jump up on his hind legs, hug their bag with his forelegs, and insist on taking charge of the bag by clamping his jaw on to the handles. They would laugh and give in, and he would then drag their bags upstairs; if they didn’t let him, he would hang on like a limpet and they would have to climb the stairs with him attached to it.
There was also a figure-of-eight ‘pully toy’ that he loved. Once he clamped his powerful jaws on one end, he could yank you all over the yard if you held the other end. Or you could walk briskly with it in your hand with him hanging on with his jaws, on two legs, coming along like a wheely-bag. He was at first used to making allowances for my not so strong shoulders and arms; but when anyone heftier visited, he would bring the toy to them, confident that now he would get a real work-out, instead of the lame one that I would give him. This would include trying to drag the person around the yard, but also pulling hard enough for a seated person’s chair to move along the floor. You could see the look of impressed satisfaction in his eyes when he managed to hook someone really strong into playing this tug game with him, and when that person would hold his or her ground and not be budged by Yoyo’s might.
When he first came, my speaking on the phone meant that he felt ignored and neglected. His idea of terrific fun and a means to pull my attention firmly back to himself, was to attach himself to my jeans-leg with his jaws and fore paws, keep up a steady growl, and get dragged along like a honey badger as I walked in my yard and chatted on the phone. The person at the other end of the line often heard small yelps, curses and laughs from me. If it was a formal call, I would have to lock myself into my office space. Yoyo would then sit outside the door and sigh loudly; if the conversation went on for too long, he would sniff deeply and let out a powerful exhalation, like the wolf who huffed and puffed to blow the three little pigs’ house down.
If I was sitting on my bed watching TV or at my desk working on my computer, he would crouch and then ambush my feet with nips and cuffs and smacks with his front paw. I had begun to wear thick jeans and socks, in defence. Several friends and relatives on the other end of the line thought I was letting this new dog get away with being a crazy brat. If I sat down to read the newspaper on my bed, he would jump on to it and spread himself all over. At times, I would read the newspaper by holding it upright in my hand and pacing the house, with Yoyo attached to my leg, gnawing and growling.
Baiting him to bite was at times great fun, because this brought out the stalk-pounce, stalk-pounce instinct in him. Which made him look ridiculously sweet, with all that faux ferocity. I would wrap and protect my hand in the thickness of a duvet and wiggle it at him. He found this absolutely irresistible, and could not help but pounce on it and bite down hard. His vocabulary was expanding by the day during this time. He learnt to quickly let go, if I let out a yelp and asked him “What?? Serious biting?” We had, this way, established the limits of how severe the fun-biting could get. Sometimes he would realize himself that he was opening his jaws too wide to clamp down on my hand or leg too hard. He would at such times, turn this wide open mouth into a yawn, to save his face, and mine.
I found this description that I wrote to a friend at that time:
It’s pouring and i am trying to keep up the exercise by spot jogging in the house, wearing good running shoes - only to be stopped in my tracks, quite literally, by Yoyo - who finds it such fantastic sport, arranged exclusively for his entertainment, he thinks. He makes a torpedo of himself and comes at you from different angles, ending the impact with a small nip or a large grab of either your calf or your shoes. I shout, I whack, I let my feet and knees bump his skull when he comes at me, but it just thrills him even more. All this makes me jump about most energetically, and that has its advantages. But when I move to floor exercises, he is on top of my head, or trying to flip me over with his snout, like a pancake. So finally I had to trick him out of the room by jogging into the corridor and then sprinting back in and shutting the door on the most hurt and mystified face…
Another game he played with me and with my house help was to romp all around the bed in the morning if anyone tried to make the bed. We would then heap pillows and duvets on him and cover him up completely – he would try to bite our hands through these layers, and we would take our chance to land a few good thumps on his rump.
He too had a code for when he thought we were getting too rough and laughing at him rather than with him. He would emerge from this cotton-heap prison, shake himself, jump off the bed and stalk off. ‘Total nighunjanay’ is what we called this, meaning: G’uame over and a decisive exit in high dudgeon’. But if you called out to him to return and pleaded with him with a sorry sorry, he would delightedly sail through the air back on to the bed, pounce on you, and the game was on again. This time it involved a kind of victory dance in which he dug furiously on the mattress for a few seconds and then whirled round and round and round at top speed, like a wind-up toy, and let out some high pitched yaps looking menacingly, not at us, but at some imaginary assailants in the air.
This sequence remained well beyond puppyhood and till his last year. We would be downstairs and we would hear him upstairs, on his own, digging, rolling, whirling, tossing pillows on my or Mathangi’s or Tatsat’s bed. Someone or the other would call it: “Weda” or “Madman” or as Vijaya the house-help would sum it up: “Yedyachya ispitalaat pathwaa - Belongs in a madhouse” or simply, “Saraklela” – which is unhinged or off-centre.
His puppyhood walk, the toy-train one in which four sections of his body seemed to move slightly independent of each other, now became more polar bear like, padding along on his large paws. And when he walked on his leash (he had developed into a wonderful non-pulling, slack-leash walker), his gait turned into a kind of side-winder like movement. He would walk on a straight road on leash, at a 45 degree angle or slant to the road. And yet we moved forward along the road. I spent many walks trying to figure how he didn’t go off at a tangent, and how the straight road could be negotiated in this slanting way. Yet another sign of his ‘saraklela’ personality. Off-centre, for sure.
Later, I would make a small asymmetrical memorial installation to him, in honour of the physical and mental unhinged elements of his personality. But more on that, later.
His beautiful coat, double, perhaps even triple-layered, now in its prime, needed regular grooming and trimming. He quickly took to this routine. He loved to be brushed and groomed. So that I could have him at working-table level, I would call him up on a chair and from there on to a table, in the garden. It started with me jokingly calling it ‘Beauty Parlour’. Very soon, he would come out from wherever he was, to climb in one fluid move on to a chair and then on to the table or tall stool, as soon as I called out ‘Chalo Yoyo, Beauty Parlour!’ Here too there were many rules of engagement, set down by him. Only a light big-toothed comb for his whiskers and forehead. If there was to be trimming of the snout-fur, it would have to be done deftly and quickly, under the continuous barrage of low-grade growling. Back brushing with a strong bristly brush was always welcome and he would keep moving like the needle of a compass, so that even if you started off with brushing his face, you somehow had his rump under your brush. Paw brushing and checking for ticks was just about tolerated, and you had to keep up a threatening dhamki-voice to keep the growling and the furling of lips in check. Teeth and eye cleaning would be gamely tolerated if done quickly and with chicken-flavoured toothpaste and suchlike. Nail clipping was a whole other ball game, that involved a lot of growling and counter-yelling, but he would kind of let you. He had four dew claws, not removed when little, so those grew into curls and whorls if you didn’t keep them in check. Every click of the clipper was accompanied by a pretend snarl, but the mad fool would get distracted and most engrossed if you gave him the little cut piece of nail to investigate and chew on. Some of my non-dog-lover friends found the Beauty Parlour story plain silly, until they saw it in action. At first they thought it was just the usual anthropomorphizing of animals that dog lovers indulge in. But on the day that my friends David and Charmayne, for example, saw it in action – Yoyo coming out from under some snooze spot, and solemnly getting on to a tall stool when I called out Beauty Parlour – they were charmed muchly.

After it was all done, this grooming session, huge handfuls of fur would be taken off the brushes and gloves, and put into a wire box on the wall. From here, all kinds of birds would come and take away little clumps of his fur in mouthfuls, to line their nests. Once a tailor bird’s empty nest fell to the ground after it was vacated, and we saw that Yoyo’s fur had made up the primary bedding material in there.