An excerpt from Anjana Balakrishnan’s book ‘ The dog we stole’.

Anjana Balakrishnan's indie dog named Her Majesty Begum Pathumma sits on a yellow mattressAnjana Balakrishnan
Features Book Excerpt Tuesday, January 12, 2021 - 16:32

It was a Sunday evening in June. Sometime during the Covid lockdown, evening tea had become our ritual. Work had grown between us like vegetation. Untended. It had spilled over beyond daylight, toppling dishes on the lunch table, climbing up the tall promise of evenings and extending its tendrils well into the crevices of the night. We barely saw each other. We slept at different times, ate separately and lived separate lives under the same roof. Once we realised that something needed to be done to save time from the transgressions of work, we set things in motion. First, both of us marked time on our calendars for tea. 4.30 pm was to be sacrosanct. Then we decided on the garden chairs and table in the balcony overlooking the raintree as the venue and cleaned it up. To make teatime more of an occasion, we began indulging in elaborate snacks. At 4.30 pm sharp, we would head out to our balcony with our mugs of tea and sundal or roasted peanuts or poha or upma and sit there talking about our day, judging people who were out and about, ignoring the pandemic.

It was during one such teatime that we noticed a dog scurrying up and down our lane, as if in search of something. From our perch upon the branches of the grand old raintree, the dog seemed to be limping and scared. It’s tail was between its legs, its head was hanging lower and there was panic in its steps. Like proper city people, we ignored it all through tea time. As you know, in the city, if you see something, it becomes your problem. As composed as we were about ignoring this dog, the tea we drank had other plans for us. She worked her way down to our cold hearts, warming them, sprouting the idea that we are the society we often accuse of being apathetic. And just like that, our sacrosanct tea time was unceremoniously cut short. Armed with the bravery that now coursed through our veins, we grabbed a supply of Marie biscuits and water and headed down for the “rescue”. 

A possessed teenager

The scurrying dog turned out to be a female indie pup with beaglesque ears. A scared yet friendly little puppy who belonged to someone. She had a metal link collar with a bright green plastic rope used for laundry lines around her neck. She had hurt her hind leg and was limping as if it were broken. Of course we assumed it was broken. After all that’s the most common injury you see in street dogs. Have you ever stopped to think why that’s the commonest injury? It’s because they are hit while they are trying to run away. Humans are the absolute worst. I should get a t-shirt made. While I concerned myself with merchandising my thoughts, our hearts were turning to puddle. She was so trusting that she ate the biscuits we gave, sat with us for a bit and then came right home with us.

Once she got home all hell broke loose. She ran around the house like a possessed teenager. We tried to contain her but then decided against it. I sat on the ground, my heart weak and leaking into my organs. My sense of cleanliness that had been misplaced in the wake of the pandemic, popped her ugly head out of the kitchen. How long is this creature going to be around, she asked. Do you know how long she has been on the streets? Or where her legs have been? Are you going to allow her on the couch? I was channeling my nastiest response when I felt a warmth in my lap. 

The little runner had finished her marathon practice and was climbing into my lap. She sat down, positioning her head in the crook of my arm, as if she had done this many times before. She was warm, running a fever. But it felt like her glossy, caramel coat would always be warm to the touch. I stroked her milky white snout and forehead as her eyes fell asleep. She was shaking. I applauded her bravery with even strokes to her pure white belly. Her legs had pulled up their white ankle socks of fur like a renewal of her faith. I stroked them for good measure. And there we sat in the middle of the room, watching her sleep.

Due diligence 

As the narrator, I could take the liberty to say that we did our due diligence finding her parents. But that would be a thick coat of lies over the knowledge that we were going to keep her. Rewind to Sunday when we found her. When we interrupted tea to go meet Her Majesty, we had had a quick discussion. An indie dog is unlikely to be claimed. Okay? Okay. 

Since it was Sunday, my human took her to CUPA to get her checked out. Her leg was not broken but her fever was from an infection. The vet sent her home with a cone to keep her from licking her wounds. She was around 6 months old. I arranged this jigsaw of information into a poster with her photo. The giant cone around her slim neck resembled an avant garde ruff. She walked around like a drunk ruffian. In the cone she had little peripheral vision in this strange house. She banged into furniture and scraped the walls as she walked.   

We circulated the poster in two community WhatsApp groups and a Facebook group. Why did we trust the efficiency of English posters without question? Did we really think that we would find in our WhatsApp circle, the person who had used laundry rope as a leash? Now that you have a peek into our privilege, you know how hard we tried. After a week of that charade, we asked a fantastic dog rescuer we knew to help place her for adoption. Meanwhile, we named this dog we stole, Her Majesty Begum Pathumma.

This excerpt from 'The Dog We Stole' by Anjana Balakrishnan has been published with permission.

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