Happy Birthday Dimpy
‘Happy birthday Dimpy,’ was embossed on a Facebook picture. It was of a puppy staggering beside a crawling baby — both in a silhouette. My daughter posted it. She lives in Kolkata where she is pursuing her studies in footwear design. She called me in the morning. Among other things, she reminded me of this: “In case you’ve forgotten, today is Dimpy’s birthday.” Indeed, I had forgotten and didn’t pay that much heed to such a paltry incident, such as that of a pet dog’s birthday – a birthday belonging to a dog that had died many years ago. Nevertheless, the Facebook picture in silhouette triggered a forgotten, tender memory and I went through a guilt-tinged journey down memory lane.
As I remember it was a long time ago, perhaps fifteen years ago that both myself and my senior colleague had performed a surgery on a woman in our colliery hospital. Following the surgery, the patient’s husband in a show of gratitude, asked my colleague, “Would you like to have a pup?” My colleague was an avid smoker and instantly agreed. The man left instantly.
“Doctor,” said my astonished colleague, “I’m surprised that the man offered me a puff at a cigarette and didn’t give me one!”
Knowing that the man was a Cocker Spaniel breeder, I recognized what he had meant.
“In all probabilities, he offered you a Cocker Spaniel pup and you mistook the word for ‘a puff,’ sir.” I smiled.
Bound by religious and personal obligations, keeping dogs was taboo in his household. He panicked. After I called my wife at home, she gladly agreed to keep the puppy as a pet. By evening, the female puppy was handed over to my colleague. In turn, my wife and I brought the puppy back home with us.
It was a shaky, cuddly little thing with brown fur and overgrown drooping ears. It started to totter around the house much to the delight of my two daughters, Koel and Doel; each eight and four years old respectively. The pup was christened ‘Dimpy’ and the day of her arrival was decided by my daughters to be observed as the ‘birthday’ of DImpy.
Days passed on. Dimpy was taken to a vet and her immunization schedule was fixed. A general diet chart was stuck to as well. I and my wife, being ‘seasoned’ persons of the world, made separate arrangements for the pup for her stay, food and things like that much to the resentment of our daughters. Dimpy herself showed more inclination towards sleeping with us and having her meals in the same dining table. But it was not to be, understanding that my daughters and the pup did not understand species-specific hierarchies. Dimpy gradually understood her position in the house and accepted it with an unconditional love of all of us. In our snobbery. we would throw a piece of biscuit at her on the floor, but Koel and Doel would always make sure to feed her from their hand. A perfect sisterly bond was created between the three.
One evening, my wife noticed that Dimpy was limping with one of her front legs up. “There must have been some thorn inside her paw,” she told me, “Why don’t you have a look at her paw?”
In spite of my reluctance, I had to have a look and I saw a red rubber band tied just above her paw which dug deep into the skin. With some difficulty, I cut it off with a pair of fine scissors. Knowing that my daughters were fond of playing pranks, I asked them, “Is this the handiwork of either of you?
“I tied a friendship band on Dimpy’s paw earlier this morning,” said Doel with her face lowered.
“And what for?” fumed my wife.
“Today is Friendship Day,” argued little Doel, “I did this to her to have a lasting friendship, as I did to all my friends.”
Dimpy came trudging forward and licked Doel’s hand. Doel offered her a piece of cake which she took gleefully.
Dimpy kept growing up amidst both ignominy and love. Both she took in her stride. She would do anything possible to please the household. Whereas we, the elders continued our vain human ways, reminding her every time of her canine origin the girls kept her close to their bosoms sharing the simplest of food and fun with her. Dimpy would chase the rats, tiptoeing, trying not to make a noise, but however, seemed to only end up making quite a ruckus. The outcome always remained the same, irrespective of whether she could catch the rat or not — she would get a thorough scolding and spanking from my wife — for the commotion she had made in good faith. She would come up with a lowered head and hampered pride. To win back the confidence of the lady-of-the-house, she would crawl, act like a contortionist and finally rub her nose on the feet of her lady. At times, she would bark at the troop of monkeys that infested our garden from time to time. The barking was relentless and the monkeys snubbed her disdainfully. On one occasion, a huge monkey descended from a guava tree to plant a solid slap on Dimpy’s face and she retreated unceremoniously — much to the rebuke of my wife. It was Koel and Doel who consoled Dimpy in her hour of disgrace!
She did not bark at the strangers. Instead, she would wag her tail relentlessly at them only to be stroked or caressed. Whether we agreed to it or not, she always considered humans to be her own. “What’s the use of a dog which doesn’t resist the intrusion of a stranger!” my wife would say. Dimpy would start another bout of contortions. Her self-esteem kept decreasing. Dimpy only attracted full the appreciation of my wife during evening ritual of blowing the conch-shell in front of her house-deities. Dimpy would religiously reply back with a howl resembling a conch-shell trumpet. “She must have been a devoted soul in her last incarnation,” my wife would say me.
I would brush off any fancy suggestion, by saying, some dogs are fond of mimicking sounds.” I am always like that. I like to keep a dog in a dog’s place. I love my pragmatic self. I would occasionally stroke Dimpy’s neck to her warm welcomes when I returned home. I know that she expected more attention.
At the prime of her youth, Dimpy fell for many handsome-looking mongrels — much to the dismay of my wife. “She is going out with the street dogs,” she would complain. But, we never cared to take her for a proper breeding. She deserved her offspring; but who on earth cares that much for a pet!
Ours being a small town, as my daughters grew older we had to send them away to school in order for them to pursue their higher education. We missed them, but Dimpy missed them the most as was evident from her fervent expressions when they came home back on vacations.
As Dimpy approached her tenth year of life she developed a tumor on her mammary gland. We did not pay much attention to it initially, but the tumor kept growing is size gradually until it made it difficult for her to walk or sit. We finally took her to a vet.
“The tumor needs to be removed and that can be done only at Jabalpur in a veterinary hospital,” opined our vet.
Jabalpur was far off from our place and taking a pet all that way there seemed too fashionable. Dimpy was nothing more than a pet to us. I decided to operate on her myself. My hospital wouldn’t let me. After all, who cares about occupational therapy on a dog? I would do it on a table in our verandah, I decided. “What happens if she dies during surgery?” I expressed my apprehensions to my wife.
My wife was perturbed as well. But, finally, we made up our minds. “She is ten already. That’s almost a full span by a dog’s standard. She is as such in a lot of trouble walking and sitting. Either she is cured or she dies on the table. We have to do our best. You have to take the risk,” said my grim-faced wife.
I operated on her on a table in my house with the help of an assistant. We applied a sedative and I removed the tumor securing the veins and finally closing the skin. In an afterthought, it was an absolute foolhardy thing to do with my lack of knowledge about a dog’s anatomy. I had to move out of station the same day and I instructed my wife on further medications before I left. I wondered if my daughters would have allowed me to perform the surgery had they been in town!
Surprise of surprises! As I came back after five days to find Dimpy running merrily in our garden with no tilt whatsoever! In her ecstasy, she stood on her hind legs to show me the operation scar which was almost healed. Then, she started rubbing her nose on my feet in an effort to show gratitude. I felt a pang of profound guilt with my half-hearted effort at helping her.
After some time, I was transferred to another colliery area and Dimpy got adjusted to her new household. She found a sympathizer. He was Chhakkanlal, our domestic help. Chhakkan was a small, bald man of my age and he developed camaraderie with Dimpy. If I thought that bonding with animals was only something that the pure hearts of children were capable of, I was wrong. It’s just that one must have a pure heart; age does not matter. He would play with Dimpy, feed her and take care of her during her scrapes and bruises she had gotten from occasional tussles with stray dogs.
At twelve years of age, Dimpy was sick again. This time, it was terminal. She developed ulcers all over her abdomen and her condition kept deteriorating in spite of all medicines given by me. We did not even think of taking her to a vet, this time around, as there was none nearby. If we had been our daughters, we would have scanned every nook and cranny of our country in search for the best treatment. But for a dog? Enough had been done. A putrid smell emitted from her body and Dimpy was left alone in our garage. Chhakkanlal gave her whatever little food she was able to take. He applied ointment all over her abdomen disregarding the odor. Chhakkanlal caressed her all over to alleviate her pain. Dimpy looked at us with expectant eyes, expecting us to pet her. We remained either preoccupied or were too repulsed by her. We used her foul smell as an excuse
Finally, one day she died in painful condition, putting an end to her disdained canine incarnation. My wife and I, both were present as she was breathing her last. The both of us stroked her neck as a matter of last rites. My wife poured drops of sacred Ganges-water on her mouth. Her eyes roved around; possibly in search of Koel and Doel!
Fittingly enough, Chhakkanlal dug a pit in our backyard where Dimpy was buried and an earthen lamp was lit over her grave for a day. A China-rose sapling was planted by Chhakkan over the place that Dimpy was buried.
Several years ago we moved. I returned back to our previous residence a year after I left on official business a year after I left. I made a detour to my old residence, upon the insistence of my wife. There in the backyard, we spotted Chhakkanlal; kneeling below the China-rose tree laden with dark red flowers. He was lighting a small candle fixed on a spot. Then we suddenly remembered: that was Dimpy’s birthday!
Short Story©Debaprasad Mukherjee
Photo ©Shawn Forrey