Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Last Heavy Walk

Holding her in my arms, slowly and very carefully I climbed down the stairs. She was very weak and could not stand up by herself, let alone walk. I had to be very careful in the way I held her so as not to hurt her more than what she was already going through. Sally gave me an affectionate lick expressing her gratitude. I pressed my forehead against her's, something I had been doing for the seven years since we got her as a puppy. I never understood who or what God is, but at that moment I was praying, as hard as never before, with the utmost sincerity I could muster in my 12 year old heart to God to turn the tide and prevent the inevitable. A reluctant tear dropped from my eyes on to her cheeks. Before she could sense my emotions, I laid her down in her favorite corner of the garden where she could relieve herself.

Sally was my friend, a confidante with whom I could share anything. I would tell her my worries, my fears, and she would listen patiently without judging me. I have spent entire evenings playing with her. I have cried on her furry shoulders while she would try her best to lick my sadness away. It was all going to end soon, much sooner than any of us wanted to. I could not share my sadness with her. I needed to be strong for her. To be there with her in her final days. I lay on my bedroom floor looking at her, my mind flooding with all the memories that we'd shared in the past 7 years. There were our little secret which would never be told to anybody else. Who will I talk to once you are gone, Sally? She opened her eyes meekly. I think she sensed my sadness. You are going to get through this, I tell her. But her resigned look told me that she also knew what was coming. 

We first noticed something was wrong two weeks earlier. I had taken her for her daily evening walk, and we did a small jog on our way back. Being the lazy dog that she was, she didn't like jogging much so she was lagging behind. When we reached home, she suddenly froze for a moment and then collapsed on the ground on her side. I didn't know what was happening. She was up within a few seconds, but the sight of her falling like that scared me. Her heart has become weak, the vet told us. She does not have much longer to live. Our world was collapsing around us. What do you mean she does not have long to live, I wanted to ask. You are a doctor, you are supposed to know how to cure these things. What is the use of being a doctor if you can strengthen a weak heart or save a life?

I was angry and I didn't know whom to blame. Was the vet at fault because she wasn't able to make Sally better? Was Sally to blame for being in the state that she is? Or was I the culprit for forcing her to run when I knew she did not like it? Later that night, I snuggled to my mother and hugged her tight. You are also a doctor Ma, can't you do something for Sally? She patted my head in the way only mothers do. We can give her some medicines which would make her live a bit longer. But she is going to get very weak soon. And the longer we keep giving her the medicines, the longer she will suffer. It is a tough decision we have to make.

Sally's last day had finally arrived. I wished that the night would never end. Let morning never come, dear God, let this night remain dark. But it didn't. Daylight broke and I was all ready for school the earliest I could be. Sally would be taken to the vet one last time while me and my siblings were away at school. I wanted to spend as much time as I could with her. Her head on my lap, we sat without any words being uttered. The silence and the finality of the situation did all the talking. My father put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed it. Its time for you to go or you will be late to school, he said. Just one more minute Pappa, just one last minute more. I kissed her cheeks for one last time. No more of your fur on my clothes Sally. No more will I be welcomed home with that black wagging tail. No more will anybody beg me to share the snack I'm eating. Will you miss me as much I will miss you Sally?

It was the toughest walk to school. I wanted to go back and be with her. I wanted to cry without anybody seeing me do so. You could not make it rain, could you God? You could not do anything to wash away the tears that wanted to come out but could not. Do you even exist God? Why are you so sad today, my friends asked me. My dog is being put to sleep, I tell them. They laugh at me. Look at him, they say. Crying over a dog. Just get another one na, some suggest. How do I explain to them that you can't just get another dog? How do I tell them that it isn't a toy, where if one is gone you buy another. She is my Sally for heaven's sake. She will always be my Sally.

When I reached home in the afternoon, everybody was sad. We ate our food in complete silence, as if the first word spoken would shift the delicate balance of our universe. Will you take me where she is buried? I asked my parents. Yes, we will go there today evening.

I plucked the biggest flower from the garden before going. Sally was gone, and all we had left were the beautiful memories. She will always be there in our hearts, Ma said. Try to remember the love we shared for 7 years more than the last 10 days. I told them to leave me alone near her grave for a few minutes. I'll miss you Sally. Wherever you are now, I know you must be sharing your love because that's what you always did best. I placed the flower on the stone marking her resting place. I have got you your favorite biscuits Sally, will you eat them? I opened the biscuit packet I was carrying and held the biscuit forward in my hand. I could not take it any longer. My eyes pinched close as the tears finally started flowing. My mind couldn't keep them inside any longer.

Suddenly I felt a tiny mouth attempting to pick the biscuit from my hand. I opened my eyes and there was a little brown puppy with tiny floppy ears looking at me in anticipation and wagging it's tail. Are you hungry? I asked the puppy who started wagging even more furiously. You are so dirty, you need to have a bath. Come with me, let me clean you up a bit. I picked up the puppy and went back to my parents who were waiting for me. Somewhere deep beneath the ground, Sally smiled.

Sunday, June 21, 2015


I scraped the last bit of scrambled eggs from the pan on to the plate. The bread was in the toaster and the coffee was ready. Archana entered the kitchen as I was just finishing laying out the plate for her. She had just showered and had the fresh morning look which amazed me every time.

"That does smell and look good. Any special occasion, dear husband?"

"I'm in a very good mood today morning, dear wife. Especially after last night." I winked.

Didn't I love seeing those cheeks turn red. We sat on the table for our breakfast.

"Looks like Mili had a good night's sleep yesterday, so you should not have much trouble today morning."

"I actually love the fact that I get to spend more time with our daughter than you. How many fathers can say that eh? We always have a blast together without you around."

"Some people also say that I'm an irresponsible mother, working while my child is yet to even start walking. What do you say to that?"

"Just that those people don't realize the joy of switching roles from time to time. You just worry about bring home enough money for us to pay our bills and I'll worry about taking care of the house."

She squeezed my arm.

"You do know how much I appreciate you doing this, don't you?"

"You are doing the real hard work, I'm just sitting at home lazing around and spending time with my daughter. So if we are done with all the sentimental talk, off you go to work."

"Before I go, I want to remind you to do something about that compost pit you have started in the garden. Its beginning to smell bad."

"It is a compost pit. It will smell bad for some time. But then you just wait and see how well our plants turn out. Shoo now."

Archana left for her office. I checked the baby timetable that she had kept for me. The next feeding was due in a couple of hours.

I liked this feeling of not having any work pressure and the time that my situation gave me. It was a tough decision, but I was glad for it. Traditionally a mother gives up her career to care for a child. In our case, Archana had a better job and a better salary than me, so it made some sense for her to continue working while I could care for the baby. And I insisted on it.

Sitting on the sofa, I opened the newspaper. All depressing news as usual. Economy is down, blasts occurring in some remote corner of the world, a burglary here and there. My eyes stopped at a news article about a missing corporate tycoon, Karan Joshi. Wasn't that name familiar? Of course it was. We were in college together, in fact we were at that time thinking of starting a venture together before life happened and things didn't turn out the way we thought they would. The article said he was last seen going out for lunch from his office and did not return. His phone was found in a dustbin next to the office building. It had been a week now but there was still no trace of him. There hadn't been any ransom call yet but the police weren't sure of ruling out kidnapping.

Did I feel bad about it? I wasn't sure. He was my best friend in college, my only confidante. The idea on which he built his company was my idea, and I ended up not being a part of it. While I was trying to make my ends meet, he was pitching the business plan to various investors connected to his rich father and managed to get an initial investment. One thing led to another and he became one of the youngest business heads. All of it, started with my idea, not his. And now he was missing. Did I feel bad about it? Maybe a bit for his family, but not for him.

I remembered Archana had told me to do something about the smell in the compost pit. Maybe I should put more soil on it to reduce the smell. As I shoveled soil into the pit, I felt a surge of anger. It should have been the both of us who would succeed together. My idea did not benefit me. You son of a bitch Karan, you stink. Literally. I do hope the worms and insects are feasting on you right now. I hope they finish you fast so that the smell can reduce before Archana gets more inquisitive about this compost pit.

I washed away the dirt and checked the time. It was time for Mili's feed. I took her bottle and went to her. She looked at me with a twinkle in her eyes. I love you my child, and I will make sure that nobody plays with your dreams ever.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Always Late!

I checked my watch yet again, as if the more I check the time, the faster my bag will arrive. I was pretty sure that I could identify at least four different bags that had circulated the carousel more than five times but my bag did not turn up even once. What the hell were those airline ground staff paid for?

My phone rang. It was my sister Sayali.

"Did you fall asleep in the plane? What is taking you so long?" she barked.

"Is it my fault now that my plane gets delayed and my bag refuses to arrive?"

"Give all the excuses you want, you are always late for everything. You know the memorial service starts in 30 minutes right?"

"Yes my dear, I know that. I will change at the airport itself and come directly to the church. The airline has already pissed me off quite bad, I don't need you to make me feel worse."

"Blame me for every damn thing now. I hope you know where the hall is. It is behind....."

"Stop it now. I also grew up in the same town as you. Okay, I see my bag now. See you in a few minutes." 

I cut the phone. Do all sisters like to micro-manage everything? She may be older than me, but I'm 28 now and she still treats me like a five year old kid.

I rushed with my bag to the restroom to change into more formal attire. Damn, I should have worn the suit before taking off. I quickly changed into the suit and was sitting in the cab in 10 minutes.

On a normal day, it should take about 10 minutes from the airport to the church, but since Murphy's law applied to the situation, there was a big traffic jam. My phone rang again.

"Where are you now?" Sayali asked.

"I'm sitting on my ass in the cab and there is a big traffic jam."

"Why do I have a feeling that you are still at the airport?"

"So I'm a liar now? Wait, let me open the window. Can you hear the honking outside? Or do you need more proof?"

"Its no use yelling at me. You were one of his favorites, not me. Couldn't you have come a day earlier?"

"Listen, its no use talking in retrospect. I'm trying my best here. So please cut me some slack."

"Fine" she said and cut the phone.

One word "fine", but it can have different connotations when it is said by a girl, none of which is the actual dictionary meaning of the word. But she was right. I was one of Francis sir's favorite. 

Francis D'Souza was my high school teacher, though mentor would be a better word. He literally held my hand through all my struggles grasping math, often staying after school hours to provide me individual tutoring. If it wasn't for him, I would never have had the courage to become a teacher myself later in life. He made me fall in love with numbers and that was the basis of everything else in my life and career. We kept in touch even after I moved out of the city to work, though the past year it regressed. His health was failing him with age and I was too busy with my work to pay him a visit. That was till I got the phone call two days back. He had passed away. All the guilt of neglecting him came crashing on me. I hadn't seen him for over a year and now the only way I would remember him would be sleeping peacefully in his coffin.

Finally the cab reached the destination. I hastily paid the driver and rushed towards the church with my bag tagging along. Oh wait! Where was the hall exactly? I saw a priest walking by.

"Excuse me, Father. Can you please tell me where Mr. D'Souza's memorial service is being conducted?"

"Sure. If you go towards the front entrance of the church, then its in the hall on your left."

I thanked him and hurried. Luckily I was only 10 minutes late.

I entered the hall. The coffin was right in the front and there were about 8 people sitting on the benches. I could not see Sayali there. There was a slight sense of victory here. I'm the one who is always late, it it?

I had never met his family before. I approached the old lady sitting in the front, who I assumed would be his wife.

"Mrs. D'Souza, I want to offer my deepest condolences for your loss. He was a great man."

"Thank you, child. May I ask who you are? Sorry, but I've never seen you before." she said.

"I was his student. One of his favorites in fact."

The man sitting nearby came over. 

"Really?" he said tersely. "What exactly did he teach you?"

"Everything that he knew. He loved his job. I used to struggle a lot earlier, but he made me feel comfortable. He was my inspiration and I followed his footsteps into my career. I owe him my life, my career, everything."

The man gave me a disgusted look and walked out of the hall. I could not understand what I had said that offended him. I sat down next to the lady and held her hand.

"Ma'm, if there is anything I could do for you, please let me know. It would mean a lot to me." I said.

She pulled her hand away and turned her back towards me. I looked around. Everybody was looking at me suspiciously. Nobody said anything.

I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was the priest who had given me directions earlier. 

"Can you please come with me for a moment, son?" he asked gently.

We walked out of the hall.

"Now, I see that you have made these people very uncomfortable." he said.

"I don't know what is happening. I just told them that Mr. D'Souza was my teacher and how special he was to me."

"Trevor taught you, is it?" 

"Who is Trevor?" 

"Trevor D'Souza, the man whose memorial this is. He used to be an actor, you know. Not the normal theater or movies. He used to work in those .. umm ... adult films. You know what I'm saying? The family did not like his profession, so they do not talk about it."

"Oh my God! I am here for Mr. Francis D'Souza's memorial. He was my school teacher."

"Oh, that is being held in the hall behind the church."

I thanked him and hurried towards the correct hall. Well, that explained the looks that I got. Hell, what was I talking?

The hall was almost full. I scanned the crowd and located Sayali who was sulking. She had kept a seat next to her empty for me. I quietly went and sat next to her. I knew what was coming.

"Thank you for coming before they finished the service. What is your excuse now?"

"I don't have any excuse. You won't believe what just happened. I reached the church and ..."

"Just shut up. Excuses and more excuses. I don't want to listen to any of your stories. You are always late!"

Based on an incident in the book "The Skin Collector" by Jeffrey Deaver.