We were driving back from the shop. The car had passed through the campus and entered the road leading to my house. Then I saw the dog limping along in a spiritless manner. I stopped the car and got down to look at the dog. It raised one leg as if to invite me to take a look.
Shanti said that he appeared to be in pain, and we decided to take him to the vet for a look. He diagnosed a fracture and dressed him up, luxurious padding around the entire leg. We took him home to the great excitement of Nikhil, my 12-year-old son.
Apart from being hurt, the dog looked reasonably clean and healthy. We suspected that there would be some owner somewhere desperately seeking a lost dog. So we started calling up the campus friends to enquire whether they got news about a lost dog. They promised to make enquiries.
Alam mentioned a caretaker on the campus who he heard had lost a dog. He gave me a phone number and said that I should check. I called the number, and a middle-aged voice answered. He had indeed lost a dog and said he would come by and see us.
We got around to making our dog comfortable. Nikhil, my son, started calling him Buddy for want of a name. Buddy bonded with Nikhil quite well. He would follow him around the house with his game leg.
Buddy dominated the Sunday weekly Zoom meeting with my family. My parents in Kottayam had no clue about dogs and were uncharacteristically silent. My brother’s family in Zug in Switzerland own Rudy, a German Shepherd and hence was considered the authority in the family on canine lores. Buddy elicited all-around admiration for his calm and quiet forbearance in suffering the fracture. Cute was a qualifier thrown around in abundance.
The following week was busy with telephone calls about Buddy’s well being. He was recovering well, retaining his stoicism through the difficult recovery period. He had started eating without any fuss over the food placed before him. He and Nikhil were inseparable.
Another Zoom session and Buddy was the main topic. My brother’s family had thought deeply about the Buddy situation and had suggestions on inducting Buddy into the family. My brother Joseph suggested various tests to measure Buddy’s bonding coefficient. Priya bhabhi was for a series of meditation therapies to be administered weekly. She said she could organize it online. Rahul suggested tests to measure his intelligence, especially the artificial variety.
Shanti had stories about how Buddy raided the kitchen, jumping onto the platform, prying open a covered dish full of cutlets and gulping down a few before being caught. The theory advanced to explain this was that Buddy being on his own, had developed super-canine skills to search and find food. There was an active discussion on weaning away Buddy from his ‘criminal tendencies.
I called Balram, the caretaker, and he said again that he would drop in. I found it strange that an owner caring enough to spread the news that he had lost a dog was not prompt in reclaiming him. Finally, one day he came. He had his young daughter Vidhi with him. She said that she had finished college. Vidhi was full of stories about how clever Buddy was. It was apparent that she cared for the dog. I was relieved that her affection would be a good enough reason for them to take the dog away.
Balram said that the dog was a stray without having a particular owner. So he and other caretakers gave him food. They had bought dog food from the market for Buddy. When another dog was taken for vaccination, Buddy was also included. Vidhi called him Snoopy but was okay with his new name. She said that each house Buddy visited for food had a name for him.
Balram did not appear to be enthusiastic about taking Buddy back. He said that Buddy seemed to be liking his new environment and that we should wait until his full recovery. “There is also the matter of removing the plaster, further visits to the doctor”, Balram said. “It is better if Saheb takes care of all of this.” “Ithminan se karo” (do it leisurely), he advised seeing my harassed face. I wondered how to broker the ownership transfer proposition to Balram without appearing callous. Vidhi was inconsolable that she could not repossess Snoopy-Buddy.
Buddy was busy next week exploring the nooks and corners of the house under the enthusiastic guidance of Nikhil. Buddy was recovering well, and we took him to the doctor to remove the plaster. The doctor congratulated us for looking after Buddy during his recovery.
I informed Balram of the new situation. The insistent pressure by Nikhil had made Shanti and me into Buddy-lovers. But I thought it gross to ask Balram whether he would sell Buddy to us.
After many more telephone calls, Balram finally appeared with Vidhi. She scooped up the dog in her arms and left cooing sweet nothings in his ear. Nikhil was nowhere to be seen. The house appeared lost without Buddy and his restless wandering.
The next few days were intolerable, with a forlorn Nikhil and woebegone Shanti. I suggested driving out to the Mulshi lake, but the idea was vetoed outright. ‘Let us mourn in peace’, appeared to be the message. The idea of going to where Balram stayed to look for the dog was also rejected.
Then, one day, as I opened the front door in the morning to pick up the newspaper, there sat Buddy, with an expectant look on his intelligent face. “Buddy visit?”. I asked him as I picked up the paper. He wagged his tail to say,
“Buddy stay!”. Then, when I went inside the house, he followed me, as though he had done it always.