Love letter: To my dog
I learn the salve of a love with an unswerving focus, a love that disregards my (many) imperfections, a love that is unacquainted with insincerity.
I have been interrupted in the writing of this piece three times already.
Once, to pry loose a brand new book from the jaws of the Dog.
The second time I found a pair of innocent, baleful eyes staring at me from behind a clot of freshly-laundered clothes on the kitchen floor.
The third time was to peel him off my adoring cook, to whom he has developed a strong attachment. (In return, she calls him 'ghar ka rajah' and has long conversations with him.)
Dog, variously called Toto, Totva, jalebibaby, cuddlepuff and you-brat-stop-chewing-that, has an indefatigable appetite. It is his defining feature. He eschews his boiled mince in favour of consuming toys, cardboard boxes, that speck of dust on the floor, my hair (with my head still attached to it), socks, chappals, wooden fencing, tea-coloured poop on the footpath, a crow feather, a calendar nudged off my work-desk, my bathmat, his bed sheet, my bed sheet, cushions, various leashes and every collar and harness that he can manoeuvre into his mouth. He is a scrap of determination, a furry ball of will; almost nothing can keep him from his chosen comestible. I have begun to chart the landscape by his tastebuds.
Within a month of his arrival, he has made 1. A Mortal Enemy, a bobble of a bulldog who lives elsewhere in my building, and 2. A Girlfriend, slender, long-legged Sophie from the building opposite. At home, he has a queue of infatuated swain—my entire family, of course, but also my father's taciturn driver, our maid, our gentle-voiced cook, the vegetable vendor, the chemist's delivery boy, and the paowala who brings us our laadi pao every Sunday morning.
But it was not always so.
Toto was abandoned several months ago. He was urged, trusting and unsuspecting, out of a fancy car onto the road in front of my building, and left there while the car drove away.
As a result, his heart is hollowed by insecurity. He starts at the slightest sound outside our front door, letting off a volley of warning barks. He follows us everywhere around the house, scratching pathetically at closed doors. After a bath, I find him draped outside my door, waiting wild-eyed for me to emerge. Outside, his insecurity swells to panic, as he lunges and growls at men in uniform, other dogs, people with bags, anyone, anyone at all.
In response, I, fierce with love, pour all my heart into him. He is learning slowly to dim his fears, to walk through the world in a more trusting way. And I learn also. I learn to read every twitch of his tail, every truculent furrow of his brow. I learn patience, firmness, calm. I learn the salve of a love with an unswerving focus, a love that disregards my (many) imperfections, a love that is unacquainted with insincerity.
I learn something else too. I learn not to fill my dog with the stories I ascribe to him, not to lose my mind too fully in him, not to colonise his reality with my fears and hopes and dreams. And this was the hardest lesson of all.