If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

The third child

Our third child arrived when my wife and I were on the wrong side of forty, with two kids in their teens. A new arrival at such a time would normally cause some embarrassment. But this one didn’t, because he was a tiny little fox terrier puppy. He had a smooth white coat with black and brown patches, a long snout and a pair of mischievous button eyes. He was a spirited little thing that fitted onto a large palm, but wouldn’t stay there beyond seconds. He was the only male puppy in the litter, much more flamboyant than his docile sisters. We fell for him head over heels.

Since early puppyhood, he considered it a sacred duty to chase anything that moved, from double-decker buses to cockroaches to his own tail. I would say his tail was singularly lucky as he could never reach it. But in the process, he went round in a circle like a whirlwind. For this reason, he was christened Chorki, which means Catherine Wheel in Bangla. But Chorki could at best be a pet name; we named him Chakradhar Sinha Chaudhuri for formal occasions.


We expected him to cry on his first night at our home, that was what the pet-care books said. But he didn’t. He slept happily in a basket lined with soft cloth. At that time, we thought it was a sign of self-confidence, but later, we realised that it indicated, let me be honest, a streak of selfishness. He was not one to lose sleep over emotional issues.

That doesn’t mean he was devoid of emotions. He was still small when he did something that warranted a reprimand, the first in his young life. Early in the morning he got an earful. An hour or two later, as I was about to leave for office, my wife said Chorki couldn’t be seen. We searched our flat thoroughly, but he was nowhere. Normally, he would come rushing if anyone even whispered “Chorki!”, but that morning, there was no response to our frantic shouts. We were sure he had left the house at an unguarded moment. We lived in a busy road; a puppy wouldn't survive there for more than minutes. We braced ourselves for the worst.

He was found standing stiffly behind a curtain at the back of a TV, squeezing himself in the narrow gap between the curtain and the wall. When I picked him up, he turned his head away and looked elsewhere absently.

When Chorki was about two years old, we moved to a new flat. He was in his prime, an exceedingly agile and boisterous dog. He would express both happiness and dissatisfaction by barking loudly. Unfortunately for us and our neighbours, he would feel happy or displeased quite often. The Parnasree bus stand is about a hundred metres from our flat. If someone asked for the direction to our house, we would say, “Get off at Parnasree bus stand and wait for five minutes or less. You’ll hear a dog barking in a shrill voice. Follow the bark to reach our house.”

We hadn’t read Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat when we brought Chorki home. If we had, we would have known that some fox terriers are born with “twice as much of original sin”. The man who sold him – he was a genuine cheat – said with a straight face that no dog in Chorki’s line had ever bitten anyone. (“Believe me sir, Ma Kalir dibbi!”) We were na├»ve enough to trust him. It was even more foolish to repeat the claim to Chorki’s vet. Dr. Samanta smiled through a corner of his lips and said, “Let’s see, let him be eighteen months old. I am yet to come across a fox terrier that doesn’t bite.”

The day our son Ritwik was bitten by Chorki was the day he completed eighteen months of puppyhood and became a dog. Apparently, he liked the adult activity and repeated it many a time, often on unsuspecting admirers who tried to be too friendly despite our warnings. I have lost count of the number of prophylactic anti-Rabies injections we purchased and handed over to Chorki’s victims, besides offering profuse apologies. He is “one of those dogs that give dogs a bad name”, and make their owners a hated family.

But that was Mr. Hyde. There was also a Dr. Jekyll living between his shoulders. That Chorki was adorable, sweet, intelligent and ever ready for sport. Fetching a ball or a Frisbee was his favourite pastime. He would go on doing it for hours. Our arms would ache, but he wouldn’t give up. He would observe the thrower’s body language and try to guess the direction in which the ball would go. In nine out of ten cases, he would get it right. The next thing he liked most was to play a tug of war with a Tennicoit ring. He wouldn’t let go his side. If I lifted him up, he would hang on to the ring for many minutes.

For his size, he had incredibly strong jaws. If something on our rooftop caught his fancy, he would immediately bring it home. Once he tried for hours to take a bamboo pole through the terrace door. On that occasion, he encountered enormous problems and a rare defeat. But he would regularly carry bricks and small flowerpots home. At times, half way through the journey, he would lose interest in his mission and drop the flowerpot on the staircase. It was for us to clean up the mess.

He was a guard dog who slept rather well. One morning, there was an accident in our kitchen. A grain of daal got stuck in the nozzle of the pressure cooker. For some reason, the safety valve didn’t open. Under intense pressure, the gasket gave away at one side and the pressure cooker was flung in the opposite direction, just like a rocket. Fortunately, no one was in the kitchen. The cooker flew into the kitchen sink and the dishes broke with a huge clang. Our neighbours in the next flat were alarmed by the noise and came in to enquire.

But Chorki slept through the commotion peacefully.

He did try to contribute though. Thanks to him, our house has been free from cockroaches and lizards. Roaches were easy preys, but lizards were slightly difficult game. When he found a lizard on the wall, he would wait patiently for hours, and if the lizard made the mistake of climbing down, he would pounce upon the poor fellow. Chorki is old now, he wouldn’t chase even a dodo, but the cockroaches of our locality have been taught over generations that our house is a danger zone; even now, they don’t venture into our flat.

When I left my job and returned to Kolkata, he was no longer young. He slept under my writing desk for as long as I worked. And he would dutifully wake me up at five in the morning. Being a slightly pot-bellied middle aged male like me, he too needed his morning constitutional. I had no respite, even in the winter or on rainy days. We often walked on the terrace. I chose the longest diagonal and walked back and forth from end to end. Chorki followed, ten paces behind, at a slower pace. He cheated on exercising. As soon as I turned around at one end, he too made a U turn ahead of me. So effectively, for every fifty metres I covered, he walked only about thirty.

Chorki will be fifteen next month. Three years ago, he saw death from close quarters after undergoing a major surgery. This year, the winter in Kolkata has been the severest and longest in living memory. The temperature has been in low tens for almost a month. Chorki went into near hibernation. He would stay put in his bed, under a blanket. At times, he seemed to have stopped breathing. Even when he got up, he would walk gingerly and take care to keep the blanket over him wherever he went. But he had no complaints. He seemed to be enjoying the period of inactivity too.


The cold northern wind from the lake opposite to our house stopped blowing this morning. There is spring in the air. Chorki cast his blanket away and nudged me for a morning walk after months. He looks chirpy. He has weathered another winter.

I hope when I meet up with the near inevitability called old age, I would be able to face it with the grace and equanimity of Chakradhar.

Kolkata, 26 January 2010

13 comments:

  1. I can appreciate your closeness.
    I had a German Shepard.He was 11yrs,but we lost him because of wrong medication by the vet in Delhi.

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  2. Chorki seems to be an apt name.
    My husband is extremely fond of dogs and it is his dream to keep one, but I always say no. I have raised 2 children and I sincerely lack the energy to raise another one. Moreover a tiny flat in Mumbai is no place for a dog.
    But every thing said and done, a dog can completely change one's outlook. They are capable of loving you unconditionally and bring a lot of happiness in your world.

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  3. How sweet, Santanu da! Thought we would get another freeze frame of the cuddly third child with his doting parents! Was just trying to visualise Chorki doggedly chasing a cockroach and its tail and in the latter case, it would be the classic instance of the tail wagging the dog (no offence, Santanu da, it’s for the sake of the idiom) and I share your embarrassment when he’s Hyde, growling and barking, before, you know what..., scaring the unsuspecting 'do-gooder' out of his wits and putting a perfect nail to the age-old adage, ‘barking dog never bites’!

    And Chorki immediately reminds us of the squirrel in Ray’s “Samapti”, which at an opportune time flits out of Mrinmoyee’s (played by Aparna Sen)clutches, creating a virtual ruckus in Kishoribabu’s house where Amulya (Saumitra Chatterjee) had come to choose his bride, choking him with unending bouts of hiccups.....

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  4. Sir just looking at Chorki's pictures is making me cry thinking of my own two dogs that I lost. Since I am still down with flu, I shall come back and read and give a heartfelt comment. It won't do for me to cry now, but one thing! Chorki looks like a darling! I feel like stroking his nose and saying "Atta boy chorki!" :)

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  5. I HAVE SEEN CHORKI, NEVER TRIED O BECOME FRIENDLY WITH HIM, THAT IS WHY HE SPARED ME , CHORKI, IN DEED IS A BEAUTIFUL CREATION OF GOD , I WISH HIM LONG AND PEACEFUL LIFE.

    NOW ABOUT THIS PARTICULAR PIECE OF WRITING , DADA, YOU ARE NOT JUST WRITING, YOU ARE, IT SEEMS ,SPEAKING TO US THROUGH YOUR WRITINGS,

    GREAT WORK , DADA

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  6. chorkhi is such a lovely name for the chirpy being. We all hope to age gracefully and with dignity, to have such a lovely example right in front of the eyes must be great

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  7. I am so inspired by the way of ur writing sir.. I am also staying at parnashree, kolkatta temporarily. Definitely heard a dog bark some where in the vicinity. Guessing it would be yours :D

    http://zabishah.blogspot.com

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  8. Many biographies are not read by the ones on whom they were written. Incidentally, those biographies tend to become even more valuable. Chorki's bio will also not be read by him but he will also be adorably held by all so many of us. I never had a pet dog but have witnessed many like you who did. I'm certain they do add worth to our living. Thanks for the article.

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  9. A big thank you to you all.

    Zabi, Great to find a new reader. How did you find my blog? Have just been to the spicy tales of your life. Will be back with my comments.

    Asit, Thanks for your comments. I am delighted that you liked it.

    Sujata, Thanks. Yes, indeed there are things around us that can teach us a lot. I am quite happy to learn from Chorki. But there is a flip side too. My wife complains that of late, I've become as snappy as my dog!

    Bimochan, I hope Chorki is not the reason you visit us so rarely! Thanks for your comments, you inspire me.

    Vaishnavi, Get well soon and do come back.

    Kaushik, Yes indeed, the squirrel in Samapti was very much on our mind when we named Chorki. But it didn't occur to me before you said it: Chorki is a living proof that even proverbs can be utterly incorrect!

    Aparna, About having a pet, pl give it a thought. It would be great for the children. But later, you won't be able to blame me. I did warn you!

    Mr. Chowla, Isn't the Net a wonderful thing that allows us to find out kindred souls across thousands of miles? I can guess how you felt.

    Best wishes to you all.

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  10. You really write fantastic !!I am happy to see your blog @@

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  11. Chorki is such an uncommon and cute name. we have a brat called buster and I can well understand what it feels like to have a pet around. All the pains ne takes to care for it turns fruitful with one nudge from the pet..

    enjoyed the post..

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  12. Sir, I hope Chorki lives long yet. Please tell him I said hi :) I have begun a book blog called Dust Jacket http://timtamtomika.blogspot.com
    Please do visit it :)

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  13. I had plans to write a piece on my caninophobia and put it up on my blog. After reading your post on Chorki, I have shelved it!

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