This story is neither about the erratic Indian weather, nor am I here for the usual banter that I pass off as poetry. Instead, I’m going to narrate a true incident that happens to associate itself with last winter, hence the title. I’m here to talk about my first adopted pup, and of the bittersweet period of ten days that brushed past my life and taught me what twenty years of institutional education could not. Note that I will be referring to my pup as ‘he’ and ‘him’ for I am yet to decide a name for him, and you’ll soon discover why. So, here goes.
By the time I brought them home from the street, he and his siblings had become orphaned and the latter had become terribly weak. Unfortunately, the siblings did not survive the biting cold that this year’s winter was, and the fact that they had had no access to mother’s milk at their tender and vulnerable age of one month did not help. He was the only one who I believed would survive. And why wouldn’t I? He had always been the strongest of the lot. The morning following the day I brought them home, the same morning when his two brothers and the last of his family passed away, he had been lying on top of his dying brothers, covering their heads with his paws, trying to keep them as warm as his own little body could manage. He was too mature for his age in other ways as well. For instance, he would never urinate or defecate in or near his sleeping spot and never soil his blanket. Amusingly enough, he liked slow, soulful music- there had been times when his stomach ache would keep him up at night, whining and whimpering, but the moment I turned on Passenger’s Let Her Go, he would close his eyes and rest his head on my lap, and soon drift off to sleep. He liked human company, and solitude depressed him, especially after the death of what was left of his own family. He would wag his tail and jump up and down on his tiny feet if you brought him his favorite meal, but before he would finish it off with about a few vigorous slurps, he would lick your hands in order to show gratitude.
Although the rest of his family were Indian Pariahs, he didn’t look like them or any stray dog that you’ll ever see on Indian roads. His coat was a curious grey, the shade gradually lightening towards his feet; a white, diamond-shaped scar ran down the length of his nape, and his eyes were this breathtaking, starry night of blue and grey. No, he’s not a pup that you’d easily forget.
Even though he had seemed like a healthy pup, biologically, he was anything but. He had become weak due to worms in his stomach, which had started to attack his respiratory tract and even his nervous system. Due to this, he soon began to breathe with heavy jerks in his body and, later on, developed hysterical fits. There was one night when he cried relentlessly and no amount of coaxing and petting calmed him- he stopped gradually as his throat became too prostrated to produce a sound. Towards the end, his hind legs had been paralyzed, and the doctor, who was so far trying to treat the worms, diagnosed his case as distemper. My pup, he could not walk anymore, and worse, his eyeballs hardly moved. Even then, when he had to pee, he would whimper persistently until someone lifted him out of his bed, refusing to dirty his sleeping spot even when he could hardly raise his head. Only a pet parent would know the gut-wrenching pain of having to witness their once-healthy cats and dogs, who would usually purr and bark all day asking for more food and even more love, in that wretched and agonizing state that my pup was in, his little body battered down by the diseases that had consumed him. He would lie on his side all day with zero movement in his limbs, only the jerk of his breathing suggested that he was still holding on to his life. He was suffering in front of my eyes and there was nothing I could do, for the doctor had already given his verdict- there was nothing more to be done, only Death would end his suffering.
My family was not up for euthanasia, and hence I found myself pleading for Death to arrive and take him away, release him from his pain and take him away to his family. And this is also when I stopped fearing Death, for Death, I realized, is a kind gentleman, just as Emily Dickinson had once written. Worldly, bodily pain, that is ruthless, not Death. Death is a peaceful absolution, subservient even, putting an end to every bit of torment and agony that befalls us. It is the one inevitability that you should be thankful for, for it ends all pain. And my pup taught me that. I feel like a stronger person now, we all do, when we believe that we have come to terms with Death. I have never really gotten deep into the theory of an afterlife but I like to think that there is a much better world out there on the other side of Death, especially for innocent beings like animals. I hope, I pray there is.
One night, we found him sleeping peacefully, without the jerks and whimpers. I was so glad to think that he was finally improving that I asked my mom and dad to not make a single noise as it might wake him up. After checking on him, his eyes closed with a serene expression on his face and his body heaving lightly with steady breaths, I tucked myself into bed with a smile on my face, knowing that he would be so much better the next morning. Next morning, the 24th of January, I woke up to find out from my dad that my pup has died in his sleep.
I still haven’t thanked Baba for not allowing me to look at his lifeless body, because now that I think of it, I am glad that that’s not the last image that I have of him-I remember him as this happy and frolicking dog who was sleeping the last time I saw him, tired from all his strenuous games. His death has left an abysmal hole inside of me, and I think it’s because I couldn’t save him; heck, I don’t even know if his legs had been paralyzed due to distemper or for the dozens of vaccines that had been injected in his baby thighs as part of medication. I have been telling myself that he is in a much better place now and he has been reunited with his family, but I don’t think the hole that he has left would ever be filled, because I still believe that I could have done more for him.
It has been three weeks that I’ve seen him, and I dare say, I haven’t missed a human being as much as I miss him- every little puppy I see remind me of him, and I have no idea how long it would be before I can fully accept the finality of his departure. This has been really hard to write, for until today I have been putting off writing about him because I could hardly complete two lines without my eyes welling up and spending the rest of the day crying. But I decided to rake up and traverse through the memories, if that way I can permanently record this phase of my life. In any way, I thought, it couldn’t be harder than what my pup had to go through. You will also notice that I haven’t named him yet, which is for the simple reason that I couldn’t find a name which would describe accurately the magnificently good boy that he was, and I hope that some day, I would be able to present a dog with a long, healthy and happy life. And it is my belief that only that day would the void in my heart start to shrink in its unattainable quest to disappear.