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Man’s best friend

The second standard of our school in the Calicut of the 1950s had its door leading to a veranda that opened to the assembly ground. We sat with our backs to the door.

It was the first period and hardly had the class begun than the whole class rose as one and climbed onto the benches, shouting "Naaya" (dog)! From under my bench emerged the all-too-familiar black snout of Henry, a cross-breed Alsatian with a ferocious look but licking me up in the sheer glee of reunion after a separation of 60 minutes since I had left home.

We lived not very far from the school, and Henry had found his chance to slip out and follow us. He had to be escorted back home.

That was just one instance to illustrate Henry’s devotion to us which we reciprocated. Most of the episodes that surrounds my recollection of Henry were derived from what my mother told me after I had grown to my teens. She could never speak enough of her admiration for him.

Henry was part of my earliest memories — my father who doted on him brought him home as a pup. Our caretaker would leash him to a pole in the afternoon, always under his watch. But, as my mother would tell us later, around evening, Henry would go berserk and pull madly at his leash the minute he heard the distinct beat of father’s motorcycle engine. Henry ignored all the other motorcycles which sounded similar to human ears. Long before we could hear it, Henry would wake to it and bark excitedly.

At another time, mother said, she was standing with father at the edge of our compound overlooking the road. The houses in those parts are built at a height of eight feet to 10 feet above the road level. Henry, out on a recce on the road, spotted them and in one Herculean leap, scaled the wall to be with them.

By then, Henry had become famous in a small town like Calicut and was a talking point. Sometime towards the end of our stay in that house, Henry went missing. We shifted to another house which was near the school we were admitted to. Two years later, our caretaker spotted a dog with no resemblance to Henry. But nothing deceives the eye of love. So he called out in his delightful accent, "Endre!" And Henry came rushing to him and was all over him in a jiffy in the ecstasy of reunion. He was brought home and on enquiry, we learnt that someone had led him away and dyed his fur and cut his tail.

Our two lorries were parked next to our new house in a large compound. Henry accepted the new entities as trustworthy articles. One morning during our holidays, while he slept peacefully under the rear wheels of one of the lorries, an unsuspecting driver started the vehicle and without warning moved it forward, running him over. Despite the shattered hind side and the blinding pain, Henry dragged himself forward and reached the front of our house. All our efforts to feed him some water were to no avail. He took one last pleading look at father in a final goodbye and in a few minutes, was gone. Gone forever.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2021 4:49:22 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/mans-best-friend/article32990051.ece

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