Monday, July 20, 2009

In loving memory of Kuttoos

I don’t know where he inherited that greatness, graciousness and intelligence from, but I am quite sure that he possessed all that and left an indelible mark on all our hearts, even long years after his passing away. I was in church, after Sunday mass and meetings, when someone told me Kuttu had a very tragic death. My heart sank and I couldn’t believe what I heard. After a few moments, I regained my composure and told myself: “he was after all a dog, however close he was with us, shouldn’t be so upset over the loss of a dog”. But given the fact that his gentle presence is so alive in memories, it becomes clear that he was so important for us. He was and is, inerasable, irreplaceable…

We first met him, a little puppy who is hardly two-weeks old, during our way back from school. We kids, out from the school, were running all the way to our homes. The noisy ‘independence march’ irked those two puppies who came out barking from a house on the way. We, brothers, were instantly attracted to the shorter one whose bark was shriller. He looked very cute, active and amusing.

Familiarity with that family made it quite easy for us to ask for a puppy. They told us to come a few days later. Another day, on our way back from school, we went to the same house, this time to collect one. We were not sure if we can pick and choose one. Luckily, this time also he, the shorter one we liked, came out barking with much shriller voice. They gave us him!

We hurried to home carrying him all along in our hands. We were so eager to present him before mom. When we reached home mom was not there. She had gone to farm field with evening tea for the workers. We called her aloud. Once she rushed back, we gleefully showed her the calm brown puppy lying on the front yard.

She had an instant rage seeing white spots on his legs and tail. The popular belief is that dogs with white spots on legs and tail will never stick to their masters but wander around. We were not aware of that.

“Who told you to bring this creature here? See what foolishness you have done, bringing a puppy with white spots on its legs and tail!” she ranted. Our proud possession has suddenly become an unwanted object. Mom had unequivocally said that she wouldn’t accept this dirty creature and it would be our responsibility to dispose it of.

But within no time, the small puppy became so friendly with us. We, children, were so puzzled if we should accept this lavish friendship as he was already rendered a pariah.

We left him at one corner of our farm field and ran back home, but little puppy took it just as a hide-and-seek game. He followed us gleefully and within no time reached back. As pressure mounted on one side, the disposal of pup became a headache for us. Much to the amusement of elders – the whole neighbourhood who joined the chorus of ridiculing us for this foolish act – my brother suggested “Manottai, what if we bury it alive?”

We finally opted for the traditional ‘pup-disposal’ method; we abandoned him in the junction; a clutch of shops where people gather. This time we succeeded to leave him there and run away.

As fate would have it, some children spotted him wandering in the junction and recognised that the puppy belonged to us. They so responsibly took him back to us. With this incident, mom has almost resigned to accepting him.

By the way, she had a rich livestock. A hen called Parukkutty and her chickens, a herd of cows and calves including Ponni, Nandini, Sundari, Karuthamma and Muthulakshmi, besides her goat Pappi and her three sons Charli, Chapli and Kambli. The young dog, with his unsolicited friendliness somehow found space among those farm animals. For his sheer uselessness, he was rather hated. But young puppy didn’t seem to care for all this.

He examined everything, he ran around the entire house compound, farm field, cattle shed. He never complained, never growled for food, didn’t defecate on the house compound (we understood these are uncommon virtues for a dog only much later when we tried to domesticate a few other ones after his death).

An incident during the following summer vacation when we were away at mom’s home shot the puppy into instant popularity. The delivery of Muthulakshmy, a Brownswiss variety on which mom had loads of hope, was due. (Muthu’s long-awaited pregnancy, after treatment for infertility, was a huge relief for the entire family).

Muthu, who is known for her lack of commonsense, was tied to a coconut tree somewhere near the house as the expectant cow needed special attention. After the summer showers soil turned muddy and Muthu who felt some unease struck her horns on the ground. It stuck in the sticky soil and she fell on the ground. She was gasping for breath. Mom and dad were a little away with the workers who were planting ginger and didn’t see this. Ginger is planted after the first spell of summer showers.

Little puppy felt that something was wrong and barked at the top of his voice. This attracted some of those workers who passed by. They ran to the spot only to see Muthulakshmi, the pregnant cow, gasping for breath in a near-death situation. They immediately cut the rope and freed the cow from its self-created entanglement.

Little puppy saved the life of Muthulakshmi, mom’s proud possession the Brownswisss breed! It became news in the immediate neighbourhood. And mother shared her joy in her letter to us who were holidaying with cousins at the ancestral home.

When we returned home after that summer what we could see was puppy enjoying a new-found love, attention and care for his heroic act. Hitherto, he was just ‘Patti’ (the Malayalam word for dog), without a name, identity and status. Apparently, everyone realised that he deserves much higher consideration.

Now the search for a good name: at a post-dinner discussion, as we failed to find an interesting name for our interesting puppy, the caretaker of our dairy, Chandranchettai proposed ‘Kuttoosan’ – no sooner did he utter this in his high-pitched voice than all four of us erupted in joy accepting this. Thus Kuttoosan, the evil sorcerer in a Malayalam children’s comic, turned out to be a pet puppy name, perhaps for the first time in history.

We called him Kuttu or Kuttoos as we felt like. When we call out Kuttoos, he will come running from wherever he is…no matter how distant he was. He knew the boundaries of our farm. He rarely crossed those boundaries, without any instruction. If our neighbour’s farm animals crossed the boundary and come to our field, you would see the rare flash of rage on his face. He would ran after them and chase them away till the boundary and return. His sense of boundary and belongingness amazed everyone. On many occasions he had bitten the alien calves, hens, goats and pigs. Among our flock of chicken, if there happened to be one from the neighbouring households, he would single out it and chase it away. Boy, it would be an uproarious scene.

When we wanted to catch one of our chickens to cook, we needn’t run after them. We would just call Kuttu and throw a stone at the chicken; he will chase it and finally keep it under his hold until some of us catch the hen/cock. Much of the credit for Kuttu’s playfulness and responsiveness would go to my brother and his friend Unni, who spent lot of their time playing with him. We used to throw objects and compete with Kuttu to catch it. We used to give him jumping practice.

When, many of the neighbourhood dogs, be it his darling Rosy or his arch rivals Jimmy and Appoos, had to contend with leftovers which are often cold, rotten or sub-quality, Kuttoos gently refused to eat anything that is a day old. Mom used to say, “Kuttu seems to be asking me, ‘why are you giving me the stuff only dogs would eat’?”

When Rosy calls him out for a date, it is a bit difficult for him to resist that. However, he always wanted to keep it a secret as we never approved him wandering around. He had found his way out through a simple trick. He would bark at certain direction as if he found something/somebody curious and chase it. Later we would see him going around with Rosy who was waiting for him hiding in some corner.

With Jimmy, he had a running feud. No matter how larger and older he was, most of the time Kuttu used to beat him in their direct duels. Jimmy’s brother Appoos was his friend but when Jimmy took on Kuttu, Appoos used to side with his big brother. The combined force of both was often something difficult to handle for Kuttu. Although he had occasional victories, he was at times badly bitten. But he never ran away from the battle scene.

We, dad, brother and me, were so close to him that we found it difficult to scold him when it was required. But one big shout would be good enough to keep him under control. The one whom he was really afraid of was mom. It was a mix of fear, respect and love. When he committed something wrong, just as staying away for longer hours, staying overnight at certain other place, Kuttu’s sense of guilt would be writ large on his face. When mother calls him, his hanging ears will be further droopy, eyes will be downward looking, tail will be tucked between his rear legs and back will bend like ‘n’.

But very rarely did he commit such mistakes. Nothing would make him so joyous than mom’s rare show of affection. If dad, I and brother were away, he would skip his short nocturnal round through the immediate neighbourhood and would stay calmly in the front yard, taking over mom’s guardianship. This post-supper trip was a routine for him. As he grew up, his avarice for food was considerably reducing. Apart from non-veg, what he loved the most were sweet items and tapioca. He liked plantain and banana also, something not so common among dogs.

When the chickens make unusual voice, when something happen at cattle shed Kuttoos would instantly reach the spot. He would suddenly assume an air of responsibility at any problem situation.

Although, at one point of time he created some headache with biting children who came to our house, forcing us to chain him for a while, he rarely attacked our visitors.

But the agile, always active and handsome Kuttoos with long hairs on the top of his neck was respected within the neighbourhood so much as he was feared. The tiger nails on his forelegs were said to be the sign of dogs with extra ordinary intelligence. I don’t know if there is any academic backing for this theory. Anyway, he defied a local myth that dogs with white spots on legs and tail would wander away.

Even when he was 10 years old he looked young and smart, much like Mammooty. In a way, both of us, my kid brother and me, who were away at church was fortunate not to see his half-eaten body. Kuttu seemed to have engaged in a fight with a tiger dog (a variety of wild dog which looks like both dog and tiger) which came from nearby forest.

Mom says Kuttu’s habit – his refusal to withdraw – might have perhaps led to his death. He might have picked up a fight with tiger dog which ultimately cost his life.

His tragic death still remains a poignant memory. He was our companion for 10 long years, for me from sixth standard to PG first year. Kuttu was a local legend. During his lifetime and posthumously also, many pet dogs in the neighbourhood were named after Kuttu, which bore testimony to his goodwill.