“Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak
Knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.”
― William Shakespeare, Macbeth
The date was February 1, 2018 and time 10.30 in the night. Alone in my home, I sat watching Dr Sambit Patra and Dr Shashi Tharoor excitedly debating the Union budget on the national TV. My wife had gone to visit her ailing mother living some fifty kilometres away. Our son and his wife live outside Kerala. I would have liked to switch off the TV and go to bed. But I was waiting for the phone call my son made every night. He teaches in an IIT. That day, his call was delayed because he had a class that terminated only at 10.30 p.m.
I was startled by the sound of someone rapping on the windowpane. I got up and went to it. It was my brother. We live in the same property in adjacent houses. “Come out”, he cried. That was quite unusual. I had already secured the doors and windows and was ready to retire. I switched off the TV, grabbed the keys and hurried to the front door. As I ran out closing the door behind me, the phone rang. I knew it was my son. “Answer the phone and then come”, my brother shouted. I panicked a bit. I went back inside, answered the phone and told my son that I would call him back a little later. I had no idea about the emergency on hand.
I rushed out again and ran towards my brother’s house. I noticed that his car had been backed up to the edge of the porch and his bike had been moved aside. That was unexpected. When I approached him asking what the matter was, he pointed his hand towards the front of the car. I looked. Something dark and inert was lying there on the floor. Then the truth hit me like a ton of bricks. It was ‘Makku’, our dog. The Dachshund was very much dead. I swiftly pulled my eyes back. Without a word, I ran back into my house, fell into a chair and cried my heart out. I just could not believe or accept that Makku was no more.
As I sat there with tears rolling down my cheeks, I recollected the incidents of that afternoon. I had heard the excited barking of Makku at about three o’clock that afternoon. Although he had a puny physique, his booming woof more than compensated for it. I had looked out through the window and noticed that Makku, was underneath my brother’s car. He sounded very angry and furious. But that was nothing unusual. Makku had a habit of challenging anything that dared to encroach into our compound. Usually, stray cats go under the car sparking frenzied duels. When I saw my brother standing there, I dismissed the event as one of the usual fracas. I assumed that it would soon end with or without intervention on the part of my brother.
Incidentally, both my brother who is younger to me and I are superannuated men whose wives are still in service. Our children are away. So, during daytime on working days, we brothers are the only people around. Although we are brothers, our natures do not match. He has frequent social and spiritual engagements. But I am a person with little social contacts living in the company of nothing beyond my books and laptop. So, I am often left alone to guard both homes. Since much of the time I stay put in my home-office, Makku used to take matters in to his own hands to ensure that I was left in peace. .
The slightest rattle of our gate alerted Makku. He might be busy digging holes in the earth or chasing away stray cats. But the most tenuous touch on the gate made him drop everything and race to the gate like a bullet. As he ran, he produced a spine-chilling whirr that scared the daylights out of strangers. Makku had hardly ever bitten people. But the menacing manner in which he came would put the fear of god into strangers. Many a time, adventuresome people who happened to open the gate, ran for dear life on seeing him coming like a flash. Many a time, people slipped, fell and injured themselves. However, Makku never pursued his quarry beyond the limits of our property, even if the gate stood ajar. And on those rare occasions when he slipped out of the gate to do a little exploration of the world outside, he acted like a dove.
Later that afternoon, I went to my brother to find out what had happened. He told me that a snake had crawled underneath the car and got itself entangled trying to escape the fury of Makku. Eventually, the snake managed to slip away. I was worried that Makku might have been bitten. My brother told me that it was a non-venomous rat snake. Makku was standing nearby. I looked at him. He looked back into my eyes. I thought he looked tired and dazed. Yet, I did not suspect any danger for it was not the first time that Makku had brutal encounters with snakes. It was happening on a regular basis although I always wondered from where the snakes suddenly appeared. And on innumerable occasions in the last ten years, he had saved us from being bitten by snakes.
Except for an occasional mosquito or cockroach, I do not have the heart to kill any living being. So, it scared me much when Makku came face to face with snakes. If my brother, who is comparatively much less daunted by snakes, happened to be around, I would cry out for him. Even when I knew he was not there, I cried out all the same. At least on one occasion a neighbour came running to shoo away the snake while I stood shivering in my lunki. Although it had mortified me, it did nothing to alter my behaviour.
Our interventions in encounters involving Makku were primarily aimed at pulling Makku out of danger. Makku hated getting wet and usually took to his heels at the very mention of the word, water. But, when he fought snakes, the trick never worked. He stood his ground even when we emptied bucketful of water over him or doused him with the garden hose. Finally, when we managed to separate the combatants, we usually allowed the snake to slither away. But often the snake was already dead or was too messed up physically to get away. A few months ago, Makku sliced a krait into two pieces with his teeth. We feared that it had bit him. Rather surprisingly, Makku survived. It appears that his final battle too was with a krait, mistaken for a rat snake.
Makku perfectly understood whatever we spoke to him. As I was talking to my brother on that fateful afternoon, I noticed that Makku had not touched his lunch. My brother told me that he might have forgotten his food in the midst of all the commotion. He asked Makku to go and eat his food. Makku lifted up his head and looked at him for a moment before walking slowly towards his food. He quickly gulped it down. My brother fetched some fresh water from the tap. He drank it, once again lifted up his head, gave us a sad look, and walked away. He apparently crawled under the car where he usually had his siesta. I went back to my home-office and got busy on my laptop.
After six o’clock that evening, my brother and his wife went out on their bike to attend our Parish Convention. By about eight o’ clock, it suddenly struck me that the atmosphere was disquietingly quiet. Usually, when Makku missed people, he produced strange noises to declare his uneasiness of being left alone. So, whenever I happened to be the only person around (and that was quite often) I used to go out at intervals to reassure Makku that I was available and he had no reason to be upset, although the truth was just the other way round. I thought it was strange that Makku remained utterly silent for such a long period. Besides, it was quite dark all around.
So, I went out into the courtyard and called out his name. I waited. Usually, it took only seconds for him to come cannonballing along. I used to pat him on his head, speak a few reassuring words, and go back to whatever I had been doing. But that night, there was no Makku. I called many more times to no avail. I went to the gate and rattled it. Yet, there was no Makku. I felt a bit uneasy about his absence. But I still had no apprehensions of any danger. I believed that he was busy digging up something in the patch of land at the far end of our property, where he used to spend the best part of his working hours. It was dark and dreadfully quiet there. so, I discarded the idea of going there all alone to investigate.
After nine o’clock that night, my brother returned. Every night we locked up Makku in his shelter. Usually, it was the last task I performed before going to bed. Even when someone else kennelled him, I used to pay him a night visit and speak a few words to him. I knew that when I walked back, his eyes followed me until I went out of his sight. But, as I was alone that night, I told my brother to kennel him.
While I was securing the doors and windows, I felt a nagging feeling of dread somewhere deep inside my heart. I had not seen Makku after he walked off after his lunch. So I listened for the sounds of my brother closing the iron gate of his shelter. When I did not hear it, I called him over phone and reminded him of it. A few moments later, I heard my brother calling out, ‘Makku…Makku…’. I waited for the clanging noise of the kennel gate. But it was silence all around until it was broken by my brother banging on the windowpane …
Makku was the darling of everyone in the family and neighbourhood. Friends and relatives visiting us would call us after they went back to inquire about Makku. The heart-breaking image of Makku lying on his side with his hands placed together just would not go away. That was exactly the way he usually slept. The difference was that he had a habit of keeping his head raised on the ledge of his cage. Also, he was not going to wake up this time.
It was well past eleven. I suddenly remembered that I had not called back my son. He lives in the IIT campus and goes to bed rather late. Incidentally, he too was alone since his wife is a PG Medical student elsewhere. I wiped my tears, picked up the phone and called him. He is a cool guy. I have hardly ever seen him getting emotional. In fact, I sometimes taunt him saying that his constant association with lifeless electronics has made him as cold and computational as an automaton. I told him what happened. I was still sobbing.
It appeared that for a moment, he too was shaken. But he soon recovered and started rationalizing as usual. He told me that all of us should be happy that Makku had died without having to undergo much suffering. He had been with us for over ten years, which was a long life for the breed. Besides, twice in the past Makku had collapsed because his rear limbs went suddenly limp. The first time, it had taken weeks to get him back on his feet. On the second occasion, we had to treat him for months. Considering his age, it was unlikely that he would have recovered from another stroke that was waiting to hit him. I listened. He knew that I have a tendency to get overemotional. And I knew that he was only trying save me from drifting into a state of melancholy, particularly since his mother was not there. I suggested that I would call his mother. He said that it would be better he called her…
Let me now conclude. The story of Makku began late one evening over ten years ago, when we brought him home in a little cardboard box. He was just a month old and was no bigger than a squirrel. Separated from his mother and siblings, he squealed and yelped the whole night. His heartbreaking protests continued for the next few days. I remember that a couple of weeks after his arrival, I was sitting on a rocking chair on the terrace with a book. Makku, the tiny bundle of fur, was lying under the chair. When the chair tilted, his soft little tail was caught under it. And he let out a shrill cry of agony that I would never forget. I had picked him up, placed him on my lap and consoled him…
Close to midnight on February 1, 2018, we buried Makku in the patch of land which used to be his favorite terrain. While I helped my brother with the digging of his grave, I did not wait to see him buried. I was shocked and devastated. I went home and lied down. But I could neither sleep nor stop the tears …
The reality that life is so fleeting hit me with the suddenness of a bolt of lightning. I trembled. Some time back I had written an article on my blog, “I do not Fear Death; I Fear to Live Dying“ (click to read). It suggested that death is the lone exit gate for everything living. So it was foolishness to fear death. However, suffering that preceded the final exit was often long and agonizing. We have seen many instances of it in our own families. So, I believed that instant death was simply heaven. But the night Makku died, I was suddenly afraid, not of the suffering associated with dying slowly, but of the cold reality of death that strikes all and strikes at will.
Today, following the footsteps of my son, I too try to rationalize… Yes. Makku was fortunate that he did not live to suffer the agonies of a slow and painful death. Also, he was fortunate that even many days past his death, there are people shedding genuine tears for him – something that rarely happens in a world in which everyone turns increasing selfish by each passing minute.
We miss Makku. Then all of us are here only to be missed sooner or later…