Monday, August 27, 2001

He came off the street one rainy morning in August, three years ago. He was dripping wet, dirty and hungry. Instinctively, I was angry at the intrusion into my tiny little space, already crowded by three colleagues, four computers and a bunch of pesky mice with a taste for mouse cords.
Just as I was about to shoo him away, he sat on his haunches and gave me his trademark look: part soulful, part pleading and, on the whole, endearing. I thawed instantly.
That day, I had only half my lunch.
I forgot all about him, till he turned up again, a couple of days later. This time, he was merely trying his luck. I indulged him, feeding him a packet of biscuits.
I realised much later that biscuits made him thirsty. Every time I feed him biscuits now, I pour a bottle of water into his ersatz cup, a decapitated Bisleri bottle, and he happily laps it up.
It’s strange, now that I think back about it. Except those two instances, I recall little of how or when he became part of my everyday life. All I know is, along the way, he got himself a name – Bruno – lots of attitude and a more-than-healthy dose of aggression, both of which were reserved for his less fortunate brethren out on the streets.
There are things about him, though, that I will always remember.
For instance, the fact that, like all dogs, he hates noise. Every year, during Diwali, he disappears for a week. I don’t know where he goes. Though I wonder where he finds refuge, in a city like Mumbai, from those deafening decibels.
I will never forget the way he wiggles his entire butt when he is happy, because someone a long time ago snipped off his tail, leaving just a stub in place. Or the way he plays the ‘mandolin’ -- a colleague’s wildly imaginative description of Bruno scratching himself with his hind leg.
Or his fear of swivel chairs: a Pavlovian throwback to the early days of our relationship. Then, the only way to evict Bruno from the office during closing hours, especially on rainy days, was to take cover behind a swivel chair and push it threateningly towards him. I could think of no better way to save my Nike shoes from the wrath of his teeth.
Why am I writing all this now? Because, in a week’s time, I am moving, and I worry about what will happen of him. If the neighbourhood dogs don’t get him, I am sure the BMC will.
Three years ago, I thought I was giving him shelter. I realise now that I have done him a great injustice.
The tragedy with Bruno is that he does not belong. Till he arrived at my doorstep, he ‘belonged’ to the streets. He knew the rules. He knew the territory. He knew the enemies. And, above all, he knew how to survive.
I have managed to alienate him from all that. Outside, the rules have changed. A new generation has staked claim to what was once his territory. His enemies are younger, faster and stronger. And my misplaced largesse has dulled his survival instincts.
These truths were brought home to me poignantly by an incident last month. It was about six in the evening. There was light drizzle outside. I had to shut down and Bruno was being difficult. So I used the swivel-chair trick. As I locked up, and walked towards my car, I saw Bruno, drenched with sewer water, trying desperately to haul himself up by his forelegs from a gutter.
He simply did not have the strength. And the slippery cement edges offered little purchase to his trembling forelegs.
Worse, there were three dogs waiting above to pounce on him the minute he got out.
Growling, his teeth bared, Bruno was trying to put on a brave face. But I could see he was completely, utterly helpless.
Fortunately for him, I was around that day. In a week’s time, he will be on his own.
One of my colleagues tells me, with the air of an expert. "He is very old. Look at the amount of hair he is shedding. He won’t live long."
I hope she is true. I shudder to think otherwise.

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