By Susheela Menon
Krishnan watched as his wife put her face through the slats on the grill. She held the bars and squinted into the sun to see if the mother dog was coming.
“Did you hear about yesterday’s burglary?”he asked, and shook the newspaper as if it were a sieve.
He looked up at her again and furrowed his brows. A thick strand of greyish hair protruded from them.
“That man with the heavy moustache…what’s his name?”
“How about calling the municipality people?”she asked.
She turned her head this way and that to see if she could see any of the pups.
“I am talking about this thief…and you are thinking about those dogs…”
Krishnan turned a page and started reading again.
“This thief…this fool… is writing his name on walls everywhere…he calls himself Superman!”
She caught his shoulder.
“There she is!”
“The mother dog.”
“Oh.” He turned around and frowned. “Give it a name.”
He regretted saying it the moment he said it, and looked up at his wife.
“What’s for breakfast?”
The mother dog stared at them. Its eyes were like a child’s — innocent and pure.
“I’ll be back,”she said, and walked slowly towards the neighbor’s house.
It was empty but for the mother dog and her pups. They all huddled together in a dark shelter that once belonged to the neighbour’s dog.
“Don’t go near the pups,”said Krishnan.
But she did, and Krishnan went behind her.
There were five puppies lying in the shelter, each a different color. Their eyes were shut. They breathed fast and clung to their mother. Krishnan’s wife stood motionless, as if overpowered by something inside of her.
“What happened?”he asked.
The mother dog sat up and looked at them. There was no malice in its eyes. Its tail wagged, just a bit.
“How black and lovely its eyes are…”she said.
Krishnan caught her arm.
“Come…let it sleep.”
“Thamara,”she said. The dog licked its lips and went back to sleep.
Krishnan’s wife went back to their house and trudged into the kitchen to get lunch on the table.
He watched her as she stood arranging plates and glasses and bowls. He then rolled his rice into balls and popped them into his mouth while she chewed slowly.
“Where will the vet take her?”she asked.
She drank some water.
The name pierced his heart, but he did know that letters bunched together often worked as arrows.
The vet didn’t come for days but the pups grew — plump little bundles of joy.
It was no doubt entertaining to have them here but Krishnan didn’t like what all this was turning into. He believed that the source of his biggest joys always became the cause of his deepest sorrows.
He woke up early the next day as the sky slowly changed hue. His wife wasn’t next to him. The woman would be in her pooja room burning all the incense in the world.
Perhaps he could quickly take all the dogs to the vet right now and leave them there at the hospital. He would ring up that idle auto driver — what’s his name — and that idiot kid across the road for help. These two would do anything for a few rupees. Krishnan put on his monkey cap and strode to the shelter.
But Thamara and the pups were missing.
He went around the house. Nothing. Krishnan opened the gate and searched the street. Not a soul.
He then went inside and sat on the sofa. The air smelled of dogs but he couldn’t see them anywhere. Did they go away on their own?
“I brought them here.”
It was his wife.
“I put the babies in that large cardboard box in the store room…and walked…and Thamara followed me.”
Krishnan ran to his room to find the animals huddled in a corner. He slapped his forehead with his palm.
“Aiyyyo…We can’t look after them.”
“Just for a while…till Thamara is stronger…till her pups find a home.”
Before he could say anything, the vet arrived. Krishnan walked to the door and brought out a half smile.
“Oh…veru veru…come come…look who’s here…”
He stuttered a while hoping he would remember the vet’s name.
“Dr Jojo,”she said.
“Of course…Come, Jojo…”
Dr Jojo squatted with an arm resting on a knee. Thamara growled as he looked at the pups.
“I can take them after a couple of weeks.”
Krishnan’s eyes were on his wife. She spoke fast.
“What will happen to them in the vet hospital?”
“That is his business, no? He knows what to do.”
Krishnan paid Dr Jojo and stared at her.
“We try to give them away,”mumbled Dr Jojo. “The mother dog though…”
“Thamara.” Krishnan’s wife interrupted him.
“Yes…she may have to go back on the street.”
One by one, Dr Jojo gave all the pups away. But Thamara stayed.
“We will let her stay,”his wife said one morning as Krishnan breathed through his left nostril.
He released his breath through the right.
“Bhairava,”cried his wife that night.
Krishnan turned towards her in his sleep. Her eyes were closed and her fingers crossed on her lap. She sat upright like a statue.
“O Bhairava…O warrior of Shiva…you are never seen without a dog by your side…won’t you look after my Thamara?”
“Will you sleep?”he said.
It was dawn when Superman jumped over a neighbor’s wall. He was about to write his name on it when Thamara howled near Krishnan’s gate.
Krishnan jumped up and searched for his torch under the pillow.
“God! Why is this one howling like mad?”
In the dim light of the torch, he saw Superman standing in his underwear.
“Thief! Thief! What’s his name!”
His wife picked up the phone to call the police as Krishnan ran out to the gate. Thamara shot across like a bullet the moment he opened it.
Krishnan stood near the gate and stared at the dog as she lurched across a wall and disappeared.
“Why did you open the gate?”asked his wife. He turned around.
“You let her go…”
Krishnan stood with his arms limp at his sides. His face sagged and droplets of sweat lined his forehead.
“She is a stray dog. She will be fine!”
His heart sank as he tried to speak. He could say nothing but his wife spoke. Her eyebrows were knit together and her voice trembled.
“You let her go…you couldn’t keep our child too…my child…Thamara…”
A silence as deep as the sea engulfed them both.
“She was mine too!”
Krishnan took a step towards her.
“I ran with her in my arms,”he said. “I have told you this a thousand times…I tried my best…she just…died.”
His wife stood like an old tree with her feet firmly planted on the ground. Her body was still. Her eyes were on him. But they were as dead as their dead daughter.
Had you run faster…had you come home quicker…had you not gone to work when she was burning with fever…
Her grief channeled itself in strange ways, making him a victim of that tragedy.
“You wanted a boy always…”she mumbled.
“…but Thamara was my child…MINE!”
Krishnan sat on the ground with his head in his hands.
“I couldn’t save her…I am a mere man…not your…your…”
He sobbed like a schoolgirl but his wife didn’t shed a single tear. She helped him back in and bolted the door.
The morning sun came up like a potent fireball. It shone strongly on the empty shelter near Krishnan’s house.
He looked up from the newspaper to see his wife peering through the grill again. He wondered what he could say to let everything slide into place.
What’s for lunch?
Did you hear about the twin murders near the town junction?
But nothing emerged. Nothing had been in place. Nothing would ever be. He stared at his wife — just as the mother dog had — his eyes cloudy and unblinking.
She turned around and walked towards the kitchen after a while, but something made her stop and look at him.
“Why did you suggest that name?”she asked.
Krishnan pretended to read the news again but she waited for an answer.
“Of all the names you know and can never remember…why…”
“I don’t remember any other name.” Krishnan stood up and flung the newspaper aside. “Don’t you see?” He rattled the grill with both hands and stood with his back turned to her. “It’s the only name I remember.”
She limped away from him and into the cloying coolness that shrouded their house. It was time for breakfast.
A plate of fluffy rice idlis with spicy lentil powder and virgin coconut oil…
Designed by students from Ekadaksha Learning Centre, Chennai.