Shades of Black

I grew up with my dog. We bought Koblar – our first black Labrador – when I was six. I still remember sitting on the steps of my playschool alone and disconsolate that my parents were almost an hour late to pick me up. My dejection turned magically into euphoria when I saw the black big-eared bundle of joy they had brought along.

We both were new to the world around us, curious in our own weird way. I used to like throwing matchboxes in the toilet. Koblar liked killing toads. Then we decided to team up. I would slip him all of those revolting green vegetables when Ma was not looking and he would devour them opportunely.

Then he grew twice my size, while I still remained a frail little boy who’s voice hadn’t broken yet. “Hello, Beena?” – Everytime I picked up the phone. In addition to that, I had to face the humiliation of being manhandled by my own dog. “You’re taking your dog for a walk or he is taking you?” – was the snide comment that I had become immune to. It was very irritating. And I resented Koblar for being stronger than me. But he never seemed to care. He was so damn psyched to see me walk through the door every single time. How could I remain angry?

We both loved the outdoors, freaked out on car-rides and were die-hard fans of our mother. Dogs always have a number one in the family. That spot was reserved for my mother. She took care of him like she did me. He was always so affected by her. Ma’s voice would wake Koblar up from his deepest slumber. He would raise his groggy head after the distinctive double honk of the Maruti 800 and go absolutely crazy after hearing two rings of the bell in quick succession.

He was also petrified of her. Once, when my mother and brother got into an epic fight, screaming their heads off at each other, Koblar got up from his deep sleep and ran and hid under the bed in extreme fear. I tried to slink into the room to go to sleep, but was shooed away by my angry brother. So I made my way to Koblar’s space and we both rode out the storm together.

He was always so forgiving. I accidentally had his tail trapped in the bathroom door, once, when I was first entrusted with the responsibility of giving him a bath. His tail started squirting blood and he screamed in anguish. I was crushed. I wept for an entire day – convincing my parents that Koblar would not love me anymore. He’d hate me for what I had done. But when I walked through that door reluctantly, he seemed psyched as usual, wagging his bandaged tail with the same intensity. What a guy!

He became an intrinsic part of my life like any other family member. And seeing him die right in front of my eyes was the hardest thing I ever experienced.

 I was 16 years old and inexperienced in matters of death. And on that dark day in February of 2006, when he lay down defeated, with stomach distended on the cold bathroom marble, I felt absolutely powerless. His tail that wagged with endless love for stranger and friend alike lay lifeless on the floor. His eyes that were forever quizzical were now small and weak. I didn’t want be there, watching him die. I couldn’t take the heartbreak. I just wanted to run away from that place. But I didn’t. He had showed me nothing but solidarity throughout his life. I couldn’t betray him, my mother explained to me. Not now. Not when he needed me the most. To comfort him on his journey alone into the unknown. And so his head was in my lap, struggling with every breath that was heavier that the last. Till he breathed his last.

My life was filled with a profound emptiness after he was gone. The chewed legs of the furniture, the scratch marks on the bedroom door for when he wanted to enter, those on the door for when he wanted to go for a walk, all made me break down into silent tears. I was so used to his presence. I looked at certain places and always just expected him to be there. But he wasn’t. And he was never going to be there. That hurt the most. It also hurt when people were so insensitive about it. ‘Buy another dog’ – they said. But it wasn’t that easy for me. Buying another dog just a few weeks after Koblar’s death felt like betrayal. I needed to go through an unadulterated grieving process. I didn’t want to forget about him. I wanted to talk about his quirks, those funny incidents and remember him for the lazy, goofy, loving legend that he was.  

It took a while, but Koblar’s memories became fond ones. I didn’t deflect the topic of my dog anymore. I wouldn’t get all choked up when anyone spoke of him. I remembered him for the good, loving soul that he was and earnestly narrated to all who were dear to me, stories of his amazing personality. With every dog that I met, with every Labrador that crossed my path, I began to melt a little. I started missing a dog in my life. And then I saw this video of a kid with down-syndrome being lulled into hugging his golden Labrador. That slayed me. So after 8 long years, I decided I was ready to have another dog.

I was hesitant to have another Koblar, however. It would bring back bitter-sweet memories, I thought. I looked at bull-dogs, Alsatians and Dalmatians. But they just didn’t cut it. My heart seemed to be set on Labrador. I checked out forn, golden, white, coffee but was involuntarily convinced by black. The decision practically made itself.

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And in walked Kyro. Curious as ever. He was oblivious to embarking on any sort of journey of the shoes he had to fill. He was just an innocent little puppy, freshly weaned off his mother, biting his way through the exploration of the new world around him.

It has only been a couple of weeks and the little rascal has already left his mark. On my bruised ankles, the chewed up furniture, the lace-less footwear, the remote control, my mobile cover, the mop… amongst other things.

I’m number one now. And he’s made sure I earn that spot. In his first week, he bit my nose and woke me up three times every night at 1, 4 and 7 am to the rank smell of his faecal matter. That’s not something anyone wants to wake up to. And I’ve been doing it almost every day – all day. Once, when I came back home drunk at midnight and settled on the couch with my snack to watch ‘Boston Legal’ – my nose was affected by that familiar fetidity. Undrunk, I held my puke in, grabbed toilet paper and plastic bag, nabbed the shit, over-turned the plastic bag, unpleasantly took in the soft texture of turd-piece and threw it in the dog bin. I then proceeded to disinfect the stained area and satisfactorily nestled in my spot and unpaused Alan Shore’s closing – when that same rotten smell made its way back into my nose. He shat again in the same place. And then he vomited in the hall.

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‘It’s all part of being number one’ – my mother said, laughing at my plight. But little Kyro makes all the bother worth it. That inimitable joy with which he greets me when I enter the house. That look of despair he has in his eyes, every time I leave the room. The peaceful trust with which he sleeps soundly on my torso. The way he follows me everywhere I go and waits patiently outside the bathroom for me till I finish. To see him sleep so peacefully on his orange cushion and to know that I have made a significant contribution to that picture of tranquillity is a good feeling.  

The void is being filled again, slowly but surely and I’m looking forward to many more memories. 

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