One summer, when heat waves were burning everything to crisp in the Gangetic plains, my dad decided to take us to the hills of Uttarakhand to get some respite from the scorching heat.
He owned an apple orchard there.It was a very remote village accessible via a recently built unpaved road on which a weekly bus plied whose exact schedule was apparently a state secret. So after taking the train, then bus, and 14 km unplanned trek through some breathtaking verdant villages, when we reached near the destination, it was almost dark.
But our journey was still not over. Leaving the road behind, we had to walk further down the hill to the village, through a jungle so thick and dark that locals called it Kala Pahad a.k.a Black Hill.Fortunately, my dad found a villager who was also going down there and had happily agreed to guide us.
On the way down, this village version of Fox News, regaled us with the latest happenings of the village, the highlight of which was kept for the last: A tiger was apparently on the loose in this very jungle, and a day before, had killed someone’s horse. If there was still some daylight, we, the lucky city folks, might be able to see the carcass on the way down, our guide sprightly informed us.
So understandably, by the time we reached the other edge of the forest, our teeth were chattering less from the Himalayan cold and more from over-excited nerves. Just then, a low growl coming from the thicket in front, froze us dead in our tracks. Suddenly, a huge black mass leapt on our guide! But the sound effect of our synchronised shrieks was somewhat diluted by another much-milder note. It was our guide playfully calling… Kalu… Kalu… Kalu.
Few moments later when our heart slipped back from our mouth to its rightful place and we could focus, we saw that black mass had a tail and, it was wagging. This was my first introduction to Kalu —a humongous black dog of our gracious host.
After a restful night, we were formally introduced to the rest of the household, which included our farmer host, his lovely wife, 3 beautiful kids, a goat with a newborn kid, a buffalo with some major anger issues, a cat with three young kittens, and Kalu.
Kalu was the biggest yet the gentlest dog I had ever come across. Every morning he would take a round of the orchard like a king inspecting his kingdom. When not chasing birds or wild boars, he would take his place in the courtyard basking in the sun… relaxed yet ever attentive. He was the adopted uncle of the kittens, who used him as a Jungle Gym all day long—jumping all over him, pouncing on his tail and snuggling between his paws. Whenever the cat went for her daily strolls, like a loving guardian, he made sure the kittens do not venture far from the house.
As it happened one day, while the cat was out on her stroll, the brother of our host came over. He wanted two kittens for his kids and our host readily obliged. Sitting in the courtyard, we saw the subsequent events unfolding.
When the cat came back and couldn’t find her two kittens she went berserk. She frantically searched the whole place, constantly meowing and calling her kittens. Never for a moment she mistrusted her master or us. Her trust in humans was unshakable, even though misplaced in this case.
Now who could have harmed her kittens? Her first suspect was the horn-swinging, perpetually upset buffalo. She pounced on her udders and a moment later, with swift swing of horns was dispatched two fields down. Luckily the cat survived the flight. Eight lives still remaining I guess.
She limped back to the courtyard. Her next suspect? The goat. She menacingly moved towards the goat but then stopped, perhaps, some last minute motherly concession.
The last remaining suspect? Yes, you guessed it right. Who else other than the huge dog that’s always around the kittens! Without a moment’s hesitation, she jumped on Kalu, savagely scratching and biting him. She had gone mad with rage.
We watched horrified. Before we could react the thought that just one swish of his paw and she would be into shreds, raced through our minds.
She was no match.
But to our utter amazement, this dog was sitting still, just looking at her… as if he understood her grief. He did not react, just turned a bit to protect himself from her sharp claws. The cat kept at it. And, when perhaps the pain became too much to bear, he simply got up and walked to the fields.
In a while, the cat calmed down and walked away, maybe realising that this gentle giant would not harm her kittens.
And that day, on a sunny courtyard of a quaint Himalayan village, I became a witness to an unexpected lesson on tolerance, compassion and empathy, imparted not by a fellow human but by a dog. If an animal could rise above its base animal instincts, what should be expected of us, humans?
Well this story doesn’t end here….
Our contrite host, a fellow witness to the incident, exclaimed, “This dog is some great soul!”On seeing our inquisitive faces, he continued, “Last year, my wife fell sick and was bedridden. She is the one who feeds the dog. When cooking duty fell on the kids, she instructed them to make extra food for Kalu and feed him too. But the kids forgot to, for 4-5 days! And I also forgot to inquire. I don’t know how this dog survived. ”
He added, “We cook sitting on the floor. He could have easily sneaked out food but he didn’t. Then one day, my kids made rotis (chapattis) for lunch and left them in the kitchen.When they came to help me in the field, Kalu secured that roti stack in his mouth, and came to the field where I was working.”
“He put the stack in front of me and looked up. I was trying to make sense of his strange behaviour and then it struck me. I called my kids and they confessed that they had forgotten to feed him. The moment I told Kalu to eat, he ate it all in one go. The poor dog was so hungry yet he didn’t take without asking. He acts better than humans.”
Apparently there were many more lessons to learn from this dog. Now years down the line, whenever emotions get the better of me, and later I have a chance to reflect on my reaction, many a times I end up chiding myself for acting worse than a dog ….. Yes, in this case literally 🙂
Those are some tough ‘paw-prints’ to follow.
And you ask what happened to the cat ? Well, in two days she found her kittens and brought them back.
*The title ‘Some Dog’ à la ‘Some Pig’ (Charlotte’s Web).