Our son Madhav being all of 2 years when this happened enables me to date this one back to 1982 or ’83.
While there has been a dramatic reversal in this aspect of her character now, back in the day my elder sister, Saroj who lives in Delhi, was a dog crazy lady who had a whole pack of mutts each of whom she was practically head over heels in love with. The numero uno being her female Labrador – Mansi.
Just a about a month ahead of one of our annual leaves which, if truth be told – primarily on account of economic reasons, were always spent in Delhi and Simla with our families, Mansi presented my sister with a litter of pups. Since we were going to be heading back to Assam and Dhoedaam exactly two months after the pups were born, we were asked whether we might want to take one of Saroj’s ‘granddaughter’ back with us. Would we? Having immediately jumped at and accepted the offer, there was general excitement all around at both ends – the givers and the recipients. The beautiful and adorable white female Labrador pup earmarked for us was promptly christened as ‘Lady’.
On the day we were to take our flight back to Assam (back then the once a day Indian Airlines flight used to operate out of an Air Force base in close proximity to Dubrugarh – Chabua, which literally translates into the ‘first place where Tea was planted‘) accompanied by a sufficient bit of ceremony Madhav was handed over a plastic picnic basket in which my sisters ‘granddaughter’ was curled up and fast asleep. Having been allowed by Indian Airlines to carry the picnic basket as hand baggage with the proviso that this be retained on our laps and that it not be opened for the duration of the flight (something which no airline in India allows now days – wonder why?) the flight to Chabua was uneventful. Back in the bungalow (I was at that time posted on Pabbojan, one of the four Divisions on Dhoedaam Estate) a cosy corner in our bedroom was got ready for Lady who, with a very large garden and lawn to romp around in, very easily and happily adapted and settled into her new environment.
A week into our return Madhav, Kitty and I were heading out on one of our overnight picnic weekends and left Lady in the care of our bearer. On our return to the bungalow on Sunday evening we found our bearer very distraught and besides himself, blurting out repeatedly that it wasn’t his fault. What was not his fault, it transpired, was that the little lady in her romp around the lawn had stumbled across a snake. Obviously not realising the danger, she had tried to be her naturally playful self with the snake and had ended up getting bitten. It being late at night when there was simply nothing we could do, very early the next morning Kitty headed off to the army base in Dinjan which had an Army Veterinary Corp (AVC) unit and was the only veterinary help available to us.
With the driver on the wheel and Kitty in the rear seat with Lady in her lap and Madhav clinging on to his mother, Kitty told me later that half way to Dinjan, Lady shuddered violently in her lap and then just lay still. Wanting not to break the news to Madhav who was already distressed and besides himself, on reaching the vet hospital it was left to the doctor to explain to Madhav that his Lady had gone off to a greener pasture. We were, all three of us, obviously, very distraught.
While we were still coming to terms with us having lost Lady, we received a letter from my sister that immediately after we had headed back to Assam, she had started missing her granddaughter and so had decided that she would pay us a visit and that she would be arriving on a date which was all of 10 days from the date we received this letter.
Need it be said that this letter sent all of us into a tizzy. Had us shit scared as to how we were going to explain and have my sister dear understand that Lady, who had been given to us on an explicit understanding that we would look after her ‘granddaughter’ was no more.
Which is when my devious mind went into overdrive. From that very evening itself we started making the rounds of all our friends and acquaintances looking for a Lady look alike. Luck! Through the grapevine we learnt that a Labrador belonging to Utpal and Radha Roy had very recently littered. Utpal, a genial gentleman of the good hard drinking planter variety was the senior assistant on Pingari Estate, an Assam Frontier property. That very evening found us in their bungalow to set eyes on a lovely bundle of fur which, when separated from each other turned out to be five lovely little Labs, four little black fellows and wonder of wonders, ONE white female. Which pup, Utpal told me had already been spoken for to another friend. There being no way that we were going to go back empty handed, it took a lot of emotional pleading, aided by Madhav starting off his waterworks and us explaining to the Roy duo that if they didn’t come to the aid of the party, a week later we’d be sunk! Which drama being played to the hilt had them succumb and ended up with us heading back to Pabbojan with a ‘Lady’, albeit of a size somewhat smaller than her namesake predecessor.
Little Madhav was sworn to the utmost secrecy that whatever else he may talk about with his Aunt, he was not to utter even a peep about the switch!
A week to the day having picked up my sister from Chabua, the drive back was full of tales and stories of how well Lady had adjusted to us and the estate and that, while she was maturing, her growth was somewhat less than what we had expected. Much excitement as we entered the bungalow gate with Madhav bounding out of the car to pick up Lady and reintroduce the pup to its ‘original’ grandmother. Much cuddling followed by my sister getting a good face wash with a tongue which was almost twice the size of the pup. Happiness all around with us settling down to a hectic couple of days of being invited out for dinners and reciprocating with a dinner at home for all our friends who had hosted my sister.
A week later we all hopped into the car, with us silently thanking our lucky stars that the devious ploy had not unravelled.
Halfway down to Chabua, the secret having became way too much to keep bottled up in his childish mind, Madhav sidles up to my sister and very innocently says “Bhua Maa, you know that the Lady who we have in our bungalow is not the lady who came with us from Delhi”. Neither Kitty nor I, not knowing which way to look and expecting the worst, were saved from having to come out with any inane explanation by my sisters “You know, from the time I met her I just felt that something was not quite right because somehow your Lady appeared to be way too tiny and I was wondering why she had not grown as much as her brothers and sister in Delhi”. The milk having been spilt, there was nothing to do but to go into details of what exactly had happened and to apologize for having lost her ‘granddaughter’. There being no way to turn the clock back, thankfully my sister took it in well and in her stride.
The Lady lookalike grew up to be one of the most adorable and loving member of our family and one who gave us immense joy and pleasure through all our years in Assam, to eventually end up staying her last days with Kitty’s parents in Simla when we headed off to Dubai.
Oh yes! Life does take us through a lot of ups and downs.
A lovely roller coaster ride if one accepts it as being such!