It was a pre-winter October evening and Veltu had been missing since morning. Hotel owner Kartik hadn't found him while dumping his daytime garbage - Veltu and his wife's usual grab. Stationery shop owner Asis also failed to give Veltu's routine snack - a paper bag of broken biscuits. And the whole of the next night, Dadu, Veltu's 'godfather' had to remain on his duty of nightwatchman without Veltu. Behind all the usual activities of the whole three-storied Vivekananda Market Complex of over 300 shops at the heart of the town, the question "Where is Veltu?" became a subtle but bold one.
Next morning, the beginning of another busy day brought a pleasant surprise when Veltu and his wife were discovered in a deep corner under the staircase guarding a heap of used jute bags. There were six little ones inside the den other than Veltu and his wife. Yes, Veltu had become a proud father of six.
A strong, well-built, bold, cool, affectionate dog, Veltu with his impressive weight at five years of age was well able to tackle at least five street dogs at a time and to be a hero to any young lady of his species. Yet he was never seen with anyone other than his wife, another well-built and equally cool lady.
The pair have been an indispensable part of the whole market since they arrived there, no-one knows from where. But yes, they take their food and shelter from the market not without any service. Both of them along with 65-year old Dadu have formed an indestructible army to guard the market.
Understandably, the young ones also grabbed the heart of the whole market within no time and there began the journey.
I, a daily visitor to the market also fell in love with the family and the heavenly view of the mother feeding her six kids with proud Veltu on guard.
Around 25 days down the timeline, despite the best possible feed by the hotel owners and shopkeepers, Veltu had lost two of his kids. One of the remaining ones had been taken by a shop-owner and I had also stolen one from the mother's lap. I knew I could not groom the baby the way his mother could, but I promised to be the best possible substitute.
At my home, by the end of one restless week for the baby, it had become me and my wife Papiya's second son. And Dipto at eleven years of age had his new brother. We named him 'Dalu.' In Bengali, a ferocious dog is called 'Dalkutta.' And with an image of Veltu in mind, I expected his son also to be of the same mould, so the name chosen was 'Dalu.'
The doctor suggested giving him Lactogen – Dalu refused. My friend suggested a commercial dry food - he did not even lick it. One of my neighbours advised cow's milk. God saved me - he accepted it. Gradually he started taking rice, meat, fish. But it took two months for the little one to understand the difference between my bed and his urinal. Oh! but nothing new about that - it was the same with my son too ten years back.
Days passed by and Dalu kept on growing. Now he knows his own room - an unused bathroom of my house. His own bed - a large wooden packing case packed with thick stack of empty jute gunny bags and a flannel cover on that. His night-time playmate- a 3" x 3" x 8" wooden piece. After spending the whole day inside all the rooms in my house barring the kitchen, it becomes a difficult job for him to leave for his own bedroom at night.
This is the time he wants me to take him on my lap and then take him to his bedroom - a habit developed since his childhood.
Normally I don't put even a collar on his neck as Dipto does not want his coat to get damaged. And so he is never chained. He is an exceptionally intelligent one who can understand every single bit of body language of mine, Papiya's or Dipto's, but will hardly ever obey any command. Command him to "Sit down" - he will pretend to bite your hand. Say "shake hands" - he will jump on you. But he becomes the"teacher's pet" kind of student the moment I call him for lunch. He will wait for me to say "sit down." He will follow it in no time. Even before completion of my next command to him, "Shake hands," he will raise his right paw and after I reciprocate, he waits for me to say "Go." Sometimes I delay the command "Go" even after shaking hands with him. First he yawns. Then he makes a peculiar sound and then starts howling. But he never jumps on to his lunch until I say "Go!"
Now it becomes a tough job even for me to handle this 25 kg one after I return from my long official tours. First he takes a physical test of the newly-found me by jumping on me and doing some mock fighting. After ten minutes of such exercise, he cools down a little bit and then starts licking my whole hand, even face, maybe to check whether everything is in shape or not. Then he begins his biting session. With his four long canines and strong jaw, he keeps on biting my hands. The jaws that can crack even thick mutton bones like papad, work on my hand like a well -programmed robotic tool, never with a pressure more than what can be painful to me.
Dalu is now a good team-mate of my son and his friends in their football games. He plays with them just like a little kid. One cannot imagine the level of pleasure he gets from playing football with friends. Just part him from the team and see his reaction. He will tear off the sofa cushions, jump on whoever is there inside the house, shout vigorously and finally give up after drinking a full bowl of water.
As Dipto says: "It is an advantage to take Dalu in our team as he can play with all his four limbs without any fear of 'hand ball.' But it is not always a positive thing - there is a major disadvantage too. Dalu cannot differentiate between the goalposts of our own and the opponent's side. And obviously, does lots and lots of 'same sides.' "
However, though I simply cannot think of anything bad about Dalu, facts are facts. There are a few shortcomings I have noticed in Dalu, a few common doggy instincts are missing in him. Even at his age of over one year, he still urinates like a puppy, standing on all four limbs. Sometimes he eats things that would never be eaten by a street dog. During a stomach upset, I have never seen him look for grass - a common instinct of a dog. Maybe I separated him from his mother too early without giving him enough time to learn all the instinctive behaviour.
However, after having him for a year, now I think: Who says that INDogs are not as intelligent as pedigreed dogs? They may not be as exotic as those western breed dogs, but undoubtedly they are the most affectionate, smart and sensible ones.I have read somewhere, the normal life span of a dog is around 14 years. Can any one tell me - how shall we live when Dalu is no longer with us?
Darjeeling, West Bengal
Rajashree's note: Debasis tells me that he was inspired to keep an INDog after reading this blog! Which means, after seeing all the lovely dogs featured here. So all INDog-owners out there - do keep writing in and sending me photos. That's the best way to tell the world how wonderful these dogs are.