“21 days’ lockdown? How are we gonna feed them?” I asked in a worried tone to my mother.
“First we need to make a list of all the groceries we need. And we need to stay away from them too.”
“It doesn’t spread to dogs. They are safe.”
“How do you know?”
“Well, it says so in the news.”
“It’s a new disease, new discoveries every day. They just don’t have enough evidence till now. You never know.”
I silently nodded. I was worried about the dogs in our street whom we used to feed and play with. There was a young one among them, one I had seen the birth of, with my own eyes. I loved him immensely. Dhaplu – that’s what I called him. Weird name I know, but that’s how we love, we give our loved ones weird names. His white hair made him look like a furball. Before the lockdown, I used to bring him inside our home to play. He accompanied me wherever I went in the house and slept beside my study table where I usually work.
“But we can’t stop feeding them. I will feed them from a distance.”
Mom agreed. She loved them just as much. We followed the plan. I was the one with the job of preparing food for them. Due to mom’s bad health, I had been active in the kitchen lately. So I had learned a few things. It became my daily routine to feed them. They all were growing fond of me. When they love you, they make sure you know. Dhaplu was also the same. His eyes were always overflowing with it. He wanted to lick me, to play but as promised to my mom, I kept my distance. It was hard to keep off that lovely thing. And I could tell the feeling was mutual. We were both missing the good old days.
Then, the number of cases started spiraling upwards. Everyone in our locality started getting more anxious. Lockdown became more voluntary and less regulatory. Factories had been closed. Migrant workers were on the roads. People were giving them packaged food, while keeping their distance. I was also doing my bit for the street dogs. Everything was going on fine, but then one day one of the dogs died. It died rather mysteriously just in a span of one day. From being happy and healthy the first day to dead, just in 24 hours. It got us wondering about what exactly had happened.
“You should not go anywhere near them now. It’s dangerous. None knows what happened to that poor animal. But we need to keep ourselves safe too.” I was advised by my father. He was absolutely right to be concerned about the family. But isn’t it rather convenient to abandon someone in hard times? I thought. Initially, I was ready to abandon them, trying to trick myself into thinking that it was for the best. I didn’t go that evening. But your conscience can be a complicated thing. Love is not about giving up at the very first instance of trouble, it’s about facing the challenge together and surviving together.
I didn’t stop going. But, I had started covering myself from head to toe completely. I would put their food in an earthen utensil, call them with a yell, and walk away as they approached the food. They wagged their tales a bit and then went on to have their share. Dhaplu never stopped for food. He would start walking with me back to our home. But I had stopped letting him in. He would look at me with a disappointment on his face. It kept happening. He kept trying to get in, I kept disappointing him. That was a hard thing to do but it was choice I had to make. It kept happening until that day when Dhaplu came and started crying outside our home. It was 9 o’clock in the night. I opened the gate. He was visibly ill. Something had gotten him too I could tell. He was not moving well but still tried to get in. I didn’t stop him. He got in and sat beside the main gate of our house. I brought him milk. He licked a little and then lied down right there on the floor.
“Shoo him away. We can’t have him here, especially when he is ill.” My grandmother had never been fond of them. But I also couldn’t deny her, considering the situation. He looked at me, right in the eyes. I tried to get him outside. He didn’t nudge. I threatened him with a stick. I didn’t want to, I had to. We both had teary eyes. The one I used to carry in my arms, was right there in front of me needing my help and there I was, threatening him to save my own self. I don’t know where my mighty principles were that time. It felt like a part of mine was going away with him that day, he just looked at me and never looked back again. I couldn’t sleep that night. The burden of turning away a friend was fresh. I tried calling NGOs, as all vets were shut down due to the fear of the pandemic. None helped. Human life was important, animal’s, not as much. They were simply not worth putting human lives at risk for.
Next day, I tried searching for him everywhere. I had prepared food for him. He didn’t show up. I kept searching for him for two days. But couldn’t find him. Then, a kid in our neighborhood who saw me searching guided me to an abandoned house saying he saw a white puppy there. Yes, there he was, dead. He was not looking at me with hope anymore, not running around wagging his tail trying to jump on me.
And there I stood, trying to remember how it felt when he was alive, and all those days I disappointed him.