In the train home, I share my cubicle with a large family of grandparents, a couple and their two children. In the adjacent cubicle sit the other members of this extended family. They seem to be quite affluent. The couple is in their late twenties or early thirties; I gather from the conversation that both are doctors. The elder child is a boy of 7 or 8 and the younger one, a toddler, less than 2 years old. The entire group’s attention is focused on the little one. The excessive attention and fondling is irritating her. She bawls at the least provocation.
In spite of their constant cuddling and show of affection, she seems to have taken a fancy to me. Gripping her granddad’s trousers, she looks at me with wide eyes and says – “Gahh! Daa!” as if trying to catch my attention. I try to bury my face in the book, but I can’t help glancing at her, for children of her age has a way of staring unwaveringly at you without being self-conscious. She grins at me. I wiggle my ears, eyebrows. She exclaims- “ Aaakghh!!” I perch my bifocals on my forehead, then back over my eyes and pretend to peer at her. She laughs out.
The family looks condescendingly at our play. But I can feel their discomfort. Mom says- ‘Molu, come, its time for chachu ( bed)’. Instead, she walks up to me. I caress her head. To entertain her, I show the book I am reading. The picture in the jacket is that of a dog. I point to it and say – ‘Bow bow’. She presses her little forefinger on it, looks up me – her expression changes – she says –‘Grrrrrr..’. I am shocked. I turn the pages rapidly. There aren’t many pictures in this book; only etchings at chapter heads. I find an etching of puppies playing. I tell her ‘little bow bow’ and smile at her to indicate that these are friendly creatures. She is grim and shakes her head. She says again – ‘Grrrr…’.
By then I am determined to erase whatever fearful images of dogs this child might be harbouring in her mind. I dip into my bag and pick out another illustrated book on dogs and give it to her. It is one of the secondhand books I had bought at
The young mother is quite fashionably dressed – bobbed hair, jeans and T-shirt. She beckons to the child and says firmly and slightly threatening – “Come, baby, COME NOW!” The child doesn’t show any sign of having heard the command. I hold her close and whisper to her – Poyi chachiko, Ammu’ (Go, sleep, sweetheart).
The toddler leaves. I hope somewhere in her innocent mind would lie a seed of love for dogs. I hope, somewhere, in some other age, when a grown young woman kisses the forehead of a dog, a faint, vague memory of an unrecognizable face of an old man would pass through her mind. I hope she will smile at that fleeting shadow and hold her dog close to her.