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‘Fact is, we rescued each other’

Prerna Singh Bindra | Updated on September 11, 2020 Published on September 10, 2020

Woman’s best friend Though a night owl, I would dutifully wake up at 6am so Doginder could take me for a walk courtesy aditya panda   -  image courtesy: aditya panda

A writer mourns the loss of her dog during a pandemic year

* How does one mourn a seemingly trivial tragedy such as the loss of one’s dog, when the world is gripped by a pandemic that is unleashing horror upon horror: Loss of livelihood, life and more. There is a killer virus on the prowl, the planet is warming, the world is burning.

And here I was desolate and distraught over the loss of a dog.

My eyes, my heart, me, drowning in unshed tears,

A dozen years — my longest deepest relationship,

My child, my love, my best friend, my shadow, my companion, my teacher;

Fun. Sunshine. Laughter.

Gone.

But, nestled in my heart forever —Doginder

It’s all kinds of horrible when someone you love, who but a week ago was a warm being full of verve, comes back home stuffed in an urn.

We don’t do rituals, but we did them anyway — just in case the departed got short-changed by the powers-that-be in heaven. We recited prayers, prepared prasad, offered it to the gods, and his large community of friends and fans. We fed the poor — who, in this case, were the great Indian street dogs. Then, we dug a hole in our back garden, where we had spent many beautiful evenings together.

Throughout, I remained stoic, my back rigid with the effort. But when I emptied his ashes into the earth, I broke down, dissolving into a flood of tears. I felt my heart shatter, a deep fissure that may never mend, embedding into my soul.

Grief has no measure. The loss of a beloved is crippling and cuts deep, whether it is a human or non-human. But when the enormity of your loss is rarely understood, it is even more isolating. How does one mourn a seemingly trivial tragedy such as the loss of one’s dog, when the world is gripped by a pandemic that is unleashing horror upon horror: Loss of livelihood, life and more. There is a killer virus on the prowl, the planet is warming, the world is burning.

And here I was desolate and distraught over the loss of a dog. But Doginder wasn’t ‘just’ a dog, one that could be replaced — a ‘consolation’ offered by a masked human. He was my world, which is now dark and lonely — ever since his precious heart stopped beating.

Doginder belonged to the rescued breed of dogs, though conventionally he may be classified as a handsome black Labrador. When we got him, he was physically and emotionally broken. He was emaciated, his skin was mangy and his eyes dull and hopeless. Suffering from acute hip dysplasia, there were days he couldn’t get up, heaving himself up valiantly before crumbling into a pathetic heap. Probably why he was thrown from a car by some especially toxic scum.

Under our tender loving care, Doginder recovered, and his confidence grew. He walked straight, his eyes shone bright, his tail constantly beat in a joyful rhythm, reaching dizzy heights in the event of a reunion — any separation beyond two minutes qualified — with loved ones.

People said I rescued him. Fact is, we rescued each other. I was in a dark place when he came to us in October 2008, having just lost my mother to cancer, and having had an ugly break-up with a partner. I would lie listlessly, willing myself to move. Doginder was right beside me (throughout his life, this became his vocation), his mournful eyes reflecting my anguish. After a point he decided enough was enough, and would nudge me with his nose, pawing me, enticing me with a ball, urging me to play. My simple act of getting out of the bed was met with a boisterous, goofy dance, joy oozing out his being. You couldn’t not laugh with him, his exuberance had me soaring.

Routines were now set on dog-time. Though a night owl, I would dutifully wake up at 6am so Doginder could take me for a walk. Evenings were occupied with handling his social life as a rush of neighbourhood kids came to play or generally chat with him, or escort him to meet his other canine friends (always girls!). Trips were cut short as we knew the dog was dejected at being alone, with the lurking fear of us having done the run on him.

He soon became the pivot around which the household revolved. As for Doginder, his single focus in life was not food — despite being a Labrador — but to be with us, even if that meant taking a bath or going to the vet — the two most dreaded events in his life. So much so that I believe he survived near-death experiences because he didn’t want to leave us. Once, in a gruesome accident, he was run over by a car. We feared he wouldn’t live or walk again — but he did both, grimly hanging on, making a slow, painful recovery. In his eyes, I read a will to live. It was as though he was having too much fun with us here on Earth to want to go across the ‘rainbow bridge’ or whatever that abyss of afterlife is.

But, this time, Doginder’s and our collective will could not save him. A raging fever, a failing liver, an enlarged heart — and in a matter of days, he was gone. Doginder died on May 24, 2020. But the wound is still bleeding as if it was yesterday. Thank you, my best boy, for being in my life. We may not be with you physically, but in spirit we are always by your side, like you were by ours. You will be deeply, sorely missed, never forgotten.

Prerna Singh Bindra is a wildlife conservationist and writer based in New Delhi

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Published on September 10, 2020
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