Shelly (or Shaalu as she is addressed now with respect and love these days) is a very important member of our family having her own plate, her own drinking vessel, sleeps with us in the family bed, accompanies us on tours and travel in our own car. She came into our lives in a very unusual way and has been with us for all of 11 wonderful years. Only recently on October 30th 2007 we celebrated her birthday by buying her two vanilla ice creams scoops, which she loves. Chronologically she entered into our lives when my own darling daughter Mayuri was close to becoming a 10-year old. In these 11 years we could not teach her our language nor could we learn hers. But that has not stopped us from very effective communication. If you ask her “Badmaashi kiye karicchhi” (which in English is ‘who has done the mischief’) in a loud voice, she knows she is being reprimanded and tries to hug you.
My daughter had become very fond of her aunt Munu Nani (my cousin sister) who had come to stay with us for a fairly long time in 1995. My job of Training Officer and being the Tutor for a Leadership Training programme at Rourkela Steel Plant entailed a lot of tours those days. My daughter was able to manage my absence with the company and attention that Munu Nani provided to her. It so happened that Munu Nani had to leave Rourkela to be with her parents and coinciding with that I had to proceed on tour leaving a heartbroken Mayuri with her mother. That she refused to eat food on the first evening was only to be expected. But that she would be sobbing till she slept off by about 7 pm was a little more than what my wife Sunanda was prepared for. It was a winter evening as a worried mother sat beside her disappointed daughter thinking of what would be the answer to her demands.
It was then that Madhuri, the daughter of our “out-house” family arrived with a ball of “wool”. My wife took some time to realize that it was a new-born (even eyes not opened yet) pup that had lost its mama dog. Sunanda agreed to keep the little cutie inspite of the fact that we already had three cats in the house. Next morning, my daughter was woken up and told by her mother that some kind of a surprise was there for her. She was escorted to her bath-tub which had been done up like an army tent, secure from all sides to prevent the entry of cold. While Mayuri was frowning for the unauthorized use of her bath-tub, Sunanda began to remove the roof gradually. My daughter’s eyes were getting wider and wider in amazement and when the ball of wool tried to stand and tottered, she shrieked with joy at this unusual and unique toy that had come her way. Her excited question was “Mama, is it for me?” and then “Can we keep it with us?” My wife, seeing the excitement, said yes, although she had thought once this baby doggy had its eyes open, it could go away. But for the time being, it had been one of the most exciting mornings for my daughter. The fur was as white as white sea shells and so my daughter immediately decided to call it shell white. Soon after, realizing that it was a girl doggy, her name became Shelly.
The morning passed thanks to Shelly. Mayuri adored her, and held a spoon to feed the baby. Picked her up in her arms and took it to the courtyard to bask in the sun for overcoming the chill in the air. But the biggest relief was that Sunanda did not have to answer the 1001 questions about why Mayuri’s father had gone on tour, when he will call on phone, when would he return etc. etc. However, at the back of her mind, the thought of having to eventually face the barrage of questions in the evening was lurking in her mind.
Shelly became Mayuri’s best friend and they got along fabulously. Mayuri’s friends would come to visit Shelly, who would be introduced with great pride. Our house became a tourist’s delight with 8-year old and 10 year-old children from the neighbourhoold turning up in good numbers to see this new sensation which Mayuri possessed. When there were no visitors, Mayuri and Shelly played, fought, roamed the house and never got bored of each other. The cats were not very amused but finally relented and would take up positions at heights that Shelly could not reach. The scuffles did keep taking place between the two species though. When I returned, I had to accommodate my daughter’s little demand but Shelly, as far as I was concerned, was a nuisance. She began by chewing up my socks, chewing up the legs of all chairs and tables, tearing up sofa covers and whatever she could lay her teeth on. She had no idea that she was spoiling the house with her toilet. For her the whole house was her play ground. One of the biggest problems was that she would run out of the house just when I was preparing to leave for office and the whole of our lane would witness my futile attempts to bring her back in time. It was exasperating more often than not. Before we realized, a year had gone by like this and Shelly had grown up to become one of the most beautiful doggies in not only the locality but in the steel city itself.
Around this time, the invisible hand of destiny ordained our transfer to Chandrapur to join Maharashtra Elektrosmelt Limited. My first decision was that Shelly would stay back at Rourkela. But again, the day our Maruti Van was being driven off, a friend of mine who was accompanying the car, saw this beautiful Shelly and volunteered to take her in the Van. My wife said “excellent” to this because the vehicle’s first halt was at Nagpur where my in-laws stayed and she assured me that Shelly would be well looked after.
We reached Nagpur a couple of days later by train. Shelly who had already become a hit with my two nieces, came out with them to greet us and did her embracing act standing on her hind legs with all of us in turns. An hour or so later we were boarding our Maruti Van to commence our maiden journey to Chandrapur. I had decided that Shelly was not going with us because we did not have our own house and had to put up in the Guest House. But I thought I heard a murmur and my in-laws, my daughter and wife were exchanging glances with a mischievous smile on their faces. I was outnumbered 1:4. Shelly was in the car traveling to Chandrapur and was beginning to acquire the reputation of being the most widely traveled dog in her community of “desi dogs”. We reached Chandrapur by lunch time, dumped our luggage in the VIP suite tying Shelly in her chain, to a door handle near the Sofa and moved to have lunch so that I could proceed to submit my Joining Report. We came back to be greeted by a site I or my daughter and wife will never forget. Our pampered Shelly had perhaps felt she was deserted and had chewed up the upholstery of the VIP sofa and was actually sitting indignantly by its side. I will not narrate the traumatic look that befell the employees of the Guest House, but I had to shell out more than one thousand rupees to bring it back to shape. The embarrassment, however, was to the tune of one hundred times of that. What was much more frightening than this was what all would she choose to chew in future and what would be the personal cost to me for replacement. My wife who shared my feelings agreed that Shelly had to stay elsewhere if we were to walk with our heads not hanging in shame.
Since Security was under my control, a Security Guard by the name Rangari was persuaded to look after Shelly and was reimbursed the cost of ¾ litres of milk and a large bread per day. Rangari uncle was seen once a while with Shelly on her “rounds” and he would be calling her Shaili much to the chagrin of my daughter. She would threaten me that she intended to mis-pronounce Rangari uncle’s name, when we met him to take revenge.
The arrangement was working fine till we noticed that Shelly was putting on weight. My daughter was upset because it reduced the beauty of Shelly but we got the fright of our lives to know that she was to give babies. Since it was of no point to question Rangari’s vigilance, the next thing was to concede that Rangari would not want any more hassles on this score. So it was back to the basics, and we sent Shelly to her “mai-ke” (mother’s place) and she went to Nagpur where my in-laws again took charge of her maternity phase. On Holi Day 1997, Shelly gave birth to six beautiful pups. To spare my in-laws any further torture, we put them all into a basket with Shelly in attention and made our way back to Chandrapur. The next three weeks were chaotic.
At this point, we came across Raju a Supervisor in the Plant. Coming to hear of our plight, he offered to send the babies to a farm where they reared dogs for guarding the land. So off went the babies and we breathed a sigh of relief that we had not abandoned them. He took Shelly to his house and said that since she was recovering after delivery, he would personally look after her convalescence and take her to the same farm for the much awaited family reunion. I thanked God for the goodness in human beings. Subsequently we would ask Raju about the well being of Shelly and it was reassuring to hear that she was as healthy as ever and that the kids too were progressing well.
It had to be admitted that life after Shelly left our house, had become quite dull. No pressure to take her for morning walk at 5.45 in the morning. No need to build a wall of bricks in the balcony to prevent the pups from making a mess outside their pen. No need to bother about all the food that had to be bought for the mama and the children. But the stillness in the house at Chandrapur generated some kind of guilt in me because, all said and done, Shelly was a great favourite of my daughter. Somehow I felt it was only I who had got what I wanted.
Even if I haven’t admitted in so many words, the one thing which I have hidden so far is my obstinate character. When I want something or do not want something I never give up easily till I achieve that goal. I have done many silly things because of this through out my life – things that actually changed the course of my life. Shelly’s departure was probably one such thing. It was the month of June and very hot because Chandrapur summers are oppressive like one cannot imagine. Temperatures soar to above 40 degrees Celsius before 9 in the morning and reach anything between 48 and 52 degrees Celsius during the course of the day. It was a Sunday and at around 11 am with the whole of Chandrapur behind closed doors and Room Coolers. My wife was having the one day off that she deserved because her own responsibility as Head of Marketing of Maharashtra Elektrosmelt Limited was a trying one. My in-laws who happened to be there were also relaxing and Mayuri was busy coping up with Marathi, which she was learning and practicing for her final examinations of Class V. I suddenly felt a very strong desire of going to a village called Mul (about 50 kilometers away on the Chanda-Mul Road) because I had heard there was a very ancient Shiva Temple where people had their weirdest wishes fulfilled. When I told my wife, she thought I had gone bonkers especially because it was close to lunch time and why place ourselves in an oven when we had the luxury of the house. But like I said, my obstinacy came in the way of her sound logic. I had my way and we commenced our journey in our Van. The only thing which broke the silence of disgust was the music system in the car and my usually cheerful wife also quite put off to the extent that the same cassette played on without interruption. It was well past 12 noon when we reached this remote and obscure village. After making enquiries, we took a turn and were on a dusty village road to the famous temple. Our journey had to wait because a column of bullock carts stuffed with freshly cut bamboos was coming towards us on the narrow road. We halted at the village centre having some shops and a lot of activity. It was the typical village scene. There was also a Tube Well being operated by a woman who was filling up her vessels.
What happened in the next few minutes is something that struck all of us. I was looking into this scene when I saw a somewhat white color dog being chased by a wicked adult. Thoughts of Shelly raced through my mind and I asked my wife if it didn’t remind her of Shelly. She broke an hour of silence to pay heed to my words. A distance of nearly 30 meters separated that scene from us. I noticed a beautiful flicker in my wife’s eyes - the flicker that has kept me going through many trying and tough times. I knew that some thing very different was happening. So I just whistled and shouted S-h-e-l-l-y. I was stunned to see the doggy respond and then an emaciated, browned up dog was running towards us like a leopard after its prey. In just a few seconds, this dog had put up its forelegs on to my window and was trying to lick me. It was whining and moaning. There was absolutely no difficulty for any one of us to realize that it was indeed our own dear Shelly. When the rear door was slided to open it she jumped right in. Next thing she was taking turns at hugging each one of us. During all this she was weeping like a baby. It was a reunion that I still recall with moist eyes. She had patches of her fur missing and the fur she wore had become brown. She had been beaten and kicked by all and sundry that she had tried to make friends with. There were raw wounds on her body representing the wrath only human beings can inflict on innocent four legged creatures. After all, Shelly was a pet dog and had never needed to learn the art of finding her food.
It was much later that we discovered that the column of bullock carts had disappeared. We had really been oblivious to the world around us at ‘discovering’ our dear Shelly. The road ahead was empty once again and the temple was beckoning us. We drove on to reach our destination to find a dilapidated temple that was reminiscent of an era long gone by. Not a single visitor apart from us was visible there. A solitary villager available there told us that visitors were few and far between but yes, he had also heard it being said that people did come to this place to get their wishes fulfilled.
For the first time in my life, I felt no need to make a wish. I realized that what I had heard about wishes being fulfilled had already taken place en-route. My daughter Mayuri had yearned for the company of Shelly and this wish had been fulfilled. “Wonders”, like they say, “never cease”.
We took Shelly back with us and made no mention of it to Raju. After all, if Raju had lied to us about looking after Shelly, it was a secret he was keeping to himself and was happy he had made a fool of us. We dispatched Shelly secretly to her “mai-ke” at Nagpur till we were transferred to Ranchi when she resumed her travels. We were at Ranchi for nearly a year and a half. She gave babies at Ranchi once more and this time we found out households for the pups. When we moved from Ranchi all her new relatives came to say good-bye to her. From Ranchi again we moved back to Rourkela and in all these years we have never ever thought of having some one else take care of Shelly. She has been with us holding on to her record of being one of the most widely traveled dogs in her community. She continues to be Mayuri’s best friend from the world of the four-legged.