Please don't groan. This is not a bad, sad or plainly mad tale. It is relatively short. Relatively. Because, once I start writing, I find it hard to stop. But today, I thought I'd spare you (by and large) the verbiage. And give you something to smile about. I guarantee it. Promise.
He came to us in July 1992, a surprise 7th birthday gift for my daughter. We were living in Madras then. My mother had asked her, a few months earlier, what she would like for her birthday. I will get you anything you ask for, she promised rashly. A nice dress, maybe some pretty jewelry, or, at worst, another one of those loathsome Barbies, thought my mother. And in the blithe, carefree manner of childhood, my daughter answered breezily, I want a dog. She had been immersed in reading Enid Blyton’s Mr. Galliano’s Circus, in which one of the most endearing characters was a dog, Lucky. This Lucky was a super-dog. From addition and subtraction to a dazzling array of circus tricks to apprehending criminals, there was nothing that dog could not do. My daughter wanted her own Lucky.
And so it was that we got our Lucky. Because no demand is too outrageous or over-the-top when it comes from one of her beloved grandchildren, and because when she makes a promise she means it and will not dream of breaking it, my mother set about finding the best dog she could.
First, she did some extensive research (which consisted of her calling every single one of her large collection of friends who knew anything about dogs) and decided that a cocker spaniel was the best breed of dog for a child – gentle, friendly, and good-natured. Scouring through dozens of advertisements in the Sunday newspapers, she zeroed in on a veterinarian in a distant part of the city, one who claimed he was the head of the Bharath Kennel Club, a breeder of unimpeachable repute.
So we drove to his house, my mother and I, battling the rush-hour traffic, the heat, the dust, the humidity of a July evening. Eventually we arrived, and the vet whisked us upstairs to the roof of his house, and there was Lucky. Small, black, with enormous quantities of hair, long, drooping ears, and the saddest eyes. Eyes that begged, take me with you. Of course, our hearts melted right then and there. We held him, and inhaled that incomparable puppy smell, feeling the squirming little body calm down in our arms. There was no going back.
We brought Lucky home the night before my daughter’s birthday. She, and my son, who was three then, had absolutely no clue that any of this was afoot. Poor Lucky. He did not sleep at all that night. He had been separated from his mother and brothers and sisters, taken away from the only home he’d known so far. All night long he whined and whimpered, and I stayed up the whole night with him, talking to him softly and trying to soothe him and make him feel at home.
The next morning, when my daughter woke up, we covered her eyes and took her to the dining room. When we reached the sofa, where Lucky sat, still trembling and frightened in my father’s arms, we uncovered her eyes. And for once in her life, she was dumbstruck. Being a child, she had long forgotten that casual request of hers all those months back. Then, her face broke out in the most delighted and delightful smile a parent can hope to see on a child’s face, and at that moment, began a love affair that, all these years later, still brings a smile to my face.
She named him Lucky, without a second’s hesitation. My son, still struggling with his L’s at that time, called him Yucky. Which led to endless squabbles between the two children.
Son: “Yucky! Come here!”
Daughter: “How dare you call my dog Yucky! I’m not your friend!”
Son: (bawling): “She said she’s not my friend (pronounced fyiend)”!
Adult who happened to be around: “Now, what are you two fighting about?”
Daughter: “He called my dog Yucky!”
Son: “I did not call him Yucky!”
Daughter: “See? I told you! He just did!”
And so on, endlessly. Lucky, wisely, walked away from this ridiculous scene, smelling richer pickings in the kitchen.
As Lucky grew up, it became increasingly obvious that he was not a cocker spaniel. If anything, he looked like a cross between a small bear and a mystery dog – completely mad looking, and devastatingly cute and handsome. But we had paid for a cocker spaniel, had even been given a “Certificate” describing his impeccable pedigree, a lofty-sounding list of sires and dames which comprised Lucky’s ancestors. So we called up the Bharath Kennel Club veterinarian, who first professed to have no idea what we were talking about, but, when threatened with exposure about the money-extorting activities of his blatantly fake Kennel Club, made the long, hot, dusty journey from his home in a distant part of Madras with double haste. He offered to take Lucky back, but of course, that was out of the question. My mother gave him the tongue lashing of his life, and, tail tucked between his legs, he slunk home, hopefully to never cheat or mislead anyone again. Hopefully.
Lucky became the third child in the house. Everything they did, he wanted to do as well. It never occurred to him that he was any different from them.
I think it broke his heart when we moved back to New York, a year later. He stayed behind with my parents; putting him through the long and cruel quarantine process was unthinkable, and he was a Madras dog, through and through. He was shy and timid, and frightened of all sorts of things outside the house. New York would have terrified him. We left him with a heavy heart.
Lucky’s delight when we made our annual visits to India was a sight to behold. Our flight usually got in at an ungodly hour at night. The entire colony would be quiet and dark, deep in sleep in the deadest part of the night. Then our car would arrive, and the peace and quiet would be shattered with a volley of joyous, piercing barks from Lucky. In a rapture of delirium with excitement, he kept up his clamorous din, running back and forth, slipping and sliding on the floor, frantic with his desperation to see us and jump on us and slobber all over us. He had a special gift ready for us in his mouth, a smelly old shoe, which he dropped at our feet, his entire backside wagging in ecstasy. Sometimes, overcome by the occasion, he swallowed an entire sock, which made its smelly way out slowly and painfully, six weeks later.
The entire neighborhood knew that we had arrived.
And when our vacation came to an end, and we started packing our suitcases, Lucky descended into the slough of despond. Shooting us accusing, you-are-abandoning-me-again looks, he lay with his nose on our suitcases, sad-eyed and disconsolate. It broke our hearts.
Lucky lived for a short seven years. His gentle spirit will always remain in our memory.