Eleven years ago, when we moved into our new apartment, we were welcomed by a friendly pup that wagged its tail incessantly. He sat, surveying from a safe distance, the flurry of activity that signified a unique chapter in our lives.
Our new home. Our first home. Probably, even thankfully, our only home.
The brown coat with stripes immediately prompted my ten-year old to christen it ‘Tiger’. So, Tiger, he became, responding to this name with great energy.
The masons and other construction workers were from Bihar and Bengal, northern states of India, who travelled all the way to south Bangalore to earn a living. They lived together in makeshift tents that offered hardly any protection against the weather. They worked hard, making our building fit for occupancy. They formed strong and deep bonds with each other and made things as homely as possible for themselves. In this context I suppose, they had adopted this wee pup a few months ago. For what can be more comforting than the presence of a dog? Tiger fit the bill perfectly. It was and still is the friendliest dog in the universe. I watched them often, from the remote distance of my balcony, while they cooked their evening meal a distance away from the site, and Tiger would wait patiently for them to finish. A smattering of Hindi and Bengali would drift my way interspersed with raucous laughter. Tiger made his presence felt with a couple of short barks.
Soon, after a couple of months, they left one evening. They packed up their meagre belongings, cleaned up the area and left. Tiger stood by the entrance of the building looking at them, as still as a statue. Only its nose twitched. Suddenly he began wagging his tail and bounded away at Gaur, the head mason who came back for one last pat. I heard him say ‘Tarpa’ a lot.
‘Gaur, Tarpa maane ki?’ I asked in my broken Bengali.
Ah, so that’s what it was. Tarpa was what Tiger had originally been called.
I had read somewhere that it was bad luck to change a dog’s name. So, I insisted we call Tiger by his original name, Tarpa. On checking the meaning of this name, I discovered to my pleasant surprise that it meant ‘refreshing’.
And refreshing he certainly was. So different from the other eager canines. There is an innate dignity about him that makes you respect him. No ordinary dog. Never rushes at his bowl even when hungry. Stands there patiently while we rush about looking for Parle Glucose biscuits, his favourite. His bowl is filled with warm or chilled mild depending on the weather. Fresh made rotis are shredded and mixed with milk. My husband brought home a bag of Pedigree dog food and premium dog biscuits and ended up in the dog house for days, because Tarpa sniffed perfunctorily and rejected these treats without a second sniff. The better half found solace finally when another dog whom we called ‘Also’ because he was a mere second fiddle to Tarpa, exhibited proper canine behaviour and proceeded to wolf down his well-deserved meal.
Tarpa stood there, looking disapprovingly at Also, for being such a dog!
He is getting on, in doggie years. Sometimes I even see my father’s spirit in him. My father was also very fussy and particular about his space. I talk to him and he looks at me with so much kindness and understanding in his eyes that are huge, limpid pools of honey, that it breaks my heart to even imagine a day when he won’t be there anymore. I push that thought away. I shall deal with loss when it happens. No point in dwelling on it now.
As of today, Tarpa owns the apartment block. He is pampered by everybody. Treats galore await him on every floor. He is the undisputed King of the realm. Visitors say that he is the perfect guest, with impeccable manners and regal bearing.
We are quick to set the record straight.
It is almost as if we are the guests in his world. For he’s been here, even before us.
The original inhabitant.
We are his guests sharing his space, his territory.