A walk in the memoryHow a dog came to be a woman's source of freedom
When the two first met, one was a two-month-old orphaned pup and the other was a twenty-eight-year-old woman, going through a bad year of hitting the digit eight, Chyaehau, as the Newa people say. Nothing was going right in life.
We will call the pup 'Chhori' as we proceed, and we will call the woman Prachinta hereon.
The pup had made a long journey to arrive in Prachinta’s arms. She had been sold by a breeder in a big city with many buses, trains and trams to a dog dealer in a small town nearby, who had sold her to a young woman, who had, in turn, bought her as a gift to Prachinta’s distant relative.
As is the case at times with pups and people, the family of the distant relatives did not want to adopt a pup, so she started being kicked around. Literally during meals when she went under the table, waiting for scraps. And sometimes, people tripped on her carelessly, sending the pup rolling against the kitchen counter. Fragile Pup. We will call her Pup for a bit, as she transitions to what will finally be her name.
No one walked Pup. Pup became stationed by the kitchen door, on a leash, where she sat, woke up, watched people, and went to sleep again. But the day Prachinta met her, all that would change. When the woman walked into her relatives’ home, Pup came from under a chair and started barking at her, totally unaware that puppy barks are cute and not ferocious. Instantly, the woman bent down and scooped her into her arms—establishing a moment that would change their lives forever.
In the weeks following their first meeting, the two would go through the most turbulent time in their lives as Prachinta would make moves to gain ownership of Pup, and Pup would keep scrambling into her arms, temporarily escaping maltreatment. We shall not go into further detail, but both Prachinta and Chhori would come away scarred from the experience, but would have won their freedom.
A pup who had made such a long journey to arrive in her arms deserved more than a random dog name, Prachinta would decide and so Pup would come to be called Chhori - daughter. And with the naming of that relationship, they’d both be set free once again.
Freedom, as you know, can come in many forms. It can be knowing you are loved. It can also be acknowledging your own capacity to love. Or, freedom can be other mundane things like evening walks. It can also be shutting yourself in your room when the house is crowded with guests you do not want to meet. So, Chhori became Prachinta’s excuse for seclusion and for the freedom to walk around the neighbourhood at night.
Like all dogs you see on Instagram, Chhori would jump excitedly the moment she saw her halter and leash. Prachinta would fasten it around her torso, clip the leash to it and the two would go out, walking side by side. To passersby, they made an intriguing pair—a woman and a dog, walking deserted, dimly-lit streets.
They would walk under rows of poplar trees and the jacaranda, where squirrels made their home. Chhori would sniff, investigating every tree trunk looking for squirrels. During the monsoon, she would chase moles. One time when she was running after a mole, the neighbourhood tomcat happened to be sitting on the fence and made sure to show his dominance with a slap across Chhori’s face, injuring her eye.
Chhori was prone to injuries and illnesses. The two spent a lot of time visiting a pet hospital, where one day, the two would have their last meeting. But before Chhori turned into a geriatric dog, most vet visits were happy because they both returned home feeling better—one physically, the other emotionally.
Togetherness meant night-long vigil every time Chhori was sick. Togetherness was also waiting to see one another again every time Prachinta left for travels, so they could do their walks together again. On their evening walks sometimes, they would stop under the rambling angel’s trumpets until Prachinta caught a whiff of the wildflower. Chhori didn’t care for the smell as much as she did for the petrichor, but she would wait just because. Their walks were sometimes punctuated by community dogs, Bhai and Kanchi, joining them, making the group an interesting sight to the passersby—a woman and a pack.
Chhori was an explorer. There was a particular jacaranda tree she would always stop to sniff the trunk of. When the Ring Road expansion began and they cut down all the trees, her walks lost signposts. The course of her walk changed, as she walked from one razed tree to another, sniffing at the remnants of the trunks until she found the stump of her favourite jacaranda. It became her new pattern.
One time during their walk, a strange man followed them on a motorbike. Prachinta would eventually change their regime to avoid the stalker, but the hope was that Chhori would pounce on the man if he launched an attack. For she had done so once as a pup—tried to bite a drunk who had attacked Prachinta.
Defence comes in many forms, too. Chhori had kept Prachinta from being exposed to the noise of the world as she had prevented her from turning cold from many years of estrangement and lovelessness. So, when Chhori suddenly passed away, a month short of turning 12, Prachinta found that her heart had become softer than it had ever been. While Chhorri was alive, Prachinta always thought that if one of them died, the other one would also die a slow death. But when the parting came, Prachinta did not die. Instead, she became more alive with the knowledge of the love she had experienced.
Most evenings now, she sits on the terrace, at what used to be the duo’s favourite spot, reminiscing. From the terrace, she can sometimes see the girl next-door taking her dog Mikey for walks, and she thinks about how the freedom of silence, solitude and the darkness of the night is a gift her neighbour has received because of Mikey, just as she had once lived them all because of Chhori.
Suburban Tales is a monthly column in Nepali Times based on real people (with some names changed) in Pratibha’s life.
Read also: Adventures of a Kathmandu street dog