In a break from poetry, I’m posting this piece of prose I wrote many years ago, for my son when he was 8 years old. Mercury was his buddy and we still talk about Mercury’s brief stint on earth… this is exactly how it happened.
MERCURY had a brief and eventful journey on earth. A little more than eight months. Today his yatra has taken him to other realms. Like the planet he was named after, his spirit remains elusive….
A litter of five pups was born one rainy June afternoon to a stray bitch. The mother-dog lay above her pups to shield them from the water that seeped through the hedge. Within fifteen days, the pups opened their eyes. Since the pups had been born in our garden, I assumed the mantle of a parent.
The first step was to give names to the pups. My 7-year-old son decided that since they had come from heaven, they should be named after heavenly bodies. Pluto was the leader; aggressive, first among equals. Venus was doe-eyed and docile. Mars barked a lot and behaved stupidly. Jupiter usually ended up with both his forelegs in the milk bowl.
Mercury… Mercury was the unusual one. White with brown patches, he rarely took part in pup-fights that broke out regularly. He had golden-brown eyes that regarded you solemnly, even sadly, and a mature attitude that far surpassed his age. He was our special one.
One day, soon after birth, Mercury went missing. It was an anxious evening as we searched high and low for him. But no matter how hard we searched, he stayed lost. After two days we concluded that somebody had taken him away.
Imagine my surprise when one evening Mercury appeared at our gate again. This Mercury had already had his first brush with the darker side of men. His ear was partially torn, his ribs were poking out pitifully, and his head cocked to one side, as if he were listening. But the brave little fellow had found his way back home.
My son was over the moon. Mercury was given milk and an evening of undivided attention. The pup lay on the mat and gazed at us with his brown eyes, as if to say, “I’m sure glad to be home. You don’t know what it’s like out there…”
Clearly, somebody had beaten him so hard it had injured some nerve in his neck due to which his head could not stay upright. His sense of balance had also been disturbed. For, as he attempted to climb the stairs, he tumbled backwards. Again and again. But worst of all was his peculiar bark.
Now, a dog’s bark is an essential part of him. A loud resonant bark is a sign that the dog is well and happy; on the other hand, a low bark or infrequent barking indicates that he is unwell or unhappy. When we saw that Mercury was not barking in his normal fashion, we decided to send him to the animal hospital.
Mercury returned a fortnight later. The vet had fixed his ear and his head sat straighter on his thin body. As for the rest, the hospital had done him more harm than good. His eyes had none of the old spark, and his tail lay lifeless. We thought he would revive soon. We were wrong.
The hospital, with its large population of alien dogs, had broken the pup’s spirit. It had made him repressed and unfriendly. He lay on his mat immobile. He refused food. He refused to acknowledge my son, or any of sibling pups. The Mercury we had known less than a month ago was hiding away.
The challenge was to recall our old lovable pup. It proved to be a slow, painstaking task. December had set in and temperatures had dipped. Each morning Mercury was bundled up in warm clothes and placed in the backyard, precisely where the first sun rays deposited their welcome warmth. Then when he had uncoiled himself awake, he was given warm milk with fresh chapatti or bread. More often than not, he simply pecked at it. I grew anxious. How could he get better if he refused to eat? So I set aside all my work and coaxed him… to eat one more piece… a little more…
All through the day, Mercury remained within the sun’s warm gaze. He loved those gentle sun kissed days. I could sense it despite his sullen silence. However his season of denial continued – refusing to play and refusing to eat.
The pups were now growing rapidly and the first sign was their ever-growing appetites.
But Mercury… I fed him separately, cajoling him every step of the way…
One afternoon, I inspected the cake I had just taken out from the oven. The whiff of the freshly baked cake made Mercury sit up and emit a tiny bark. I placed a piece in his bowl. He ate it up animatedly. Then he looked up at me with his limpid eyes.. he wanted more! After that, it was mother’s cake for Mercury, at least once a day. He loved it and watching him gobble it up gave me a warm, squishy feeling inside. My cake tin was never empty that winter.
One night, as I readied his basket and he watched me trustingly, I decided that Mercury would live with us always. His head was still not perfectly upright. His gait was awkward and unsteady. I could not deprive him of the only home he knew. This was a huge step for me… I don’t like pets as a rule.
A few days later, Mercury left us. He did not return by dinnertime and we hit the panic button, again. Walking, bending to look into hedges, calling out… we spent half the night searching.
The next morning the maid informed us that she had seen a dead pup lying in the road nearby… and yes, it looked like our Mercury. My husband drove to the spot and sure enough, it was him, on his final yatra.
Mercury lies buried in the hedge where he was born. The other pups lived other destinies… but Mercury shared with us a magical bond that endures. On clear nights, my son looks up at the sky and asks where Mercury is. I answer, “He is on a yatra of the Milky Way.”