Shanku and chakki came to our house when they were a month old, mongrels picked up by the fisher woman who had heard that we were looking for a dog. She said that their great grandparents were Alsatians. They were tiny puppies and mom put them in a couple of shoe boxes. Later she found a bigger box where they could both be together. I loved them. Everyday, when I came back from school, I used to run to the box, where they would already be whining and rolling around in anticipation. Days passed and soon they were both old enough to be tied outside. Chakki was soon given away as we could not keep two dogs. That left shanku and me. We spent all out free time together. Roaming the neighbourhood, climbing walls, chasing cats, even picking fights with the odd dog that ventured our way. Mom said he was a mirror image of me. I took that as a compliment though I doubt if he liked the comparison. As time passed it became quite apparent that there was no trace of Alsatian in his blood. Oh!! he was aggressive, very aggressive, but only when he was sure that aggression would not be reciprocated. Walk in well dressed looking nervously around for a dog, and shanku would bring the house down with his barking, not to mention his wide legged stance and bared teeth, a true gladiator in the Colosseum. But walk in in rags with a stick in one hand and a stone in the other, and there would be no sign of a dog in the vicinity. In his whole entire life he never bit anyone. He was too scared they would bite back.
As Shanku grew, he became even more of a gentleman. He made his peace with all the dogs in the neighbourhood, never got into fights, found a mate, settled down and started a family. Watching him I learnt one of the most basic lessons in life. The key to contentment does not lie in fat paychecks or fancy cars. It lies in our heart. In our attitude to life and the challenges it throws at us. Shanku was happy, and he dint even have a kennel of his own. He used to lie in our porch on rainy days and out in the garden if the sun was out. He used to drink water from puddles and scavenge for food when we took off for vacations. But he was happy. Happy because he could chase butterflies. Happy because he could see me come home from school everyday. Happy because he was always thrown tit bits while we sat round the dining table. And finally happy because he had a partner to share his life with. His wants were few and he had what he wanted. So he was happy. I have seen that same happiness in another place. There is a home for rehabilitated street children here in Hyderabad. It's name is Ashirvaad and I have been there a couple of times. This place is run wholly on contributions from good Samaritans and very often they have to run from pillar to post for basic amenities. About ninety kids sleep in a single room on bunk beds stacked one on top of the other. But look at their faces and you see a happiness not seen in our daily life. They are thankful for what they have and they believe they are blessed to have this opportunity to pull themselves out of their past. I help these kids whenever I can but I feel no sympathy. They don't need it. They are genuinely happy and that cannot be said for everyone else I see around me.
Shanku's death was very sudden. We had never put a collar around his neck as everyone in the colony knew him. And he was harmless, so no one had any reason to wish him ill. One day people from the pound came down to our colony looking for stray dogs. In Trivandrum the pound does not capture dogs alive. They inject them with poison and load the corpses onto a small cart to dispose of them later. Shanku had never seen a pound cart before. So he genially walked up to it and checked it out. Seeing all the dead dogs he started barking and they caught and injected him. By the time they realised he was a pet dog, it was too late. Mom was called and he died with his head in mom's lap and licking her hand. I came from college and was told what happened. I told myself that he was a good dog and all dogs go to heaven. So he was in a better place. We buried him in our backyard. I missed him terribly, still do. He was my brother, my friend, my guardian, my teacher. But he had to go someday, and I know he wouldn't ever want me to be sad.