We all have origin stories. Some that get circulated in the family as the only story that could be associated with you no matter how old you are. And some that aren’t spoken of very often.
My parents shifted to Allahabad almost immediately after their marriage. It was arranged, and they had their little ways of getting to know each other in a strange city, away from their homes. They befriended a stray white dog who would wait for the first piping hot roti from my mother’s kitchen. He would loiter around all over the place, sniffing and eating from garbage bins all day but would be back at the same time for the roti. Maa isn’t the quintessential dog lover. She likes them only from a distance, occasionally calling out to them while they wag their tails. But there is always an exception to every rule, and Maa named the white stray
Maharaj would follow my mother everywhere – to the bazaar running behind the scooter while my mother would ask him to go back and to the shop next door where he would be at such a close distance that Maharaj almost had the pallu of my mother’s saree in his mouth.
Maharaj didn’t leave my mother’s side and followed her like a shadow when she conceived me. He would barge into Pathology Labs and sit beneath Maa’s chair while she waited patiently for routine checkups and blood tests.
My father is a dog lover. He scratches their bellies and pats their head at every opportunity he gets with any dog, anywhere. Maa has always been very strict about not letting any dog enter the house, and even though Maharaj was loved, he was also made to stay outside the door.
Maharaj obeyed and disobeyed by keeping one paw inside the door’s threshold. Maa and
Maharaj were inseparable in her evening walks with my father.
My mother’s due date was in a month. Maharaj was nowhere to be seen for the past three days. Maa was worried, and her pace in the evening walks increased, hoping to spot him somewhere. After two weeks, Maa heard Maharaj but couldn’t see him anywhere. The noise was coming from inside the house, and Maa was already furious despite being anxious. She carefully kneeled on the floor and looked under the bed. Only after she got accustomed to the stench that almost made her vomit, she saw him in one of the darker corners beneath the bed, huddled in pain. The stench filled the entire house, and Maa started to feel sick. My father was left with no choice but to bring the dog out of the house. Maa walked out as she cried helplessly while my father cleaned the entire house and let the dog out.
Maharaj did not stop near Maa, who stood with a bowl of water and rushed out of the gate, never to be seen again. Maa’s due date came early. She had to undergo an operation; I was born two weeks before my due date because the water had dried up.
My parents don’t think it is a mere coincidence that their daughter turned out to be a dog lover even before she learned how to talk. We’ve never managed to own a dog, not just because we keep shifting but also because my mother sticks by her rule, not beyond the threshold. We have befriended many wonderful dogs over the years, but none of them have managed to stick out a paw beyond the threshold and left an imprint on my mother’s heart.
Maharaj lives on in my love for dogs. My parents do not believe in the afterlife. But there are exceptions to every rule.