A Dog Named Koochi

(Here is Koochi, in a photograph from the summer of 2008. She is, very uncustomarily, tied – most probably in deference to the wishes of a cranky neighbour whose dislike for Koochi was matched only by Koochi’s dislike for him. While I wish the chain wasn’t there, it is perhaps the only reason I was able to photograph Koochi – and even then only in profile.)

Koochi (May 25, 1998 – March 10, 2011)

Koochi adopted our family on May 25, 1998. She must have been about two months old at the time. I myself was not yet ten. We were living in the D-quarters in the IISc campus then and had never considered owning a dog or a cat or any animal really. For one thing, few people actually “owned” animals in those days: cats and dogs that became “pets” were usually strays that, roaming the roads of the campus, were lucky enough to chance upon a benefactor who gave them something to eat. A couple of rounds of such feeding meant the animal usually stayed on, coming and going at will. At the time Koochi came along, there were already several (terrifically-named) neighbourhood fixtures, including Neandrakal, a rather haughty, unpredictable dog; Getti, a somewhat timid and complaisant dog, whose ingratiating ways and constant presence meant its name was a shortening of “Get out”; Dabuji, an aged and regal loner-cat (that remains perhaps the biggest cat I’ve seen in my life); and Brownie, a clever little cat that was quite easily the most-pampered animal around. The few “proper pets” that were around were all dogs: Zaika, a bloody-infuriating white Pomeranian, whose constant shrill yapping was the bane of the people around it and that instilled in me a lifelong dislike for the breed; Doggie Rao, a largish brown mongrel that, as the story went, had been rescued on a rainy night as a terrified puppy stuck in shoulder-height brambles and had since then been kept chained almost all the time – making it, as we were growing up, an almost-legendary creature-of-menace that most of us kids were scared to approach (and that we only saw when it virtually yanked its owner along for its evening “walk”); Regina, a smallish black dog with a leg damaged from being run over, an event that had turned it both wary and snappy and that made petting it an exercise in delicacy and caution; and, arriving just a few months before Koochi, Stagina (or Stag), another mostly-outdoors pet that grew into a large, brown, beautifully-athletic specimen of a dog that could move from being coy and lying on its back for a bellyrub to being a snarly grump that growled throatily if you even got close to its food-bowl.
     It was into this environment that Koochi arrived on the evening of May 25, 1998 – and, in what can only be called a ಋಣಾನುಬಂಧ (ruṇānubandha), a Kannada word that refers, approximately, to ‘a bond forged through mutual interaction and relationships over several lifetimes’ – made herself our dog – and eventually the neighbourhood’s dog – in the teeth of my father’s initial opposition and my mother’s reluctance. (Amma was fond of animals and had grown up with dogs, squirrels, and budgies. Appa, on the other hand, had had very little to do with dogs all his life and wasn’t keen to start.) Of course, like me and so many of the neighbours, they would both come to adore Koochi, that pure-mongrel dog with its wonderful large liquid-brown eyes, its small black-and-white-dappled frame, its endearingly-reproachful howls, and its remarkably clever ways (that led my father to remark that Koochi was easily the cleverest dog he’d seen).
     I did not know, when I started to write, what form this preamble would take or how long it would be. In fact, the purpose of this post was to share two pieces I’d written previously about Koochi: one, a poem I wrote not long after she died on March 10, 2011 – and that I have revised a little since; and two, an essay I wrote, in early 2019, to accompany the photograph of Koochi you see above. (That said, I am quite pleased with the way the preamble’s turned out and the reminiscing it allowed for. I also think it has done a good job of not “stepping on the toes” of the two pieces.) Here, now, are the poem and essay.

Note: The poem was written at a time when I was still writing poetry in the ‘romantic style’. Like I said, I have revised (and tempered) it a little. But I reckon its ‘romanticism’ remains fairly obvious. Perhaps the unadorned narrative style of the (photo) essay I wrote in early 2019 was meant to counterbalance the extravagant language of the 2011 poem.

Poem (2011) : Koochi – Memories

Whether by instinct or brow-written fate
she’d come as a lonely cub to our gate
on tiny, tottering feet; it was how amma learnt that a glance
can take on a bigger aspect and show the blindness of chance;
and like a blue unclouded sky can nurse a shower,
creation can thread us to an unseen star.

Thereon she lived, I like to think, many happy hours
in the company of friends – hers and ours –
who doted on her like she was their pet alone
and placed her on a variety of thrones.
Yet no matter how far or near she roamed
each night we found her on the doorstep she first called home.

I remember that she came when I was just a boy
who in my innocence and wonderment and joy
spoke several sounds that meant but
little to both me and her, yet from which she learnt
that Koochi was her man-given name;
which, in all her puppy ardour, she treated like a game.

Nature’d given her a coat that mingled black and white
and a mongrel ancestry as natural as the light
that played off of her soft brown eyes; to look into those
was to see feelings that ranged from fear to repose
and passed through tail-swirling joy and howled soft reproach
when we came back late – for she always scented our approach.

I’m happy to think we left her free
to wander as fancy struck (and sniff at every tree
she passed); still, all her life was not just ease:
twice savaged by her own ilk, her smallness was almost her disease.
And still she waxed into old age to continue to reprimand and startle;
that we who loved her thought she was immortal.

But one day, her soul left when none of us was near
her side to give her final thoughts an ear;
yet I know for sure she faced death with a calm
mature as old-rooted tree; a calm we all could learn from.
And this was how she left into the dusk
she came from: memories linger, fragrant as musk.

Photo Essay (2019) : The Coming of Koochi

A woman sets out for her routine evening walk. She rounds the jackfruit tree by the corner and walks on. She glances to her left and spots the tiniest puppy dog – small enough to fit in her palm she thinks. The puppy lifts its head and looks her in the face: the two lock eyes for a fraction of a second. The woman walks on. Her thoughts drift and the puppy is soon forgotten.

The woman returns from her walk. As she nears home, she sees something on the lower step outside her door. She gets closer – it is the puppy she saw not an hour ago! The puppy looks her full in the face. Astonished, the woman returns the look. (Little does she know what is in store.)

Koochi runs up to the woman and wags her tail madly as she swishes in and out of the hem of her saree. The woman bends down to pet Koochi, murmurming affectionately. Koochi – the nonsense-name her son invented as he looked to express his affection for the tiny puppy; the puppy that adopted her; the puppy that has now grown to be a most intelligent dog that waits eagerly for her afternoon meal; the dog she soothed and extricated from the chain that had bitten into her flesh; the dog with such a wonderfully expressive face she seems to her almost human at times.

Koochi is now an old dog, deaf in one ear and slowly fading. Her tail no longer spins like an over-excited windmill. The woman watches as a cluster of ants march around Koochi in one of nature’s mysterious ceremonies.

A couple of nights later, the woman and her son will take Koochi to the veterinary hospital. She will stroke Koochi gently as she stands on the operating table, semi-conscious and trembling. She will hope but sadly. A few hours later she will hear that Koochi has died – at around 6.40 a.m. She will console herself and her son and murmur softly to herself: “May 25, 1998 to March 10, 2011. Not bad, not bad…she lived a good life.”

(Like you must have guessed, the woman in the story is my mother.)