In autumn of 1992, three young sub lieutenants from Indian Navy undergoing Sub Lt’s courses at INS Venduruthy did what was never attempted before.
Even for the heady exuberance of youth — fortified with the occasional shot of booze — some things were clearly ‘out of envelope’ those days. The monthly dollop of rupees under 4th Pay Commission was barely enough to cover our mess and wine bills. But that didn’t deter us from dreaming big in the ‘single-officer-shared accommodation’ of Arjun Block, SNC Officers Mess, Naval Base, Kochi (then Cochin).
No, we did not set a new benchmark for innovation, atma nirbharta, or ‘Make in India‘. We didn’t even go for licence production or screwdrivergiri. Instead, we followed Tata’s merger & acquisition model. Jaguar Land Rover was way beyond our pay band then. A puppy and Dire Straits CD cost the same in early 90s — about Rs. 500. Sadly, we knew the value of neither.
Having left home in peak adolescence & joined the Academy with many unrealized dreams, our fantasy for Black Dog met the reality of Old Monk one fine weekend at Harbour Bar by the river Thevara. Those days, the pet industry was loosely regulated; buying a pedigree pet or two was expensive but legal. We decided to buy three (one each). Always pushing limits, we adopted the motion “We three, ours three” to compete with the national population control tagline “hum do, hamare do“.
There was a small problem. For bachelor officers under training, keeping any form of pets in the mess was strictly forbidden. The bachelor officer accommodation blocks contracted at L1 rates by MES were barely fit for humans, let alone pedigreed dogs.
After a few rounds of drinks, clinking glasses by an idyllic river, even foolish decisions can seem to make perfect sense. In the event, puppy love prevailed over statement of entitlement; rationality made way for leap of faith; fur won over fear.
Next morning, three cabins in Arjun block woke up to the din of 6-week old Pomeranian puppies. Into the morning’s mad scramble — down insipid tea, clear the washroom, don white uniform, grab a quick breakfast before kicking the bikes to life & heading for training school — was added another dimension: three ever-hungry furballs, one each with KPS, Siva & Theo!
Parents who give in to their child’s requests to bring home pets often land up in a trap. After a few days, the pet becomes an albatross around parents’ neck if kids shy responsibility. But as unmarried officers with ‘high OLQ’ (officer-like qualities), we were different. We took full & complete charge of our wards. We christened them Nimbus, Cumulus & Stratus, based on recently-acquired knowledge from SNOM (School of Naval Oceanography & Meteorology). While other coursemates discussed APSOH hull-mounted sonars, IPN-10 combat management systems, and swooped down on samosas during break time, three of us pet parents discussed puppy bowel movements and nightly escapades.
There are practical limits to what a young sub lieutenant can (or cannot) do for a little furball purchased from Broadway. The subs courses routine kept us on a schedule & itinerary that was incompatible with pet parenting. The scale of responsibility slowly tilted towards the unsuspecting victim — the ubiquitous civilian bearer (CB, aka orderly)!
The CBs of Kochi naval base are a special breed — dedicated to the care & upkeep of an officer’s cabin, uniform, & his sundry requirements (which incidentally never included a dog). The newly-ordained pet parents shuffled out of their cabins by 0700 only to return by 1400, most often with other activities lined up for the afternoon. Then there was the mandatory evening pit stop at Harbour Bar. To cut a long story short, playful Nimbus, Cumulus & Stratus unleashed their full firepower doggy-style on the hapless CBs till the latter could take no more.
To make matters worse, the trio insisted on getting their puppies fresh cow’s milk from a tabela (cow shelter) just outside Malabar Gate. We were 22-23 yrs then — quite used to pumping iron, gulping down raw eggs & downing rich ‘Sharjah shake’ after an ‘outer circuit’ run. We thought, well, why not extrapolate these bodybuilding hacks to the pups as well?
Overnight, all three pups developed acute diarrhoea. The high-velocity stream of ejected poop would send the pups sliding down the mansion-polished cabin floor due to Newton’s Third Law. By the time we returned from classes, our cabins would resemble Colaba’s Sundar Nagari at low tide.
Two people issued ultimatum: the CB & our respective roommates. One of the CBs went for the jugular: “Saare, it’s me or the dog. You decide, or I will approach the union”.
In left-leaning Kerala, you never take the word ‘union’ lightly. Now things were serious. Our short pet parent journey had hit a serious roadblock. There was also an impending change of base, which meant carrying this circus to a new, more pet-unfriendly, highly technical location; viz. a warship.
In the end, when you gotta let go, you gotta let go. A ‘zero-dark-thirty’ plan was hatched. The baton must be passed on to the previous generation, we decided. On a Friday evening, three musketeers took off in three different directions across India to do an unsolicited ‘Zomato delivery’ on a second round of unsuspecting victims.
I left for Palakkad with Nimbus inside a carry bag slung across the front hook of my Kinetic Honda. Siva took an interstate bus to Bangalore with Cumulus inside a liquor carton lined with straw & mutton cloth. Theo had a longer journey since he hailed from Visakhapatnam across peninsular India. He was also more audacious, plotting a four-legged surprise for his fiance that ultimately failed to salvage their relationship. Born with lesser natural intelligence, Siva & me simply foisted a ‘forced adoption drive’ on our parents.
Interesting things happened along the way. Halfway through the 140 km drive from Kochi to Palakkad, Nimbus tore through the carry bag & lunged onto NH-47 near Trichur, careening across the asphalt while I desperately tried to break his fall with my outstretched leg (he miraculously survived the fall & piped down for rest of the journey). Siva & Theo were threatened with violence by co-passengers during their attempt at interstate puppy smuggling in a passenger bus service. Siva’s mom smelt a rat as soon as he made an unscheduled arrival at their home in Indiranagar. Well aware of Siva’s foibles, she promptly directed him to deposit ‘whatever you’re carrying in the carton’ with neighbourhood pet fosters.
Nimbus lived a long & happy life with my parents in Palakkad, earning a fearsome reputation as “Appu the ferocious white dog”. Loving & affectionate but highly territorial, nobody in the neighborhood except my dad was spared his fangs. On my infrequent visits home, I jokingly attributed it to his disturbed childhood and the epic fall on NH-47. We lost track of Cumulus & Stratus. Hopefully they lived a better life than their insensitive breeders.
Appu’s photograph that tumbled out of an old album prompted me to write this piece. The subtle underlying message, I hope, is not lost on the reader. To those of you thinking of acquiring a pet, here’s sage counsel: Adopt, don’t shop. Breeders are in that business for money, not love. They breed them under abominable conditions just to feed our impulse to ‘buy’ a pet. You may have an extended safety net of friends & family; your pet has only YOU.
The easiest part of owning a pet is the purchase. Under the digital hammer of Google Pay, many pet lives exchange ownership today. The adoption process may be little more tedious but it is far more noble. But go for it only if you have the time, passion and resources to honour a commitment that lasts the pet’s lifespan. Have a Plan B if your ‘death do us part’. The poor animal has none.
If you can’t do even this, visit the local zoo. Or better still, volunteer at a nearby shelter for abandoned or destitute animals. For the love of dog.
©KP Sanjeev Kumar, 2021. All rights reserved. I can be reached at email@example.com or on my Twitter @realkaypius. Views are personal.