Today when Rajesh’s little son asked for a puppy as a birthday gift he readily bought him one. He didn’t have the heart to say no. Malti, his wife was surprised at the quick recapitulation. At night she asked him about it. “I didn’t want him to feel that we didn’t understand his need. I know how it is to how it feels when you realise that the world is not a fairy tail after all”, Rajesh was smiling and thinking aloud “These kids are not innocent like we were”. “This is still more perplexing”, thought Malti, “Why are you smiling while mouthing such heavy words?” Rajesh meanwhile had gone back in time to the when he was a three year old kid fondly known as Raju.
He remembered looking longingly at the cute white puppy that Col. Gupta’s son was walking along with their sahayak. Raju was an impish looking boy with light eyes and golden hair; he had a certain endearing air about him. Everybody just fell in love with his smile and incessant innocent questions yet he was also a very naughty kid who could be very dogged if he decided to.
“But why can’t we have a dog too?” He asked Dad the umpteenth time. They had just come downt o lift from their 6th floor flat in the housing society where they lived. It was a gated society in the busy city of Kolkota, mostly inhabited by Army personnel and a few Air Force officers. Dad again told him that a flat was not appropriate place to keep a pet but as usual he was at his adamant best.
Trying to convince the boy he asked, “Who will take him for a walk? You are very small.” “Why don't we also get an orderly? Are you not an officer too?” Raju almost whined, “He can walk the dog with me”. Dad just kept walking thinking of a possible solution to this problem knowing that something had to be done soon. What he feared happened that same evening. Ma informed Dad that the boy had had neither breakfast nor lunch and dinner also was going to go waste as far as Raju was concerned. A declaration had been given that food would be partaken only and only when a puppy is brought to the house. ‘The Hunger Strike’ was on.
It was a serious event by all measures. A hyperactive boy, Raju ate to his heart’s fill normally. His remaining hungry, was a near impossible, really worrisome, catastrophic event for Ma. This went on for two days. Not only Ma but Dad also had to give up. “Ok! I’ll bring a puppy for you soon”, Dad exclaimed with exasperation. It was a major victory for Raju and hence the strike was broken with his favourite rajma chawal. Ma too had a sigh of relief.
Finally his wait was over and dad brought a beautiful puppy home. Its coat was jet black and shiny and it had a red bow on top of its head. Raju tied a string around its neck and proudly took it for a walk. He named it Blacky.
Blacky proved to be an extremely obedient pet. He didn't bark unnecessarily, didn't ask for food and didn’t even ask to pee. He walked very easily on the leash and was happy be steered in any direction. Mom and granny also were apparently happy with Blacky. Raju thought to himself, “Dad was worried without cause, mom doesn't say anything and granny is almost unaware of Blacky’s presence.” However he sometimes wondered why Blacky didn’t eat anything? Didn’t dogs need food to grow up?”
A few days later they were playing when Shyam his friend pulled hard at Blacky’s bow. After that however hard Raju tried the dog just wouldn’t bark. Ma was not at home and it was so perplexing for Raju that he decided to take him to Doctor Uncle who lived on the same floor. Unfortunately Ramu the doc’s servant opened the door and started laughing when Raju told him about Blacky’s ailment. “And what does he eat?” Ramu sniggered. “He eats air” Raju answered, “Every evening I tie him outside in the balcony at 7.00 for him to have his dinner.” Ramu laughed still louder, “Look it doesn’t even have legs. They are only wheels”, Ramu said holding his jiggling stomach while laughing. By this time other children had also gathered around and everyone started making fun of the poor boy.
Crying loudly and still holding Blacky to his chest he went running back. Ma was just back from the market. “Why doesn’t Blacky have legs?” he asked innocently. Tears were streaming down red cheeks when he related everything that had happened at Doctor Uncle’s home. Ma just looked at him and didn’t know how to explain. She was at a loss for words and tried soothing his nerves by distracting him. “Dad will explain everything when he is back”, she said.
While waiting for Dad ,he observed other dogs from the balcony and suddenly the realisation dawned upon him. He understood it all, this time he will not be fooled by a plastic toy which had wheels for legs and ate air. It was time again for the hunger strike regimen
“How times change”, Malti smiled warmly at her still endearing husband and they both went to have a look at Gaurav sleeping beside his new “toy”.