The Leo-nine Life.

I curl up in my favorite spot, a low ledge by the bay window in the living room of bungalow no. 57, a two storied house in a suburb of Mumbai. Beams of the mid day sun stream in; they pattern my luscious fur into streaks of sparkling white and gold. Mom sits by me, a book in one hand and strokes my back with the other, much tenderness in every stroke as I lazily watch the busyness outside, Ah! This is the life.

I am Leo – a three-year-old Shih-Tzu and currently the reigning king of the Singh household. Mama, Papa, Dadu and Samar adore me. I spend most my time like Sunita bai says, lounging around the house doing nothing.

Sunita bai, the new maid,  is envious of my royalty status. “Kya jindagi hai Baba! Jevon karne ka, potty karne ka, sone ka… mast!” She swabs the floor, pauses to look at me. “Ekdum maharajah hai”

Jevan! Food? That’s all I understand from her ramble…. the rest is jargon. I perk up, sniff the air around. All I smell is the scent of the liquid Sunita bai lathers the floors with. Disappointed, I let out a low whine and plop down. 

“Kitna samajtha hai, dekho? Khane ke liye kuch bhi Karega!” she shrieks. 

Khana! Food? – I sit up eagerly, only to be let down once more. 

Mom and Sunita bai share a laugh. I moan softly to express my displeasure. 

It’s not funny you know, it’s not nice to tempt me with empty promises of my first love, food, and not follow through. Sunita bai revels in  such mockery. 

She’s a little tricky to predict – this Sunita Bai. She’s constantly chiding me yet I sense that she means well. Why is it hard for her to be straight with her feelings? That’s why humans get into trouble with each other. 

Mom is different though. Her every heart beat, every feeling, every thought I understand. For instance, even though she has a book in her hand, one with a bright cover, I know her mind is far far away. With the people she loves whom she cannot meet in a new world where everyone covers their face with a cloth. She talks to them often on that instrument that  rings and chimes and buzzes. (Everything my humans lay their hands on beeps these days! )

I snuggle up closer to mom, nudge her with my paw and roll over slightly for a belly rub. It works. Mom puts the book down, stops thinking and rubs my belly. Asking for a belly rub never fails to bring her back to the present moment. Why do humans worry so much?

When Mama first brought me home as a wee pup, I was quite the rascal – always up to some mischief. Dad and Dadu weren’t pleased. Samar was a toddler then and maybe they fretted that I would harm him. Also, it didn’t help that chewing their shoes was my favorite thing to do. They were my humans and their footwear was so abundant with the fragrance  of their essence. It was hard to resist. 

Dad took a while to warm up to me, He is stern, a man of few words. That, I love about him. Too many words are what make a human’s life complex. If only they were like us…Bark, Growl, Howl …that’s it. 

Initially, Dad barely played with me. He watched me from afar, a little unsure if I was the right addition to the family. 

But Mom always knew that I was the best companion her son could ask for. And from the minute Samar held me, we were two hearts beating as one. An inseparable duo. 

Samar was much taller than me but hadn’t walked yet. He would just sit wherever mom put him down and observe the happenings around. Yet, as he watched me frolic and roll, fumble and stumble my way through the huge house he slowly began to move. At first to keep pace and eventually to keep me company. That is when Dad was charmed. Now Dad is the one who makes sure I’ve had my boiled egg every day and that my water bowl is clean and full. 

Dadu came around quickly though. Every evening when he watched TV, I would perch on top of the couch behind him and lick his round bald head. Tickled, he would shout, “Bas, Bas, bas” and laugh out loud. Laughter is the best antidote to loneliness.

Dadu and I share a little secret too. I am the only one who knows he has a stash of yummy biscuits in his room. I promptly follow him after lunch and dinner, so he can give me those treats. I don’t have to beg or do tricks for him. I just sit in front of him and stare longingly at the food he has in his hand and he parts with it. He has always been the easiest one to please. These days I accompany him on his daily rounds to pluck flowers. His hands are shaky so I grip the little basket for him in my mouth. He always rewards me with a treat after. Dadus are the best. Sometimes, I sit by feet and slurp my gratitude for him.

From where I lie, the world is upside down, so  I tilt my head backwards and let it hang over the ledge to scrutinize Sunita Bai’s next move. Soon, she will be done with swabbing the floor and dump the bucket of water. She will have to step  into the bathroom- that airy space with a huge bowl of water that makes a fun sound every time someone presses the shiny handle. I wait eagerly with the hope that she will leave the door slightly ajar so I can run in…

“Who’s my best boy? Leo is my best boy!” Mom continues to indulge me. 

Best Boy – that is in my vocabulary. 

But wait, something’s not right! I sense a sudden strange movement. It carries an air of threat. Oh no! Sunita bai!! She has to be warned. I shove mom’s hand aside, jump up, rush past Sunita bai, spilling her bucket of water in the process and bark incessantly outside the bathroom door. 

Dad, Mom, Dadu and Samar rush to my side. 

“What happened Leo?” Mom runs her hand up and down my back trying to calm me down. I am relentless in my barking. I cannot rest when danger is lurking around. Samar holds me tight as Dad slowly creaks the door open. There in the corner lies a creature, coiled smugly with its head raised. He does not belong here. 

Sunita bai, as is her habit, shrieks. “Devaaaaa!!!” I sniff the fear in her heart. 

Dad quickly shuts the door, bolts it and runs outside. Maybe he has gone to fetch Dutta, the guard. Dadu holds my collar and tries to lure me away from the door with a treat but I refuse to budge. Mom carries Samar who is crying, he’s upset seeing me distressed but how can I stop?

Soon, Dad returns home with Dutta and another man. They carry sticks and a huge sack. The man wastes no time to swoop the creature by its tail, swiftly hold the sides of its head and shove into the sack. 

Now I can relax. My humans are safe, I go back to my favorite spot by the window. 

For the first time, Sunita bai comes to me and holds me tight. She kisses my head. Tears stream down her cheeks “Devacha den aahe tu pillu…Devacha den” 

( Devacha den – God’s gift. Pillu – young one)

She has a big slice of apple in her hand which I lap up. 

I am Leo – a three-year-old Shih-Tzu and most days I just sit around the house doing nothing.

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