Probably both of us have a tendency towards eccentricity. One of the manifestations is the formidable vocabulary of funny names that we have built up. Poompoles are puppies. Since we live in a thankfully less-ordered society than those of the developed countries (or so I hear) stray animals are everywhere to be seen. During the breeding season, every year, hundreds of poompoles are born all around. They are mostly lovable and plump and are unbelievably friendly and expressive. Almost all die. They have to die because they are too many in number and there is practically no attempt to sterilise the bitches. People like you and me are too money-minded to care and some animal-rights activists whom you may see around you, are mostly busy attending meetings and seminars and, I fear, quite a large percentage of the grants is simply stolen.
West Bengal is a Godless state. The political system that has been in place for a devastating-to-democracy length of time, and the superficial education of the people, have all served to remove the fear/respect of God from the minds of the populace. Nothing effective has filled up the void (can anything really fill up that void?); no superior sensitivity, intense aesthetic sensibility or plain and simple human kindness. Just how insensitive and unkind we Bengalis are can be seen from the way we treat animals:
Goats and poultry are regularly slaughtered in full view on the roadsides, using the most painful and inhuman methods. This is carried out in view of the other animals awaiting the same fate. I have seen chicken which have fainted in fear after seeing the fate of the one to go before. Our `cultured and aware' populace simply continues buying from these butchers, because the meat they sell is of good quality and reasonably cheap and because they are nearby. Children are taken along to witness and enjoy this spectacle! I have not seen this in most other states of India.
Draught cattle are flogged mercilessly and needlessly. Nowhere in the rest of India have I seen this kind of behaviour. The `uncultured' Cow-belt, in particular, treat their animals well.
`Cultured' and `sophisticated' people often poison cats and dogs of neighbours on the sly and throw boiling water on other peoples' pets if they stray near.
Pigs are slaughtered in ways remarkable for the ingenuity shown in prolonging their agony. They are:
Tied to a spit and roasted alive slowly over a fire - standard practice among the cleaners and sweepers even in the great city of Kolkata.
Skewered through their genitals with a red-hot iron rod - no blood lost - maximum adrenalin-induced softening of the flesh - the really skillful operators can keep them alive for quite a long time. This is, of course, common all over the country, among the `lower' castes.
Taken in a crane over a tub of boiling water and dropped directly into it - factory technique of a few years ago - I don't know whether it goes on now also.
Simply chased and beaten to death and pierced with blunt arrows - a mock hunting ceremony among the Santals.
Pierced near the shoulder with sharp knives to ascertain the amount of meat - maybe it will be sold after ten such tentative jabs by as many `humans'.
Need I say more?
In the villages, one of the standard methods of population control of dogs and cats is to poison the little ones. This brings us to the saga of Dobby.
Ghare-sada or `the one with the white patch on the shoulder' was the daughter of the Fatso Mota. At that time our house did not have a high fence and dogs used to jump across at will. Just by the side of our house was the stump of a dead Palmyra palm. Inside the hollow, Ghare-sada gave birth to a litter. One was a very beautiful pup (sorry, poompole) with white stripes on a black background, one was blind in one eye (called Padmalochan - the Lotus-eyed), one was brown and very petite and demure and two others were rather roguish.
A little farther inside the village, the old matron Mota had also had a litter. One of her poompoles was Dobby. She had quite a few siblings also, but I can't give you the details because they were `beyond the border'.
As soon as her little ones were able to walk, Ghare-sada brought them into our house (both Ghare-sada and Mota used to dine with us). They slowly learnt to eat solid food and then we got them vaccinated for rabies and treated for ticks. Then they were poisoned one day. Maybe the thieves did it - they were a direct threat to their livelihood, or maybe one of the families in the village did it as a service to the cause of uninterrupted sleep during the nights. Two or three died, but the others continued ill and miserable - the striped one, named Mottan - Mastan was very ill but survived the first attack.
In the mean while, the other set were growing up too. Dobby somehow desperately kept trying to enter our house, but was set upon and kept at bay by the other group. But from time to time she did sneak in and then she would go straight to Samita and behave in the most Dobby-like fashion (remember Harry Potter?) possible.
Soon there was a second round of poisoning. This time the poison was such that the nervous system was affected and there was a tremendous swelling of the faces and oozing of saliva, and, ultimately, blood, from the mouths. We called the doctor, he tried adrenaline and other emergency drugs, but of Ghare-sada's poompoles, only one of the rogues (Chhoto-ghare-sada) and of the other group, only Dobby survived. I witnessed one of the most poignant and pathetic sights in my life on that day when I found that even though weaned for quite some time, Mottan was trying to drink milk from Ghare-sada after staggering up to her - and the mother was licking the dying pup. So, it is back to the basics when we die?
Dobby was also poisoned - very, very seriously. She was dying, lying on a heap of straw and gasping. I can see it clearly before my eyes - the very ordinary-looking pup dying on the straws and my wife sitting up with her and stroking all the time. Slowly, the ticks began to leave Dobby's body and her breathing became laboured and weak. Towards the very end, or so we thought, we left her alone to be in peace. I went to the University, my wife stayed in the house as she had a day off. When I came back that evening, she told me a most extraordinary story. After some time, it seems Dobby got up, staggered into the compound, got down to the pond and had a bath to get rid of the burning sensation in her body! Then she wanted some food. Samita gave her a little milk and the poompole slept.
For a long time after this, Dobby was very ill. She would have orientation problems and slobbered from the mouth and had eruptions on her skin. We took the help of a homoeopath, Prof. (retd.) Nirmal Sukul, of the Zoology Department and slowly she recovered. She had come to be our own. To me her recovery is a miracle, a message from above and a lesson in humility.
After some time had passed, we decided to get Dobby, the big mother Ghare-sada and her daughter, the small Ghare-sada, sterilised. We know a very competent Vet, who is also a very good man! He came to our house, we made a make-shift operation theatre and the operation commenced. The doctor found that there were enormous lesions in the uteri of both the poompoles - probably a side effect of poisoning. The operations saved the lives of both. However, after the operation was over and the wound had almost healed, Dobby developed post-operative hernia! The loop was rather small, so we used to tie a crepe bandage over her abdomen every day and it would get lost!
All this time, we had a trying time protecting Dobby from other dogs. Our fence was not high enough and the poompoles got in and out at will. There was no one to look after her when we went out of the house. In the morning I would carry Dobby from our house to another house inside the village where her mother was. She would protect herself as she best could during this time. The two ghare-sadas, mother and daughter would pounce upon her whenever they saw her near the house. In the evening, I would go into the village and bring her back again. She would come in every day and cry for some time near Samita - so many bad things had happened during the day! She would often have injuries - things were not going smoothly.
At last, we realised that the oft-repeated rule was in action - `half-hearted efforts do not lead to half results - they lead to no results'! So we collected almost all the money we had (our finances have never been healthy!) and built a higher fence to keep Dobby inside and the Ghare-sadas outside. Then we brought Rukminikumar to add innocence (Dobby is a sophisticated socialite, and, quite a flirt!), Godliness (Dobby is a practical person first and last!) to our lives and also a companion for Dobby. We also got Bama Hembrom to look after the house while we are away - a lot of money again!
Things seem to be working out somewhat now (touch wood!). Rukminikumar is a noble, loving, superior individual. They make a beautiful pair. They play all the time, and as a result there is dirt on our floor always! It is really `Pandemonium at Kalapukurdanga'.
There is a Bengali blessing from a senior person to a young girl: 'Maa tomar dhulo-muthi hok' OR `Mother, may your saree bear dirt marks from hands'! What it means is :