I was never an early riser but as my engagement was approaching hurriedly, and I wanted to look my best on the D-day - I embarked upon this task of getting rid of those extra pounds (believe me- very few) around my waist.
To achieve the set goal I decided on a three point action plan- morning walks, controlled eating and evening sessions at the gym. In the beginning itself I faltered on two counts- the diet part (because I just can’t control myself when it comes to food) and the gym bit (You know- I am not the gym kind. I feel like an odd man out there). So, the only option left was the morning walk.
For the first few days I would ‘sleep walk’ within my residential campus, quickly finishing three rounds and then hitting the bed again to fulfil the second instalment of my sleep. Not only that, I would even indulge in bouts of overeating without a trace of guilt assuming that I had done my share of hard work (three rounds) for the day. This definitely didn’t help and I grew by few more inches around my waist. With less than a month left for the ceremony I had to press the panic button. I was determined to resolve the ‘heavy’ crisis and hence follow the morning regime religiously.
It took multiple alarms to wake me up on the day one. Rather than stepping out half asleep, I did few stretching and warm up exercises before venturing out. This helped. For a change, I decided to leave the comfort of the known territory (my campus) and walk in an unfamiliar neighbourhood.
I had rediscovered the morning after a long time (since my school days) and the fresh air brought back some sweet memories of my childhood. Come to think of it- isn’t childhood a lot like morning- both symbolize freshness, purity and beginning.
Somehow the closed and shuttered shops reminded me of the day ahead, the usual routine of home office home- this made me think of many small things that used to give me so much pleasure when I was a child.
I saw a figure sleeping on a cot, on the pavement next to a bungalow. It was covered by a blanket from head to toe. Then I saw this adorable dog sniffing carefully around the bed. It was a healthy Labrador with a shining off-white coat. He had beautiful eyes and a very expressive tail. His pinkish wet nose was sniffing hard. His movements suggested that he was trying to wake this person on the bed. I loved dogs ever since I was a child but I could persuade my parents to keep one quite late in life (in my graduation). As a child, I remember bringing home stray puppies and feeding them on my share of bread and Parle-G biscuits. Dogs fascinated me even today.
As I was passing the bed, I caught his attention. Wagging his tail, he approached me. I couldn’t resist his friendliness and before I knew he was licking me all over. I didn’t mind it; actually I was enjoying his affection, while a voice interrupted our bonding session. The figure on the bed had come alive.
It was an old man, wearing a sweater of the same colour as his blanket (probably both were made of same material). He just had two teeth left in his mouth. His hair was sparse and of the moon light colour. It was evident that he didn’t shave for a long time now. As he tried to get up, I noticed his oversized trouser which was anchored around his waist by a string (like the one used to fasten a pyjama). His face was wrinkled and so were his hands (these we the only visible parts of his skin). The way he was looking at me suggested that his eyesight was failing or perhaps already failed. He commanded “Rustam Nahi” and the dog like an obedient student followed his orders and walked up to him. Now this old man was his world. I didn’t like my separation from Rustam and decided to continue with my walk.
Through out the day I kept thinking about Rustam and his possible relationship with the old man. I was sure he was not the owner of the dog. I recalled that the entrance gate of the bungalow (adjacent to which this man was sleeping) was open and imagined it as Rustam’s home.
That evening while coming back from office, I stopped to pick up the biggest pack of Parle-G available in the shop.
Next morning it didn’t take me much to get out of the bed. I was eager to meet Rustam again. As I walked towards that place I saw Rustam playing with the old man. His fore paws resting on the cot and his face buried in little place between the old man’s thighs. The Old man laid his arms around Rustam like old friends hugging each other. The sight made me jealous. I wish I had a companion like that and couldn’t stop myself from calling out- “Rustam”. He raised his head to see who wanted him now. To my surprise, he did recognise me. Wagging his tail he ran to me- and then he did a strange thing- he started moving back and forth between me and the old man. It was as if he, playing the role of a common friend wanted us (old man and me) to meet.
I walked up to the old man, today he was wide awake and greeted me with his two teethed smile. He said “Rustam to aap ka dost ban gaya”. I liked his hospitality. Between I remembered that I had carried some biscuits for Rustam. I took them out of my pocket and lured Rustam. He was so excited about this present. He stood on his hind legs to reach for them. I tried hand feeding him, but he took the biscuits (one by one from my hand) and placed them next to the old man’s feet. In his eyes I could see a desire to consume them but he was waiting for something. “Kha lo beta” the old man said, now I understood Rustam’s dilemma – he was waiting for the approval of his master to accept the gift. I was impressed with Rustam’s self control.
While Rustam gulped the biscuits, I tried talking to the old man. “Is this your dog?” I asked him. “No this is my son” he replied, and then he laughed aloud “I can’t feed myself, how I can maintain this English dog” he added. “Oh” I wondered. He sensed my perplexity and explained further- “I worked in this bungalow for thirty five years. I served two generations of the family. I used to do everything from house keeping, to gardening to guarding. They got Rustam four years back when he was just a month old. I brought him up. We have been best friends since then. I don’t have a family, but I never missed having one because of Rustam. I took care of him like a father and now he looks after me as a son”. There was sadness in his voice. “Do you still work there?” I probed. “No, my eyesight started failing a year back, but in last few months it worsened. It was increasingly difficult to perform even smallest of the jobs. So when I became useless they asked me to leave the house”. Rustam had finished his biscuits and now joined the conversation. He was sitting on his hind legs and looking at us as if we were talking about him. “I don’t have any place to go. So I started living here. The only good thing about this is that I can see Rustam everyday. They were kind enough to let him meet me”. I felt apologetic for starting this conversation and at the same time good to have discovered such a saga of friendship between a man and his dog.
It became a ritual for me to meet both of them everyday. Along with biscuits for Rustam, occasionally I used to carry bread and other eatables for the old man which he used to put into his plastic bag only to consume later. Now Rustam didn’t seek the man’s approval to devour on my biscuits. I imagined myself to be Rustam’s second best friend.
One of the good things about Bangalore is the weather. It is moderate for most of the year. The only problem is the rains. Not even rains, it is the after affect of rains like traffic jams and power cuts that I am bothered about. I like sunny days. May be because I stay alone- cloudy days make me gloomy. But come August and you hardly get to see the sun here.
Then came the first big pour of the year. It rained continuously for a day. For the first time in last fortnight I missed my morning walk… and Rustam. That night while I was watching rain from my fourth floor window- it suddenly occurred to me. What would have happened to the old man? He didn’t have a roof on his head. Did the owners accommodate him in the bungalow for the night or could he find some other shelter.
I grew restless and couldn’t sleep the whole night. I woke up before the alarm. Fetched some food for Rustam and more food for the old man and ran towards the bungalow. From a close distance I could see Rustam below the bed. The old man was still sleeping may be. On reaching the spot, I found the old man missing. The blanket was wet and dripping. Rain had washed away the plastic bag containing his food. I tried peeping into the bungalow and searched in the vicinity as well, but he was found nowhere.
All this while Rustam kept laying there- as if he didn’t notice my presence. He looked sad and tired. His head drooped next to his stretched limbs as if he was thinking something. I tried consoling him but he was too absorbed in his loss. I tried to feed him the biscuits but he dropped them on the floor. I pictured the old man nodding an approval “kha lo beta”.
Nothing could compensate Rustam’s loss. To give him his space I left him alone. After that day, for the next few days I kept going to that place every morning. The bed was still there but I didn’t see Rustam again. Everyday I came back with unconsumed biscuits in my pocket.
I stopped going for morning walks. I don’t like early mornings anymore and I just hate rains.