Much of my growing up years, 12 to be precise, was spent in the beautiful city of Cochin (now Kochi), located by the Laccadive Sea, in Kerala, in the south-west coast of India.
In Cochin, we were very close to one particular family – a Lt. Commander in in the Indian Navy, his wife, their four year old son and their pitch black “Alsatian” named Kaalu.
Truth to tell, Kaalu was a mix between an Alsatian and a Mongrel and my dad often jokingly referred to him as a ‘Roadatian’ (not to be confused with the Rhodesian) – implying that a part of Kaalu’s pedigree came from the common Indian “Road/Street Dog” and part from an Alsatian.
Nevertheless, Kaalu was an amazingly intelligent, beautiful, big and lovable dog – probably more so because of his mixed blood.
Our Naval officer friend was asked to go on a short term assignment in the Andaman Islands and because he was not in a position to take Kaalu with him, we offered to keep and look after Kaalu for six months – the duration of the posting.
I have always been crazy about dogs and I volunteered to take on the role of Kaalu’s chief custodian and caregiver. My job would be to ensure that Kaalu was properly fed, exercised, cared for and kept in good humor, so that he did not miss his real owners and feel homesick.
Needless to say, he was also showered with love and was cared for by all other members of my family during the time as he stayed with us. I come from a family of dog lovers, as you would have figured out by now.
While taking charge of Kaalu, I took a detailed note of his dietary requirements, lifestyle and his likes and dislikes from our friend’s wife, also a dear friend of my parents. She informed us that Kaalu was of sweet disposition (“mishti shobhaber“, in Bengali), was very friendly and had rather simple dietary requirements. He had some milk and three chappatis in the late morning and a meal of rice and meat or rice mixed with a couple of eggs, in the late afternoon. In between, we could offer him some biscuits. He was allergic to fish.
Kaalu, however had a special requirement, the lady added; he needed to be served a glass of tea (chai) first thing in the morning. There was no need to add any sugar to Kaalu’s tea, she clarified.
Totally ignorant of a dog’s morning tea drinking habits, I inquired if Kaalu liked his tea hot, just as I did mine. I was told No – I needed to cool his tea to room temperature before serving it to him.
When I inquired what would happen in the most unlikely event of me forgetting to serve Kaalu his morning tea one day, the lady replied rather vaguely that it would not be a big issue – only that Kaalu would remain a bit grumpy throughout the day. “Shokale ektu chaa na khele, Kaalu-r mejaj ta shara din thik thake na, Shumon“, was what she said to me in Bengali.
I had no idea that dogs could be grumpy or how they would demonstrate that they were so. I was to find that out soon.
I made it a point to wake up every morning half an hour before my usual time, make Kaalu’s tea, cool it down and serve it to him by 7 am. I decided to add two generous teaspoons of powder milk and as much sugar, thinking it will please Kaalu to have some extra milk and some sugar in his tea, just as I was with mine.
My mother served him milk and chapattis around 10 in the morning and after coming back from school, I served Kaalu his dinner – generally a broth of rice boiled with chunks of beef, with a pinch of turmeric and salt.
All was well and Kaalu was happy.
And then one day, Kaalu fell ill and his wet nose went dry. It seemed he had fever and we were all worried.
My dad and I promptly took him to the Vet, who, after the check up declared that Kaalu had a minor chest infection. The Vet prescribed a course of antibiotics and Paracetamol, assuring us that Kaalu will get well very soon. When the Vet asked me about what Kaalu ate, I gave him the full facts of Kaalu’s diet, mentioning with some pomp that I added not one but two spoons of sugar to Kaalu’s morning tea.
Far from being impressed, the Vet gave me an amused look and politely advised me to cut out the fuss because sugar was not good for a dog’s health.
I got back home with my dad and Kaloo, feeling rather silly. From then on, Kaalu had his morning tea without his sugar. I am not sure if that made any difference to him though.
And then one Sunday, I woke up pretty late and it was way past Kaalu’s morning Tea time. It was nearing his morning meal time and he was served his chappati and milk straight away.
That was the day Kaalu missed his morning tea.
Kaalu was then about three years old, in the prime of his youth – energetic, alert, jumpy, delightfully attention seeking and very playful. I would say ‘Kaa’ and before I could utter the ‘lu’, Kaalu would be next to me. He was so curious, swift and eager to please.
The day I missed serving him his morning tea, he refused to have his late morning meal. No amount of cajoling would make Kaalu have his meal. Realizing my mistake, I hastily made some tea, cooled it and offered it to him.
Kaalu would not touch his tea because it was way past his morning tea time.
That whole day, Kaalu kept away from everyone. I called out “Kaalu … Kaaaluuu” again and again and he ignored me totally. And then when I went up to him and tickled him behind his ears, he gave me the “excuse-me,-now-who-are-you” look and turned his head the other way.
That day, I learnt that a dog could not only be grumpy, but also show it big time.
And Kaaludid not miss his morning tea after that, for as long as he was with us.