Lassie, go home
Little Bo-peep has lost her sheep
And doesn't know where to find them;
Leave them alone and they will come home,
Bringing their tails behind them.
No, I haven't lost my marbles. I used to be reminded of this rhyme whenever we walked away from the dog that ignored us and went on sniffing at some fascinating scent. Soon enough, she'd tear herself away from it and join us.
The ungodly hours that schools impose on families are incredible. I used wake my son, get him all ready to catch his School bus at six fifteen in the morning. While he was an understandably reluctant participant in this daily event, our dog approved of the ritual. She got a walk out of it, after all, and another to collect him from the stop, later in the day.
But when the pooch herself was a baby, we had a few bad months, trying to walk her. She wrenched our arms out of their sockets in her eagerness to explore the world; she dashed along, darting left and right recklessly as we sprained ankles trying to curb her enthusiasm.
Walking the dog, no matter she was just a Hauz Khas hound, Ballygunge Beagle and a Teynampet Terrier- a mutt, in other words, became a huge daily dose of penance. I won't say we drew lots, but we tried to fob the duty off each other.
The few times she slipped off the leash, she'd scamper off; once memorably being chased, tackled football fashion and grabbed by an athletic friend who carried the panting wriggling adolescent puppy back home, ignoring all her attempts to lick and cajole him into letting her free again.
Then we had another friend visiting, who was amused at all this angst. Where is she going to go, dammit, he asked. Let her be, and she will learn. She has to come back home, after all.
And she did learn. She walked beautifully, heeling perfectly, once we gave up on the leash. She accompanied me to my son's nursery school, to the market, to the paediatrician's, on walks. She was perfectly behaved. Letting go was the trick. Our friend was right. Where did she have to go, after all? We were her pack.
Those Alsatians, of that milkman (don't ask) that tormented her when she was on leash? They learnt too. Have you ever seen a hulking great brute of a German Shepherd pretend to be invisible and cross the street and slink away with an apologetic air? A sight to behold, I tell you. Our pariah princess got her revenge on both those dogs.
In Calcutta, this glorious freedom of walking free is frowned upon. I've lost count of the number of times I got into arguments with offended matrons and morning walkers about a free walking dog. Neither the pooch nor I could see how approaching a person with a wagging tail is an act of aggression. Soon we stopped going into the Lakes to avoid furious debates about whether a well-behaved dog still needed to be leashed.
She could and did accompany me to my son's bus stop, and she took to waiting outside the gym as I worked out, gathering a crowd of admirers who were amused at this canine devotion. It was just cupboard love, though. She loved to go on walks.
I made a few friends of the regulars who'd pass the stop, who stopped to play with her and exchange pleasantries with me.
I discovered a Madrasi café nearby, and I'd go have Idlis for breakfast, once in a while. Now this is one place where they won't approve of a dog accompanying me.
So I'd tell her to go home. She'd look at me reproachfully. I'd repeat myself, firmly. She'd turn round and trot away. A friend, who watched this, asked me if I weren't worried she'd get lost.
I managed to stop the snigger. She's a dog, for pity's sake. How can a dog get lost? I suggested he followed her, and see. He was there the next day, looking suitably awed. You were right, she went straight home, he said, sounding surprised. This time I did snigger.
But he took to calling her Lassie from then on.