Family of three has stopped by the sophisticated restaurant after a few hours of “pandal hopping”. Teenage son is sulking even though they are here as it is his choice. Reason being that Mom is wearing the same outfit that she wore last time they came here. Mother’s eyes cloud over in a moment of pain to be an embarrassment to her beloved. Father looks at his son’s uber expensive torn designer jeans and at mother’s moist eyes and sighs. The cost of brand consciousness is steep indeed.
Asha and Priya had discovered romance novels this summer vacation. They spent many a pleasant hour reading them. This was followed by debating who would be the best boyfriend from amongst their friends. Priya chose Prashant without thinking about it too much. He was great at basketball and their names both started with P. That was good enough for her she said. Or maybe she had already thought about him. Asha decided not to press too much. Not like she was interested in the gangly giant anyways, cheerful though he was.
Now it was her chance to pick. They decided to make a list of pros and cons. They evaluated all their classmates and friends who were boys. Bunty was always showing off – so hard to be with, Raj was too much of a bookworm – boring, Veer was always getting into trouble in class – he could get her into trouble, the list went on. A few more days went by and they got bored – it was decided they would have to go back to school and decide. Maybe someone would have turned handsome over the holidays or maybe there would be a new boy in class who would just walk in and steal her heart.
They now focused on how to let Prashant know that he was now officially Priya’s crush. Many an innocent adventure was planned and discarded. The very first day of school, Miss T resolved the problem for them. She rearranged the seating in class with a boy and a girl to each bench sorted by height. The two basketball players being the tallest ended up on the same bench at the back of the class. The class picked up from there and with everyone teasing them, P&P were now the official class couple.
Asha was put next to Veer. Asha was the monitor this year too and Veer was still the troublemaker. Miss T made it clear that Asha was responsible for keeping Veer in line. Asha tried, she was teacher’s pet and a very good student after all. She reminded him of homework and asked him again the next morning. But Veer forgot about it almost as often as he remembered. Sometimes, she found him scribbling frantically in the mornings before prayer and other times he said he did not care. She could not figure him out. She did have a lot of time to think about it though. Now that Priya and Prashant were playing together, they were both playing so much better and practicing so much longer. At lunch the three of them used to eat together, but Asha soon started feeling like the third wheel. A good book provided the excuse to rush off after lunch time one day and then she made it a habit. Soon the books became her world and she spent more and more of her free time in the library.
Veer on the other hand belonged to a gang of boys who gobbled up their food in the first 5 minutes and then played football for the remaining time. They would rush in last to class all sweaty and smelly. Asha wrinkled her nose and wondered why he did not practice in the mornings before school like the other players, he seemed to be quite good at it. She asked him about it and he gave her the exaggerated wide eyed look – “Come early to school?! You can do it bookworm, I have better things to do”. Asha gave him her back. “Was she really a bookworm now?” She missed Priya. They had been BFFs ever since she could remember. Even though she was friendly with everyone in class, it was not the same with anyone else. If only there had been a handsome newcomer she could have fallen head over heels in love with.
At the mid-term break, Ma noticed that she was not with Priya that much anymore and quizzed her about it. Asha said she was focusing on her game. They made a trip to their native village for a couple of days. It was fun, but unfortunately, Asha came back with chicken pox from one of her cousins. Books were not much fun anymore as her head hurt and she itched all over. Priya called in the evenings, but could not come as she had not had the pox yet and the national try outs were near. She could not afford to be sick at this time. Four days seemed like an eternity full of medicines and all food tasted yucky. She would even have tolerated Nikki, but Ma said Nikki was too young to be getting the pox now and so Nana took her to stay with them for a few days.
The next morning was Sunday and she woke up feeling a bit better to find Veer’s Math and English notebook on her bedside table. “The paper boy said he is in your class and you may like to catch up on what is going on in class”. She opened to find a note – “You can copy my Math homework, but you have to do the English one. I will copy from yours before class tomorrow and hand in both together.”
“Irritating boy!” Asha sniffed, but without malice now that she knew why he could not come early to school. She looked forward to getting better and going back to school soon, she would not be so lonely anymore.
Brother and his family is back from their long stay in the US. “Look how Bhabi has trained Bhaiya to wait on her hand and foot”, snipes the daughter of the house. Her sister in law titters, “Your elder brother takes good care of me, but he is not so hen pecked as to go around always asking about and helping with the housework, even doing the dishes and washing clothes”. “He must have learnt what all my nagging and loving him failed to instill when they had to raise their kids without any family member to help out”, their mother muses aloud. Her next statement shuts the doors firmly on a regressive mentality in her household, “Even though I had hated to see him go so far from us to make his life, this change in his attitude makes it all worthwhile and I am so proud of him!”
Pluto: I huffed as I shuffled around the house that day. Ma had locked me in and scolded me for barking. I was a good dog after all, so I stopped barking. But I was not happy about it at all. I was a guard dog, it is my job to bark at strangers. And there were quite a few of those coming and going out of the house adjoining ours. Not a single known person! I still remember the people who lived there earlier, though I have not seen them around in a while. I liked them fine. They used to wave at Ma when they left in the mornings. They came in late at night, all tired and beat up, but if I woofed at them, they would come by and scratch my ears over the low wall. One day they just packed up a lot of stuff and took it all with them and went away and never came back.
The people milling about their house today was not them at all. And I did not like them, they came in a big truck and were carrying stuff around and making a lot of noise as they did that. And when they saw me, they said something to Ma and she locked me in the house. And when I barked loudly, she shushed me and asked me to be a good boy. She even gave me a treat to stay quiet. It was rather confusing, but I did not mind the treat, so I stayed mum and gobbled it up. I tried to keep a look out from the window, but I could not see much. So I shuffled around moodily following Ma as she went about her work before finally getting bored and falling asleep near the door. When I woke up, Asha was home from school and that always made me happy. But why was she not coming inside to let me out and play with me. She seemed to be speaking to someone outside, so I woofed and whined and scratched at the door. Finally, Mom came around and let me out.
I bounded out tail wagging madly and jumped all over Asha. Suddenly, I stopped short. What was that other dog smell on her hands? I sniffed hard at her hand and started to frown. But Asha only giggled. “Want to meet your new neighbors?!” she asked encouraging me to look over the boundary wall. I leaned over and what do I see, but 2 of the most ridiculously tiny puppies looking up at me. They jumped up and down trying to reach my face and tumbled all over themselves in the process. There was a twin leash tied to their collars, the other end in the hands of a young lady with a smiling face. Ma joined us and spoke to her and both Ma and Asha seemed to like them, so I decided I might give her a chance too. She came closer and scratched my ears like a pro and that made it even easier to like her. It would have been nicer if her puppies were a little bigger, but no matter, they would grow up soon, and I could always use the company. My friend, Kitty aka Katherine the great, the old cat next door was not much for playing and there wasn’t much to do when Asha went off to school.
Early next morning, I had just got back from my morning run with Dad and settling down for a nap when I saw our neighbor lady leaving the house. The pups were still on the twin leash, but left out in the yard. She called out to my Ma who was watering the plants. She asked Ma to keep an eye on her pups. They had food and water and were too little to jump over the wall and get lost, so they would be fine, but she worried as it was a new place for them. “Don’t worry”, Ma said, “Pluto will guard them”. My ears pricked at the word “Guard”. I was going to be the world’s best guard dog after all! I always loved an opportunity to practice my “guarding” skills. I wagged my tail as I was not sure what I was supposed to guard though. Ma pointed to the pups next door and said “Guard the pups Pluto!” before she turned to waved good bye.
“Wait! What?” Now I am supposed to guard those ridiculous pups?! “Well, fine” I groused to myself as I walked over to inspect them closer. They were running around in circles yapping at each other and falling over the leash which tied them together. I jumped on to the wall and settled down on it to keep a better eye on them. After a while they got tired of running around and settled down in a sunny patch for a nap. With them snoring away, I ran in for a quick breakfast before rushing out back to my guard duties again.
Back on top of the wall, I saw they were still sprawled out dead to the world. Silly babies, sleeping without a care, good thing I was keeping an eye on them. They would not even know if strangers walked into their house. They were certainly not going to be good guard dogs, I sniffed my disdain at them. Perhaps I will take it on myself to guard their house as well.
The day was cloudy and soon enough I got bored watching them sleep and kick their legs about in their dreams as though they played their silly games even when napping. I yawned a big one and closed one eye and then another. I was sleepy too. I circled my spot on the wall and settled down for a small nap. Unlike the babies though, I kept an ear cocked. Soon enough, I heard first one and then the other pup wake up and stretch, slurp some water and start exploring their yard again. They finally discovered me on top of the wall and came over to yap at me. I opened one eye to stare them down. They did not look sacred at all and continued to yap and tumble over each other trying to reach me. But I was in no mood to play their games. I take my guard duties very seriously. After a while the pups got bored and wandered off. I closed my eye again.
A tiny whimper reached my cocked ear and I jumped up all alert. The pups had managed to squeeze through the bars on the gate, but silly as they are, each one from a different gap and now they are stuck because of the leash.
I jumped down and growled at them to come right back. Ready to give them a good scold on the hazards of wandering on the scary roads all by themselves. I am actually serious about this, I still clearly remember the terror of when I got myself lost when I was a pup myself. But that is a story for another day.
Right now, I think I have scared the pups enough that they are now trying to get back in, but getting hopelessly tangled in the leash and not doing it right at all. As I waited for them to come in, I realized it wass going to be easier said than done. I wondered if I needed to go fetch Mom. I was almost on my way to her when I figured it out. To start with, I gave a scary growl to stop them from wriggling around like the slippery fish in the park pond. Then, I reached out a paw through one of the bars and scooped in the first one. The second one tried to squeeze back at the same time and it took some time to get either of them in. Finally, I managed it. I put my paw over him to keep him from causing more trouble. Then I tried to coax the other one in, but oh what a task it was to make the silly pup understand which gap in the bars she is supposed to come in through. Then it occurred to me that I needed to use the leash to guide her, just as Mom used to do when I was little. I took the leash in my mouth and pulled at it till the other one came through the right gap on the gate.
Once they realizee they were safely in, it took only a blink before they are being the pests that they are, one trying to bite my tail while the other batted at my ear. My first instinct was to run away over my wall, but then I realized that they may get back to mischief soon enough. The best thing would be to take them on a walk around the yard so that they get tired and sleep off again soon. I picked up their leash and lope off. They had to run to keep up with me. Ma came out around that time and saw us and laughed. She called Daddy and Asha too. Asha clapped and said “Pluto has his own pets now!” And so it happened that I took a couple of pesky pups on a walk around the yard to tire them out and they ended up being my pets for many moons to come.