{This is a short story I wrote for the Madras Mag Anthology. It is a wonderful book, full of gems from authors the like of Srinath Perur, S...

{This is a short story I wrote for the Madras Mag Anthology. It is a wonderful book, full of gems from authors the like of Srinath Perur, Sharanya Manivannan, MR Sharan, among others, and it's an absolute honour to be rubbing shoulders with writers of that calibre! It's published by a super hip independent publisher, Mulligatawny Books, and by purchasing the anthology, you'll be supporting quality Indian writing. You can buy it on Amazon, here.} 

Sarah’s cousin Natasha’s Labrador had given birth to six puppies, of which five had already found homes across the city. The last one came to us, something that Amma was not pleased about. What is that thing, she had asked Shrinidhi when she showed up at the door with a card board box that had holes and a puppy. Take it back right now. Shrinidhi, however, had different plans. She had been asking Amma for a dog for two years now, supplemented her pleas with research that had been the result of googling “How dogs make life better”, and even changed Amma’s phone wallpaper from photos of Srinivasa Perumal to photos of adorable, fluffy Golden Retriever puppies, but had never gotten what she wanted. Amma said they were dirty, and Appa, who worked twelve hours a day in his legal practice, was too exhausted by the time he came home to have a different opinion.

She had been on the verge of giving up when Sarah had told her during Lunch Break about her cousin Natasha’s Labrador, Choochoo Arockiaraj, and how they were having trouble giving the last puppy in her litter away. Why wouldn’t anyone want a puppy, Shrinidhi had asked Sarah. That’s because these puppies are a cross, replied Sarah knowledgeably. Natasha’s parents didn’t realise that Choochoo was in her heat when they took her out for a walk, and the neighbours’ male mongrel-hound, Dimitri, who was also on his walk, had seduced her. Her neighbours were Germans, and they were so happy about the pairing, that they immediately told Natasha that they’d not only take half the litter, but also pay for the vet and pregnancy. Shrinidhi nodded sagely, although she didn’t really understand what a dog being in the heat meant, after which she asked Sarah if she could take the last puppy. That, as they say, was that. Natasha was outside the school campus the next evening with the cardboard box laced with newspaper that housed the puppy, a chew toy, and a separate box with puppy food. Thank you so much, Natasha had told her. You’re doing an amazing thing! You’re going to love it! I’ve given you enough food to last you a week, and feel free to ask me anything about her, she said, pointing to the larger box.

Shrinidhi had had exactly three questions - how old the puppy was (she’s seventy days old now), whether she needed shots (she needs a booster on the 7th, I’ve already paid the vet - I’ll text you his address), and whether she could eat Thayir Saadham (hmmm, give her vegetarian puppy food first, Pedigree has it, with curd, definitely, because it’s good for their coats, also give her boiled vegetables but once she’s six months old, Thayir Saadham, why not. Just google to be sure). Once she got her answers she knew that the little puppy she was carrying wouldn’t just help her finish her lunch, but also be her companion for life.

When Shrinidhi suggested that they keep the puppy in the little verandah across the hall, Amma only cussed in response. Azhukku Shaniyan. Keep it in your room, with your mess. Appa had told her the same, and also that it would help her bond with the puppy better. And so, Shrinidhi kept the puppy in her room. She opened up the box where she had been putting away Birthday and falling-at-the-feet-of-elders money to buy a dog on her own, and spent the rest of the day shopping online for the puppy, feeding her, and cleaning up the dog’s piss and poop. 

Amma, why don’t you name her? Shrinidhi had offered the next day. 

Her? asked Amma incredulously. It is an it. I am not naming it. I don’t even like it. 

Fine, said Shrinidhi. That’s what I’ll name her. I’ll call her Adhu

Excellent name, said Amma. Now that the Punyojanam is done, shall I make some Carrot Payasam to celebrate? 

Shrinidhi stalked back to her room, and came back five minutes later to ask Amma if she could have a hundred rupees to buy her a few tennis balls. Amma said no. Appa gave her the money on the condition that she didn’t tell Amma.   

Adhu, whose name soon morphed into Addhu, and then Addhooo, was an adorable little puppy. She had inherited her mother’s droopy ears, short hind legs, stubby nose, and her father’s jet-black coat. She was of soft, timid temperament and was happy to be sleeping on most days, and whenever Shrinidhi brought her to the hall, it’s her home too she would say, Adhu was happy to just lie flat under the fan with all four of her paws spread out, making her look like a cuddly version of the macabre tiger skin trophy carpets that one saw in the houses of rich, villainous men in Tamil Cinema.
Despite the puppy’s obvious cuteness which had won all the other hearts in the house, Amma continued to show spite towards the dog. Ignore your mother, Appa told Shrinidhi. She’s been stressed and irritated all week. Prabha Atthai is due to call about her trip today.  

Prabha Atthai was Appa’s first cousin, and older to him by about ten years. The only child of her parents, she moved to the United States in the early eighties after marrying - Amma preferred to use the word capturing - a mild mannered neurologist who was making good money, and continued to do so. She rarely visited India, it was exhausting, she would say with her newly acquired twang, preferring instead to fly her parents to the States. Five years ago she had lost her parents in quick succession, and ended up spending a fair amount of time with Appa because he was the only lawyer who would help sort out her parents’ wills, house deeds, and other formalities without charging anything.  Before she left to the US, she called home, and spoke to Appa about how grateful she was, and that as a token of her gratitude, she would come to India more often, and stay with us. Appa had welcomed the idea heartily, much to Amma’s displeasure. If only you were less compassionate, she had told him. We would have got a BMW ten years ago.

The first time Prabha Atthai visited us, she hauled her suitcase across the airport to the Tirusulam subway station, took the train to Mambalam, and walked through the morning-after muck of Ranganathan Street to reach our house which was on the other side. Your city is so dirty, she’d accused once she got home. Look at what I had to get through to come here. 

Why didn’t you take a cab, Amma had asked. 

A cab costs Rs.450. Don’t you have a driver? Please send him from now.

Prabha Atthai’s schedule in Chennai was the same each trip.  As soon as she got home, which would usually be in the middle of the night, she would insist on waking us up immediately so that she could give us our gifts – items she had carefully picked out herself from the dollar store. You don’t get anything like this here, do you, she would ask, pointing to the acrylic pen stands and Jolly Rancher hard candies that she would get us year after year. The only way we were allowed to go back to sleep was if we said no.

Every morning, she would sit in the dining table, and draw up a long list of cousins and relatives to visit that day. She would then have breakfast, and talk. She would talk about her life before she got married, her life after, life in the States, and how life would have been if she hadn’t gone. It wasn’t the talking that bothered Amma as much as Prabha Atthai’s need to have a pertinent response. If Amma so much as hmm-ed, Prabha Atthai would turn her nose up, after which she would repeat the entire story again for Amma’s benefit, and the rest of the day would be spent on more such one sided storytelling, apart from lunch and dinner. Prabha Atthai ran out of stories quickly, and would often repeat her favourites - Amma, after listening to the story of how she saw Bujji Periamma elope with her Professor back in the eighties for roughly the thirtieth time, made the mistake of telling Prabha Atthai that she already knew the story. Prabha Atthai, who was quick to get offended, wasn’t one to give up.

She stopped telling stories, and started doling out advice instead – she would advise Amma on everything she thought Amma would benefit from, but her core focus was on how Amma had raised her daughters. Your daughters have too much freedom. Why did you put them in a Convent? They’re probably eating Non Vegetarian food behind your back. If you give your daughters smart phones, they will get boyfriends. For four years, Amma handled it with great finesse, choosing to comment in a neutral manner. Last year, however, Prabha Atthai crossed the line by straying from her chosen topic of daughter rearing, to commenting on Amma’s cooking, more specifically, by telling her that her Paruppu Thogayal could use some improvement.  Amma started giving her the silent treatment, and two days later, Prabha Atthai left to Latha Periamma’s house for the remainder of the trip. Things sorted themselves out the way these things usually sort themselves out – Amma and Appa had a fight, but neither Amma nor Atthai acknowledged or confronted the other about the incident.

 Prabha Atthai called on schedule to inform Amma about her trip, the timings of her flight, and whether the driver would be coming to pick her up. By the way, Amma had told her.  We have a dog in the house. I hope you’re alright with them.

Dog? What dog? When?

Amma told her the entire story about Shrinidhi and Choochoo Arockiaraj. It’s annoying, but it’s here. I can’t do anything. Do you have a problem with dogs?

Please don’t be upset about what I’m going to tell you, Prabha Atthai said. But I am deathly allergic to dogs. 

Oh, said Amma. I never knew about this. 

That’s because of who I am, she replied. I don’t like burdening people with my problems. Why should I give you one more worry? You must have enough with those daughters of yours. Anyway, this is the problem. Even if I so much as see dogs, I develop a cough and a severe rash. Is there any way to give her away before my trip to Chennai?

I’m sorry, said Amma. I’ve tried everything. Shrinidhi just won’t listen. The only way the dog is leaving the house is if Shri takes it along to her husband’s house after she gets married. 

Shrinidhi has to get married before the dog leaves? asked Prabha Athai. Who knows when that will happen! Or if that will happen at all! 

I know, said Amma. The times we live in. 

I suppose I should go to Latha’s house right away this time. 

I suppose, replied Amma. 

Ok then, bye. I’ll call you later. 

Bye, good night, said Amma and waited to hear the click sound of the call getting cut. She continued to stand with her ear on the phone as the events of the past fifteen minutes sank into her.

We had Carrot Payasam for dessert that evening.

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  1. LOL! The first half is super deja vu, coz that's how i brought our first pup home! and then second half is so much like what my friend would tell us about her athhai! had a hearty laugh :)

  2. Hahahah! Good one ;--) enjoyed reading it chutney!

  3. Never had a puppy brfore.. Its lovely to start a stroy like this, but that athai part is too lenghty


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