OLDIES – a short story
Browny, the dog in the Sharma’s household was constantly barking in pain. Their neighbourer Shuklas were cursing the day when Sharmas shifted into the flat opposite theirs with their old ailing dog.
Rajnarain Shukla tossing in his bed shouted as if to try to make his voice reach to Sharmas,“what the hell ? I come back from office to have peace and look I am not allowed even that privilege in our own home. I don’t know, why people keep pets if they cannot get them treated. Our life has been made miserable by this dog ever since they shifted in our vicinity.” Sheela, wife of Rajnarain also made her displeasure known making noises in the kitchen.
“I shall be talking to Sharma first thing tomorrow morning and also to the secretary of the society.”
“Sure, you should. How long are we going to suffer like this? Let them shoot the dog to alleviate it from its sufferings.”
In the adjacent room, aged father of Rajnarain who was suffering from severe bronchitis had started coughing.
Raj’s father tried to reach to cough syrup also calling Raj in the process. Rajnarain first thought to ignore his call but getting irritated by his father’s constant coughing, he charged into his father’s room.
“Kya Baba, what happened now. Why can’t you take the medicines yourself ? Neither that dog nor you allow us some peace after a day’s hectic schedule”, Rajnarain said in the tone which was short of admonition.
Panting, his father could only show the empty bottle of the cough syrup and mutter, “ Raj, I told you yesterday…khow..khow…khow….”
“Don’t remind me what I have to do and what I have not. I shall ask Sheela to make kadha*( an ayurvedic medicinal preparation) for you. Take that ayurvedic medicine till I bring a new one. Do you know how much these allopathic medicines cost?” Saying so, he left the room.
Bow…..bow…boo..bo..b…, the dog’s barking on the other side was getting little subdued as if the dog had no strength to bark.
It was 11 pm and half of the families in the society were in the process of getting into sleep mode when Rajnarain heard the door bell. He asked his wife to open the door who showed her reluctance by tying her head with a cloth. He had no option but to get up and open the door. At the door, he found Sharma’s daughter with a glass.
“What is it now ?” he asked disgustingly as if dog’s barking was not enough that she had now come to disturb him personally.
“Uncle, Browny is very sick. It has to be given medicine with milk. The milk is finished in our house. If some milk can be spared….,” before she could finish the sentence, Sheela shouted from inside,
“no, there is no milk. Why don’t you people push that old dog out of the house ? Why don’t you call municipality to take away that dog and kill him.”
“ No, no…aunti. Please don’t say that….please don’t give the milk but don’t say that…” sharma’s daughter ran back to her flat bursting into tears.
Rajnarain’s father staggered out of his room. Seeing his father Rajnarain got hyper, “kya Baba, why can’t you sit inside the room. Did you take the kadha?”
His father was still coughing intermittently and trying to speak, “you know….Raj….kadha does not suit me, Raj….khow..khow…khow….can you contact my friend ,Doctor Siridharan tomorrow morning .”
“No baba no, I don’t have time tomorrow morning. Take the kadha and sleep.” He replied and gestured Sheela to make the medicine who was least interested in doing so. Baba started gasping for breath. Sheela made no attempt to make her father-in-law to sit on the chair. She went inside her room beckoning her husband to follow. However Raj caught hold his father and helping him to his bed asked him curtly to sleep and went to his room. Rajnarain’s father drank a glass of hot water from the thermos which soothed her cough a little.
Bow….bow….bow..boooooooo. Browney, the dog again…….
“Do something about that dog,” Sheela asked her husband.
“Yes, I will. Tomorrow morning I shall be going to my friend in Municipality and ask him to take action.” Rajnarain made her wife comfortable before going to sleep. For him complaining to the municipality regarding Browny -the dog was more important than procuring medical aid for his ailing father from Dr. Sridharan.
Next day in the morning, Rajnarain opened the door and was surprised to find some people gathered outside Sharma’s flat. Someone informed him that Browny had died during the night. He sighed a relief feeling unburdened of some calamity but could not understand why people were so sad and mournful. He was about to turn back into his flat when he saw Sharmas coming out of his flat, holding the garlanded corpse of Browny in a white cloth followed by his family members including her daughter who had come to ask for the milk yesterday. The respect and reverence with which Browny was carried to his grave could not be digested by Sheela and Rajnarain. They laughed and made fun of Sharmas when some one informed them the real story behind Sharmas love for Browny.
Browny had been with Sharmas since it was a puppy. It was bred and treated nicely. Time and again it proved a saviour for the Sharma family before they had shifted to their new location, the present flat. Once it had saved Sharma household getting robbed when no one was at home. Another day it had alerted Sharmas of possible drowning of their daughter and she was saved in time. It had remained glued to Mrs. Sharma’s bed when she fell seriously sick as if praying for her well being without taking any food and water for days together. Everyone thought that because of Browny’s prayers, Mrs. Sharma got well. Sharmas never forgot its contribution even when Browny was growing old and getting older thus unable to render any help. They tended it as best as they could giving it all possible care and treatment even from the best veterinary doctors available in India.
Rajnarain was rendered speechless. He was thinking of his old father. Sharmas’ love & care for their old dog and his own indifference towards his old father made him to sweat and tremble with unknown guilt. He thought himself to be the murderer of the dog having refused the milk demanded by that little Sharma girl and now he was going to commit another murder, that of his own father. He felt ashamed and Sheela could not meet his eyes too. The mirror images flashed before his eyes of the days when Baba used to bathe him, take him to school, play with him in the garden, spend hours at his bed to watch him recover from illness, take loans for his education and training and always praying for his well being. Rajnarain felt reeling under the enormous lack of moral and worldly obligations. He saw no place to hide. He wanted to repent and repent fast. He immediately rushed out of his house, kicked his scooter and raced to Dr. Siridharan’s house. He wanted to atone for his omissions and commissions.