Some dogs are so special, such important parts of your life that one thinks l…o…n…g before writing those words of goodbye that one must, to acknowledge that indeed the hands of time have moved, and life gathered your beloved pet, companion and soulmate into the folds of its long gown and slithered away. It is a week in calendar terms today, and it has taken me considerable effort to sit down now (8:15 am) on my computer to make these jottings.
My both retriever girls- Ginger and Nikki
In a posture of acceptance and love, with a guest who is at ease with animals
It is not to say that Ginger alone was special, but Ginger was the one who came first and left last, and that made her special in her own kind of way. I cannot but go back in time, time and again and how the images of her entering into my life flit past in quick succession- the first encounter on the service road of a big highway (Mathura Road) and the vet who had brought her along to palm off a sick puppy to me, without telling me so She was, so to say, my first official dog- not that there wasn’t another before her, but she was the one that I alone brought home, taking a quiet decision about it and dealt with the whole thing from the beginning. She imparted me with a great sense of responsibility and a little, sick puppy who came coughing (she had pneumonia then) became the harbinger of all that was to change in my world, soon after.
She was very ill, and the vet who had palmed her off just wanted to get rid of her and make his money. She was an outcome of a breeder’s farm and the runt of the litter– nobody had wanted to take her. That is how I got her, because I could not have paid what it took to get a Golden Retriever- I was a poor, dependent, ‘mentally ill’ person myself, with no job, having no life of her own, and not sure whether there was anything to live for. The year was 2006, I was 34. Today when I look back at that life of deep
This is the kind of basket she was crouched in
solitude, suffering and uncertainty and think of the young people who struggle with labels of ‘mental illness’ I feel they are much more empowered than I was then. There was no social media, or if it was there I was far from that world. Not to say that social media ever proved to be good for me in any real manner.
Anyhow, going back to Ginger- the day she came it was Diwali, so it is easy today to look up and find the date, am just about to do it! Oh, so google tells me that Diwali was on October 21st in 2006! So well, that is the day she entered into my life, my world and my home- that sick, coughing, terrified pup, so lanky at four months (born on 6th June as she was) that the man who had brought her had put her in a vegetable basket, the sort in the picture above! My maternal grandfather was also sick at the same time, and he was coughing away with pneumonia or bronchitis in his last days then. And then came a sick pup doing likewise. My mother was aghast to see this, for she had just met her father coughing and here her daughter had brought a coughing sick pup home 😦 Nobody can say she was pleased.
Yet, I was besides myself with joy, and immediately wanted to name her ‘Lakshmi’ as it was Diwali, but my grandmother was adamant- for how could I name my dog after a Hindu deity! And it took a bit of humming and hawing before I would settle down for a name like Ginger- who nevertheless soon had to be started on steroids and antibiotics, for she was really very ill . The vet I had known in Noida (Rappai) came to my rescue and for many other situations I have referred back to him for long since and before. But that was Ginger then- in a manner of speaking rescued, and ‘restored’ in time. The images fall in front of eyes like droplets of rain and can I ever capture them on a blog-post? Seems unlikely and neither I wish to attempt such a big thing here. It is not a small time I am sitting here to chronicle, but a relationship of nearly 14 years. In fact had Ginger lived, she would have been 14 this year in June (6th June 2020).
Seeing or sensing that perhaps another dog would do us good, or may be I thought that she was lonely (was I projecting myself on her?) I decided to get another and that was to be Nikki- the most adorable, sweet, loving animal anyone would ever ever get to know. I remember the day I drove down- to Noida once again, to get Nikki- also from a breeder! But that lady was not into breeding Labradors, only Cocker Spaniels. Yet for some reason she had this particular labrador. But this is not about Nikki- but how Ginger encountered Nikki when they met. Nikki was over-joyed on meeting me and I thought it seems this pup has a past life connection with me (how silly!) that she recognizes me from some other time, seeing her recognition and joy at meeting me. She was going bonkers around me, flapping her little tail as though she had only been waiting for me. So even though, I had only gone to ‘check out’ the pup (though cautious enough to carry the little money I had) leaving such a doting pup there, made little sense.
So I quickly bundled her up into the Zen car I drove those days. Me, Ginger and Nikki- both pups in the backseat. I also gave them a chew-bone each to munch while we covered the distance back home. But Ginger was so upset with this new situation in her life, while Nikki was least concerned. For her having a family and another sibling with something to munch on seemed like a safe enough proposition to start a new life. By the time we returned to our home, she had not only eaten both the chew-sticks but also defecated in the car! So that was the start of our new life with the second pup. Naming her was another story, but I wouldn’t get into that here.
So life kept on its quirky road, with a person as quirky as I could be- then came Raga, the German Shepherd and life was never the same –
These were the dimensions of their size once upon a time- Ginger and Raga , and small wonder Ginger would never accept Raga’s dominance for all times ahead, no matter what the consequence
In October 2007, a year after Ginger entered my world, I moved to Faridabad- with my three girls: Ginger, Nikki, Raga (GNR), and the year after in 2008- December came Dash, adopted from a family in Gurgaon.
Today all these are just words, and memories– so many memories, so many people, encounters, neighbourhoods we lived in, a village in South Goa, cities- Delhi, Faridabad and Margao … Ginger held on as all dogs went down – my brave little angel. It was not in vain though- she held on until I had written the first draft of the PhD thesis. And perhaps this PhD would not have happened at all! In 2015 I was in conversation with two universities in the US for a doctoral research. In Stony Brook they were very kind and welcoming. In fact the lady I was in conversation with also put one of her doctoral researchers in touch with me and we had an email exchange and then a Skype chat as well. She was intrigued that I had published so much already- she was also working in mental health, an American woman, a little older to me. As these conversations unfolded I was living in Goa- the time was July 2015 or thereabouts.
While they showed interest in my possible application to the university I was uneasy about the fact that I was in Goa and I had these four dogs around me. Finally I had to move one way or another- I wrote an email to the young academic and bowed out, admitting that since my animals were all ageing it was not possible for me to leave them and study in the US. I had internally imagined the scenario that they would be old, requiring care and would I be happy doing the PhD in cold New York? That lady was kind enough to understand my reasons and that was it- no more PhD for me!! At least that dream was shattered… Until (surprisingly enough) providence brought another opportunity in September 2015 soon after, which indeed is what I pursued and bring to completion now.
So the reasons that I began this PhD- my geriatric canine family proved the case that I was indeed right in not taking up the opportunity of a foreign degree, while they lovingly watched over me struggle with the PhD year after year- each of them leaving me, gently changing their own course…one year after the other or a few months apart…
Raga- 23rd October 2017 (the youngest)
Nikki- 8th June 2018 (utterly unexpectedly)
Dash- 28th June 2019 (just a day of being ill, really has not made sense until today)
and finally Ginger – 29th January 2020
It has taken me a week to write this, not only because Ginger left or that it was sudden, because this is a huge shift in my life- a demographic shift, a change in situation that I had not put at the forefront at any time, thinking they all had more time. Dash’s demise was certainly very shocking and Ginger’s- plain unexpected. This is not to say she was strong, or well. She was fading, getting weak, yet until the very end, barring the last one week moving around, demanding food, engaging with everything. Then her eyesight completely began to fade and I realized she was falling into the plants and I decided to guide her on a leash.
The last three days were heartbreaking, the sort of time you really wish it would end. She was crying out in pain throughout the night. I could not put any medicines in her mouth because I knew it would not matter now- the same that I would want for myself. If I would pet her she would calm down- but I could not for the whole night and my arm would be frozen outside the blanket, though I did for several hours. I mostly managed to sleep for one or two hours at most. But in the day she would sleep peacefully – while I could not sleep to that extent. She did not eat for full five days and that was a sign to me that this was it!
None of my dogs had such a painful demise as Ginger. I wonder if it was due to the fact that she was such a strong-willed, tenacious girl, who held on despite the pain or was it something else? She had not given up much earlier as well, even when she was considerably weakened by this very deep mange issue that I treated for her, but her immunity being compromised since young did not help the matter. We tried scores of oils, baths, treatments, antibiotics, anti-fungal treatments – oral or topical, you name it sort of thing. Then in the early parts of the winter she also had another case of aural hematoma . I did not do much about it this time because in the earlier case when she had developed this in Goa I had a surgery performed and was so unhappy with that experience that I figured that if this can heal on its own in a few months (as I read and figured it out) I would just leave it for now. And my poor darling resigned to her fate- quietly let the hematoma, the mange and age get to her slowly, as I poured in the CBD oil and everything else to make it comfortable for her , to whatever extent feasible.
This winter has been biting cold for us and I kept Ginger especially protected because her condition did not permit me to cover her with any garments, unlike the other two. At least the cold did not get her, she was safe, secure and warm- until the end. It was other things.
Ginger under the dining table. Just see how her underbelly is all red with the itch and scratching, though she sleeps here peacefully
It is not just Ginger who is gone- it is that big loop, which started with the entry of my dogs, and that was to change me forever, coming a full circle. I have no grief, only a deep sense of loss and tears that I find unexpectedly welling into my eyes- sometimes while looking at something, lying in bed or reading something. The home is the same, the dachshunds are sweet and playful- yet the passage of an age cannot but be acknowledged and accepted. It was not just another dog- it was a companion who came to change every possible formation on the chessboard of my life. As I write this down, tears that have frozen in my eyes finally find an outlet and this is a sign that yes, I have come to terms with it at least in some measure- I have taken seven days to muster the courage today to write these words down. All my darlings, no longer in front of me, yet forever with my soul who have merged.
There was something beautiful and auspicious about her, a little different from all others too. Imagine her coming in on Diwali day and my whole gloom and loneliness was replaced by a small, sickly pup. Similarly the day she passed away was Basant Panchami– a day I am very fond of, amidst all other days in the year. She passed away on a day that means a lot to me- another harbinger of change of seasons, celebrated, special day. Her passage was a relief for the end was very painful, especially the long time of throwing up and diarrhea – which I cleaned innumerably. It was tricky to keep cleaning from both sides, and I could not believe she could throw up so many times, for she had not eaten in so many days.
Buried in the garden, mid the flowers – a mourning, yet celebration; teaching me yet again to balance. That beautiful angel who touched me yet again in such a kind way
Ginger’s blanket drying in the backyard after she passed away
I have no words more to say for now but that my sweetheart, my darling is gone and gone is that part of my life where my dogs made me what I am today. I owe it entirely to them to become what life was to make of me, finally.
Friends, blog-readers and family, who would like to leave a word of remembrance or any other comments are kindly requested to post them at the bottom of the post itself and not on any social media platform, which would be lost forever. Hope this is not a trouble for anyone