Balto, The Boss
Balto, The Boss

Balto  moved on to dog-heaven yesterday, the 31st of January.  The closest I ever  got to having a dog of my own, is when  Rajendra and Shalini got Balto for Bhargav, seven years ago. , A Labrador, he was barely a few days old when he came  with the family to spend a Sunday with us at  A-5,  a tiny pup who looked every bit like God intended  puppies to be- just that blend of cuteness and sadness to make the hardest heart melt, and   cause everyone  to make themselves ridiculously silly over him.  In one visit, he acquired grandparents, an aunt and an uncle,  who  sometimes may have forgotten to ask about Bhagu, but never missed  asking after his canine sibling.  For people who never owned dogs, they  took to Balto  with surprising ease, as if  they’d been around dogs all their lives.

He soon grew, as dogs do,  into this silent, watchful hulk that no could ignore, largely because he would not let them.  He took turns to lay his  heavy head on every knee in the living room, to be patted and stroked and have a few words of endearment mumbled to him. He  stared  unblinking at  the goodie in your hand , willing it to fall  so he could wolf it down, and made sheep’s eyes at anything placed on the coffee table  for the visitors until they shared it with him.  He was a dog that loved to eat.  And he had a sweet tooth too.

It felt good to feel the sharp thwack!  as his tail swished gently, for him, when he slid past you as you sat on the sofa. If this was the effect of  a negligent, casual  flick of the tail, I wonder how hard I would be hit if he seriously decided to whip my legs!  He  ran circles around himself to indicate his joy at sighting you, though it is mystifying exactly why he  felt joy about visitors. It must be that thing that dogs have-  that never lets them forget a person or how she/he smells.

Every now and then,  Balto expected the conversation to veer around to him, or at lease include him. He  added his own understated wuff !   or a grr!    depending on whether his parents were updating visiting relatives about his latest exploits, or  talking  about something quite irrelevant.

He was the leader of   the street which had enough dogs for it to be the norm to identify  the  homes by the dogs that lived in them rather than the masters.  If   people needed to know  which was Shalini/ Rajendra/ Bhagu’s house, they needed to ask, Balto maney yaavudu?  (Which is Balto’s house) When he went out for his walk, morning and evening,  other dogs  deferred to him.

When the time came to leave,  he always knew. When you said your goodbyes and went to the door, there was Balto, standing huge and quite immovable, and not an inch would he  yield to let you pass through. It is extremely puzzling that  Balto, who constantly interrupted Rajendra when he was engaged in deep conservation, and sought attention to himself,  and  indicated very clearly that he was not at all pleased with being ignored in this manner,  should  be an ass over the departing visitor.

And if you felt honored that Balto  counted you as family, you only needed to go down to the gate to realise you were being mildly delusional, for while seeming to  care deeply about your leaving, he was cleverly ascertaining that Rajendra was not about to  get in the car and  leave, too.  “Hey Balto, look Appa’s calling you” would have him bounding down the steps to the gate, where he would  inspect the car, and make sure Rajendra was not being kidnapped (as if we didn’t know) and once  he was sure that wasn’t the case, he  pretended that his real  purpose was to cross the street to the other side, and do his Number One job on the  wall of , before returning  nonchalantly to stand by Rajendra.

He had not been well of late, and for months we were only hearing of  his  fever, his lethargy, and  lack of interest in  anything. He was not in the mood for socializing with his doggy pals, and they had learnt to leave him well alone.  The day before he died, he  stopped to exchanged a few wuffs with Prince, a dog who belongs to no one, but is a  dogizen of the street,  the first since months.  He must have known his time had come.

I thought all day about Balto feeling sad that he would no longer be there to regale us with his comical ways. When I called, Shalini cried, and Rajendra was inconsolable. It’s not right that Balto, was taken  way before his time.  It’s not fair that  from today,  we will no more hear of  Balto’s walks and jogs, and his adventures on his outings, and  to suddenly realise  Balto was needed more than  we thought he needed his family.

Balto will never be forgotten.  And he will always be missed.