The Underdogs

 

Shivaji K. Moitra 

 

© Copyright 2021 by Shivaji K. Moitra 
   

 

Photo of a mongrel dog.

 Away from the greed and vices of the city, they had been living there peacefully and happily for decades until the unforeseen software boom and the explosion of other technology businesses caught the city by storm. It drew in wealthy people from all over the country and a flurry of construction work began. Land prices soared to unimaginable heights and the builders began to build sprawling gardens and plush villas and mansions after displacing the original poor denizens from their lands so that the fashionable rich people could move out of the congested heart of the city into the leafy and quiet margins of the city.

Soon, those swanky abodes of the rich rose up to stare disdainfully at the colonies of the toiling people at several locations.

A small hut in one such colony was home to a chirpy young boy named Ramu, his parents and Rocky. Rocky was their pet mongrel, a young sturdy dog with a shaggy black and white coat and a furry tail. Ramu had found it as a puppy whimpering and wandering at the edge of the forest when he went to collect firewood one afternoon. He had no idea how and from where it had come there. Fearing that the jackals and hyenas would emerge in the evening and carry it away, he brought it home.

Ramu’s parents owned a small tea stall some ten kilometers away beside the state highway that meandered across one of the most exuberant and spectacular terrains of India, the highway crossed the Bandipur forest and Tiger reserve before reaching Mysore. During the winter and summer months, hordes of tourists riding buses, cars and bikes descended upon the highway and stopped briefly at the roadside kiosks and stalls for refreshment. On weekdays, after his parents left, Ramu attended the government school five kilometers away and Rocky sat guard before their locked doors until he returned. But on the weekends, he joined his parents to lend a helping hand at the tea stall. Rocky used to run all the way to their tea stall and back following their bike across the highway like a marathon champion. Yet, Ramu earnestly wished that Rocky could become a trained dog like those big pedigreed dogs owned by the rich people living in the bungalows and villas around their colony and one day take part in a dog show. He knew it was a tall wish.

Nevertheless, after returning from school, he often took Rocky before the wrought iron gates of the villa just across the street. Across the bars of the gates he could watch the dog trainer in action over the porch as he trained the two huge Labradors and two Alsatians owned by the villa owner. He mimicked the trainer and made Rocky follow his orders just as those pedigreed dogs.

Although the trainer was quite amused in the beginning by Ramu’s audacious desire to train a mongrel as a well-behaved guard dog, he did not deride the poor lad’s intentions. Gradually, he became friendly with the young boy and threw at him an advice or two about the right way to make a dog obey its master.

You need to give the dog healthy food and medicines that you cannot afford. These pedigreed dogs eat things that even your parents cannot buy for you,” he quipped.

Nevertheless, Rocky seemed to love his training. But his free and easy nature of life and his rugged demeanour set him apart from the docile, well fed dogs of the villa. He was not accustomed to the uninspiring life of a dog on a leash and he was often distracted by the scents and sounds wafting around. Unlike the dogs living within a fence, Rocky spoke and understood the language of the street dogs and could sniff the presence of wild animals like jungle cats, foxes, civets and even the leopards that often trespassed into their colony in search of easy prey.

Frequently, those familiar scents of unseen wild intruders alerted him and he barked to alert the stray dogs living in and around the colony whereupon they formed a pack and chased away the unwelcome beasts.

One winter evening, as the mist descended over the trees, Rocky had been lying in the small courtyard of the house, half asleep while Ramu had been lying on his bed with mild fever. It seemed nothing serious and his parents had promised to return home early. The sun had set but the last glow of dusk was still in the sky.

Suddenly, the deep throated barking of some guard dogs across the street reached his ears. Then, he heard the agitated barking and growling of Rocky as he ran wildly towards the street. A commotion followed and Ramu heard the shouts and screams of a man amid the barking. He jumped out of his bed to see what was happening outside.

The barking of other stray dogs interspersed with the angry growls of some large cat could be heard in the distance. As Ramu wondered if the dogs were confronting some leopard, the shouts and screams of a man unsettled him.

He ran towards the source of the screaming and barking and came upon the street. What he saw, left him puzzled for a while. A man was lying some hundred metres away near a thicket beside the street and a pack of angry stray dogs were scampering, snarling and growling while surrounding something in the adjacent undergrowth.

Ramu trot up to the spot and found the gentleman owning the villa sitting on the ground beside the street with bleeding wounds on his hands, neck and back and a deep cut on his forehead. His coat was torn and his cap was lying on the street. One of his Labrador dogs was lying still nearby in a bush with a deep wound on its neck.

Ramu rushed to the spot and pulled up the gentleman slowly as he struggled to stand up. Quickly he pulled off his shirt and wiped the blood over his wounds and shouted at his friends to come.

By then, Rocky and his stray friends had cornered the leopard and it took refuge upon a fig tree to escape the vicious dogs.

Ramu’s friends and their neighbours arrived minutes later armed with sticks, spears, bows and arrows and asked the gentleman if he could walk home and what exactly had happened.

The gentleman nodded and said, “I was taking a stroll along with my two Labradors and the leopard emerged from nowhere and pounced on my dog in a flash. It caught the dog’s neck and dragged it into the bush. When I shouted and screamed at it and tried to ward off the animal, it left the dog and turned on me. The bitch was so terrified by the growls of the leopard that it fled as soon as it jumped on me. But a black and white mongrel appeared just in time and jumped on the leopard even as it pinned me down. Six or seven other stray dogs rushed in within minutes and attacked the animal from all sides. They saved my life while this brave boy came to my rescue.” He pointed at Ramu.

The dog that came here first is my dog Rocky,” Ramu announced proudly.

No wonder, he is just as courageous as you, my son,” the gentleman remarked.

Some of Ramu’s friends and neighbours took him to his villa and informed the servants and his household about the incident whereupon he was rushed to the hospital while Ramu and the others joined the dogs to take on the leopard. They began to shout and shoot arrows at it until the leopard found itself unsafe upon the tree. With a huge leap, it vanished into a dense patch of undergrowth. The restless dogs pursued it for a while but found it prudent not to enter the cover of the high grass and thorny shrubs.

One Sunday evening a few weeks later, the barking of Rocky alerted Ramu to the presence of strangers at his door. When he opened the creaky door, he was stunned to find the wealthy gentleman, his servant and his dog trainer trying to assure Rocky about their innocence and approach his hut. The gentleman had recovered fully during the time.

Ramu quickly asked Rocky to sit down and welcomed them into their modest hut.

The gentleman shook his hand affectionately and said, “Mr. Sharma told me about your great desire to train your dog and I’m ashamed to know how you have been obliged to watch him from outside my gates. But you and your brave dog have saved my life when my own trained and pedigreed dogs proved to be timid and powerless. Now I understand that no amount of training can match the raw spirit and untamed loyalty of a mongrel. I have come to thank you and wish to give you some gifts.”

He took the cartons and packets of shoes, sports goods and clothes from his servant and put them into Ramu’s hands.

Then, he turned to Ramu’s father and continued, “I cannot repay your brave son and his gallant dog for saving my life but I can offer you a good job and a decent house to live in. I am the owner of several big hotels in the city and elsewhere and I shall be truly happy if I can do something for you and your family. I hope you would be kind enough to accept my humble proposal.”




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