Meena was a migrant worker, one among 45 million others who venture into unknown lands. Last year as the beleaguered migrant community trekked back home following the heavy-handed lockdown in March 2020, Meena completed a year working with us doing household chores.
Her job description was loosely defined as ‘top work’ (coined by this self-styled recruitment specialist for domestic house-helps ): meaning dusting and cleaning. Meena was from Jharkhand and for someone who was working in Maximum City for the first time, she had breath-taking confidence. Even chutzpah.
It was perhaps a sign of a metamorphosing India. But in the middle of June her occupational profile would change dramatically. It all happened because of Louis.
In the third week of May, I felt an atypical headache, which was accompanied by a low-grade fever that barely lasted a day.
Being an incorrigible optimist, I dismissed that as an exasperating summer bug. It turned out to be a deadly Chinese import instead. I was promptly quarantined. My better half could not even smell a strong coffee brew. As we all self-sequestered, Louis would come at our door and look at us with a bewildered expression: “Why are you not cuddling me?”
Louis is our twelve-year-young mini-Dachshund: he can easily snuggle into a backpack. By the time we emerged triumphantly out of that depressing fortnight of eerie isolation something had changed.
One day Louis returned from a late night stroll and then gave us a long unwavering gaze. He was telling us something. He had become paralyzed. His hind legs had enormously atrophied because of two weeks of inactivity. He was a collateral damage of the pathogen that was disrupting humanity and pushing it towards an existential Armageddon.
Since we were still recuperating, Meena had a new responsibility: looking after a small dog who could not walk. Trust me, looking after someone who is physically challenged is not just exhausting, it is also emotionally draining. Meena was not happy with the unexpected assignment, but it was COVID times and job-hopping was taboo. But Louis is like a charming Casanova and soon began to win over his reluctant guardian.
Louis was suddenly like the scrawny pup who had come home a few months after the horrific 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai. Watching his overflowing fortitude, I understood the phrase that it is not the size of the dog in a fight that matters but the size of the fight in the dog.
He needed to be transported with a harness or carried in the arms. I could see the piercing frustration in his cries and the helplessness when he could not chase the pigeon away from the balcony railings. But he hung in there, his tiny hind legs lifeless.
Meena showered him with her love, circumspectly handling his movements, feeding him his special non-protein diet, cleaning his frequent mess and generally chatting him up. Louis reciprocated her love with equal fervour. Soon they were inseparable. Louis had substantially recovered under her painstaking care. “He should walk again in a few months,” said our vet with unbridled optimism.
Then suddenly as the pandemic dwindled by December several migrants wished to return home. Meena’s anxious parents wanted her back too. She had to leave. She promised she would return in a few weeks. But when she said goodbye to Louis and then quickly returned to give him a warm pat we knew that it was a final farewell.
I think Louis knew that too. His look manifested his feelings of gratitude. “Thank you Meena for everything,” he seemed to say. “And sorry for being a brat.”
Unknown to them, love had become a four-letter word in India. The Tanishq TV commercial depicting harmony received a social media fusillade and draconian anti-Love Jihad laws clipped budding Kuch Kuch Hota Hai romances in the bud.
The Big Bully state was apparently legislating against faux love and alleged religious proselytization. But India was not complaining because a V-shaped economic recovery was forecasted to be on its way. And the stock markets had even breached unprecedented 50,000 levels.
Of course many believe we are still a fountainhead of democracy. All is well.
I take Louis for a walk every day. He will not be an Usain Bolt ever again but that is alright. He will walk. I sometimes see him stop and look towards the lobby of our building with an expectation that Meena will turn up as she often did. But there is no one. Then he looks at me, his small tail wagging vigorously, his eyes glistening with refulgent aplomb: “I am ready, boss. Let’s play. Stop daydreaming.”
I take out my used tennis ball. He barks aloud, his tiny frame now poised for a considerable leap. I throw the ball. Louis runs after it like there is no tomorrow, his small legs galloping ahead as if he is in a Derby. And I run after him.
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