[ 5 MINUTE READ] An epilogue to ‘A lesson from Lila’.
While Zoe largely kept to herself, Lila had a fan following of humans and canines in the neighbourhood. Through small gestures, Zoe showed an uncharacteristic resentment towards Lila. When we called out to Lila, Zoe would jostle past her and lumber towards us for a pat. Used to a life of modest expectations, Lila adjusted to these small infractions. When Zoe was asleep, Lila would climb onto my thigh with both forepaws so we could rub our foreheads together.
We decided to relocate Lila to my mother’s bungalow in Vadodara. To allow both dogs their own independent turf.
My son Dhruva resisted the idea. It had taken time for her to settle down and he didn’t want her to be disrupted again.
When I booked Lila’s tickets, Dhruva decided to join me to escort her and help her settle into her new home. She spent the train ride climbing onto the edge of the 1st AC coupe window, trying to make sense of a world outside in furious retreat.
Lila seemed to distance herself from me in Vadodara. She preferred not to sleep in my room and curled up beside our security guard Amit’s bench downstairs. Her reception was more muted when I returned home each evening.
Amit walked her six times a day, bathed her and fed her. She shadowed him during his shift, including waiting for him outside the restroom. She spent the rest of her time with my mother. When Amma woke up at 4am, Lila would sneak up to her and sit beside her yoga mat as she went through her morning routine. Perched on Amma’s lap, they would listen to bhajans together. Lying in wait, as Amma worked in her study.
The spring in her step was missing but I knew it would come back. At the end of the first week, Dhruva wanted to take her back to Mumbai with him. I asked him to give her some more time.
One morning I heard a young girl calling out to Lila from our gate. It was my neighbour’s nine-year-old niece Tishtrya visiting from Mumbai. Lila ran towards her and snuggled into the small hands that reached out to her through the gate. Our home was infused with the sobriety of older people. What Lila missed perhaps was the company of another child.
Tishtrya began taking Lila home in the afternoons to play with her and their Terrier Rum. Her mum would send me pictures of them lined up on the floor, sleeping together. Videos of Tishtrya teasing her with treats. Of Rum cowering away in fear from the much smaller Lila, with Tishtrya’s voice in the background playfully cajoling her not to be afraid.
Tishtrya protectively carried her home in her arms each time. Lila now had her own girl gang. After this, the old Lila dance before mealtimes began to return.
I shared these with my wife and children, as the reassuring arc of Lila’s adjustment to her new home. Yet Dhruva struggled with her physical absence from his life. Each time we Zoom called for a math session, he would ask me to take him to Lila. I carried my laptop downstairs and they tried to connect through the pixels on my screen.
It was never my intention to write again about Lila. Until her sudden death in a road accident one Sunday morning.
There is an incoherence in the abruptness of her ending ~ And remorse ~ Felt like movements quietly hurtling against the insides of the body. Collecting around the heart and pushing it against the rib cage.
The reason why Beagles are most often used in lab testing is their trust and loyalty towards humans. What they get exposed to in return, is a slow poisoning that erodes that faith into a tentativeness. It goes no further because they don’t have the gene that seeds distrust or rancour.
Lila’s story was an oscillation between grief and love. She spent the last seven months of her life giving us an opportunity to redeem our humanity. Her vulnerability evoked a mystical affection, her still eyes a fervent devotion. Like a sage presence streaking briefly through our lives. Opening our hearts, occupying its unexplored recesses.
Tishtrya cried inconsolably. A few hours later she sent me an animation filled with tenderness.
Later that day she sent me this other one, of Lila drinking fresh water and Parle-G biscuits in heaven. Sending a message to Rum that they were best friends forever. The warmth with which she was navigating herself through the choppiness of her feelings comforted me.
After all this as dusk approached, she broke down and cried all over again. Her mother wondered if there was ever an easy way to explain death to a child.
I had to wait for ten days to inform my wife and children about Lila. To allow my daughter Shloka’s 10th standard mid-term exams to end. Before she sat for her math paper on the morning after Lila’s passage, we had the following conversation.
Amidst the paternal instinct to protect our children, we miss the organic intuitiveness in their relationship with life.
A fresh bowl of food. A walk in the outdoors. An expression of kindness. This is all Lila ever needed. To transmute fear into joy. In a world bound together by the endlessness of wants, she showed us that the simple things are all that we need.
Even as she waded through the dreamlike quality of her own recent memories with Lila, Tishtrya expressed her empathy for Shloka and Dhruva, whom she had never met except through the shared experience of a broken heart.
Every life ends by turning into a brief memory. Then a great silence.
But love remains. Like an unseen accumulation of hope. I felt it in the corridors of my home. In the returning cycles of the rain. In the quiet acceptance of an irreversible moment. In the fragile footprints, of all my four children.