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I don’t really come from a furry-animal loving family. This is not to say that my family is cruel to pets. The parents are just indifferent to them. I had a fur/dust allergy as a child, and had wheezing as well, so my exposure to several things at a young age was quite restricted – things like stuffed toys (I had several of them, just wrapped up and kept away from my person), and pets, of course. Additionally, the apartment complex I lived in had a strict prohibition on pet ownership, and none of my immediate family members had pets – so I never really got attached to any pet animals. Nor did I spend time as a child caring for them.

This changed when we got an aquarium in our house – for maybe 6 months to a year? That’s when I realized how much effort caring for pets were – but also, how rewarding it could be, in terms of how you could gaze at them endlessly and wonder what was going on in their brains. It was also pretty cool to have an aquarium at home because I really liked Finding Nemo as a movie – although it scared the pants off of me for a bit. Coming back to the aquarium, I did a couple of things including feeding the fish and monitoring pH levels – which was super fun because I learnt about litmus indicators at a younger age than my peers as a consequence. But each time I put my hand in the water, I’d freeze and fear that the fish would eat it up. Not an excellent experience.

I didn’t get too attached there either. And when we left Dubai, I didn’t really miss the fish (this sounds worse as I type it).

My life changed a lot when we moved to India. And one of these was how much I began to enjoy pets and their company. I don’t think this is something my parents realized till recently, but several of my friends, and quite a few homeowners in our villa complex own dogs and cats, and aside from the barking at odd hours (which didn’t bother me – we were too far away from the noise), I ended up interacting with lots of furry friends. My allergies were long gone, and petting them and talking to them became a part of walks  – and often a way to get to know their owners better.

Rufus, Amigo, and Ustad are three of the dogs I’ve loved in Bangalore. Rufus passed away sometime last year – and I know how empty that house feels without him. Amigo is one of my closest friend’s dogs, and since he’s been a pup (after the 2010 World Cup), he’s barked relentlessly whenever I’ve seen him. He can smell me from about 80m away I think – or something about me annoys him (isn’t this true for everyone?) and he just refuses to stop barking till someone screams at him. It was scary, then funny, and now it’s just cute. I hadn’t been to their house in over 2 years – because of college, and he barked at me when I stepped foot in their door recently. Since I’ve come to Uni, because I go home and am at home much lesser, I often join my friend to take Amigo for a walk, and we joke about how Amigo decides to poop just before we’re ready to head back home – it’s always hilarious.

Ustad was my best friend’s dog. He’s the first dog I got thoroughly attached to – because I frequented this guy’s place nearly twice a week, sometimes even thrice. And Usti knew me. Usti barked a lot too, but after he got comfortable, decided to lay down next to us, or just chill in the room with us. I remember this one time we had early morning tuitions and I had slept over, Usti woke up way before we all anticipated that he would so he could hang by the breakfast table while we ate. My friend teased him with pieces of the food just to annoy him.

Usti and my friend are reflections of each other. Their attachment was surreal, indescribable even. And as a friend, I could see the amount of stability and comfort Usti bought in my friend’s life. I know how much joy he brought to his, and my life – and my friend circle’s. We all loved dogs, Usti and Sparky especially – because we ended up spending so much time with these two.

Usti taught me a lot. A lot of it is nonverbal, but a lot of it is tied to some of my happiest, some of the craziest, and some of the saddest memories from Grade 11 and 12.

To say the least, he warmed the cockles of my heart and showed me how silent love and affection can be.

My friend broke the news to me on what was meant to be a catch-up phone call. And since, I know I’ve struggled to comfort him. I also know that this has been on my mind for a couple of days now – while I’ve been writing exams. There’s no rationality that can soothe grief, I don’t think – except the passing of time.

What hit us hard, I think, is how different his house is going to feel without Usti.

So, Ustad. You, crazy, crazy soul. Thank you for loving Aunty’s chutney cheese sandwiches as much as we did. Thank you for being repulsed by Bhukkad’s desire to consume Yakult as much as we were. Thank you for teaching me how to care for dogs – my life on campus has been more joyful because of you. And thank you for taking care of my best friend and his parents for all these years. You will always be loved, and trust me, you’ll never be forgotten. I know I’m going to miss hearing your bark, and feeling you run circles around my feet as I turned up in my school uniform for tuitions. I know I’m going to miss the amount of panic you caused me when you opened your eyes when we were sleeping in a pitch-dark room (because I got scared and lost sense of where I was sleeping at the time).

Rest in peace, brother. We love you.

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