I toured a lot all over the isles, in my student days. I made a lot of friends from all over the world, saw a lot of marvels here and there. Today, when I try to remember, I find I have forgotten most of them.
Even those friends, with whom I played, studied, made fun, hitchhiked on the weekends. I need to make an effort to remember their names. Those faces have become hazy with time.
Only one face still comes bright. I can see her when I try to, closing my eyes. I can not forget her. She is Nip. Not a human girl, she was a dog.
So many years have passed. But, when I rest in my armchair at the end of the day, memories spark in my mind. Suddenly I see her -- the bright eyed, long-eared, snouty-nosed Nip. I see her waving her black tail and smiling at me. Even in the evening chorus of city noises, I hear her welcome bhou-wou. Again I ask myself, what really was Nip? A dog or a human girl?
And when I see Nip, closing my eyes, I see Paul too. Paul was her little Master. When I saw him first, he just turned nine. It was Paul who told me, Nip was not a dog, but a human girl. Paul, the mentally retarded child. I laughed at his words that day.
Well... let me start from the beginning...
It was a perennial problem for us, newcomers, to get a good accommodation in London. After trying for weeks, finally I got a new place to stay, in the beginning of April. Few kilometers from the city proper, Finsbury Park station. From there, an hour by bus. Wavy roads, like a hilly incline, arcaded by trees on the sides. All the houses in my new neighborhood looked alike. Same pattern, same color, with similar garden in front. A lot many times, I mistook someone's house for my own.
I saw the advertisement in India House, and immediately fixed my stay there for the next two years. The locality was ideal for my study, away from the madding London crowd. A typical British household, the landlord's name was William Hall, and his wife's, Anne. A young couple, they were very hospitable. They loved India and her people too. Often they asked me about India -- myths, culture, people.
Within few days only, I got accepted in their family. We started dining together, planning weekends together... I gave them new names .. William the Conqueror and Queen Anne. Both of them were very pleased with the names.
Besides Anne and William, two more members were in the family. Paul, Anne's nine year old son. And the other one was... Apple of Paul's eyes -- Nip.
But, Nip was not a human being. She was a dog, although Paul did not believe that. He thought Nip was a human girl only.
On my first day there, Paul told me that. When I first met them, to please Paul, I said, "Aha! That's a lovely dog you have!"
On that, Nip firmly stared at me and grrrred. And Paul? His face saddened. A few seconds later he tried to correct me. "Nip is not a dog. Nip is a girl. She is my daughter. You don't call her dog. I'll cry then --- waaaaaaaaaa"
Really Paul started crying. And I got dumb by such behavior. I could not see what heppened, and what to do. Paul kept crying, and maybe to teach me a lesson, Nip kept on barking aloud, "Bhouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu grrrrrrrr bhouuuuuuuu wouuuuuu."
I was sitting stiff, fear-struck. I had no idea what I had done on my first day in that household. However, Anne did not take long to run to the spot.
As she came, I stood up and apologized, "I'm so sorry Mrs Hall! I don't know what I've done."
Anne smiled at me and then asked Paul, "What happened? Why are you crying?"
Paul kept crying and barely managed to tell his mom what happened. "He called Nip a dog. See! She's crying too."
I did not at all like such foolishly nonsense behaviour from a nine-year old kid. I wanted to give him a good slap. But, that was out of question. So, I looked at his mom's face and silently soliloquied, "Spoilt brat!"
Anne told Paul, "Uncle is new here you know? That's why he couldn't recognize Nip."
Then she turned to me and winked. "You really don't know. Nip is a girl -- Paul's daughter."
I did not take a moment to say, "Yes! Of course I know. She's a girl indeed. A very lovely girl."
Hearing me, Paul stopped crying and laughed in a strange way. "Heeheehee..."
Then he turned to Nip. "Uncle is really sorry. He is new here.. and made a mistake. OK Nip? Now you tell him thank you."
Nip came to me and obeying Paul raised face and said "Wouu."
She looked sad. In a disturbed voice Anne said, "You must be thinking all sorts of things! Please forgive Paul..." She stopped for a moment. I looked out of the window. The light outside had dulled a bit, sky had cast a shadow over the field -- soon it was going to rain. My room was on the first floor. Through the windows, I could see the garden behind. It was summertime in the isles. Lots of colours bloomed in the flowers all around. And among those, I could see Paul and Nip running around and playing.
Anne was also watching them, outside. Now she looked at me and lowered her voice. "You've come to stay with us. We mustn't embarrass you. But.. I think.. I should tell you something..."
I had no idea what she was to say. But, I tried to ease it out. "You needn't be so formal Anne. Please say what you want to."
Anne said, "You please don't mind Paul's behavior. He's not normal. He only grew up from outside. Please forgive him. Sometimes, when I think about him, our only son, I feel so silent."
I heard the British had a heart of stone. Tears don't come to their eyes. But, in one moment, Anne changed my ideas. I realized all mothers are the same -- British or Indian.