Friday was Reverend John Kottapally’s least favourite day of the week.
It got dark by the time Reverend John returned home after the Friday special prayers at the Church. The road to his home wasn’t a proper road; merely a path forged by decades of bicycles passing through the wilderness.
Along the path were two shacks, frequented by drunkards who drank, sang songs and made merry through the night. If he didn’t get to the other side by 8, he’d have to hitch a ride from one of the drunkards. The previous Friday, they had crashed into a tree, and Reverend John Kottapally had had to limp back to his house.
Which would probably explain why his walk was brisk and hurried that particular Friday. That was when he heard the cries for the first time.
Low, muffled squeals, whimpers hidden between the tall, wild grass. Reverend John Kottapally stopped in his tracks, and bent down to inspect the source of the sound.
It was a small puppy – white and frail – its bony body accompanied by eyes half filled with fear and hope. The first thought that struck Reverend was that the poor thing needed a place to stay. The second thought was how his wife would react.
Fridays weren’t Sunitha Kottapally’s favourite day of the week either.
She had to wake up in the morning and set out to the vegetable market, as meat wasn’t an option on Fridays. It was also the day when their daughter Asha’s school was open for ‘half-day’. Asha brought her friends home and the little devils ran around the garden, digging up the mud to hide their treasures.
And when her husband was late from the Church, Sunitha spent an anxious hour walking from one end of the house to the other. Sunitha looked at the clock – 9.05 – and continued pacing around the house, the prayer beads in her fingers spinning furiously.
Sunitha Kottapally wasn’t very happy when she found her husband at the door, wet to the bones, a dirty puppy in his hands.
Reverend John Kottapally had learnt very early in marriage that one needs to keep calm in tumultuous situations. He stayed at the door as Sunitha handed him a towel. ‘Don’t you wipe that thing with it,’ she hushed, and pointed at Asha, who lay sprawled on the sofa, the colours of the television flashing on her face.
This was how Asha went to sleep these days, watching cartoons till she dozed off. They had tried to wean her off the habit, but it had meant two hours a day of storytelling, so they let her be. As Reverend John Kottapally bent to put the puppy down, it let out a squeal, and Asha woke up and turned towards him.
The next few seconds were a flurry of blurry movements. Asha ran to the door, snatched the puppy from his hands, and ran into the room, spinning round and round while holding the petrified puppy up in the air, screaming ‘PUPPY PUPPY’ over and over again.
Sunitha Kottapally stared in horror, urging Asha to let go of the dirty little thing, causing her to spin faster and louder. ‘Put it down!’, she screamed, her words falling on four deaf ears. The puppy’s legs were sprawled out in the air, its ears flapping about, as it looked at him for rescue.
Reverend John Kottapally took off his coat and shook the water off his hair. He had learnt to keep calm in tumultuous situations.
Sunitha Kottapally woke up at five, like every other day. The days of the week meant little to her, as she went about tying her hair in a bun, and glancing through the newspaper. It was still dark, and Asha and John were still asleep in their beds. Sunitha walked to the kitchen, when a squeal brought back memories of the previous night.
She ran to the backyard, only to find the puppy wagging his tail and jumping up and down. The memories of last night swam back to her – Asha howling when she was told that the puppy would have to leave, John trying to cajole the two of them into an agreement, and Asha wailing her eyes out till she fell asleep.
Sunitha walked up to get a closer look at the puppy. As the first rays of the sun hit their house, she noticed two scars on the puppy’s stomach, and a few ticks on its body. Sunitha stretched her hand out, and the puppy sprang towards her and licked her fingers. Sunitha broke into a smile despite herself, and stood up to look for the broom.
As she swept the courtyard, thoughts began flurrying about in her head.
Keeping the dog was out of question. Their neighbours used to own a Pomeranian, and she remembered them constantly cribbing about the expenses involved – vaccinations, food, medicines. This year had been particularly difficult for them, and there was no way she would allow an additional expense on their frazzled balance sheet.
But there was Asha. She had become increasingly obstinate in the last few years, something Sunitha had been warning John about. Just the previous month, she had asked for a bicycle, and refused to eat her school lunch till she got one. One of Asha’s friends owned a dog, and it had been the topic of discussion at home for a week. There was no point talking to John about it, as he generally succumbed to whichever party applied more pressure.
And just like that, the little puppy became a part of Reverend John Kottapally’s home.
They did not sit down and talk about it. It happened rather suddenly, when Asha woke up that morning, walked up to the backyard, picked up the puppy and brought it to her room. Reverend John was reading his newspaper and looked up to see his wife’s reaction – she was glaring at him with a foregone expression.
When Asha’s friends visited her that evening, they bathed the puppy in the garden and tied a red bow around his neck. When they ran into the kitchen to inquire if there were any old clothes for the puppy, Sunitha shooed them away.
The next few days were spent in deciding a name for the puppy.
Reverend John Kottapally had no role to play in the process whatsoever. But Sunitha and Asha took up the task upon themselves. Options were thrown around – Rocky, Tiger, Daisy, and Roxy – but Asha would have none of it. She held her hands between her knees and sulked the entire time.
Sunitha nudged Reverend John to come up with a few names, and he looked up to find tears welling up in Asha’s eyes. ‘Kutty’, he said, putting the paper aside, ‘let’s name him Kutty’.
Asha beamed with joy, picked up the puppy, and ran out of the room screaming ‘Kutty, Kutty, Kuttikutty Kutty!’
In the next few weeks, Kutty had the entire household on their toes.
The little white devil would wake up before anybody else, and tug at Reverend John’s lungi, waking him up. He would then dance down to Sunitha’s bed and lick her face, only to be flung several feet away. A whimper, followed by a sprint to Asha’s bed, and the two of them would be at each other’s neck, laughing and screaming.
Reverend John Kottapally bought a shiny red collar for Kutty, and he had begun taking morning walks along with Sunitha and Asha. The three of them walked along the empty roads towards the park, as Kutty took turns running between their legs.
Sunitha grumbled about the time lost everyday, and gradually pulled out of the morning routine, which meant Reverend John Kottapally and Asha took Kutty out for a walk every morning. While the waking up was difficult, Reverend John Kottapally found that the rest of his day was spent joyfully.
After school, Asha’s friends came over to play in the garden, and ended up tying bows of various colours between Kutty’s ears. They would then continue playing ‘House-House’, where one of them (mostly the littlest kid) was a prince and Kutty the royal horse.
In a few weeks, Kutty had grown significantly. His belly had swollen thanks mostly due to the milk-rice he was fed twice a day, and the leftover bones and fish that Sunitha fed him after every meal. Those who woke up early looked at the man, his daughter and the little puppy, and they smiled and waved at them.
‘That’s a fine dog you have there, Reverend’ Mr. Srinivasan from AG Colony remarked to him one day. ‘It’s a Rajapalayam’. Asha looked up on the breed and they discovered that Rajapalayam was a special breed of dogs that were used by kings to guard their palaces and granaries.
Three months since the Kottapallys adopted him, Kutty had nearly grown to his full size. His legs shaped out long and strong, and his ears stood up majestically when he lifted his head and turned around. When he would try to get in between Reverend John Kottapally’s legs during the morning walk, he would kick him slightly, following which he would tug at Asha’s frock.
It was around that time that Reverend John Kottapally noticed something peculiar about Kutty. On some days, he would stop, turn to look at a morning walker, and growl. The first time he did it, Asha froze in her tracks. Kutty drew his teeth out, frothing at the mouth, and let out a fierce growl. It was only when Reverend John held him by the neck and pulled him away did he go back to wagging his tail and jumping about.
As the days passed by, this streak of Kutty got more and more common. The milk delivery man for example, was at the receiving end of one such incident. He had opened the gate and walked to the door, when Kutty came running and pounced on him, tearing off a sizeable portion of his shirt. The man’s painful howls were carried over the entire row of houses, and Kutty’s reputation as a dangerous dog spread across the lane.
Kutty’s second victim was one of Asha’s friends – a pesky little girl named Deepthi. Deepthi was a frail, bespectacled girl who spoke for three people at once. She was adjusting Kutty’s collar one evening, when Kutty growled. The others ran away but Deepthi was stuck to the ground, frozen in fear. Kutty gnarled at her and circled her slowly, frothing at the mouth.
Everybody else stood frozen, till Asha came running and called out to Kutty, who turned to her, let out his tongue and ran, his tail wagging frantically. It wasn’t a shock when only two of them turned up the at Asha’s place after school the next day.
Sunitha had complained to Reverend John Kottapally about Kutty, but he had paid it no heed. ‘It’s a child ma. In dog years, it’s perhaps the same age as Asha’. Sunitha dropped the matter, but made a mental note to bring it up again that weekend. Asha had stopped playing at their house, choosing instead to go to another of her friend’s house. Asha explained that her friend had lots of books, what she meant was that she didn’t own a psychotic dog.
The final nail in the coffin was sealed in on a Wednesday morning. Asha was gulping down her food on the floor before leaving for school. When the auto-driver honked outside their gate, Asha stood up and ran. Kutty howled and followed her across the gate and began barking at the auto-driver.
Asha screamed at Kutty to return to the house, but he was a dog possessed. He sprang up and down, barking, howling, and charging at the auto-driver. He sped away, only to be chased for a mile by Kutty. Asha revealed to Reverend John Kottapally that her friends had begun crying on the way to school. When Asha had returned that evening, Kutty stood waiting at the gate, and jumped up to lick her face. Asha dropped down on her knees and began crying.
Reverend John Kottapally heard out the two sides and finally went with his wife’s suggestion. Kutty would be chained to the backyard, set free only for walks once in the morning and evening. He would be kept away from the postman, milkman, and newspaper delivery guy. When he dragged Kutty to the backyard, it stubbornly sat on the floor and howled painfully. Asha, whose temperament had become rather fragile, began to sob and cry. Sunitha Kottapally rolled her eyes, shot a silent prayer to the heavens, and went back to the kitchen.
What made the decision tougher for Reverend John Kottapally was the fact that Kutty had never misbehaved with him around. In fact, he had begun buying a small packet of biscuits for Kutty everyday, and as he sat on the plastic chair in the backyard, Kutty would walk up to him and sit in between his legs, just like when he was a puppy. The two of them sat in silence and watched the sun set, and Reverend Kottapally patted Kutty on the head and left into the house.
But Sunitha’s complaints had gotten louder. When she went to dry clothes in the backyard, she complained of Kutty growling at her. ‘He’s different when you’re around. I cannot even go near him in your absence, I swear!’ But Reverend John Kottapally did nothing about it. On the days that he returned from the Church early, he would spend five minutes with Kutty and then get back into the house.
Before he knew it, a year had passed.
Asha was now in Class 7, and the Kottapallys were debating the pros and cons of admitting her in the Convent school at Madurai. ‘How will she manage her food? You know how fussy she is’, Reverend John Kottapally tried to reason, but his wife Sunitha would have none of it.
Asha left for the hostel in the third week of July. As she wiped her tears and refused to pick up her bag, she heard Kutty let out a pitiful howl. Asha ran to the backyard and hugged Kutty so tightly, he had to fight off her grasp. He in turn licked her face all over, and the belt looked like it might snap from the pressure he was applying to break it.
As Asha boarded the auto, Sunitha Kottapally’s thoughts went to the backyard. She had been afraid to admit it to John, but the presence of the dog had begun putting her at discomfort. When she would go to collect the drying clothes, or to remove the pickle that had been set out to dry, Kutty would growl at her.
But it wasn’t the growl that disturbed her – it was the look on his face. His eyes seemed to get red shot, and his jaws opened up into a leering smile. She had mentioned it to John on a number of occasions, and he would nod and turn the other way.
Sunitha had heard that dogs are closest to the women of the house, as that’s where their food comes from. However, all of Sunitha’s attempts had failed miserably. She would leave aside the bones every day, but all she got was the terrifying growl. She had bought a packet of Pedigree by breaking into her savings, but that didn’t seem to break the ice between her and Kutty in any way.
It happened one day as John returned from his morning walk. John was vehemently against the idea of tying Kutty to a leash, but had to do it on Sunitha’s insistence. On that particular day, when John got back home and closed the gate, Kutty shot out of his grasp and came running into the house. Sunitha, who was in the kitchen, heard her barking and dropped the vessel she was holding in her hands. Hot water splashed all over, some of it landing on Kutty.
Kutty let out a howl and charged at Sunitha. Reverend John darted into the room, only to find Kutty towering over Sunitha, who lay sprawled on the floor. Kutty had her arm in his mouth, tugging away at it furiously as a thin stream of blood began to get thicker. John ran towards her and tried to shake Kutty away, but his grip got tighter.
John screamed and hit Kutty, but the stream of blood got thicker as Sunitha’s wails grew louder. Finally, John found a rolling pin and brought it down hard on Kutty, who turned to him, let out a painful moan and whimpered out of the room.
Sunitha lay on the floor, shell-shocked. Her eyes were glazed, her body still, her expression blank.
The decision had been made. Kutty was to be given away.
Reverend John Kottapally had tried to avoid it. He had asked people around him if they wanted to adopt a dog. He got three positive responses. The first man left from the gate itself when he heard Kutty’s bark. The second man luckily found Kutty in a good mood. He patted him a few times on his head, as Kutty put on his best behavior and licked his hand. ‘He’s very healthy. But my daughter doesn’t want a stray breed,’ he said apologetically. ‘He’s not a stray dog. He’s a Rajapalayam’, Reverend John corrected him, but there is very little fathers can do when faced with the choices of their daughters.
The third man had walked up to Kutty gingerly, only to retrace his steps when he heard Kutty’s growl. The milkman, postman, and newspaper delivery had complained to John about the dog. Saleswomen who took old clothes in return for utensils cursed him as they ran out of the gate. There was no other way. Kutty had to be abandoned.
‘But what will Asha say?’, Sunitha asked meekly, only to be dismissed by Reverend John Kottapally. The plan was to drop Kutty in a deserted area in Ayyanarkulam. The postman had suggested a spot where another couple he knew had left their dog. ‘It’s a very deserted place. We will have to take him in a car. I know this Omni Ambulance driver, I’ll contact him for you’. Reverend John was surprised by the postman’s enthusiasm in the matter, but he didn’t blame him. He seemed shaken from the time Kutty had bitten away a few inches of his arm.
The plan was in place – September 13th was a Tuesday, and the driver would arrive at the gate by 10. Reverend John would wrap up his work in the Church early, and along with the postman, they’d cross the Vaigai river, and drive up along the Madurai-Dhindukkal Road for an hour, till they reached the spot.
On the specified day, Reverend John returned to his house in a foul mood. He filled up milk and biscuits in a bowl and brought it out to Kutty one last time. Kutty walked up to him and sat by his side, quietly lapping up his food. When he was done, Reverend John patted him on his head one last time, and brought the leash out. Kutty assumed they were going for a walk and began wagging his tail frantically.
When they reached the gate, Kutty sensed something was wrong. The driver had left the door of the Omni van open, ready to slide it shut once the animal was inside. But Kutty would have none of it. He pulled at the leash, barked and flashed his teeth and everybody around. Sunitha, who was watching from the house, had her rosary in her hands, praying to God.
The gate was yanked open, and Reverend John Kottapally pulled Kutty towards the van. When it refused to budge, he tried to push it in, only for Kutty to emit a low, spine-chilling growl. Reverend John held on to the leash frantically, when all of a sudden, the postman came running from the back, lifted Kutty by his hind legs and threw him into the van.
Kutty gave out a loud yelp, and was shooting out of the van, when the postman slammed it shut. A huge yelp escaped the van, as the door slammed off Kutty’s face. Kutty continued howling, as the postman shut the door of the van.
Reverend John remained on the floor, shaking.
The ride to the spot was the most painful journey Reverend John Kottapally had embarked on.
Kutty alternated between howling and yelping, as Reverend John Kottapally avoided turning back. When he caught a few glances in the rearview mirror, he found that Kutty’s snout was bleeding, bright streaks of red across its white fur.
The postman tried to break the silence by offering his expert advice. ‘I have seen Alsatians and Dobermans, but never a stray dog so violent’. ‘He’s not a stray dog, he’s a Rajapalayam’, Reverend John Kottapally corrected him. The postman refrained from further pointers, and the three of them sat in silence.
They reached the spot in about an hour, as the Postman signaled to the driver to stop. The driver got down from the car gingerly, opened the door, and ran into the van again. Kutty continued looking at Reverend John Kottapally, his eyes pleading, his snout bleeding – but his resolve wouldn’t be shaken. They tried prodding Kutty out of the van with a stick, but it refused to move.
After spending fifteen minutes sitting in silence, the driver came upon an idea. They would leave the door open, as the driver snaked his way through the hilly road. At some point, the dog would jump out of the van himself.
They snaked their way up the hilly road, the driver maintaining a frightening speed, in the manners that ambulance drivers do. Kutty got slammed from one side to the other, as his yelps grew louder and louder. When the driver found Kutty clawing to the seat, he applied the brakes, the van screeched to a halt, and Kutty was thrown against the wall with a gentle ‘thud’.
Kutty slowly crept out of the van, limping, and turning to look at Reverend John Kottapally. Blood continued to drip from his snout, as the driver quickly turned the van around. As Reverend John Kottapally looked in the rearview mirror, he found Kutty limping towards the van, his shaky legs failing to keep pace with the van. Blood was dripping off Kutty’s snout, and Reverend John Kottapally wiped away tears as Kutty vanished from the view.
The next few weeks were spent in relative quiet and peace.
With Asha away in her hostel, Sunitha Kottapally spent much of her afternoons in silence – watching quiz shows on TV, or reading Readers Digest. She wasn’t sure, but John seemed quieter since Kutty had been abandoned. When they had called Asha that week, they’d told her that Kutty had been taken to the hospital for a stomach problem, and would be back soon.
Reverend John sometimes dragged his chair out to the backyard and sat alone, staring into the horizon. He refused to talk about it, but Sunitha knew John long enough to sense he missed Kutty.
Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months.
Asha had returned home for her winter holidays in November, and the neighbours told her about Kutty. She had cried for a few hours, but forgot about it when they stepped out of the house to buy new clothes. With Kutty gone, Asha’s friends visited her again, and the house was abuzz with the sounds of girls chattering.
Christmas slipped past unannounced, and Reverend John Kottapally got even more silent as the months trudged along. Sunitha stopped asking John about it, since all she got in the form of a response was a shake of the head and a change of the topic.
As March slowly crept into their lives, the Kottapallys had to face Madurai’s heat once again. Since Asha was away at the hostel, they had begun sleeping on the terrace when there were powercuts in the night. They would lock the doors of the house, and carry their mattresses to the terrace to sleep.
Reverend John Kottapally was fast asleep, when he was jolted awake by the sounds of moans.
He looked around to find Sunitha lying on the floor a few meters away, blood gushing out of her neck. The sky crashed on Reverend John’s head, as he looked around frantically. Sunitha’s breathing was heavy, and getting slower each time, her right leg twitching, the pool of blood at her neck spreading every second.
Reverend John looked around and screamed for help, but silence had enveloped the night sky like a dark blanket. He tried to hold Sunitha’s neck up, when he saw them for the first time.
Standing on the parapet, two bloodshot red eyes, a thin, white frame, and blood dripping out of the snout. Reverend John staggered back a few steps, as Sunitha’s head hit the floor with a low thud.
‘Kutt..Kutt…’ Reverend John tried, but only empty words escaped his mouth. He held his chest and tried to stand up, when he saw the creature walk up to him. Slowly.
It was frail and skinny. There were scratches and scars all across its body, and a metal casket held its bloody snout together. Reverend John Kottapally hobbled backwards, till he reached the edge of the parapet wall.
The creature was now a few feet away from him, when it walked up to him and stood between his legs. Reverend John was shaking with fear, his hands searching for the rosary that was normally in his trouser pocket.
When he realized the rosary was missing, Reverend John fell to the floor.
The creature walked up to him, the blood from his snout fell on Reverend John’s body, drop by drop.
‘Kutty,’ a faint whisper escaped Reverend John’s lips, when he looked at the face for the first time.
Bloody teeth spread out into a wide smile, as Robokutty opened his mouth wide one last time.