He was not the Prime Minister then; only the son living in the Prime Minister’s house. And the dog was just a dog, a beautiful golden cocker spaniel but still a dog belonging to an ordinary family, living in a modest house in Green Park, South Delhi. Then they met; the dog and the Prime Minister’s son on the road to Safdarjung, only the dog had no way of knowing who he was.
It had suddenly gone berserk, broken the leash and run out in frenzy on the road. It would have been run over; the only reason it did not was because a passing motorist was a dog lover. Even though the dog was, by then foaming at the mouth, he picked it up, took it to a doctor and assured by him that it was not rabid but suffering from distemper, took it home.
We looked for our pet, Sonu, all over the neighbourhood and the places he was likely to frequent but to no avail. By nightfall, we gave up the search and by the next morning all hope of finding it. Our two sons, aged ten and eight were hysterical by that time. As a last resort, we went to the nearby police station and rather shamefacedly lodged a report about a lost dog, more to appease them than with any hope.
Ready to be reprimanded by the august policeman on duty for wasting his time or disturbing his sleep, we were startled to be rewarded with a smile. We were told, there was a message from the Prime Minister’s house about a dog, a golden cocker spaniel that had been found. Being totally unassuming, my husband was reluctant to go there but the frantic entreaties of the boys persuaded him to.
He found our desperately sick dog in the Prime Minister’s living room, surrounded by the family as if it had always belonged to them. He felt quite foolish asking for the dog but he did. How do we know you are the owner, Sanjay Gandhi, one of the young gentlemen present demanded, do you have a photograph? No, he didn’t, he muttered but who except the owner would care to take such a sick dog back home? I’m sure, the stranger, Rajiv Gandhi was his name, sniffed at that but let the dog go, adding, take him to the Race Course veterinary hospital, I had taken him there.
And if you can’t look after him, bring him back to me. The dog was too sick to live for long and did not. But the thought that someone could care for a nameless sick dog in such a fashion still brings a lump to my throat. I have never forgotten the kindness shown by a stranger and courage, too. He had no way of knowing it was not rabid till he had shown it to a doctor, yet he did not flinch from handling it and looking after it.
A few days back, I came to know with the rest of the country that our benefactor had been made Prime Minister.
My initial reaction, I must confess was of surprise and skepticism. Then I remembered the dog and felt strangely reassured. A cat, they say, may look at a queen and a dog at a Prime Minister. But what about the mixed breed called humans that so often turns inhuman? We admire the love and loyalty shown by dogs but are only too ready to indulge in irrational anger and hatred that a rabid dog would be ashamed of. And that was a time when everyone seemed to have turned rabid. Or was it only distemper? Could the kind stranger deal with human distemper with equal tenderness and handle the rabid without being cowed down or corrupted? If a dog can reach into a man’s heart, why can’t the dog’s owner? Most of us do not have enough love for humans to spare some for dogs or is it vice versa? I can only hope for the best and on behalf of my late dog wish him luck.
Versions of this article were published Readers Digest and The Hindu in 1984.