Sixteen hours to go before AI 173 leaves for San Francisco from Gate 11 in Terminal 3.
The packing remains unfinished. Two prominent American Tourister and two medium Sky suitcases are, however, ready for the cab boot. The rest of the stuff used daily since August 17 remains strewn all around the guest bedroom. That needs attention. Meanwhile, there is an urgent job to attend to.
Mother busy preparing dinner from the morning. Yes, since friends will be dropping in to see off her siblings flying back to their workspace in the Silicon Valley. “They love south Indian food,” daughter hinted. Presto began the “chitranna” ritual: a variety of rice preparation: mixed with lemon, tamarind, tomato, coconut, and sesame. Plus, rava idli. Chutney. Sambhar. “No curd rice, maa!”. Okay. In the hullabaloo, breakfast and lunch were given the go by. A regular supply of tea kept them going.
The past three days have been hectic. School chums and ex-colleagues with families were dropping in for dinner. Such sessions invariably end an hour before the daybreak. Then the siblings hit the bed to grab some sleep. Again, plan for the new day’s dinner, keeping the guests’ profile in mind: what they would like to indulge in: south or north Indian cuisine? Home-made or Takeaway? The only thing crystal clear was, it would be nothing but veg because the host is vegetarian. Okay, eggitarian! Food sorted out. But what about the drinks: beer, gin, rum, whiskey? Canned or bottled? Single malt? The accompanying snacks. Oh, my god! Maddening on the party eve is inevitable.
Dad was busy browsing the FlightAware website-readying himself to track the Air India 16 hours flight when the siblings would board. Dreamliner? Or plain Boeing 777? He was under the impression that flights from San Francisco flew east over the Pacific and China and entered India from the east. Little did he know air carriers changed course. Unlike in the past, they no longer fly over Bangladesh, China, and Japan to reach San Francisco after a short cross at the northern end of the Pacific Ocean. Instead, they fly over Russia and Alaska. Most distance is over land and less travel time. What’s the route plan this time? Dad knew not.
“Dad, let’s go,” the daughter called out. An hour ago, he heard the plan: a visit to the cemetery where Rambo is laid to rest. Tears welled up. Dad dashed to his bedroom to avoid the embarrassment of crying in front of the family.
The daughters’ sudden arrival on August 17 at midnight ensured their physical presence while the family pet Rambo underwent emergency treatment at the private vet hospital. Alas, the seven-year-old canine died even before they boarded the Delhi flight. They were kept in the dark to avoid any emotional hiccups till their arrival. Rambo, killed by the stupidity of an NDMC vet by giving the wrong injection to fight tick, was kept in cold storage for two nights to enable the presence of all for the final rites.
Friends and family were at the airport in the early hours of November 18 to receive and break the news about Rambo’s fate. Emotionally, they were all drained out. By noon, Rambo was buried at the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Cemetery in Noida, near Botanical Garden.
It took a fortnight before the restoration of normal life. The home renovation took priority, thus becoming a convenient diversion. Plans to visit relations in faraway cities were dropped, with Covid playing the dirty game. Between visiting friends over weekends, they focused on giving a facelift to the3BHK. Perhaps that diversion kept the family not to broach the subject of Rambo. There were, of course, occasional crying sessions — primarily alone. Each trying to assuage the grief-stricken.
“Which route to the cemetery, dad?” brought back him from his reverie. He was lost in memories of the time spent in the company of Rambo.
The gates opened at the SPCA cemetery following a minor disagreement over entry timing. With an SPCA official escorting, the threesome — Dad and two siblings — walked in silence to the northwest corner of the vast government property managed by an NGO — housing horses, dogs, asses/donkeys, cows, and calves — abandoned, healthy, and sick animals visible all around.
They were lost in the cemetery, and they could not locate Rambo’s burial place for a few minutes. What happened to the steel plate erected at Rambo’s burial location like the headstone? Has it been robbed? Thoughts rushed. Soon, they spotted.
One of them knelt at the site, finger-touching the ground and lost in thought. The other stood reminiscing the past and the interaction with Rambo around Diwali 2018. They are back after three years without their pet to cuddle. There’s nothing to match the face-to-face interaction. However, technology has enabled daily interactions via PetCube, removing the distance between San Francisco and Greater Noida.
“Before leaving, want to meet him,” said one. Rambo was the ‘Him”. A visit to his grave a day after his death. Now, another visit a day before their departure back to work, 8,000 miles away in the land of Josef Biden. Teary-eyed. Heavy heart. Dad maintained distance — to avoid siblings watching him cry copiously. He reached the gate avoiding any verbal interaction with his kith and kin. “Don’t make a fool of yourself,” warned his wife earlier.
Back home, dad heard the children conveying their experience at the cemetery to their caller-friends. “Over the grave, there was a good patch of green. I can’t say, it was maintained, but one can vouchsafe Rambo’s grave was undisturbed,” was the message. Before exiting the cemetery, there was a discussion with the NGO officials on collaboration between the pet lovers and pet carers.
Dad kept talking about a calf with a bandaged leg and its struggle to move. Another dog with three legs. Have they been vehicle-hit? No idea. How cruel is the world!
Dad tonsured his head on the burial day — shedding more than six months of white hair. This time, he “parloured” for a facelift announcing his willingness to move ahead, leaving the past behind: pleasant or otherwise.
Will there be a new pet? Two pets and two deaths past 15 years: Zack and Rambo. A third one? “When you come back permanently, yes,” was dad’s crisp response. Life and death are two sides of the same coin. Still, accepting the death of a human being or pet is tough.