Rain in the Mountains

The other day I got a mail from Bill Aitken, famous travel writer and biographer: “Trust you are well and finding life full of wonder and meaningful. Our Apso Kabir (pet dog) passed away suddenly in summer, probably from eating a dead bird which had eaten a poisonous fruit. I immediately recruited a new puppy called Freddie, this time a large breed. She is a beautiful and intelligent golden Labrador and already at 7 months weighs 30 kilos…”

While writing the rejoinder, my memory associated with the dog came flooding back.

Wishing to visit Bill’s cottage called ‘Oakless’ near the Wynberg Allen School at Kurli, Mussoorie, one summer afternoon, I was half way down when the rain came swift and without any warning.

The slanting shards fell straight and bounced off the hilly terrain. The visibility suddenly plummeted. I could make out just in front a flight of steps going down when I lost my balance and fell headlong, dispossessed of my umbrella. I got to my feet with my umbrella flipped inside out, and took shelter under the awning of the only building in sight.

When I was close to losing all hopes of making it either to Bill’s cottage or getting back to the hotel in the impenetrable darkness, a young man appeared out of the building, took a short cut, descended a few flights of steps and presto, within a few minutes we were at his doorstep! He left me there and went away.

Just as I rang the bell, a dog, like the most dangerous breed Pit Bull Terrier, let out a sharp, explosive, blood-curdling cry and hit the door from inside with full force. Instinctively I drew back.

When Bill finally arrived at the door, he partially opened it for apprehension that the dog might pounce upon me and tear me to shreds. It had to be leashed before I could be let in.

Bill took me upstairs and treated me with his first-aid kit. The lady housekeeper of the cottage was also very kind. She offered me sweet tea and snacks and enquired if I was alright. For the first time I could see the photograph of Bill’s spiritual companion, exquisite Prithwi Bir Kaur, hung on the wall, known as Maharani of the State of Jind (who had passed away a short time before this visit).

Our brief encounter over, my wet dishevelled dress drying on me, Bill took me out in his car and saw me off near my hotel.

“Sorry to hear about Apso Kabir’s passing on,” I wrote, “I had met him on a day I got a little bruised from a fall near your cottage. Rain-sodden and scruffy as I was, he had very rightly voiced his utter displeasure on my arrival at your lovely cottage! May his soul rest in peace … One yearns to look at your beautiful Freddie!”

First published in The Himalayan Times

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