Geologists are like research engineers. They are facilitators to a project or a cause for development. They use their acquired knowledge of the earth sciences and apply to identify, study, and finally use their innate skills to extract the fruit of the project that they embark on. At the end of it, it is the teamwork that works and not the individual contribution alone.
Very interestingly, none of us ever give a slice of thought that contributors to teamwork can also come from non-human beings who expect nothing in reward, save a pat on the head with a slender snout. Let me give you an account of an animal that stayed with my parents for about eight years, spared no efforts to protect the life of his master.
We dig in..
Somewhere around the early 1960s’, when my father, Dinabandhu Lahiri, as a junior geologist was making his wild official errands across the harsh deserts of Rajasthan. He stumbled upon situations that were impossible to comprehend. He was always accompanied by men, and materials; however, there were instances when he had to venture on his own to explore the deep recesses of the earth or climb the hills single-handed. Equipment list consisted of a geological hammer, a compass, maps, topographical sheets, diary or a notebook to record.
The only living companion who stayed with him at all times, was his four-year-old canine friend, a mixed Alsatian named “Raju“.
It was a weekday, dry, and sunny that any inhabitant of a desert can expect. My father was on routine work to examine a section of the rocky face of a hillock near Jodhpur. The camp was about five miles away and the Jeep started to climb an elevation to the base of the hill. After traveling about a mile and half, the road simply disintegrated and the Jeep had to be stopped. With an ax and the hammer, a canvas bag dangling on his shoulder, my father reached the big rock face. Raju who was about four feet in front jumped on to the ledge that protruded out along the rock face. He sniffed his way through the jagged rocks and vanished between the big vertical crevices that lined all the way up. My father was close behind and jumped on to the rock holding himself and was about to get into those crevices to let himself in and go deeper when Raju came charging in and stopped him on his track.
He barked away and was looking at my father and once at the base of the slender broken path through the hill faces. He went on shouting but would not let him enter. About ten minutes had passed, with both looking at each other and Raju, crouching behind on his front legs and standing tall.
My father was an experienced climber as it was part of his drill which he was trained in and retreated back on the rock ledge and stood still. Raju became quiet too. The unmistakable “hiss”; a sound all too familiar to the Indians could be heard from behind the boulder which was sitting in front. Very cautiously, using the boulder sides as grips, he crouched low and saw the deadly head of a spectacled cobra, sticking its menacing tongue out intermittently as the hooded eyes, with its cold yellowish-gray color, perfectly still looking at its visitor. The entire snake was curled up ready to strike. Six inches of travel forward would have been the end of my father. The head would have lashed out and in a split second somewhere in the region of his ankles, the deadly toxin would have been injected with its powerful fangs.
He drew back, and jumped back on to the level ground, closely followed by Raju. My father wanted to reach out to caress him or at least touch him to show his gratification but he was gone, with the knowledge that his master will surely not make the mistake of going back in.
Mouth slightly apart, he vanished over the rocks and jumped into the Jeep.
Halfway through the day, my father had finished his lunch, carefully packed and lovingly cooked by my mother. In those days, he used to puff a pipe, he ambled across to get the matchbox. He marched on towards the parked Jeep. He was sure, that the matchbox must have been left behind in the canvas bag, kept on the driver’s seat. Raju, as always was walking about a meter in front. In a flash, the dog bolted at the Jeep, sniffed the air around, and ran around the Jeep, kept under a tree. The barking starts. He comes back and stops my father before he could even go six feet upfront. It was leaping from side to side, but would not allow him to go to the Jeep. Rammohan, one of the junior officers who was also having lunch with my father comes up after washing his hands from a nearby stream. He was surprised to see the unusual behavior of Raju. He leaps, barks, curls up his mouth, and at times was about to charge my father but was not letting him go to the Jeep.
Rammohan was about six feet away and approached the Jeep from behind and very stealthily drew near the rear open end and peered in.
At first, he was not able to see anything amiss, so closes in and through the opening between the two front seats, he saw the death coil that had almost strangled the steering column. About, four feet long, and the girth, two and a half inches, the slightly horny, black and gray colored, white-banded striped skin rose and fell moving slowly about the entire steering all the way down to the clutch pedal. It was a full-grown matured Indian Krait.
One of the deadliest and most poisonous snakes that this subcontinent has. Rammohan retreats and came back, quite ashen to have seen the reptile that has snugly wrapped around the Jeep’s steering. My father was informed of the snake. He was, an avid animal lover, ordered the local village crowd to call the snake catchers and advised not to kill the snake, rather unwrap it or somehow take it out, and check for any more surprises that may have been in store for the day.
Raju strikes again.
This old town in the Ajmer district of Rajasthan was primarily famous for two reasons – the Pushkar lake, that is considered extremely holy and the annual camel fair that is held and hundreds of visitors throng to see it. Just like everyone else, my parents had gone to visit this unique town and experience its culture. The inmates of the Jeep were four – My parents, sister, and Raju. He always traveled with them just like another family member.
So, why not Pushkar for a quick visit?
They drove to the fairground, parked the Jeep and my father wanted to take alternative transport to visit the Pushkar lake to see a local office colleague. The lake was about two kilometers away. My mother stayed back with my sister, quite young then in the Jeep, and my father took a local bus to reach the lake. He had boarded the bus, which moved on for about ten minutes or so amidst crowded streets. It was hardly about two hundred meters away from the lake reaching its terminus when there was a hue and cry and the bus slows down and complete pandemonium bursts inside the bus.
My father sitting beside a window sees to his utter surprise, a panting, heavily breathing Raju comes and sits daintily beside my father. The crowds are completely taken by surprise and were afraid too, to see this gleaming, dark-skinned dog leaping inside the bus. The bus conductor and the driver looked shell-shocked with their jaws dropped. Raju, who was also there in the Jeep, suddenly saw his master moving away and getting on to a bus. I keep imagining the love for his master.
This dog, ran behind the bus, navigating through the roads, and finally, reached the bus and jumped in when the bus slowed down. Raju united with his master. He could have been killed in the process.
My father holds Raju, literally pasted him to his chest and hugged him the way a master should cuddle his beloved dog. Streams of tears ran down his cheek when he realizes the flowing love that a dog can have. The bus moves on with its bewildered passengers. They too, understand and smile at the dog’s act of selfless love for its owner. Well, I was not born when Raju was around; however, I have tried to portray the hand full of stories that I have heard so many times about Raju. Dogs are known to be man’s best friend. My father had taken a leave and both my parents roamed different states in India after Raju died. The air, the sands, the desert, of Rajasthan, and the Jeep had Raju’s smell, the uneven impression on the Jeep’s seat where he used to sit. After Raju, it was I guess, twenty years had passed when I was around, and with the help of my elder sister, we persuaded and pleaded our parents to bring another dog, So, an army bred canine, Liza came in our lives.
We will come back to Raju to tell you few more numerous interesting stories.