Of late our tails have been somewhat between our legs. It all started when we returned home after an evening walk and were greeted by black smoke on our entry. Something had gone wrong with a heater and Dad and Mom’s – make that our – room had smoke and scary hot orange tongues longer than ours all over the sofa there. Mom seemed to go mad with bucket and water. At first we thought she was playing a game, dunking us in water, and we ran between her legs barking. Our barks, though, were not of excitement. We knew from Mom’s manner it was not fun. It was the three of us against those orange tongues and the black smoke that got into our eyes, throat … We managed to lick those orange tongues but the sofa – our sofa – our place of afternoon siestas – was gone. Its black, charred skeleton was even scarier than the tongues that ate it up. Mom had it removed but for days after, as long as it was lying in the balcony, we refused to go out to do our business.
After that every time we left home, we would return sniffing for the smelly black smoke. It was not just us. We could tell Mom was shaken too. We heard her talk to friends and family that checked in how the damage could have been horrendous and it was just pure luck that we cut short our walk due to the cold and came up fifteen minutes early. Mom’s nerves ate into ours. It has taken us this much time to even talk about it.
For a long time after, Mom would jokingly refer to herself by some name (we couldn’t catch it) of some actress always playing a sick mother in Hindi movies apparently coughing away to glory. It took us a long time to get that smoke out of our system. Mom could barely speak four words before being racked by spasms of coughing but she’d do a fine job of hiding it all by sipping warm water every time someone was over and she had to talk for longer than five minutes. We saw her tippling, her favourite red glass around at her hip, filled and refilled with warm water. She became such a tippler that she refused all invitations to places she could not carry that hip glass with her. For a while we thought she had gone into hibernation.
That was bad for us. This hibernation scared us even more. Things were not right. We had to protest. So we did. Mom got so fed up of cleaning our mess from inside the house – pretty much all over – that all that stooping, mopping, newspaper and floor cleaner made her forget her woes and become as right as rain. She groaned that she would have to start toilet training us all over again. But not once did she yell at us. She just went about cleaning and cleaning and cleaning till our sensitive hearts broke and we decided enough was enough. Our protest had been registered. Things went back to normal.
But did they? Now the room – our room – is crawling with cleaners and painters and what have you. The house is topsy-turvy. Our corners, our smells, our cushions – all gone. We love Big Bro’s room but only when he is there. We object to anyone else moving in, even if that anyone is Mom and Dad. We thought of protesting but our hearts went out to Mom – her back would not take it anymore, we figured. We have to protest, but more sympathetically. So, our guide to sympathetic protests:
#1 – Fight. Fight intensely. Pull ears, tails; go for the eyes; pull out bunches of hair. Just stop short of drawing actual blood. We are queasy, you see. But not so queasy that we don’t go for each other if Mom even turns her face in the direction of one of us, let alone talk to one or move towards one.
#2 – Bark and slap. If you are crybaby Snuggles, whine. At any point where protest is deemed necessary, bark in a high pitched tone or a deep volcanic rumble. Insistently. And if that doesn’t work, slap mugs of tea, books, laptops etc. out of your Folks’ hands until they look at you to see why you are protesting. Whining works just as well, especially if you whine in varying pitches suddenly for no apparent reason. You can do it when your Folks are in bed but you are on the floor, or when your idiotic sister is monopolising the ball, or in the middle of your deeeep sleep, alternating whining with snoring.
#3 – Renounce meals. Actually, don’t renounce – just fuss. Instead of beating the bowl to the mat on the floor, look at it askance as if it is rat poison. Sidestep it. Growl at each other, daring each other to even try showing eagerness. Remember, the growl also masks your stomach growling with hunger pangs. Let the food grow cold. After a few tragedies, you’ll learn just the right last moment to slyly lap the contents before the food is tossed in the bin. Don’t get caught eating from the bowl like everything’s normal. If caught, knock the bowl upside down and eat off the floor.
#4 – Look morose. Accentuate the ‘look’ you already have when your Folks pick up handbags and keys to go out. The look in your eyes should be meltier than an ice lolly in the peak of summer in June and sadder than a pooch who has forgotten where he buried his bone. How can your Folks leave you when you are feeling so unsettled, when your room is overrun by outsiders, when your stuff is in your Big Bro’s room without him? You’ll know you’ve got it right when your Folks rush back as early as they can, discussing how they did not enjoy one minute outside beyond the first hour. Even better – make sure you are at the entrance door when the lift sounds outside, barking. Makes them wonder if you have spent the entire cold evening in their absence on the cold floor by the door instead of in your warm blanket, or rather their warm blanket on the bed.
#5 – Shadow. Become the shadow of your Folks, stickier than their own shadows. As they say, ‘total chipku‘. Do not leave them for a minute. Nose open bathroom doors, lie between their feet around kitchen counters, jam into their backs on sofas … If they try to sneak away to even get a glass of water, thinking you are snoring-ly fast asleep, startle them by reaching the water dispenser before them, silently, smoothly, like a ghost. For enhanced effect, if you are ordinarily ‘chipku’, move away from cheek to cheek to the foot, and if you are just the pet-me-and-let-me-be sorts, worm your way to the crook of the elbow.
We are pretty sure of the efficiency of these methods. We are still polishing them, and when we get them perfect, we’ll be back with more tips. That is, unless our world returns to its normal order before that, and there is no longer any need to protest and show we are UPSET.