Our association started when I invited him to come home and spend his life with us. A cute 'infant', he was playful and fun-loving. An undisciplined fellow who would often upset my wife, thereby inviting a ban on his entry to the kitchen and the living room. He enjoyed retrieving the ball in the park opposite our house.
Soon I realised that his hobbies were hogging, sleeping and retrieving, in that order. Our chemistry improved with every passing day. He replaced my better half in welcoming me on my return from work. His affectionate hugs and excited body language were addictive.
The fellow grew up into a naughty adolescent, quickly forgetting his basic characteristics of a security caretaker. He would be oblivious to a stranger and a short fuse with family members, an inverse characteristic of a creature of his clan. Despite his idiosyncrasies, he was now an inseparable part of the family.
The train journey on my transfer from Odisha to Shimla was an event to remember. The fellow was travelling without ticket, being my dependent. The travelling ticket examiner (TTE) insisted that he travel in a separate compartment. Sensing this cruel suggestion, he befriended the strict TTE, who accorded special sanction for him to travel second AC with us.
Visibly enamoured with the little thing, the TTE, too, shifted his seat there. Boarding the Shatabdi from Delhi was a cakewalk, my friend giving the impression of a professional explosive expert proceeding on a mission (Kargil war had just started).
A new era began for him on the salubrious hills; by now, he was a handsome young thing. A heart-throb of the opposite sex and a virtual nightmare for scared guardians of the female species. He was the colony Romeo and would often be missing for hours. His return was sheepish, signifying guilt and wrongdoing, as if the eyes spoke, "Boss, not my fault alone!"
He matured into a brat with sibling rivalry with my kids. A playful or a long conversation with them was unacceptable to him and he would show his annoyance by not responding to my calls, leaving me exasperated but helpless.
The best time of his life and our relationship commenced on my posting to Kupwara in Jammu and Kashmir. He was the only member of our family who accompanied me on the official courier flight to Srinagar. The welcome was exclusive and he was treated like a prince at my new place of duty. Best of food, no sharing of affection and cool climes! The frequent snowfall would get him glued to the Bukhaari (an improvised heater). At this non-family station, he was my lone and prized companion.
Old age, excessive retrieving in early years and abnormally active nocturnal jaunts during youth had given him a visible limp. The rich, non-vegetarian diet had increased his sugar level and his eyesight and hearing were weakening. The intellect, however, was intact. Every time I called up home to chat with my family, his eyes spoke the emotions of concern, possession and 'all is well'.
He was not happy with my quitting the army prematurely, which he sensed when he felt the soldiers' absence and a non-cantonment environs around my home. By now he was inactive, getting up only for food and the call of nature. My frequent visits with him to the vet clinic made him sense the future.
It was a rainy Wednesday morning, and he was nowhere in sight. His usual corner was empty. A search hunt was launched, but to no avail. My friend had quietly left, saving us the agony of his prolonged ailment and the impending burial. A great companion and a loyal friend, a natural stress-reliever in the stressful world of humans. Miss you on Friendship Day!