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Mrs P was my neighbor when I joined the L&M for the very first time after marriage in the temporary accommodation while still waiting for proper army quarters to be allotted. A tall thin lady from the heartlands of Punjab, wife of the Second-in-Command of the husband’s unit, she immediately took me under her wing, as senior ladies are wont to do in the army when raw young ladies join the family. I am afraid I was not as good a ‘student’ as she would have hoped for as I was (and am) internally programmed to ask ‘Why?’ rather than nod ‘Yes, Ma’am’.  Be that as it may…

Mrs P had two black Lhasa Apsos (and two sons, by the way). I don’t remember their names. I am a sucker for dogs of any sort. Show me a dog and I swoop down on them with cries of delight, ready to scratch behind their ears and give belly rubs and be licked in return.  When I walked into her home (she had invited me for breakfast) and saw the button-eyed cute whatchamacallits, I barely controlled myself from going on all-fours and coochie-cooing to them.  Army decorum and all, you see.  Still, my hand automatically stretched out to pat the cute, hairy fur balls.

Mrs P warned me that the XY Apso was a dicey character. He did not appreciate unknown people cosying up to him. Intruder, his eyes seemed to say, better keep your place or I’ll nip you. The XX Apso was the friendlier sort. But to my disappointment, XX that day, seemed to take the cue from XY and was not overly friendly.  Mrs P regaled me with tales about the pair, the fun things they did, the way they woke up her sons when she told them to, and how inordinately fond they were of sour milk cream.

While digging into the alu paranthas Mrs P had made, I looked up to see both the Apsos at the door to the dining area, their fringe-covered button eyes fixed piercingly on me.  It’s the bowl of cream, Mrs P said even as she flipped the alu parantha on the tawa expertly for the other side to cook.  She then proceeded to give the fur balls one spoon of cream each, which they lapped up eagerly, licking their bowls and lips clean. A while later something brushed against my feet. I looked down to see XX sitting very close to me, wagging her tail.  Cream, please? her eyes said. I am willing to be your friend.

That’s how easily XX became my friend. She would pop in next door while I was cooking and we’d do a bit of coochie-cooing. I’d give her some belly-rubs and a biscuit and off she would go, back next-door. XY though, kept studiously to himself, sneering whenever he laid his eyes on me. If he was with XX when she made her calls, he would sit outside the front door, his body-language one of disdain. He was not going to people’s houses looking for belly-rubs or treats. No, sir, not he. Wimmen! Pah! He probably rolled his eyes at XX.

One Sunday (and this is totally unconnected to the main story), a couple of weeks or so into my arrival at the new place, the L&M called me over to the front verandah. The fur balls were frolicking outside and with them were two young girls in shorts, with long and luxurious hair falling to their waist. He asked me if I knew who they were. They did look familiar, but I was clueless.  They are Mrs P’s sons, he laughed. That was my introduction to Sardars with their hair open, till then I had seen them only with their top-knot and turban.

One day I decided to make some butter. There was enough cream lying in the refrigerator. Lost in my work, I was singing to myself as I generally do while alone and doing something around the house when I had this curious feeling that someone was watching me. It was the cantonment area for sure, and as safe as it ever could be, but the feeling wouldn’t go away. I looked at the door leading from the kitchen to the only other room (which was the sitting and bedroom all rolled up into one) that made up our temporary accommodation. No one standing there eyeing me. Was someone in the room beyond? Should I go, check?

The building was from British days, built with thick walls, the roof ever so high, not to mention doors heavy and too tall. I wondered if Mrs P was next door and if she would hear me in case I shouted for help. Even as I stood debating, my eyes wandered downwards to a lower level. My jaw dropped. Sitting there was XY, his beady eyes fixed on me. His demeanor could best be described as one of embarrassment and surrender. Apparently the smell of cream had been too much for the little thingamabob. Hauteur had its advantages no doubt, but sometimes one needed to get off the high-horse to get some sour milk cream.  That had been XY’s moment of enlightenment, I’d like to think.

©Shail Mohan 2018