Flash was an Alsatian, a German Shepherd who was part of our family for nearly five years, until 1969, when my father left India. He was a perfect puppy, healthy, sturdy, and playful, and grew into a beautifully balanced dog. By virtue of his energy, his gentle demeanor and his gender—adding another male to our 3:1 female-male ratio—he brought harmony to our family and our home.
When he came to us, I must have been about ten. I remember running races with him when he was very small, short sprints the length of the front lawn. Even at the beginning, when he was just a pup, I could only just keep pace with him, but very soon, as he began turning into a leggy adolescent, he was outstripping me easily in the first few paces. There was no separation between us and him inside or out, nowhere in the house he wasn’t allowed to go, except on the rare occasions when we went out for the evening and couldn’t take him with us. When he was a pup and didn’t yet understand that we would return, he would go wild with the grief of abandonment. All he could find as a vent for his emotions were the few things that took our attention from him and that he couldn’t understand—our records. We came home one evening to find a pile of our precious 45′s, among the very few things brought with us from Greece, pulled out of their sleeves and cracked by his newly-cut canines. From the intensity of our reaction he must have seen that he had chosen his target well, but he also clearly saw that he had crossed a line, and he never attacked the albums again. Besides, he soon learned that he was secure in our affections, that nothing and no-one was a threat to him.
Flash soon grew into a strong, noble animal, muscular and lean, powerful but easy-going. The only time he ever lashed out at me was on one occasion when I made the mistake of disturbing him just as his daily fresh plate of home-cooked beef stew had been served and he was about to get to work on it. For a moment, before he had time to remember that I was a child whom he loved and was pledged to protect, his instinct got the better of him and he jerked his head back and bared his teeth at me, giving me a glimpse of his power and fury if ever it were to be unleashed. Of course I backed off immediately, and it never happened again.
After a couple of years I went off to boarding school, and began to see much less of Flash. My father loved him, probably the most of all of us, and they were always together when Dad was at home. He couldn’t bear to put a leash on Flash’s neck, so for the rare occasions when Flash had to be held back, Dad purchased—or had made—a soft leather harness that criss-crossed over his shoulders. In my first months at boarding school I was struck with an attack of homesickness so strong that I thought I wouldn’t be able to carry on. No doubt it would have passed eventually, but my parents were not going to subject me to the trauma that English children suffered when sent away to school too young, so my mother, little sister, and Flash traveled up to Darjeeling by train, plane, and jeep (Flash receiving a special dispensation to travel in the passenger section of the plane), rented a cottage on the grounds of the school, and took me out as a day student for a few months, until I began to miss my classmates and told my mother that they could go back home. I failed to realize then what a big sacrifice that interlude must have been, for my home-loving sister, wrenched from home and from her father; for my father, separated from his whole family and having to manage at home alone; and for Flash, separated from the only home he had ever known, from the big garden where he could run free, and from our father.
A year or so later, while I was home for the winter holidays, something happened that would change our relationship with Flash and his with us: a rabid dog found his way into our compound and through the gate into our inner courtyard. I still remember it snarling and cowering on the flagstones, froth foaming at the corners of its mouth, and us standing in the kitchen, looking out at the horrible sight. There was nothing to be done but to call someone in to shoot it, to remove the body, and to have the courtyard thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. Not having come into direct contact with the dog, we were spared the ten excruciatingly painful injections in the stomach that were the only treatment for rabies at the time. But it was different for poor Flash.
Because he might have been exposed to the dog’s saliva, Flash not only had to be subjected to the full battery of injections for rabies, but quarantined from the family. We were under strict instructions not to allow him in the house for a full year. I don’t know who was more sorry, him or us, but at least we understood why this was necessary. After having been raised in the bosom of the family, he must have been bewildered and deeply hurt by the enforced and extended separation.
Soon after that year was up, my mother, sister, and I left India, leaving my father and Flash alone in Kharagpur. The separation was to have been for only two or three months, with my mother visiting her family in England with us children while our immigration visas were being processed by the United States; but as things turned out there was a major snafu with the visas and we had to stay in England for more than 16 months until they finally came through.
Before leaving for America himself a year after we had left for England, my father had to pack up the house alone, give away most of our belongings, and find a good home for Flash. He did find a good home, with a military man he knew, whom I don’t remember at all. I know how keenly Dad must have felt not only the separation, but the betrayal of Flash, who could not have understood why he was being abandoned, this time, for good. We couldn’t understand it ourselves, and rarely speak of it. My father knew that the long quarantine process that he would have had to undergo yet again in order to enter the United States, especially with his history of exposure to rabies, would have been too much of an ordeal for Flash, and decided that it would be kinder to leave him in India with someone who would take good care of him.
When we had been in America for three years and I was setting out for a year’s study in England, my parents got two pups, brothers, for my sister—Toofan and Big Brownie. Toofan (typhoon, or storm) was the strong, adventurous one and Big Brownie the timid runt of the litter. But Toofan died of poisoning while he was still a puppy, while Big Brownie lived for nearly seventeen years, until just before my parents retired. After that my father said that he was done with having any animals, dogs or cats. It was just too sad to say goodbye.