Category Archives: Hero

Hero and friends

It’s been a year since Hero departed for the happy hunting grounds. I was thinking about how he was selective in giving love and, probably as a result, how his love was particularly cherished by those whom he chose to give it to.

For those who didn’t know him, he came with a bit of a fearsome reputation – our standard instruction to strangers was “isko mat chhoona”. He had even taken a nip of some people whom he took inexplicable objection to, including a few friends.

But when he made friends, he did it heart and soul. This post is for those to whom he gave those. I couldn’t find photos of him with every one who was on that list, but most are here.

His greatest love was always Anjali. Playing with her after we returned from one of our trips.

With Baba, Ma, Gurpreet, and my cousin Chhordi on various trips.

Listening to Mahalaya with Ma at Radio House, Olaulim.

At Suntikoppa in Coorg with Baba, Ma, Anjali, my nephew Arjun (Joy) and his wife Suchita.
Our friends Salil and Monika were part of several trips with the dogs.

Having grown up with our niece Pakhi (sadly, couldn’t find any good photos of the two of them together, or even of my brother Orijit with Hero), he seemed to always have a soft spot for young girls. Here he is with my grand-niece Sia – who was allowed to do just about anything to him – and her toy Tigger.

The key to his acceptance seemed to be one of two things – either you travelled somewhere with him, or you slept in his house.

With my nephews Abhimanyu (Babai) and Rahul, and being playfully pummelled by my brother Abhijit, the only person whom he was ever cowed by.
With some of his dearest friends, at home and abroad.

One of the most astonishing early episodes in a life full of incident was when my brother’s dog Vanilla (later renamed Kaju) was recuperating at our place from a mauling he had received at the fangs of a larger dog. Hero, at the time about 8 months old, took him under his wing and, we believe, played a big part in his quick recovery. Of course, Kaju himself is a spunky dog who shook off the life-threatening injuries very quickly and had a ball with our four larger dogs.

Some videos of Hero and Vanilla mock-tussling in the warm winter sun at our Noida residence.

Of all the dogs that we had, Jaya was a special favourite of Hero’s. Both were of a rambunctious bent of mind, and loved to get up to shenanigans together.

To circle back to the beginning of this post, Anjali was the sun in his life. Though these photos are rather dark and have motion blur, I really love this series.

Hero’s journey comes to an end

When a hero dies, as much as one mourns his death, one also celebrates his life. In the nearly 16 years that Hero was in this world, there was much to celebrate. He lived a life full of action and adventure, with panache and joie de vivre. Words won’t suffice to talk about the place he had in our lives, so I’m going to let pictures do the talking. In the first of this three-part recounting of his life, we’ll focus on the travels that were such a defining aspect of it.

Pictures in this and other posts on him are from his many friends and admirers – in particular, Anuradha, Gurpreet, Madhura, and Srijit – besides Anjali and me.

Two Scorpios, one Alto, five other dogs (not all of them visible here), two humans – the ingredients of Hero’s travels


“I call shotgun!” “Oh wait, the driver seat’s vacant. I’m taking over!” Bottom: Hero pretends to drive, on a tricky descent from Mandu down a rubble-filled dirt track.


His preferred vantage point was the middle of the centre seat, from where he could survey the road ahead, and quickly dart to any of the side windows if there was anything worth barking at. Once in a while, the burden of holding his head up would get too much for him, at which time the driver’s shoulder served usefully as a chin rest.


But any location and position in the car was fine…

Hero-travels-05 long as he got to check out the sights. Clockwise from top left: passing a herd of goats near Gwalior; looking at monkeys that had been chirping at him from the ramparts of the Agra Fort; “What on earth are those things?!” mystified by camels on a village track in Gujarat.


And, of course, give passing dogs a piece of his mind. Yelling at Suzy, the Alsatian at the Hotel Haveli in Ajmer.


Going places… top to bottom: at Deja Vu in Naukuchiatal, UP, on his first trip ever, 2005; in the shade of an ancient wall on the edge of a gorge in Mandu, MP, 2006; taking a sip from the Narmada at dusk, near Khalghat, MP, 2006.


In Pratapgarh, Maharashtra, 2006 – walking down the unending staircase inside the fort; running around where Maratha soldiers once patrolled; more monkey business through the window of the PWD Rest House where we stayed inside the fort.


The first sight of the sea, at Ganpatipule, 2006; Hero, of course, vaults right in!


Doing the raja thing in the excessively pink bedroom of the Royal Mandwa Suite no 1 at the Chanod Haveli in Gujarat, 2006; later, checking out the Narmada nearby.


Taking in the view from the first-floor balcony of Bhakti Kutir in Palolem; and playing tug-of-war with Bhaloo and Jaya, while Anjali struggles to hold it all together along with her skimpy bikini on Agonda; Goa, 2007.


In Suntikoppa, Coorg, 2008: seeing Bhaloo hitch a ride on a coracle with Anjali, Hero decided to try and scramble aboard; having nearly capsized the craft, he was pushed unceremoniously overboard, and returned to the shore sneezing with indignation.


Wildernest, Chorla Ghats, Goa, 2007: merrily trotting along on a path made muddy by the monsoon; and later in the room, washed and dried, enjoying the view of the jungle from the bay window.


Mount Abu, 2008: At Trevor Tal (where rumour has it there was a crocodile); and at Roop Mahal, which was my home for the first 8 years of my life (Hero couldn’t care less for the personal history!).


Surla, Goa, 2009: Tugging me and the rest of the dogs along on the rocky plateau; and later, on a dry river bed nearby, deciding to take matters and the leash into his own mouth as it was troubling him while trailing behind.


Changanassery, Kerala, 2009: Hero got a ride on a houseboat and was fascinated with the water rushing by, and things and people on the shore (the curiosity was mutual).


For the next couple of days, whenever we sat on the canalside platform, he would stare wistfully at boats passing by, big and small. Sometimes, it was clear to us that he was judging the distance to the boat and whether he could make it across, and we made sure to hang on to him when he did that.


When we had to leave, he got his chance to be on the water again, as we had to travel by boat from the island that the resort was on to where the Scorpio was parked. He was happy!


Back on the beach, in Kannur, Kerala, 2009.

In 2011, during a trip to Off The Grid, a resort near Castlerock in Karnataka, Hero had the adventure that defined his life. While we were trekking at the top of the Dudhsagar Waterfalls, he decided to take off on his own.


Frolicking with the other dogs in a pool on the dry riverbed above the falls; and later, sitting on a ledge way down below, overlooking the train tracks where the water flows down. This was our last sight of him. The next time we looked, he was gone, where we had no idea.

This blog started with my post about Hero’s disappearance:

Astonishingly, 22 days later, we managed to find him and bring him back. That story is told here:


When he returned from his epic outing, he was little more than skin draped over a skeleton. But love and a lot of fat-rich foods got him back in fighting form quite quickly.


Around Amboli, 2013: on the way back from a trip to Girivan near Pune.


Amboli, 2019: at a resort called Mrugaya.


Vengurla, Maharashtra, 2019: he loved the beach trips.


Hero’s last time at a beach, in Morjim, November 2020.


Master of his domain. In the sea at Hedavi, near Chiplun, Maharashtra.

When Hero came home

Rummaging through the dogs’ papers for something, we came across this letter, which I thought I’d post about. It’s something that accompanied Hero when he came to us more than 11 years ago.

Our introduction to Hero was through an email forward, about a litter of puppies that a girl was trying to find homes for. I tried locating the email, but my Yahoo mailbox has nothing from earlier than 10 years ago. I wish I had saved it – I can’t even recall the girl’s name any more. All that I remember is that she lived in Gurgaon, but came to NOIDA, where we lived, to deliver the little fellow.

When she handed Hero over to us, he had a little red ribbon around his neck, with a small bell on it. That stayed on him through the first few weeks, so we would always know where he was. Any time the bell fell silent, it usually meant we better check on what he was up to.

Along with the little puppy, she handed over this very sweet letter, written as though by him. Here’s a scan of the letter:


Besides other things about him, it said, “I will be very happy to be a part of your family. I am the naughtiest of my lot. I am very vocal about my feelings and want a lot of attention from humans. I tend to get a bit whiny especially when hungry.” In some ways, Hero’s still the same, in others, completely different. But we are certainly very happy that he’s part of our family.


Hero as a puppy…


…and now, 11 years later.

The Return of Hero

Whenever I think about the circumstances of Hero’s return — and at least in these initial days, that’s a lot of the time — I can’t help but be astonished at the number of things that had to fall together at the right time and place for us to be able to find him. I’m not taking away from his spirit, which kept him alive for three weeks in an area where there is little but dense forest and where predators roam. But even that indomitable will to survive would have led to nothing if it hadn’t been for some very lucky breaks at the end of it all.

Let me tell the whole story as it unfolded, and I can highlight these instances when they occur. On Tuesday evening, three weeks to the day since Hero went missing, I was out in the backyard trying to make a call on the cellphone. After one aborted try, I was about to dial again when the phone rang.

Here’s the first piece of luck: When the cellphone is lying inside the house, it usually has no reception, so people making calls to it don’t get through. It just so happened that I was out in the yard with it at the moment the call came. Also, those who know me well know how rare it is for me to make calls, that too from the cellphone. In the six months since we moved to Carona, this may have been the fifth or sixth time I have done that.

The voice on the other end, a girl’s, asked, “Aap woh hain jiska kutta kho gaya hai? Hero?”

I said I was.

Woh hamare ghar ke paas se gaya hai abhi abhi.”

I wasn’t immediately excited. For many people, a dog is a dog, and there is little to differentiate between two of the species. But a little probing seemed to indicate that this might indeed be a positive sighting, the first we’d had since the day we lost him.

There was some confusion about where the girl, who introduced herself as Sunita, was calling from. I got the impression — reinforced by the STD code of the number showing on the cellphone — that she was calling from somewhere in Goa, and that she was referring to a cousin who had seen the dog in a village and called her. I asked for the cousin’s number and went indoors to get to a pad and pen. When I did, the connection dropped.

I told Anjali what had just happened and she immediately called the number back from the landline. A long conversation ensued, and the story seemed to be that Sunita had seen Hero outside their house in Koishi, the village closest to the path into the jungle where we had started out trek to the Dudhsagar Falls. He seemed to be following the road, headed back towards where we would have come from. When she called out his name, he stopped and looked at her but when she went towards him, he ran on. She mentioned that he had on a red collar. She also said that “woh bahut chhota ho gaya hai“, which we took to mean that he had lost a lot of weight.

This is the second amazing thing: later we found out that, in all the village — and indeed among most of the villages around — this girl’s house was the only one with a landline phone. Though many villagers have cellphones, there is no network connection for miles around. So she was the one best suited to make the call. Not only that, she had been sufficiently moved by the way Anjali had told the story of Hero at the time that he was lost that she had made it a point to hang on to the poster that Anjali passed around, the one that had our cellphone number on it. Hero being seen by her was another major factor in his being found, as she was the person in the village best suited to do something about it.

The conversation then veered to what we would do and what the girl should do. It ended with the girl saying she would get together some other people from the village and see if she could entice the dog with some food and grab it. Later, it struck us that that was perhaps not the way to go, as pursuing Hero in a gang was a surefire way to make him flee, while what we really wanted was for him to hang around the village. If he moved on from there, we would effectively be back to square one.

Anjali and I talked about what we should do. It was past 6.30 in the evening, and almost dark out. If we were to leave right away, we would still reach there only around 9.30-10. By then it would be pitch dark, and we would get nowhere with our search. We would almost ceretainly not even be able to find any villagers to help us at that time of night either.

On the other hand, if it was Hero and he was on the move, every minute counted. By morning, he could be anywhere. Eventually, though, we decided we’d leave early the next morning and hope for the best. Anjali called the girl back, and told her our plan. She informed us that she had managed to get a group of boys together to try and catch hold of Hero, but that he was no longer to be found.

The rest of our evening was spent in preparing for the trip. We weren’t sure what the condition of the ‘road’ to the village was going to be — it had been barely a track when we had been there before the rains, and we were pretty sure that large portions would have become intractable by now. At places, where we had to drive through rocky streams on the way, we might no longer be able to cross by car. That was going to mean long trudges through slushy and slippery terrain.

Anjali spoke to Sylvia Kerkar, who owns Off the Grid, the place where we’d been staying when our Hero misadventure happened. Sylvia was excited by the news of the sighting, but cautious just as we were. She told us that indeed there would be places that our car, not being a four-wheel drive, would no longer be able to take us. She told us that we would have to be prepared to walk long distances on difficult paths, and warned us to look out for leeches, which would be everywhere at this time of year.

Besides putting together whatever we could think of for Hero, we went to our friend Savio Figueiredo in Aldona and borrowed his gum boots. I thought those should serve as effective armour against the bloodsucking leeches.

At 4am on Wednesday morning, we set off. We wanted to get there by the time it was light, and the early start meant that for most of the way, the roads were empty. The only stretch where we ran into some traffic was around Dharbandora, where the mining trucks had begun their run. This stretch was quite dicey. It was still dark and a persistent light rain was falling. Mist mixed with the exhaust of the trucks wafted over the road. The headlights of oncoming trucks — most of them on high-beam — diffracted through the mist and the droplets on our windshield, making it difficult to see. To make matters worse, a serpentine line of trucks was parked along the right side of the road, requiring us to go onto the muddy and pothole-marked shoulder on our side to avoid traffic coming from the other side.

At one point, a truck ahead of us used his right indicator light to signal us to pass. Doing so, we found that the truck ahead was giving the same signal. As I could see headlights approaching from the other side, I accelerated in order to pass the second truck in time to return to our lane, when suddenly the truck started turning to the right. He hadn’t been signalling me to pass — he was indicating a right turn!

I stepped on the brakes, but the road was slippery with the rain, plus mud from some digging that had left the right shoulder of the road strewn with large rocks. We skidded for metres, our rear end slewing back and forth, and slammed into the back corner of the truck. Our Scorpio has completed 90,000km over six years, and traversed India from Himachal Pradesh to Kanyakumari — and this was the first time it had been in a collision.

The headlight may have been broken, but the bigger problem was hidden.

You can click on the images to see them larger

We got out and surveyed the damage. The left headlight was smashed and the front end of the car had taken a little battering, but it wasn’t too bad. The truck driver, who had pulled over a few metres ahead, came over and it was clear that neither of us wanted to pursue this. It was a case of a misread signal, and we both understood that.

We started off again, but a little further ahead, we realised there was a hidden problem. When we tried to take a reasonably sharp right turn, the car reacted with a jarring vibration and a loud grating noise. Checking it out, we saw that the stanchion that holds the front bumper had bent back with the impact and was rubbing hard against the wheel when we tried to turn. For the rest of the trip, including on the winding dirt tracks that much of our driving was to be on, we would have to take our right turns in a wide arc. In several cases, we had to go halway through the curve, reverse in the other direction and then complete the turn.

The mishap made driving quite difficult on the ghat roads that soon followed, where there was little room for manoeuvrability, but the light traffic this early in the day allowed us to make it up without further incident. As we’d felt on our treks through the jungle on the previous trip, beauty lies so much in the mind of the beholder — usually, I love driving in the monsoon rain on the ghats, but there was so much to be bothered about on our way up that this time it was all lost on me. Looking back now, my memory of that stretch of road is entirely from our return trip, with Hero stretched full-length on the back seat.

When we got to the area we were heading for, we first went to Off the Grid to pick up Shankar, our cicerone from the time before. We knew his presence would be very helpful when we had to speak to the villagers, or negotiate tricky stretches of road. The jungle trail that leads to the house pitches up and down gullies, and eventually we came to one which, it was obvious, we would not be able to traverse in the car. Before the rains, we had driven all the way up to the house, but now the track was too treacherous in places.

We parked the car in a clearing, and went the rest of the way on foot. By the time we got to the house, our legs were festooned with leeches, which we spent some time — and salt — removing. Having taken the gum boots, I had forgotten to wear them, and cursed myself for not remembering.

Shankar, always ready to help, had sprung up as soon as he saw us and was prepared to leave the moment we told him what had happened. We hiked back to the car with him, did some more leech excision, and set off. All the way, a matter of some 10-12 kilometres, we kept honking. Hero knows the sound of the car and the horn very well, and at home would always run to the car when he heard it. Here in the wilderness, we knew that sound would carry far, and perhaps alert him wherever he was.

The village of Koishi, some 6 or 7 tortuous kilometres off the main road, is a loose collection of houses and animal sheds distributed around the fields that the villagers tend. We stopped in the core of the village where there are some five-six houses together, and asked a few kids gathered there if they knew anything about the lost dog. One of them, whose name we learnt later was Vinayak, came up and told us that it had been last seen near the temple, which was some hundred metres back the way we had come, in a lane to the right. Sunita had told us to come to Sitaram’s house which, we found out, was a kilometre or so further ahead from where we were.

We decided to follow up on the fresher lead, and headed back towards the temple. A young man came out of a house next to the temple to greet us.

Aap kutte ko dhoondne aaye ho?” he asked us.

On being told that we had, he said that he had heard a whining in the trees close to his house at night. He had gone out and called for Hero — everyone in the village had been alerted to the situation by Sunita in the evening — but the whining had stopped. He felt that the dog had probably moved further into the trees. We asked him what lay beyond, and he told us there were open fields behind the immediate clumps and then hills.

We made our way through the thicket, and came out onto the fields where we split into three — Shankar and Vinayak heading across one side, me the other way and Anjali through the middle. We yelled Hero’s name as we peered into the trees that ringed the fields, but there was no answering yelp or bark.

This time around, I had remembered to wear the gum boots, but I found walking in them very painful. Soon, the futility of what we were doing got to me, and I started thinking of how Hero might have acted.

“Think like Hero,” I told myself.

It seemed likely to me that Hero, given his lifestime spent in inhabited area, would tend to stick to the road and stay close to the village, not wander back into the jungle once he had found his way out of it. I suggested to Anjali that we head back to the car, and drive down to find out what Sunita had to say.

When we got to her place, she and her parents were waiting at the gate. Word had obviously got to them that we had arrived, and they were eager to tell us their part of the story. There was not much more than what she had already told Anjali on the phone, so after hearing them out, we hung around for a while honking the horn and calling Hero’s name.

After a while, we felt we needed to move on — if Hero had been within earshot, he would certainly have appeared by now. As Sunita too had seen him heading back the way we had come, we decided to drive slowly back, taking every little path that we saw. As we left Koishi behind, we found a pretty wide rocky track that turned off to the right, away from the village. We drove on to this. I asked Shankar where the road led, but he was not sure. He mentioned the name of a village, but he said he thought it was a long way up the road, which was one he’d never been on.

After a little winding through the jungle, this road started climbing gradually at first and then very steeply. As the rain water probably rushes down this slope, it felt more like a gravelly river bed than a track to drive on. It also started narrowing, and there were broken branches of trees littering the sides now and then. I was concerned that we wouldn’t be able to turn around, and suggested we turn back, but Anjali wanted to keep going, so we did.

Eventually, we reached what looked like a high point in the road — up ahead, it narrowed at a place where the hill rose up on either side, and then the road dropped out of sight. Not knowing what lay beyond, I stopped the car at the last possible point where it would be even remotely possible to turn the car. Anjali and Shankar got off and walked on ahead to see what lay over the hump.

As they were walking up to the top, Anjali’s cellphone, which was kept near the glove compartment, started to ring. It gave me quite a shock. Nowhere in this entire area, not even on the main roads, had it ever connected to the network. This was the one location anywhere around where, perhaps due to its altitude, there was a signal. I responded to the call, and it was Sunita.

Kahaan ho tum log?” she asked.

Unable to remember the name of the village Shankar had mentioned, I was at a loss to explain where we were. I was stuttering an incoherent response when she interrupted.

Jaldi aao, woh abhi hamaare ghar ke sammne tha.”

I was electrified. Could it be that we were actually going to find Hero? Till that moment, I hadn’t imagined that it could happen. Even if yesterday’s sightings were real, I had been feeling, he had had 12 hours to go off in any direction he chose, and could be anywhere by now. But now, it looked like he was actually close at hand.

I pressed frantically on the horn to attract the attention of the others, but they had got used to the sound and must have assumed I was doing my bit for the search, for neither of them looked in my direction. But I kept at it until they did, and then gestured for them to come back down urgently. By the time they were back at the car, I had already done all the backing and filling required, and had us pointing down the slope.

We raced back to the village, where we met Sunita and a large gang of kids who had collected. They told us the dog had been seen again close to Sunita’s house, so we headed that way. When we got there, Sunita’s mother showed us small paw prints on the track, and said they were Hero’s. She pointed us in the direction he’d been seen heading — a smaller path that led back into the forest.

While Anjali waited in a central clearing, calling Hero’s name, I slid rather than drove down the narrow path, the branches squealing as they rubbed against the car on either side. But despite going as far as I felt safe doing on that path, there was no sign of our man. Finally, I stopped the car at the top of a steep slope which I knew I would not be able to reverse up (there was no way I could have turned the car around on this path), and ran and slid the rest of the way down the path. Eventually the path ended on the banks of a stream swollen by the rains. Still nothing. After calling his name for a while, I trudged back up to the car, and reversed back up the path to where Anjali and the others were.

For the next couple of hours, we kept at it. I would drive down one way, honking the horn, sometimes with some of the village boys in the car to help guide me back, while Anjali walked through the forest paths and peered into the jungle. Our feet and clothes had got caked with mud, our arms scratched by brambles and branches. We weren’t even bothering with taking off the leeches any more — instead they would become engorged with blood till, unable to sip any more, they would fall off on their own. The anti-clotting agent that they released would keep our blood flowing for a long while afterwards, making us look like walking wounded.

Our clothes and bodies bloodied from the action of the leeches. Some had managed to crawl all the way up to our knees under our clothes.

From time to time, one of the village kids would report a sighting and we would all rush off in that direction. After hours of this, I had begun to wonder whether they were playing some elaborate and sick joke on us — how was it that they saw him here, they saw him there, but we never caught even a glimpse of the elusive pimpernel?

Later, trying to analyse this, we came to feel that Hero was possibly close to the village for most of the time that we were there. The sound of the car and the horn must have triggered some response in his mind, and he felt he needed to go to it. But perhaps disoriented and scared by the strangeness of the past weeks, he was unwilling to clearly show himself.

Eventually, I returned from one of my honking detours to find the clearing bereft of all but one elderly man. To my querying gesture, he pointed down a path — the same one along which I had come to the water’s edge. I walked in there to find the kids in a state of suppressed excitement, distributed around one part of the forest.

Hero had been spotted in that area, and the kids had like beaters at a shikar surrounded the region. Anjali had told them all to keep quiet — before then, they had all been joining lustfully in our cries of “Hero, Hero” — so that the only voice heard would be hers.

She told me later that as she pushed through the thick brambly undergrowth, she saw Hero sitting cowering in one area, barely visible through the intervening foliage. She called out to him and finally he raised his head. As she stepped toward him, he crawled out of the thicket and — like he has done so many times before — leapt into her arms and started licking her. Usually, when he does so, Anjali staggers under his weight and has sometimes even been bowled over, but in his present condition, she carried him easily. (Once we were back at home home, we weighed him to find he has lost more than 5 kilos in the past three weeks.)

Though bent over to get through the undergrowth, she caried him out of there in her arms, and then handed him over to me. As he licked me desperately, I smelt a strong smell of shit on his breath. When we spoke of it afterwards, Anjali and I realised that — deprived of anything substantial to eat for days, he must have eaten shit to survive. That realisation was truly heart-breaking for us.

He was a bag of bones, so emaciated that he was unsteady on his feet. Only his head gave an inkling of the size of dog he was, and looked oddly out of proportion on his shrunken body. He had leeches all over him, and was streaked with blood as a result. Only when we got him home and washed him would we get to see that some of the blood was from more serious wounds, though none of them were very bad. There as even a fat leech in his nostril — the poor guy had no way to take even that one out.

We put him in the car, and he jumped into the back seat. He was still very nervous and anxious, growling and snapping at the kids who gathered around the window to look at him. But I gave him some of the dog biscuits we had brought with us, and all his attention was focussed on those, as he gulped them down.

Lost and found, safe and sound

The Koishi Hero hunters posse

We took some pictures of all the kids who had helped us, and then suggested to Sunita that we drive to her place to show the rescued Hero to her parents.

She responded, still a little hesitantly, “Mera naam Samita hai.”

I had heard her wrong when she had called the evening before, and we had been referring to her as Sunita the entire morning, and she hadn’t said a word till now.

We went to Samita’s house, where her mother was truly ecstatic to see Hero. She talked — largely in Marathi, which we didn’t understand — about his “naseeb“, which we did. She brought out a roti for him to eat, and a small bowl of milk. She then called us in and gave us each a glass of fresh cow’s milk. We hadn’t eaten since we’d left home at 4, and it was now about noon, so the milk — with some biscuits that we had brought — was very welcome.

On Samita’s mother’s request, Anjali left a coconut at the local temple before we headed back. Hero had fallen into a deep sleep within minutes of getting into the car — a secure sleep that he had probably not been able to achieve for the past three weeks. Even at home, he has been sleeping almost all the time since we got back.

We drove back towards Goa with him slumbering in the back, unable to believe what had happened. I still find it incomprehensible that he should have survived the way he had, and that we had managed to find him.

Now he’s back where he belongs. The other dogs were thrilled to see him. We had been apprehensive about how they would react when he walked in, so it was a delight to see the way they gathered around him, tails wagging madly as they sniffed every inch of his body. And he stood there in the middle of it all, as tall as  he could make himself, his own tail stiffly moving from side to side, his ears in their typical aeroplane-wing position.

In the comfort of his bed

The pleasure of having him back — when we had more or less given up on ever seeing him again — is indescribable. Every time Anjali or I pass him as he sleeps, we can’t stop ourselves from running a hand over his head and body, a caress that flows like a wave over his protruding ribs and hip bones. And, still asleep, he stretches a little and lets out a little groan or a sigh. What a tale there must be wrapped up in that little exhalation of breath!

After he'd slept through the afternoon and evening, Hero woke up at night. He came to where we were sitting in the drawing room, and just stood there with his head against Anjali.

I had given up on finding him quite early in the search. Once we had to leave Dudhsagar on our first day, the scope of possibilities was so daunting that the logical side of my brain (which is more or less all of it, sadly) told me that there’s no way we would be able to find him.

But Anjali didn’t give up — and every thing that she did counted in the final say. She went back a second time and scoured the place, and got across to people that she wasn’t giving up, and neither should they. She established an emotional connect with the villagers, with people like Samita, which made the latter feel that she should make the call when she saw the dog she thought was Hero. Anjali distributed the poster I had made to everyone that she possibly could, going to a good deal of trouble to have the text translated into Marathi and Kannada. It’s because Samita kept the poster that she had our number.

This tale may be about our Hero, but there is no doubt that Anjali is as much its heroine.

Hero goes his own way

The trek to the head of the Dudhsagar Falls was supposed to have been the highlight of our trip. We were taking a four-day break at a place called ‘Off the Grid’, a house belonging to a couple called John Pollard and Sylvia Kerkar, situated near Castlerock in the Western Ghats. Everything we had heard and read about it before we left Goa made us feel it would be the perfect place for us and the dogs — the kind of place we had been hunting for ever since we got to Goa, but had so far failed to locate.

John and Sylvia’s house is in a bowl ringed with densely-forested hills.

(You can click on the photographs to view them larger.)

Off the Grid had lived up to its promise. It’s a wonderful house, built to sustainable principles, in the perfect of places. It’s in a bowl surrounded by hills, with a sparklingly clear stream running along one boundary of the property. The place is literally off the grid – there is neither electricity nor telephone connectivity. Solar lights are charged during the day, and provide ample but not overly powerful illumination at night. The house itself is built on two levels, with delightful little innovations such as a stone platform bed in the main bedroom, left hollowed for storage under it, and canvas tents in place of cemented walls on the first floor.

Small channels have been diverted from waterways to run through the grounds of the house, which are then used to irrigate beds where John and Sylvia grow lettuce, tomatoes, tambdi bhaji and various other vegetables and fruits. Some rivulets water the fecund Mallika mango trees that cluster close to the house. One channel perpetually replenishes a small tank right next to the house, in which stepped borders allow you to loll about in waist-deep water.

For the dogs, there was ample room to frolic, and a stream to play in or drink from. For us, a tranquil place to do nothing for a few days. With Shankar and Kalpana to look after our every need. It was perfect.

We arrived on Sunday, exhausted after a late-night party the day before, and spent the first day simply relaxing, our only effort being an evening stroll down to the stream. John and Sylvia have created a natural dam with rocks across the stream at one point, which forms a knee-deep pool upstream of itself. On both sides of the dam, little black fish congregate in the limpid water. Sungta and Soulkadi chased these, Jaya sat down in the shallows, while the rest of the dogs splashed around or explored the banks. Knowing Hero’s proclivities, I held on to his leash most of the time, but the rest were restrained only by our commands. At one point, Chipku led an attempted break back towards the house, but it took only a strident admonition from one of us to keep the escapees in check.

Jaya sits in the stream, while Chipku and Hero explore the area.

Sungta and Soulkadi play in the water as Bhaloo daintily tiptoes across the dam of rocks.

On the next day, we went with Shankar for a long hike through the woods and hills above the house. It was strenuous to our unaccustomed bodies, but the beauty of the area made it worthwhile. After a little tussle, Anjali agreed reluctantly to my suggestion that we let the dogs go. Again, Hero was the one dog whom I held on to. The others responded as I had expected they would. The unfamiliarity of the area, and perhaps its threatening smells — after all, leopards prowl in these jungles, as do various other smaller predators such as wild dogs and hyenas — kept them a little nervous. So while they hit the trail with enthusiasm and energy, they never drifted far from us. The pups, in particular, stayed close, stopping for us to catch up every time their exploratory instincts pulled them ahead of the peloton.

On the hike in the woods and fields around the house.

Shankar and the dogs blaze a scary trail.

So it was that we left for the Dudhsagar trek on day three with great expectations. The drive there was, for lack of a better word, invigorating. The large proportion of the ride was on dirt tracks, and in extended stretches, you couldn’t even call it that. At times, we were taking slopes in first gear with the car’s nose in the air, seemingly vertically above us. At others, we were heading down equally sharp slopes where the car’s weight was sending the scree skittering downhill, making me wonder whether we would be able to make it back up when we returned.

The Scorpio’s original tyres had worn down over the years, and we had bought two new tyres and retreaded two others just before we left. The Dudhsagar journey made us very grateful we had — the old tyres would never have taken the beating.

Eventually, we reached a clearing where we parked the car and commenced the trek on foot. The path that led into the forest was overhung with brambly branches, and would have served well as a model for a magical entrance to the enchanted Fangorn Forest in ‘Lord of the Rings’.

This trek was much tougher than the previous day’s. The jungle was much thicker, and the path quite evidently less-travelled. In many places, you wouldn’t really have been able to tell there was a path at all, except for the now-faded white arrows that had been painted on rocks and trees every now and again. Of course, Shankar seemed to know every branch and stone, and led us at a brisk pace that had not just Anjali and me, but the dogs panting as well. As with previous days, Hero was restrained on his leash, while the other dogs were allowed to walk unharnessed, with their leashes trailing behind them.

The path to the top of the Dudhsagar falls.

A bamboo bridge across a stream in the forest – the dogs were wary of its ricketiness, and preferred wading across.

The last descent to the falls was very steep, and I knew we would really be tried when we came back up that way. I was holding on to Hero’s leash, and he was remarkably conscious of my needs. No doubt he wanted to rush down the slope the way the other dogs were going, but I only needed to give the leash a gentle yank now and then to remind him that he had to go down at my pace.

The path came out onto a largish flat rock, from which we would have to hop from one rock to another to get out to the actual head of the falls. This had to be done very carefully. Not only were some of the rocks large enough for us to need to use handholds as we went down them, the gaps between rocks was often large enough that we had to make measured jumps. Also, though the summer had rendered the stream of water quite sparse, there were still enough places where the water gushed through or collected and kept the rocks slippery.

On the rocks at the top of the falls – Hero takes a swim in a pool.

I told Anjali I couldn’t hold on to Hero’s leash here. She was again uncomfortable with the idea, but she saw my point. The terrain here could cause me serious injury if Hero were to jump when I was unprepared, or even if he were to just pull me off-balance. Even having the leashes trailing behind them, I felt, was a danger to the dogs. If a leash were to get caught on an outcrop or stuck in a crevice when a dog jumped from one rock to another, it could do them bodily harm. So, for the last stretch, near the head of the falls where the going was trickiest, we took the leashes off the dogs’ collars.

The dogs follow Shankar down towards the edge of the cliff.

The six dogs followed the nimble-footed Shankar out to the edge of the cliff while Anjali and I followed more slowly. Anjali went out to the edge, but I realised that I have something of a fear of heights and hung back, unnerved by the steepness and depth of the fall. Even from where I was, some metres back from the edge, the view was stupendous. There were deep green forests everywhere I looked, far across the void. Way down below, the Konkan Railway tracks snaked out from a tunnel and around the hillside to a point far below where we were, before continuing on their way towards the little station of Castlerock.

The view from the top, with the train tracks visible far below.

While we stood breathing in the view, Hero suddenly decided he wanted a closer look. Heedless of our stern warnings, he bounded off down a steep rock-and-brush slope just to the right of the falls, circling back onto a ledge some distance below the edge where Anjali and Shankar were standing with the other dogs. Though we were all a little concerned, the two of them could see him sitting on the rock shelf below, evidently quite happy with the location he had reached. Anjali even took a couple of photographs of him in his majestic pose, monarch of all he surveyed. It seemed likely that after he had had his fill of sitting there, he would return to where we were, so we let him be. Once in a while, we would yell for him to come back up, more as a reminder to him that we were up there than anything else.

Our last glimpse of Hero – sitting on a ledge, monarch of all he surveys.

After a little while, though, Shankar reported that Hero had left his perch and taken off into the forests that covered the slopes to the right of the falls. Though that was more worrying, we still felt that he wouldn’t go too far. We kept yelling his name, but the minutes passed and there was no sign of him. When it had been close to half an hour, we felt we needed to do something else. After a little confused discussion — we had begun to grow increasingly unsure of the situation, but neither of us was willing to put our dread into words — Shankar and I plus four of the dogs headed back into the woods the way we’d come, while Anjali waited on the rocks with Jaya.

As we walked back along the path, I kept yelling Hero’s name out loudly. Behind me, the sound gradually fading as we moved away from her position, I could hear Anjali doing the same. What was in our minds was that perhaps Hero had found his way back through the jungle to the path, or was somewhere nearby. Barring the rushing sound of water when one was close to the river bed, the jungle was quite still and the sound of our shouts would carry quite a long distance. But all the way back to the car, there was no sign of Hero. When we emerged into the clearing, I half-hoped to see him waiting for us near the car, but he wasn’t.

I debated what to do next — we hadn’t quite sorted that out when Shankar and I had left. The feeling that Hero would turn up had still been so strong that a worst-case scenario had not been contemplated. Finally, I told Shankar I would wait with the dogs at the car, and he should go and get Anjali.

He hesitated when I suggested this.

“Madam nahin aayegi,” he said doubtfully.

I understood his reluctance — how could he persuade Anjali to leave without Hero? But we had not amply thought the plan through earlier, and I could now see no other option. The alternative was for me to go back, and for him to wait with the other dogs, which made less sense. So I picked the lesser of the two evils, and told him that she would have to come back, so he’d have to go get her.

Without the sheltering canopy of the jungle, it was blisteringly hot, and the dogs were panting desperately in the oven-like confines of the black Scorpio. I backed the car into an area where there was a little shade, but it was still very uncomfortable. The rucksack in which we had carried the dogs’ water bowls had been left behind with Anjali, as that also had chewies and other treats that could have been used to entice Hero if he returned. I rummaged around the car, but there was nothing I could give the dogs water in. Finally, I found a funnel, and used a piece of cloth to plug its opening. I filled this with water from a can we had in the car, and offered it to each of the thirsty dogs in turn.

The wait was long – more than a couple of hours — and when I heard the sound from afar of Anjali shouting Hero’s name as she and Shankar wound their way back, I knew that her vigil had been unsuccessful too.

We drove back home, unable to talk about the situation.

“Keep honking the horn,” Anjali told me as we left. “If he hears it, he might follow.”

Though the geography of the area told me this was entirely pointless, I did as she said. On the way, we spoke to any villagers we met – Shankar describing our predicament to them as passionately as if Hero was his own – and told them to keep an eye out for Hero.

Back at the house, we fed the dogs and tried to eat a little ourselves, though Anjali found herself unable to. As soon as we could, we headed straight back to the clearing.

This time, Anjali waited in the car, while Shankar and I trekked into the jungle. It was late evening, and gathering clouds had made the evening gloomier than it would have been naturally. How different everything seemed from the way it had that morning. The entrance into the jungle, which had looked so cool and inviting earlier, was now the maw of a monster, capable of swallowing whatever entered into it and spitting out only bones.

Shankar and I made good speed — he must have been conscious of the fact that we needed to get to the falls and out again before darkness fell. By the time we got to therocky riverbed, it was already threateningly dark. By now, my hopes had sunk, so I was not really surprised when there was no Hero waiting for us at the place where we’d last seen him.

The trek back was the most painful. Despair and loss — added to a level of physical effort which I have got long unused to — had deprived me of all strength and energy. By the time we had got to the top of the steep slope up from the falls, my breath was coming in deep painful gasps, and my legs were shaking completely out of my control. Yet we had to hurry back, and I staggered drunkenly after Shankar. The undergrowth clawed at my feet, and my eyes seemed to lose focus, making me stumble at every other step. I was still yelling “Hero, Hero” but by now it must have sounded like the screaming of a banshee. Perhaps, I thought, somewhere Hero too was yowling plaintively for us, unaware that his cries would only bring him something that was too big even for his strong body and stout heart to handle.

As we crossed the last stream over the bamboo bridge that had been so enchanting when we had reached it that morning, the first few drops of rain started splattering on us. The path was all uphill from here, through dense forest, and it was now dark enough for us to have to use our torches. The jungle was already beginning to come to life, and I could hear the plops and swishes of unseen creatures getting out of our way on the jungle floor.

Up above, the rain had become more insistent. The canopy was thick, so we experienced it more as the sound of the drops on the treetops than as wetness down below. But when we emerged into the clearing, the full force of the storm hit us, a wet and windy embodiment of the realisation that this was it, that we would now have to leave Hero at the mercy of the elements. I was thankful for the rain, as I could let the tears flow and mix with the wetness on my face. I suspect that Shankar too was crying as we left.

The storm raged and the rain poured down as we drove through the darkness, lightning strikes illuminating the savage landscape. Mud churned under our wheels and there were a few places where it seemed impossible that the Scorpio would pull through. The night had brought something as terrible and terrifying as the day had been bright and sunny, and we knew how it wiped out almost any likelihood of Hero finding his way back out of the jungle.

Over the next two days, we went back to the area again and again. We scoured all the neighbouring villages and left word with everyone we could, right down to the shopkeepers in Castlerock town, some fifteen kilometres away. The final departure, as we left for Goa, was wrenching. We were leaving a part of ourselves, of our shared past, behind, and the pain of doing so was immense.

That was four days ago. Since then, Anjali has already been back to Dudhsagar with a trekking enthusiast who knows the area. They hunted in the terrain at the base of the falls, on the outside chance that Hero had climbed all the way down. They left pamphlets showing a photo of Hero with everyone they could find. Information has been spread amongst friends and forest officials, wildlife groups and trekking clubs, villagers and veterinarians.

We know, though, that it will be almost miraculous if we are to find Hero now or any time in the future. Even if he were to have survived the jungle, the geographic scope of his escapade is just so vast. He could have come out just about anywhere in a huge area.

By now, Anjali and I are reconciled with the idea that we will almost certainly never see him again. Not that it stops us hoping, but it helps us cope. We’ve had friends and family to give us strength and comfort. We’ve had words of support and advice from total strangers.

We’ve also, of course, had the occasional person who’s hinted or wondered aloud at why we would take dogs into such potentially dangerous situations. Sometimes, these words have clearly held the underlying judgement that given our foolhardiness, it’s only fitting that we have suffered this trauma. This is usually from people who don’t know us or our dogs too well.

We are, thankfully, too confident of our motives and our beliefs for such attitudes to upset us. Everyone decides in their own lives where the line between experience and adventure and needless risk lies, and we have not drawn our line without forethought. We have seen over and over how exciting our travelling is for our dogs, and that makes it worth it. Of course, there is risk in such a choice, but we do everything we can to minimise it. That we – or our dogs – have to face the consequences of that risk is something we have always accepted, and finally had to bear, after many years of dong what we all loved doing.

As to Hero’s possible fate, Anjali and I have painted so many different scenarios for ourselves. Of course, the most likely one is that he met his end at the teeth and claws of predators too large or too numerous for him to fight off. There are, of course, certain other possibilities that we can’t bring ourselves to speak about — that he might have ended his days lying in a crevasse, hurt and bleeding. Or that he landed up, out of hunger and desperation, with someone who is keeping him like we have seen so many dogs kept, chained forever, half-starved and unloved.

But there are also more positive alternatives. The most promising one, in our eyes, is that Hero found his way out of the jungle, and has gone off to forge a new life for himself, at which we are confident he will succeed. Over the last few years, as he has grown in size and acumen, Hero has increasingly taken to spending periods away from home, sometimes for weeks at a time. When we have seen him on the streets during these forays, we have seen that he has blended in with, or even taken over, some pack which he then lords over. He is particularly fond of puppies and we have sometimes seen him sitting regally on the street while other strays’ pups gambol around him.

So in the perfect case, we see Hero — like Jack London’s Buck — taking over as the alpha male of some pack of feral dogs, and leading them to lives of glory. With Hero, it’s not an impossible dream.