Babar with my niece Nicole enjoying music together
Watercolour and Ink on cold press paper
Babar with my niece Nicole enjoying music together
Watercolour and Ink on cold press paper
first wash of watercolour
Indigo ink outlines
This watercolour illustration is inspired by our hike in a small village in Sangla, Himachal Pradesh.
first wash background
painting the shadows
“Babar’s been playing the lifeguard, honey,” Sandeep called out to me as I walked towards them. He sounded worried.
“He’s been running towards the sea every time someone would dip their heads under the water. He thinks they are drowning and he keeps trying to rescue them.”
Babar greeted me cheerfully with his wagging tail as I came near him. He was completely drenched.
“He did the same thing with me when we were in Goa. Whenever I go underwater, Babar would swim towards me to rescue me. I am anxious these strong waves would carry him to the middle of the sea, and he might not be able to swim back to shore.” Sandeep added.
I looked at the waves. It did look extra violent that evening.
“Let’s walk further away from these people,” Sandeep suggested. I saw a group of five people half-submerged in the water, holding hands to brace themselves from the onslaught of the thundering waves. It seemed to thrill them each time the waves assaulted them. A little girl kept shrieking whenever the waves hit them. In turn, we kept urging Babar to move on when we see him turning his head towards them every time she screams.
It was then our second evening in Pondicherry, well in Tamil Nadu technically, since the pet-friendly resort where we were staying at was located almost outside the border of Pondicherry.
We were staying in an eco-resort and spa of sorts. That was our second time there. We chose to stay in this place again because they allow dogs in their property and they have a nice enough private beach. It is located about 20 km away from the main town of Pondicherry though.
The sprawling property is vast; we have to take a short ride in their resort cab to reach our cottage. The cottages are expensive during peak season at 7500 rupees per night for nature cooled bamboo hut but drops to 5000 rupees on the lean season. The air-conditioned private bungalows could be as costly as 15000 rupees to 30000 rupees per night. If you feel like splurging, you can book the most expensive ones with private swimming pools. The most popular accommodation is the tower suite which offers gorgeous panoramic views of the sea. Breakfast buffet is included in the room rates. ( Be sure to read reviews from travel websites like Tripadvisors or Booking.com before booking your rooms to have realistic expectations of your accommodation and browse travelers photos instead of the professional ones taken by the resorts themselves.)
The resort ambiance is quaint in its rural village appeal. It has glimpses of some artistic concept, but overall, the grounds lack proper maintenance. The landscaping looks too wild, unkempt, semi-desert, semi-tropical beach-inspired. Towering coconut trees lining the pathways and giant cactuses serving as fences in between bamboo bungalows. While roaming around, I felt like a castaway in an abandoned resort where wilderness crept in and swallowed it.
It is the nearest beach from Bangalore and the only resort allowing dogs we did not have many choices if we want to go on a quick drive to a coastal town. And the city of Pondicherry is always lovely to visit especially the French town area, though parking is often a problem. We spent our Christmas holiday there thinking that, Pondicherry is a former French colony, the Christians in Pondicherry would be celebrating the Christmas festival more earnestly that they would in Bangalore. I saw a couple of churches with some Christmas lanterns on them, but there was none of the Christmas cheer I was expecting. The resort itself did not have any Christmas decorations. There was a magician who performed in the resort restaurant on Christmas eve, but that was it.
Ten kilometers away from the resort, we discovered a nice pizzeria serving delicious woodfired pizzas at a reasonable price. They allowed Babar to sit with us on their outdoor table, so that was a plus.
One good thing about Babar in this kind of trips, he’ll be so exhausted playing outdoors and would snooze away while we have our meal. We never have to worry about him bothering anybody. Before coming in with Babar in any restaurant, I would always ask the owner’s permission. Babar usually slept so quietly that the manager or owner would often ask me where is the dog that came with us. They would laugh upon seeing him sleeping so sedately under the table.
The restaurant in the resort prohibited us from taking Babar there while we eat. Sandeep and I have to eat separately, one at a time. One has to stay with Babar in the cottage while the other eats at the restaurant. It’s not an unusual practice for us whenever we visit in places offering breakfast buffet meals. In our six years of travelling with Babar, we have developed an efficient routine in reducing the chances of Babar being a nuisance to other holidayers.
In the balcony of the cottage we rented for this Christmas weekend, a fraction of the sea was visible framed by overgrown hibiscus and bougainvillaea shrubs. From a distance, the whiteness of the surf merges with the sky. If not for the movement of the waves, you would not be able to tell where the sky and sea meet.
It made me sad to see a bit of debris on the beach. It would be nice if they can keep the place litter-free. Although the sea itself does the job of cleaning the shores each push, the waves as it come and go keep the coast clean. The rubbish retreats to where the water could not reach it. It was a pity since it is a lovely beach.
On our last day on the beach Babar, the self-appointed lifeguard of Kalapet beach, suddenly needed some rescuing himself but not from the tumultous waves. Aside from playing in the water, Babar’s enjoyment comes from meeting other dogs. The resort has a couple of resident dogs, and Babar has wanted to meet them. Sandeep, thinking the dogs were friendly, let Babar approached them. One of the dogs started growling, menacingly, as he came nearer then lunged towards Babar’s leg all of a sudden. Sandeep bolted to where they were to rescue Babar from getting bitten. Babar let out a pained whine. He felt hurt that his friendly gesture was reciprocated with violence. We examined his body thoroughly. Thankfully we did not find any bite wounds, only wounded pride.
I was glad the unfortunate incident did not dampen Babar’s happiness. He forgot about the mean dog as soon as he started playing in the water again, flirting with the waves as it advanced and retreated.
I was watching him nervously. It was his first time to be on the boat. I could feel his excitement and anxiety as he tried to decide what to do. The boat rocked as he leaned on the edge. I was afraid he would tip the boat over as he leaned closer and closer to the water, it seemed to be calling him, urging him to come to them. His water-dog genes over powered him finally. The blasted canine did it. He jumped in the water! In under a minute Babar, our beloved Labrador, was already thirty meters away from us. I laughed nervously, so did my husband as we watched him propel his body through the water guided by some primal instinct. I felt proud too though, seeing him swam with ease like an Olympic swimmer. He looked so graceful, so beautiful.
Because it was Babar’s first time to swim when he retuned to his senses he got overwhelmed. He swam back apprehensively towards the boat. Sandeep helped him climb the boat. He happily shook his thoroughly drenched body once he was safely aboard sprinkling lake water all over us.
We were then on a boat at Bhimtal Lake in Bhimtal, where we were spending our three day holiday. Bhimtal is in Uttrakhand, India and is just about 7 hours from Delhi by car. It is a nice, green and hilly place with several lakes in the vicinity. This sleepy town remains peaceful and quiet despite it being a popular tourist destination. The weather was nice and cool especially on the hillside where we were staying, just outside the main town area.
We found a very nice pet friendly accommodation by the hillside. A pretty cottage with is own huge backyard with a fence. The fence was helpful as Babar could roam around freely without troubling the other guests. The cottage that we rented was the owner’s holiday place suited for living with his own dogs.
Emerald Trail Homestay offers more rooms in the adjacent two-storey house. We were relieved to find that these two properties were separated by a fence and a gate. Babar will not able to scare the other guests who are not fond of dogs. All our meals and Babar’s as well were included in the 3,500 rupees per night room charge (as of August 2014).
After this trip, seeing how Babar loved swimming in the lake, we wondered if he’ll enjoy swimming in the sea too. So we took him to Pondycherry and Goa. Did he love it there? Well that’s another tale for another time.
After a decadent sleep, Babar woke up and stretched languorously on the carpeted floor. Lazily, he walked over to his food bowl. A full plate of shredded boiled chicken meat was waiting for him. He gulped it all down greedily in seconds. He walked around from room to room looking for his owners. They irritated him sometimes by not walking him more often and by not giving him all the tasty food he likes all the time . He hated it that they put him on a strict diet and were too cautious about him getting fat. He was too young to think about all that. He retaliates by biting their feet and hands when he does not get what he wants. He even learned a new trick of barking at them to receive a speedy response to his demands. Grinning, he was pleased to think about how easily he can manipulate them.
The need to relieve his bladder made him restless. Where could his people be? he wondered. Walking towards the front yard he did a double take when he saw the gate. It was wide open. His owners, no where in sight. He hated being cooped up inside the house. This was his chance. He dashed for freedom.
Lifting his right hind leg, he watered the nearest bush with great satisfaction. A female dog saw him and ran excitedly to greet him. After smelling each other front and back, Babar went on his way. It was a Sunday morning and most of the residents in the community were having tea and reading newspapers in their balconies or gardens. A common indolent sight in his neighborhood.
Walking further he came across a white cocker spaniel accompanied by a young pretty girl in shorts and flip flops. The immaculate canine looked too posh he felt shy all of a sudden. He always rushes towards another dog whenever he sees one but at that moment he was overcome with awe at this cotton like apparition . He just stood there mystified. With an arrogant flip of her tail the fluffy dog strutted away. Babar shrugged and walked on.
An old woman in a beige Salwar Kameez suit stopped on her tracks when she saw him. Babar was feeling naughty and thought of scaring the woman even more. He ran towards her as if to jump. The woman shrieked loudly almost shattering his eardrums. He abandoned the idea. The woman muttered invectives towards his owners and with angry steps walked towards the direction of his house. Babar grinned, unconcerned. Not his problem.
His adventurous steps finally led him to the main gate of the housing estate. It was also wide open that day. Should he or shouldn’t he? Excitement tripled the beating of his heart. He has not been outside the gated community by himself before. He decided to go for it. The street was deserted. Before him were long stretches of roads as far as he could see. And only one or two cars passed by with long intervals every now and then. He ran to his heart’s content. He was having so much fun he failed to notice the scenery changing. Gone was the pathway lined with pretty trees and the neatly trimmed bushes. Instead, rotting mangled cars decorated the road. Garbage strewed all around.
Walking slowly now he saw a man and a woman in front of a house made of two blankets tied to a tree forming a tent. The woman wearing a sari clutched a bare bottomed child to her bosom while making tea on a makeshift stove of rocks and woods. Flies buzzing around them. Two slightly older kids were rummaging through a dumpster nearby. Diligently sorting through the trash for any edible scraps they could find. With them was a pack of stray dogs. Babar walked hesitantly towards them. He snipped what they were snipping. He thought the mutts must be eating something tasty seeing them ate with gusto. He saw an empty packet of milk. He loved milk. His owners always take the discarded milk packet he steals from the trash away from his mouth when they see him chewing on it. He was about to grab the plastic pack with his mouth when a thin brown dog noticed him.
” Hey you! You selfish bastard! Are you not from inside that place?” He barked, indicating with his nose the row of flats inside the colony. All the dogs were looking at him now, baring their teeth. Babar changed his stance. The hair on his back raised aggressively.
” Look how fat you are! You must be eating all those fancy food. What are you doing here stealing our scrap? We have to fend for ourselves you know! These leftovers are barely enough for all of us.” growled the black mongrel. Walking with deliberate slowness around him with a menacing expression on his face. Babar did not show it but fear was spreading in his limbs. Five dogs with hatred on their faces surrounded him, their postures geared for a fight.
” He must be one of those who even sleeps on his owner’s bed. Look how clean he is. How shiny his fur is.” sneered a white bitch with a patch of black in one eye. They all laughed at him.
Before they could attack him, Babar jumped over the tiniest dog and ran for his life. He didn’t stop running until he was inside the gate of his society. He saw madness on those canines’ eyes. They were going to rip him apart. His heart thundered in his chest.
“Babar!” He heard a familiar comforting voice calling him and he ran towards the source of that maternal sound like a wanderer in the desert seeing a pool of water. He jumped inside the wide open arms of his caretaker. ” You made us so worried. Where did you go? Honey he is over here.” she called out to her husband.
Babar licked the face of his master gratefully when finally his master called him over to him. The master patted his head lovingly. ” I think my boy had learned a very important lesson today.” Babar wagged his tail in agreement.
Sometimes we need a little freedom to make mistakes so we can value more the life we are given.
(*Housing estate or gated communities are called colonies or societies around here, well according to my husband.) ©JMKhapra
“Introducing The Amazing Duo, Babar and Leela!”
Babar and Leela illustration series
(Watercolour 36×48 cm)
“Thank you for pushing me around the pond, Babar. It’s so delightful to be out here on such a lovely day, isn’t?”
(Watercolour 36×48 cm)