Veena was a bright eighth grader. She was jovial, lively, and loved to joke and play pranks on others. She was also fond of dogs. All her friends’ dogs adored Veena and got very animated when she visited them. When she romped with the dogs, they would create a racket and have loads of fun. Unfortunately, she could never have a dog in the house.
One day, Veena decided to go see her friend, Anusha. Veena was very excited about playing with Anu’s dog, Brownie. It had been several months since she had visited Anu. She wondered how Brownie was.
There was a great surprise in store for her when she got to Anu’s home. Brownie was in the front porch, surrounded by four cute puppies, all of the them the same brown color as Brownie.
The big dog wagged his tail briskly and let out a friendly bark as it spotted Veena. The pups gazed at her with large, wonderstruck eyes. She cuddled and stroked all of them.
‘It’s so strange!’ remarked Anu. ‘Brownie hasn’t allowed anyone to as much as come near her pups. Strangely, she seems to like the idea of you playing with them.’
Anu then suggested Veena to adopt one of the pups. A few days later, Veena was the proud owner of a plump puppy.
The puppy was very peculiar, for it made no noise. It neither whined nor cried. It neither barked nor howled. Veena never heard it moan, groan, snort or grunt, either. It was mute and soundless.
Veena’s brother, Shyam, suggested they call it Barker. Veena, who had been reading David Copperfield, decided to tweak the name to Barkis.
‘But Barkis isn’t willing,’ said Shyam. ‘I mean, not willing to bark.’
The pup soon became a young dog. Barkis was rather small in size, and it looked funny. It would look up at Veena with its innocuous eyes and wag its tail vigorously. It ran and played and retrieved the balls and sticks Veena or Shyam threw. However, it did all this in utter silence. Not a single note of sound escaped its throat.
Barkis was two years old when, after an hour of strenuous play, Veena and the dog decided to sit down for a breather in the verandah.
Veena stroked the dog’s neck, and Barkis looked up at her face with love and admiration writ large on his.
‘Why don’t you make some noise like the other doggies out there, Barkis?’ Veena crooned. ‘Why don’t you bark?’
‘Well, ’cause there’s nothing to bark about?’ said Barkis.
Veena had just had the shock of her life! She was flummoxed.
‘What?!’ she shrieked.
‘You heard me,’ replied Barkis. ‘What’s there to bark about?’
Veena’s eyes widened with astonishment. Barkis had actually talked! His voice was deep and fruity, like a TV announcer’s.
‘Shyam! Shyam!’ Veena cried out loud as she sobbed and gasped.
He scrambled over to his sister, who sat on the floor.
‘What’s going on?’ he inquired anxiously. ‘What happened?’
‘I hope I didn’t upset her too much,’ replied Barkis. It was now Shyam’s turn to be aghast. He stood gaping at the dog, his jaw slowly falling down.
Soon, the news spread far and wide. People thronged to Veena’s place to hear Barkis speak. And Barkis always obliged. He exchanged pleasantries with all and sundry in a cultured voice.
The family was getting used to the large crowds of visitors, not to mention the unsolicited opinions aired from ground level during family discussions.
One morning, as Veena took Barkis for a walk, a stray dog began growling at them menacingly. Barkis ignored the dog for a while, before he suddenly turned and said, ‘What are you growling for, you low-down cur? Go away.’
The stray dog stopped dead in its tracks. ‘Quit following us, you dimwitted goose!’ uttered Barkis in a stentorian voice. ‘Get lost or I’ll give you the thrashing of your life.’
The other dogs in the area started keeping their distance from Barkis. They would never try to make friends or play with him, for Barkis had become vain and insufferable. Despite entertaining hundreds of visitors every day, Barkis cut a forlorn figure.
One day, several journalists showed up to interview Barkis. One of them asked him to comment on his life in general.
‘Well, most men are living a dog’s life.’
‘You must have seen movies on TV. Who’s your favorite actor?’
Barkis replied that he rarely watched movies. Yawning and stretching, he quipped, ‘Most of the films made nowadays are suited to the lowly mental aptitude of cats and goats. I find them utterly boring.’
‘What are your future plans?’ they asked.
‘Eat, play and make merry. I’m a hedonist at heart.’
And this went on. The next day, Barkis was hailed a ‘Super Dog’ by four newspapers. A national news channel wanted to present Barkis in a TV show. All this publicity evoked two distinct reactions.
One section of the media alleged that the talking dog was a clever hoax. ‘People taken for a ride,’ screamed the headlines.
One paper had gone so far as to interview a young man, who claimed that he rendered the playback voice for the dog.
Another group resorted to a road blockade, demanding that the government should offer substantial aids to dogs and their owners. Shops were stoned and four buses were vandalized. The government appointed a high-level committee to look into the matter. The committee agreed upon a date, that was ten months away, for its first meeting.
Barkis had hogged the limelight and had become the hottest topic of conversation all over the country.
One day, Barkis and Veena’s family got an invitation from the United States to appear on a national TV network there.
The government immediately swung into action, arranging for a special plane and all kinds of luxuries during the trip for Barkis and his owners. ‘At last we have something the Americans don’t,’ commented a minister.
The opposition parties labeled this as wasteful expenditure. ‘The government’s going through dog days,’ the opposition leader bemoaned. Anyway, the preparations went on to give Barkis a rousing send-off.
Large crowds gathered outside the airport on the day of their scheduled departure for the States. Newspapers brought out special editions eulogizing the ‘Canine Ambassador’ of the country.
Unnerved by the endless crowd and the shrill jet noise, Barkis started shuddering with fear. He refused to board the plane, but was somehow finally coaxed in. The vibrations inside the flight upset him. Barkis couldn’t utter a word until they touched down in New York.
Press and TV crews were there to receive them. The flash lights of the TV team scared Barkis further into silence.
Two days later, Barkis appeared before a live TV audience on a show hosted by the popular television celebrity, Ben Bunkum.
‘Well, Barkis,’ said the host heartily. ‘How does it feel to be on TV, on the greatest show on earth?’
‘Excuse me?’ said Bunkum, his mouth distorted in a false grin.
Barkis was barking for the first time in his life! And then, as though to make amends for the lost time, he went on, ‘bow wow, bow wow.’ His monologue finally ended in a long, piercing howl. And that was that. The fairy tale was finally over.
Barkis, Veena and the others who had accompanied them to the US went back quietly, without any of the fanfare they had come with. No journalists were there to see them off at the airport; no government representatives came to receive them.
Barkis now barks and plays with other dogs. He doesn’t utter a word, and he is unbelievably happy. And so are Veena and Shyam.
…now that you’re here
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As fond of writing a good story as he is of reading one, Pravin is one of the most promising writers at Ameya. He can be contacted at email@example.com.