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“Azlan: My Hatchiko”

He was a most handsome species, very similar looking to a Labrador, but exactly double the size and with larger and sharper features.

by (Dr) Abhishek Singhvi

New Delhi, February 12, 2020: The title of this article refers to the best dog movie ( possibly the best animal movie) ever made, that too based upon a true story. Azlan, our dog of over 11 years, was our Hatchiko, the epitome of unconditional love and devotion. We are left here on earth to mourn his loss, unlike the film where Hatchiko outlived his master and mourned his loss till his last breath.

I had ended my cover page interview and lead article in the 2016 edition of Buddy Life (, the well known animal lovers’ magazine, on my Anatolian Shepherd, Azlan, in the following words:

“The journey is what will remain with me when Azlan is no more and the parting is bound to be painful. If God gave us memory that we might have Roses in December, then Azlan was well worth it, despite the pain of parting.” One thing is clear, as Will Rogers rightly put it: “ If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die, I want to go where they went!”

That inevitable parting day, dreaded but expected in equal measure by me for the last couple of years, arrived on February 10, 2020, when I got a call from my wailing wife at midday, while I was in court, that Azlan had suffered a heart attack and was no more. I was devastated and could not think for a while. Within minutes, however, a calm descended upon me. Azlan, as per HIndu religious beliefs, must have done a large number of good deeds to have spent his life with us. He lived royally, was the most pampered and loved member of our family and clearly ranked number one in the hierarchy, well above every other member of the family. His least wish, unexpressed and unarticulated, was fulfilled before it even entered his mind. He had a dedicated servant, a car and driver for his daily outings to our farmhouse, overpowering and smothering love from his parents (ie my wife and I) and creature comforts lacking for innumerable humans.

The same religious beliefs tell us that he must have done a few but major misdeeds to be born a dog in this life. But then, if one is to be a dog, what better dog’s life than this! Even his passing was blessed: all over in 15 mins, a massive heart attack, some loose motions and urine, an extended tongue and the head rolled. No paralysis, no kidney failure, no disability, no hospitalization, no surgery: all fearsome phenomena we had known about from other pet owners. My wife always said: Azlan is 100% anti medicine and anti doctors. He had never even allowed himself to be muzzled to be examined by doctors. Once or twice, when some surgery was required, he had to be sedated by sleight of hand anaesthetic injection given by my wife, since he was very aggressive and allowed no compounder or doctor to ever come near him. We always said that he is a single, unopenable, indivisible, sealed unit: the day he falls ill, he will die, because he could not be treated. As it transpired, he never fell terminally ill in his 11 1/2 years. God kept him in comfort right through his life and spared him what can sometimes be a painful death.

I will miss every minute without him. Cleaning his eyes from the accumulated dirt at the edges; rubbing my nose against his wet one; allowing him (albeit very briefly) to lick my face ( despite nightmarish medical articles warning of the dangers of doing so); brushing or having him brushed extra vigorously at spots which I alone knew best and which gave him maximum pleasure; cuddling him completely by squeezing his big frame; making cooing noises all the time to him; talking to him incessantly, exactly like a human being; going to him first upon entering my house; his coming to me first thing in the morning; his regular acknowledgement of my entry with tail wildly flailing in earlier years replaced with an unfailingly wagging tail but without getting up, because of old age; his compulsory demand of extra biscuits from me, after having exhausted his full quota from all other sources; and so on. The list is endless. But maybe I should confess that I was doing Azlan no favour by cuddling him. It was he who was doing me a big, big favour. Petting, scratching and cuddling a dog can be as soothing to the mind as deep meditation and almost as good for the soul as prayer. There is no better psychiatrist in the world than a puppy licking your face.

He was a most handsome species, very similar looking to a Labrador, but exactly double the size and with larger and sharper features. Azlan is Turkish for lion, and as far as me and my wife were concerned, lion he was. Other staff and family members, even his manservant, had to be extra careful during Azlan’s younger years, if I and, to a lesser degree, my wife, were anywhere in the vicinity, for he would immediately assume the role of our protector. Indeed, if I was out, Azlan would consciously assume the alpha male role by climbing onto the bed and act like the lord and master of all he surveyed. My wife repeatedly says that she never felt insecure even if I travelled for long periods entirely because of Azlan, an emptiness and insecurity now highly pronounced. Lord Byron was so right: “ The dog: in life, the firmest friend. The first to welcome, foremost to defend.”

My wife and I always said that there was nothing which a human could understand or do or ask or demand, which Azlan could not, save and except for using the human language. He was a complete creature of habit and followed rote with military precision. Mandatory wake up between 530 and 6 am; nudging me awake with his nose sometime thereafter; whining to be taken to the farm; visit and sitting in the kitchen to wake up his manservant; departure in the car after a few morning ablutions in the vicinity of our house ( never on our lawns); spending the entire morning unfailingly 365 days a year in our farmhouse 17 kms away, walking many rounds, chasing a few monkeys and peacocks and lazing in the sun; and arrival back, hungry as a wolf by 10 am or so. His morning food—usually paneer—had to be ready exactly at the allotted time. Any delay would result in Azlan pacing up and down; then going to my wife and barking at her in a manner clearly understood to be a demand for immediate feeding; and finally going and sitting in the kitchen to speed up the process of serving. His demand for biscuits was equally fixed and sequential: he would first consume his fixed quota of six or so, as a matter of right. After a short gap, he would start importuning my wife for his bonus biscuits and his insistence would continue till she complied. Finally, as soon as he saw me, both morning and evening, he would seek the icing on the cake by way of super bonus viz additional biscuits. He would stand with his two legs on my bed, even in his old age right up to his demise, and make innocent faces and whining noises, which would make the world’s hardest stone melt till he got what he knew he would get from me, despite my pretended scoldings.

His militarily precise regime continued with a long siesta of four hours till 2 pm; a short round of clearing his bowels in the afternoon; a second siesta; followed by his evening mandatory outing, 4 pm in winters and 6 pm in summers, mostly to Lodhi Gardens and occasionally to Nehru Park. Each outing resulted in at least 10 photos by strangers in those parks, asking about his breed and photographing his unique good looks and striking majesty, as he walked on a leash in the park. Immediately upon return, his favourite meat dish, with lauki and dalia, had to be ready, followed by rest, recuperation and then the mandatory cuddling by me accompanied by the biscuit super bonus. If anything in this regimen went awry beyond 10 minutes, Azlan’s inbuilt clock would remind us all vociferously and relentlessly till compliance was obtained.

With all this greed for food and biscuits, Azlan was actually a super aristocrat, royalty personified! In the above example, after getting his meal, I have not seen Azlan even once in his life pounce on the food greedily. First he would sit and stare; then, if one pushed the plate to him, he would push it right back with his nose; then his servant or my wife would mix his food with his/ her own hand, while simultaneously making importuning noises to request him to eat; finally, after a respectable interval, Emperor Azlan would deign to start eating. Similarly, his much cherished biscuits had to be broken into two and given to him respectfully, not thrown at him like a hungry or greedy beggar. Truly, Azlan was to the manor born. Pamuk was right when he said “ Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.” Possibly, as Morley put it “ No one appreciates the very special genius of your conversation as much as a dog does.”

It is quite amazing that there is no one in my life with whom I have never once got angry, save and except Azlan. This hallowed list includes every member of my family, including my parents and my best friends. But Azlan could melt my heart with a mere look; could make me do anything by a mere whine; could make me spoil him silly with a mere wag of his tail or a lick of his tongue. There was no one he trusted and relied more upon than my wife, whom he also used to fulfill his every wish and desire by a mere bark, a mere whine, a mere look, a mere paw scratch. But she was still number two in his showering of unconditional love, for which he had reserved numero uno spot for me. From me he wanted nothing, only humongous love, cuddling, acknowledgement and first recognition upon my entry into the House. As Eckhart Tolle put it: “When a dog looks at you, the dog is not thinking what kind of person you are. The dog is not judging you.” Truly, “ a dog is the only thing on earth, that loves you more than he loves himself.” Azlan certainly did.

My wife is destined for Nirvana and salvation for the amount of sheer hard work and sacrifice she has done for Azlan. Since Azlan had doctor and medicine phobia, she kept him healthy and fully functional till the minute of his demise, by strictly monitoring his diet, vegetarian and non vegetarian in equal parts, and miraculously cured him of all illnesses during his lifetime by use of homeopathy! Homeopathic medicines proved easier to camouflage and feed by subterfuge in Azlan’s food, were non invasive and worked wonders on Azlan, who by God’s grace and our prayers, had a 99% illness free existence on earth. On two occasions, when he required surgery for injuries and old age related issues, she would put him on the back seat of the car, and while he was looking elsewhere, would inject him with anaesthesia through the open car window. By the time she reached the doctor’s surgery, Azlan was largely unconscious. It needed four persons—two of our servants plus two of the doctors assistants—to carry Azlan to the table where surgery was performed. Azlan would return home in a groggy state and be subjected to 24×7 supervision for a week before he recuperated fully, in an infection free environment.

As Charles de Gaulle put it: “ The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs.”
Mark Twain was more direct: “ if you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between dogs and men.”

Being a professional ghazal and Sufi singer, my wife has to do music practice, riyaaz. A stage was reached when she would plan to do riyaaz only when Azlan was out for his morning or evening outings, because the moment Azlan heard her singing ragas, he would rush to her room, sit there and sing with her in continuous, high lilting tones. If you go to You Tube and type Azlan, you will see some videos of this strange phenomenon of the “singing dog”. Strangely, if my wife sang a tune or a song generally, Azlan would be unresponsive. If, however, she did a “pucca sur”, ie Sargam or taan, Azlan would immediately join in! My wife is also highly allergic to undisclosed, unidentified particles and she would be enraged to find any member of a lawyer family, having books or files, considered to be a major source of allergic particles, in her vicinity. But as far as Azlan’s hair and other disseminations were concerned, none of us ever objected. He was not merely the family dog looked after by servants or kept in an outhouse or a cage. He was our son, always lived on our residential floor, slept either in our bedroom or the adjoining room as per his wish, and, immediately after my departure in the morning, slept for hours on our main double bed in our main bedroom. No anger, retribution or discipline was ever showered or imposed upon Azlan: he could do no wrong, even if he shook himself violently in front of my wife’s nose or showered us with his body particles.

Each time I enter my home I shudder to think of Azlan’s absence, being the first person to whom I would go and the first who would envelope me in a cyclone of love and overwhelming affection. For me, a house or an apartment becomes a home when you add to it one set of four legs, a happy tail and that indescribable measure of love that we call a dog.

( The author is a senior third term Member of Parliament; Senior Advocate, Supreme Court; former Chairman, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law & Justice; former Additional Solicitior General of India; National Spokesperson, Congress Party. Above all, he is Azlan’s father.)

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