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Stories. 
Handsome is as Handsome Does
by Pesi J. Padshah
Mr. Rao considered himself a dog lover. To prove it, he had George. Judging by the certificates George brought with him from the person who had sold him when he was a puppy, he was a very special pedigreed dog and Mr. Rao made sure he received very special treatment. When he was young, George made his owner proud by winning a cup at the local dog show, for three years in succession. As he grew older though, the comfortable life he led, with lots of rich food and very little exercise, made him too plump to win any prizes. The veterinary doctor who was called in every time George coughed or sneezed or missed a meal, assured Mr. Rao there was nothing wrong with his dog that regular exercise wouldn't cure. So Mr. Rao bought himself two new pairs of shorts because his old ones were too tight around the tummy and, suitably dressed, he took George for a gentle stroll every morning, stopping often, to chat with friends who also thought they were getting exercise from that form of walking. Not surprisingly, both George and his master, grew steadily plumper.

Mr. Rao’s son Ashok, desperately wanted a dog of his own. “What’s wrong with George?” asked Mr. Rao. “Why don’t you play with him?” “Because he just sits and pants and stares into space, and when I try to speak to him, he turns his head away”, complained Ashok.

Some days later, on his way back from school, Ashok noticed a thin, miserable looking, black dog, tied with a bit of string to a telephone pole at the side of the road. The string was so short, the animal could hardly stand up. Coming closer, Ashok bent down and found himself looking into the largest and saddest eyes he had seen in any dog. He felt a wave of anger come over him ; how dare anyone tie the poor creature with such a short string and leave it to bake in the hot sun, he fumed. After waiting awhile for the owner to return, and trying to comfort the animal as best he could he, then, pulled out his penknife and when nobody was looking, cut the string, and marched off.

When he reached home, Ashok was surprised to find that the dog had followed him. “Go home”, he commanded, pointing to the road outside the garden gate. The dog put its ears down and stared back at the boy with those large sad eyes, as if to say “I promise to be very good. Please don’t send me away”, and the boy felt his heart melt within him.

Ashok’s mother who had been expecting him, appeared at the front door. “Ashok”, she said, “what is that strange looking animal doing over here? Get rid of it at once.”

“Mummy, he’s my dog”, he blurted. “ I’ve always wanted to have a dog of my own. Please let me keep him.”

“But why this one? Look at it, it’s just skin and bone”, observed Mrs. Rao.

“He’s special! He will be my own private, personal dog. Besides, we can always fatten him up, like George”.

“Not like George”, said Mrs. Rao with a shudder. “Skinny as it is, I’d rather the creature stayed that way, than have another fat ‘George’ about the place. What will you call it?” she asked.

“Champ”, came the quick reply.

“That’s short for Champion, I suppose”, said Mrs. Rao sardonically. “It doesn’t look much of a champion to me”, she teased.

“It doesn’t matter Mum. Our teacher taught us that handsome is as handsome does”, said the boy earnestly.

“And what exactly did he mean by that?”, she demanded, raising her eyebrows.

“It means you’re only as handsome as your good deeds, not your looks” explained Ashok.

“Alright Ashok”, relented the lady of the house, trying to look as stern as possible, “You can have your private, personal dog, so long as you keep it, and its good deeds, and its muddy paws, outside the house. It can live in the garden, and it is not to set foot indoors. Otherwise it gets this, where it hurts”, she threatened, brandishing her slipper. “Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes Mum. Thanks a million. Anything you say”, rejoiced Ashok, and for the first time in a long while, Champ wagged his tail.

Late one night, when he had been with Ashok for almost a month, Champ started barking in the garden. Ashok woke up at once and waited, hoping the noise would stop before his parents were disturbed. When the barking continued, and became more excited, he decided to go outside to speak to the dog and calm him down.

Yes, Ashok often used to speak to his dog. He would tell him what happened in school that day; how, for instance, the maths teacher had caught him reading comics in class, and when he expected to be punished, he found, to his surprise, that he was made ‘class monitor‘ instead ; and how that turned out to be worse than any punishment because, now that he was responsible for all the other boys’ good behaviour, he dare not misbehave himself. Champ would listen attentively, his head cocked to one side, his large eyes fixed on the boy’s, and at the really exciting parts, he would bark, paw his master, and wag his stumpy tail. With Champ, Ashok never had the feeling his words fell on deaf ears, which would often be the case when he spoke to grown-ups.

Softly, the boy opened his bedroom door and stepped into the passage outside, on his way to the garden. His room was on the ground floor of the cottage, while his parents slept on the floor above. As Ashok entered the living room, before he could get to the front door, he was frightened out of his wits by a hand being clamped over his mouth, and a muscular arm wrapped around his body. A low voice told him to remain still and not make a sound, or he’d be very, very sorry. He noticed that the person holding him, had an accomplice who was busy emptying the glass fronted hall-cupboard of its silverware, including the three cups George had won at dog shows. He also noticed that the hall window which was carefully bolted every night, had been forced open. All the while, Champ continued to bark in the garden outside. Ashok heard footsteps coming down the stairs. It was his parents. He tried to cry out to warn them, but the smelly hand over his mouth, remained firmly in place.

“My Goodness! What’s going on here?” exclaimed Mr. Rao, peering through the darkness at the open window, with the dog barking outside. The lights came on, and the lad saw the look of horror on his parents’ faces as they took in the scene.

”Don’t move, and don’t try to shout”, said the thief who was holding Ashok. “If you do, I’ll make mincemeat of your son.” From the corner of his eye, Ashok saw that the man was holding a wicked looking knife to his throat, and he froze with fear.

“Just keep calm and do as I say, and as soon as my assistant has finished his work, we will leave quietly and release your son.”

While the lad’s parents stood rooted to the spot, there came a deep rumbling sigh from the far corner of the room. It was George lying under an armchair, fast asleep and snoring. Regardless of the tension in the air, George’s behaviour struck Mr. Rao as being so funny that he burst out laughing. But the thief holding Ashok, grew alarmed, first at the strange sound from George, and then at Mr. Rao’s sudden, loud laugh.

Accidentally, he pricked Ashok’s throat with the tip of his knife. At this, the youngster panicked and pushed away the hand over his mouth, and screamed. Before the sound of the scream could die down, there was a black blur at the open window, and Champ came hurtling into the room, in response to the cry from his master. A split second was all the dog needed to locate Ashok, and with one big bound and a savage snarl, he sprang at the man holding the boy, and sank his teeth into the hand with the knife. Taken completely by surprise, the thief howled with pain and dropped the knife. While the man tried in vain, to shake off this 'demon dog' dangling from his hand, Mr. Rao took advantage of the changed situation and, kicking away the knife, jumped on the burglar and grappled with him. Not to be left out of the action, Mrs Rao picked up the knife, flung it out of the window and disappeared into the kitchen which was next to the living room. She was back almost immediately, wearing a determined look and armed with a stout rolling pin which she waved about as if she meant business.

The thief was putting up quite a fight against Mr. Rao who was not a very good wrestler. But it was Champ, small as he was, who the thief found dangerous. No longer were the dog’s eyes sad. They showed their anger, glowing like live coals, while his teeth felt as though they had been specially sharpened for the occasion, as he clung on to the thief in spite of being kicked and beaten by him.

When Mrs Rao joined the fight with her rolling pin, delivering well aimed blows at the burglar, the fellow found that matters had gone had gone completely out of his control, and he fell to his knees begging for mercy. His ‘assistant’ had long since fled the scene leaving behind all that he had collected, and vanished quietly through the window, into the darkness outside.

“Champ, sit”, commanded Ashok.

The dog sat down at once, but continued to growl menacingly. One false move from the intruder, and the fellow knew the dog would be upon him in a flash.

“Put your hands behind your back”, Ashok ordered the burglar. The man remained on his knees and obeyed. Ashok produced a length of cord from somewhere, and swiftly tied the man’s wrists together. Then there was a diversion. George who had been asleep all the while, chose to wake up. He yawned, stretched himself and saw an unknown person kneeling on the floor. This appeared unusual to him, so he walked slowly and majestically up to the terrified burglar and proceeded to sniff at him. Finding the smell disagreeable, he stopped sniffing and continued his walk, leaving the room lost in thought, in a world all his own.

There was a ring at the door. “Who on earth can that be?” wondered Mr. Rao aloud. “It must be the police”, said Ashok. “I telephoned them and asked them to come as soon as possible”. Not only was it the police, but with them, came along a reporter with his camera. The thief was still kneeling, with Champ glaring at him, and looking most unfriendly. The reporter made Ashok stand next to Champ, and click went the camera as he took a picture which was to make the boys in school green with envy, when they saw it in the newspapers next morning.

Mrs. Rao moved over to her son. “You have a wonderful dog, and he really is a champion”, she said admiringly. “Now I understand what you mean by ‘handsome is as handsome does’. I take back the rude things I said about him and, you can tell him, he’s welcome to come into the house whenever he likes. Also, I know he’s your own private, personal dog, but if you’d care to share him with us, Daddy and I would be proud to make Champ part of the family. May we? Of course Ashok agreed, and from that day on, both Ashok’s parents spoke of Champ as ‘our dog’. But we all know who Champ really belonged to, and who he loved the most, don’t we?  

Image (c) Gettyimages.com

15-Aug-2010
 
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