It was sometime around 1958 that I first got to know of Lobhi, a pitch black giant-sized shepherd dog that belonged to Pirthi Chand, the forest guard at Kangoo — a village-cum-townlet in the Kangra district of erstwhile Punjab.
The owner of the dog, whose lonely house was situated in the thick of the sprawling 30 sqkm pine forest, had duly protected his watchdog with a five-inch wide steel collar sporting four circles of sharp spikes to save it from leopards that prowled the forest.
During the first few encounters with this too big a dog, we children, as well as adults, were apprehensive. Later, we found him friendly and harmless. He would come, wag his tail, cast a look, wait for some meal and having been offered something, he would relish it and withdraw thankfully. He became our favourite very soon. He would receive the same warmth at nearly a dozen houses in the habitation around the bazaar.
Once Lobhi came as we were getting ready to have food. He placed his front legs inside the kitchen and wanted his share to be given first before he could go. Mother understood his demand. She confidently moved out with something to offer and he gladly relented.
In a year or so, most children in the neighbourhood had shed their fears and Lobhi was a common friend and canine hero of every child. Many a time, Pirthi Chand’s servant would come looking for Lobhi and chain him to take him home. However, Lobhi had grown fond of a larger company that he found in the neighbourhood. Pirthi Chand was known more as Lobhi’s master than for his official credentials as a forest guard.
Our rented house those days was located by the roadside and Lobhi was a frequent visitor here. To his collar was tied bunch of small bells so that his approach could easily be foreknown as he mightily swayed from left to right with a majestic gait. Quite a few times, we had heard Lobhi barking and chasing some mighty enemy, often a leopard. There was permanent enmity between the two, with Lobhi winning each time.
One night, in 1961, as Lobhi slept under the bench outside the village halwai’s shop, he was caught unawares. Instead of grabbing him by the collared neck which had left the leopard’s jaw bleeding several times, he was firmly grabbed by the rear and hurled a distance of some 20 feet, leaving him wounded and broken. Subsequent handling of the prey was easy for the leopard. Next morning dawned with the news of Lobhi having been devoured.
It was different those days. Hunting went on unnoticed and unquestioned. By noon, the hunters of Kangoo had located the giant cat sleeping on a well-fed stomach and had shot him point blank. The kill was brought to the town. The leopard was skinned and patches of Lobhi’s black coat were found inside its stomach. We children wept and stood dazed. Our Lobhi was gone forever!