I was introduced to two names in the pantheon of Greek and Norse mythology by way of two pets.
For many years since I was little, I used to visit my uncle and aunt, who is my mother’s second eldest sister, in their little house annexed to the grand old house in Jalan Kuala, which belonged to the Singaporean philanthropist Tan Jiak Kim. There lived two dogs, each with mythical names.
One was a wiry, black doberman whose bark bounced off the columns holding up the roof of the great hall and resonated off the marble floor of the veranda and the wrought-iron banisters.
I feared the name as much as the dog itself, for “O-din”, when said in the stern and deep voice of my uncle, was always ominous. I was six, too young to read Norse mythology (there weren’t any abridged versions then), and I was easily scared.
Later, I learned that Odin was the name of a big gun in Norse mythology, the ruler of Asgard, a name linked with war and death, wisdom and magic. But it was too late. Whenever I heard the name Odin, whether in a film, a TV programme, or a book, the first thing that came to mind was the black doberman of Jalan Kuala.
By contrast, the other dog with a mythical name was an American cocker spaniel. Her name belonged on the roster of women’s names in Greek mythology: Pandora. So Pandora was, for a long time, this cocker spaniel who was a resident of the great house. Whenever I came to visit my aunt, the other elderly aunts would keep shouting her name to make her stop her incessant noise. “Stop it, Pan-DORA! Keep QUIET!”
Pandora’s ears fascinated me. They stuck out of her small head like bushy pigtails that had been backcombed for extra volume, her hair too big for her spoilt-looking face.
Everyone knows the mythology of Pandora’s Box, and the name appears fairly often in works of fiction and film. But the name Pandora can never be anything to me but a parti-coloured cocker spaniel who barks too much.
It is the 21st century and the house and its ground are no more, the two dogs with their mythical names residing only in the foggy memories of the elderly and someone who was once a small girl terrified of both.
But memory that resonant finds a way of lingering on, as ephemeral as the scent of freshly-washed hair and as quotidian as long hair that is left to air-dry after a shampoo.
My damp hair responds to the volumizing effect of this humid tropical city by springing into curls and waves. I feel self-conscious about the volume, especially when I pass other women in town with long hair that is glossy-straight and swishy-thin.
That’s when I feel like a dog. Namely, Pandora.