Arif Ayaz Parrey’s #dog tale
Ever seen a dog trying to befriend other dogs?
No, I’m not talking about dogs in slavery, or, as some people like to call them, pets. Such dogs are not responsible for their actions. Their friendships and animosities are largely determined by the equation their owners share with the people in question. If a new dog is introduced into the “family”, they have to like it. If a dog is sold off or abandoned, they have to forget it, at least pretend to forget it.
I’m talking about mongrels, free dogs, who will eat “aadha roti” but not jhukao their head. They will return your love with even more love, making you indebted to them, but your love is not their life. They have their own thing to do. Like pissing on that tree at the corner of the street, or digging holes and hiding bones and other valuables in them, or choosing and chasing cars passing by. Their life is so balanced and beautiful that one does not want to choke it with too much affection. One just wants to let them be.
Right, then. Have you ever seen a mongrel trying to befriend other mongrels?
My office is in an institutional area. The only residential building in the area is a working women’s hostel, but since dogs are not the only animals who turn ferocious and territorial after dark in Delhi, I doubt if any of these women ever come out at night.
So these dogs are fed by kind people who drop by in the mornings and evenings with bread dipped in milk, chicken bones and, on occasion, omelettes. During the day, the dogs pick up leftovers of the office-goers, or share food with people they have befriended. During nights, they can only dream about food.
There used to be seven dog gangs in the area. Since one of them lives in the street right in front of our office, I have had the honour of being friends with them. There are four dogs and one bitch in this group. (Last year, four of her children died of a fungal infection from the drain. Two bitches and two dogs. There is a hospital nearby.) The bitch is called Ashok Lal, after an architect our office is fond of, the eldest dog Bhurey Lal, because he is brown, and the other three dogs Kalia, Sambha and Heisenberg. Kalia is black, Sambha white and Heisenberg moves so much that you can either determine the expression on his face or the movement of his legs and tail, but never both. Nicknames are funny. I’m sure the dogs call me Longcloth because I wear so many kurtas. But dogs are polite, they will never refer to me on my face by a nickname without first ensuring I’m OK with it.
When I leave office, they walk with me the entire length of the street they control. When I’m sad, they try to tug at my kurtas. When I’m happy, they pretend they are trying to get away from my grip.
Yesterday, as I was leaving the office, they greeted me in the usual manner. I was happy; the day had been productive and I was hoping the evening would be a delight. So I pretended I did not notice them, as they tried to come close and then hop away from me.
Suddenly, two of them started to growl behind me. I turned to look. There was a new dog, piebald, white and brown. They had surrounded him and he was baring their teeth at them. But as I kept walking on, looking at my watch, they followed, trying to leave the intruder behind. But he also followed us.
I kept walking and about fifty steps later, I had reached the edge of their territory. The intruder kept walking in the middle of the group, even though they had made it very clear, verbally and with their body language, that he was not welcome.
I stopped to watch them. The intruder was aggressive, but clearly wanted to be part of their group. They were confused. They did not know how to deal with a stranger who did not want their territory but their friendship. They were not even trying to smell his posterior to see if he was trustworthy. They kept circling around me, excitedly, asking me to intervene. I leaned against a signpost. What could I do? I was as clueless as they were. Maybe he was from one of the other gangs in the area and all his family had died.
Finally, Heisenberg went closer to the intruder and the two smelled each other. He then encouraged the others to have a smell as well. “The situation was tense but under control.” I thought: When I return on Monday, I will either have to coin a new nickname or look at the bruised bodies of my old friends. But I was getting late, so I had to hurry away.
I was meeting someone I hoped to be friends with.