The Dogs of Deonar

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I was waiting outside an ATM. The white kurta-ed man inside seemed to be taking an eternity to come out. I started humming, tapping my foot lightly, looking around, till my eyes caught hold of my reflection on the glass doors of the ATM. I stopped humming and tapping my foot. My breath quickened. Calm down, I desperately told myself. They can smell fear. Did I have any food on me, I thought; no. For right behind me, were two street dogs, cream-coloured – you know, the typical street dog kind. One was slowly trotting, coming close to me. The other stopped, and lay on the floor, stretching itself (yes, ‘it,’ not ‘he’ or ‘she’), as if it knew I wasn’t anything interesting.

Do dogs know if we pretend? I put on a calm face, started to whistle (only to quickly stop – what if they think I’m being friendly!) and stared up at the sky and around, all the while keeping an eye on the reflection to see what the canine beast was up to. It came close to me, but suddenly had a change of mind, and thought it would be better to go back to its friend (who in the meantime, was performing athlete-type warm-up stretches – despite my horrific fear, I had to laugh), and started to sniff about it. White-kurta man came out at this opportune moment, and I made a dash in to the ATM and shut the door.

Despite everything I missed about India while in Singapore – the lack of crows (making me cry ‘OH MY GOD, THAT’S A CROW’ the rare moments I spotted one there), the whole cows-on-the-road feeling, the proud ‘Oh yes, I’ve sat on an elephant’ that I told my astonished classmates in college – I had no regrets about dogs, especially the street variety. You have stray cats in Singapore (they terrified me too: I’ve written about them here and here), but dogs in Singapore are all pretty, adored, on leash, with owners who groomed them to their best ability, collecting their poo (dogwalkers always carry a plastic bag) and taking their runs with them, and stuff. Pampered.

Fast forward to Mumbai, India. Street dogs abound in my area, and not only do you have to maneuver about them, but their turds too (it only got worse with the rains – many a time, I’d step on something to hear a squelch: whether it was mush, some tiny animal that I’d just killed, or dog poo, I’d never know). Hours after moving here, I had to shriek to my dog-loving friends to keep the street dogs away. Don’t play with them while I’m there (dogs on leash were ok!). They get into barking matches (thankfully, no howls – street dogs in Ahmedabad would howl through the night, not letting you catch a wink). They pee on the tyres of good-looking Skoda cars. They gang up and threaten the more scared among us by following us about. They taunt the pet dogs tied up inside their homes. As happy as I am that they lap up the leftover food I leave for them, I don’t like the fact that I have to take a particularly difficult way to enter a shop because they have spread themselves royally at the entrance.

Compared to these vagrants, the pet dogs seem like mellow creatures. It’s especially hilarious to see (when you’re at a safe distance, that is) a street dog tease a pet dog; the funniest of all was a large black dog that responded to the calls of a street dog but angrily jumping past every window in the wall of the house it was in, following the street dog that was gaily trotting past, basking in its secure position well away from the barking beast inside the house.

Oh well, what would life be without a bit of spice. Till the ATM incident yesterday, I was thinking I have become a little better at handling my fear of dogs. Unfortunately, no, I do have a long way to go. Maybe by the time I’m done with my studies in Mumbai, besides being able to speak Hindi fluently (that would be the day!), I’d be better with dogs – not to the extent of being able to pet them, but at least not walk away swiftly in terror? Only time will tell.


Anonymous said...

A very nice blog write up. It explains your feelings and frustrations and the fear and a zest of animal psychology you have to brace up with during your commute in Mumbai.

Hope you have lot of good experiences and return back to Singapore in the pink of your health!

And oh yeah, all the best for your studies too.