Stray Thoughts

Here’s a secret: I am partial to reading books in which the relationship between man and dog forms a part of the plot. I’m not sure if this is because I grew up on a healthy diet of Enid Blytons with Buster snapping and Timmy woofing and Loony dancing on the kitchen mat, or because my first real friends in this world were brown eyed mongrels sheltering in the garden of our railway bungalows or begging for waste chapatis at the outhouse door. Whatsoever may be the cause, an ill fed stray haunting  the rubbish heap for left overs still brings a lump to my throat.

Lately there are fewer dogs on the city streets. Sometimes I gather rice and bones and have to look for hours before I can spot a decently starving one. The ones that move in packs are huge fellows, battle scarred veterans of years on the streets, worldly wise and grave who disdain my offers. Wasted puppies have disappeared — perhaps they have all been crushed by the cruelties of urban life and its  shrinking spaces. So too has human tolerance — in my childhood the shanty dwellers near my grandmother’s home shared their meagre meals with a brown spotted mutt but the shanties are now pucca houses with television and computer and the mutt is no longer to be seen.

J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace is the obvious choice for dogs as a metaphor for the unaccountable sadness of modern life, but so are lesser known classics — The Kingdom by the Sea by Robert Westall with its wonderful evocation of World War II in which a boy and dog stay together to survive, Jim Kjelgaard’s A Nose for Trouble and surprisingly Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss in which Mutt the dog suffers a bleak end, befitting the general melancholy of Kalimpong split by the Gorkhaland agitation.

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Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation has been one of the most influential texts in the world of animal ethics but another one which is no less informative and relevant is Hiranmay Karlekar’s Savage Humans and Stray Dogs: A Study in Aggression. Karlekar, a senior journalist, writer and thinker, who was in college with my parents, has done much to promote awareness of aggression against animals through his columns.

Hinduism, in its general inclusivity, has Bhairav, a manifestation of Shiva in his terrible form, with a dog as his vahana or vehicle. On the left is a favourite representation of mine: the God as a wanderer surrounded by a host of defenceless animals. I like to think of a day when man realises that he is, after all, a non-human animal. That and nothing more. Perhaps even less!

Bloody Scotland!

It’s been ten days since I returned from a crime writing festival called Bloody Scotland and what a bloody exciting experience it was! A kind of  David Lodge -small world recaptured complete with writers, critics, literary enthusiasts and book agents along with thousands of men and women celebrating late summer sun in picturesque Stirling. And sampling delicious crime! Irreverent snatches of conversation as I tripped to and fro the Albert Halls and Allen Park Church included “I hate Josephine Tey-however did they call her a crime writer” and “the Scots are a bit of a nuisance but they do their detectives well”.

Fellow panelists Lin Anderson, Doug Johnstone and Abir Mukherjee remembered Calcutta including the frayed nerves, yellow taxis, College Street and much else that is this vast chaotic churning city I call home. We also remembered Calcutta’s Scottish connection, the jute, tea and indigo, the Dum Dum bullets, the 1857 encounter, Byomkesh Bakshi and real life crime at Lalbazar. Abir read out an excerpt from his first novel A Rising Man while I did a short piece from my first book F.I.R. For an hour, at least, there was some corner of a foreign field that was briefly Calcutta.

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Bloody India!

This was my first visit to the Scottish Highlands. As the train slid away from Edinburgh to Inverness I was struck by the change in landscape -hedges and homely looking pastures gradually shifting into bleak Northern scenery with a strangeness about the sweeping hills and still lochs as if they were frozen in time. So too were the sheep, motionless in the twilight, gathering themselves for the cold night, while bunches of woolly brown cows so different from our Indian ones fringed the meadows at what seemed like eight o clock at night in the long twilight of the Northern skies. Most of the stations we stopped at were deserted and looked like a detached almost surreal movie set, as in the 1970s series Sapphire and Steel with their flowers, benches, clocks and empty waiting rooms.

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Loch Ness

I can think of no better crime scene than Scotland. No wonder Douglas Henshall, who played DI Jimmy Perez in the television series Shetland drew a packed audience at his event with Ann Cleeves!