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This is Bumpy Dog who died over a year ago on this day of natural causes. She lived in the compound of an apartment house in leafy Alipore which, as anyone familiar with Calcutta knows, is the posh neighbourhood of an otherwise squalid city. When we moved into our flat in 2005, my son was three and Bumpy Dog two-plus or minus a year and a half. No one knew where she came from but as Bumpy knew her place in the Great Chain of Being she was tolerated. She would sit in the car park but slink away  when cars came and the lordly sahibs and memsahibs disembarked, shouting into their expensive mobile phones and cradling their designer bags. She grubbed quietly in the rubbish bins and kept well away from the dachshunds, golden retrievers, pugs and labradors that went for sedate walks twice a day with their trainers and orderlies. She had three litters and watched helplessly as each one of her pups was crushed under the wheels of the imperious cars that dashed into the car park till I called in the RSPCA and had her spayed. After that she was safe, and watched gratefully as my son sent down  bones and biscuit crumbs twice a day. He named her Bumpy because it was the Enid Blyton stage of his life.

A memsahib with time on her hands and a cruel, cruel heart lived on the top floor. Propriety dictates that I keep her name a secret. This memsahib fancied herself to be a landscape-gardening expert and set about to take over our little front garden. She would bring in flower pots, bury them into the soil with the flowers peeping out of the ground and pretend that she had grown them. She forbade any of the children from playing on the grass. And she decided that Bumpy Dog was a threat to her flowers, so one night she kidnapped Bumpy Dog, put him into a sack and instructed her driver to hide the sack in her car boot and throw it somewhere far away. All was done secretly. I had heard strange squeals at one a.m one night but could not connect it to the disappearance till much later.

For three weeks we hunted everywhere for Bumpy. I drove despairingly around Alipore, then moved to the riverside, the railway station, all the major rubbish dumps and the three animal shelters in and around Calcutta. There were dappled dogs and brown dogs, black mongrels and white ones, lean and starving ones and well-fed ones but no Bumpy.

Finally I had exhausted all my options save two. I offered a reward for Bumpy of about 200 dollars.  And I prayed to the God of forgotten creatures to return her and restore my belief in the hope that we live in a moral universe.

Three weeks later my driver burst into the room. “She’s back.”

He had seen her limping in through the gate, spattered in mud, ribs showing, wounded in her front paw but alive. She crept in, went to her place in the corner of the compound wall and sank down amidst the dry leaves and tattered newspapers.

No one came forward to claim my reward. But a whisper went round the neighbourhood, amongst the maids and drivers,  that I had performed black magic and tracked her down.

Bumpy lived five years more. Although we left that apartment and moved elsewhere, kinder souls continued to feed her till she died, as quietly as she had lived.

And though the kidnapper was, I am told, furious, she must have realised that it was no longer about a garden and stray-dog poo. It was about wanton brutality on the poor, the defenceless, the forsaken.

And this time we won.

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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.


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!