A woman and her bitch: an INDog and I

A scared little dog decided, one day some five years ago, that I was the one to feed her.  When she turned up in my tiny front yard, she was skin and bone, her dugs hanging down, her ribs all too visible under the skin.  As with most female dogs who were not spayed, she ‘d given birth somewhere, hidden her pups nearby, and gone out to forage for food.  Less than a year old herself, she was an awful sight.tippy1

What instinct led her to me, I can’t fathom.  Frightened of the big bad world at large, loud noises, even the sound of a dropping leaf, she ate ‘Marie’ biscuits’ from my hand, shying away if other folk came too near or dogs barked too close.  That behavior hasn’t changed.  If anything, she becomes more worried when people walk into the garden.  As the garden lies in the heart of the ashram, I cannot fence it about though it is ringed by a row of concrete planters. For Tippy, however, this openness makes for an anxious feeding. Constantly on the look out for other dogs, she runs at first bark to take secondary refuge under a red mini-van yards down the block.

Abs not ME!!

Abs not ME!!

I’ve always been quite companionable to dogs: “Hello, how are you today,” I greet any stray on my way.  Merely an acknowledgement of co-existence, I ask them how the world is and themselves. Most dogs respond, staring at this stranger, me, with the expressive dark eyes common to the breed. Sometimes they even follow me about for a while. Indeed, there have been a few dogs who have taken my greeting as a sign of uncommon friendship, jumping on my shoulders and attempting to lick my face. Such exuberant outbursts leave me worried about hygiene as I am a believer in washing my hands after canine contact. As with my interactions with my own species, humans, I’d rather a quiet, occasional camaraderie with no expectations on either side. Mostly, this approach works well.

At a juncture in my life, when any attachment seems too much, Tippy is a one off for me. She’s not really my kind of dog. I’d prefer a more confrontational bitch, a more muscular female, less the pretty dog she’s turned out to be. But, I must admit, when cornered, Tippy snarls and fends off the biggest prick among those who set on her. A particular set of noisy, boisterous barkers claim my garden as part of their territory unfazed by my shouted invectives. At sight of Tippy, they give chase. She can turn on them abruptly even if she’d rather hide.

When I set about driving them off, unfortunately, Tippy is the first to run, though recently she’s hung about, and watched their retreat. In the last couple of days, I mutter away to her as she sits in the yard outside my window, and my mumbled nonsense seems to calm her down a bit. Anyway, she’s definitely healthier.Photo on 02-05-13 at 11.15 AM #3

Tippy chose me, and I let myself be chosen. Now, I’m caught. Thankfully, she’s been seized and spayed sometime after her first overture to me Although she turns up on three days and disappears for the next three, I know she will return. Sometimes, her absences have been as long as ten days, but she re-appears eventually. The day I returned after my three month sojourn in Goa, she bounced out of the bushes, as startled by me as I was by her. I refuse to ‘own’ Tips. She is not my dog, much as I worry about her. In her own timid way, she asserts her independence through her regular absences, through her cautious approach, through her darting escapes out.

As my unwanted attachment grows, I find her beautiful–dark brown eyes ringed with black, short light brown coat fading to a blonde ruff over her neck. Not one of the elect, pure-bred kindred, she belongs to the ubiquitous ‘pi’ dogs that populate every Indian city and village. Wondering what strain these ‘pi’s had descended from, I googled them the other day, my usual resource when I’m at a loss. I’d assumed these dogs were mongrels like me, composed of a mix of different breeds. But, I’ve no company here. I learn that these dogs are a domestic breed, as distinct as any of the pedigreed breeds.[http://indianpariahdog.blogspot.in/search/label/articles] “INDog” is the label now officially recognized for these dogs. On the definitive site for the INDog project [http://www.indog.co.in/], the breed is described in detail, and archeological evidence given to prove that this dog breed was the first to be domesticated, despite the insult of their nickname. ‘Pi’ the label from my childhood is actually short for “pariah” a tamil word for the untouchable, scavenger class in India.

Interestingly, the scavenger class extended to comprise these dogs, looked down upon as the lowest of the low of dogs. No self-respecting Indian of the upper and middle class would own one of these in those days. A pure-bred Lab, Pom etc. signified status, much like cars, watches, or even the schools we attended. But, the INDog is gradually coming into its own [https://www.facebook.com/pages/INDog-Club/]. Though not recognized by any “Kennel Club“, the breed is ironically admitted to the ‘primitive’/aboriginal breed of dogs. Racist classification of the human species bleeds over into the labels for dogs. More ‘civilized’ perhaps, the Western dogs can lord it over the primitive breeds!

Wikipedia cites Gautam Das who is part of the INDog project–

 Indian Pariah Dog Club logo

Indian Pariah Dog Club logo

“The type represents one of the few remaining examples of mankind’s original domestic dog and its physical features are the same as those of the dogs whose fossil remains have been found in various parts of the world, from very early remains in Israel and China to later ones such as those found in the volcanic lava at Pompeii, near Naples in Italy. In India these were the hunting partners and companion animals of the aboriginal peoples of India. They are still found with the aboriginal communities who live in forested areas. Since these dogs have never been selectively bred, their appearance, physical features and mental characteristics are created by the process of natural selection alone. The INDog has not been recognized by any kennel club although similarly ancient or ‘primitive’ dogs have been recognized such as the Azawakh and the Basenji both of which are also sighthound and Pariah…. It has been recognized by the Primitive and Aboriginal Dog Society (PADS), a worldwide grouping of enthusiasts which is based in the USA. It is extremely alert, very social dog. Its rural evolution, often close to forests where predators like tigers and leopards were common, has made it an extremely cautious breed and this caution is not to be mistaken for a lack of courage. They make excellent watch dogs and are very territorial and defensive of their pack/family.” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Pariah_Dog]

Chacha ChaudharyEven in Puttaparthi, or the outlying villages in Rayalseema, I’ve seen the Indian pariah sitting proudly in the little courtyards before the small houses, standing up to bark fiercely if an unknown comes too close. [On Chacha Choudhry, the comicbook villager, and his dog Rocket, see http://topyaps.com/top-10-indian-comic-book-heroes/]   But, I’ve come across a number of dogs with their ears cropped, and often their tails as well. I asked my dhobi (laundry woman), Saraswati once why the villagers did that. She replied earnestly, “Dogs listen to our secrets. They hear our whispers and family problems, and carry them around the village. So, we have to lop off the tips of their ears. Otherwise, it’s not good for the family.”  Cut off the dogs’ ears the villagers might, but the dogs receive as good a meal as their children.  Last year, Saraswati’s son carried their dog in his arms to the animal hospital in the neighboring village when it refused to eat.

I’ve seen INDogs herding groups of sheep and goats being taken to graze, nipping at their heels to keep them in line.  In Chennai, my friend Ganesh is in the process of training Mani, the street stray, to sleep within the compound. Now, Mani duly scares the courier boy, though a large coterie of his friends tempt him with biscuits to get him outside Ganesh’s gate. Perhaps Tippy turned up in my garden to keep me socialized, a borderline human.  It takes a woman her bitch to keep her womanly…?

Barbara Shermund. I'm Sorry! between 1945 and 1955.

Barbara Shermund. I’m Sorry! between 1945 and 1955.



Windows, and looking in (contd.)–a mystic collides with Goan society

When I initially checked out ‘Sunlife Residency,’ I scheduled the visit with Karen, one of the owners, known also as Ronaldo’s wife, as the bargainer, the bitch who had gotten on the wrong side of a few folks who had bought flats from them. Unaware of the illwill surrounding her, I take to her appearance: in her early thirties, brown (as are most Goans and I), with clearly marked features, she sports a pageboy of neat black hair and arrives on the ubiquitous two wheeler (the transport of choice that buzzes fly-like on the winding, narrow roads). Showing me an isolated apartment, which looks out over the fields, she is observant of my reactions: I delight in the view, but am wary of the isolation. Stuck with the ground floor option in order to avoid stressing my knees, I, consequently, worry about safety.

Karen calls me the following day to offer me an alternative I might prefer. In fact, on seeing it, I like the layout, the white walls, space, and little patios/ balconies. As I muse over matters outside in the car park, a voice greets me. Aruna Mallick is an old woman, smartly dressed in yellow pedal pushers and body hugging tee. Her clothes accentuate her neat figure, but her voice codes her for me. Western inflections overlay a heavy North Indian accent. My reactions are mixed, mongrel though I am I belong to the south of India and am proud of my Tamilian/ Dravidian heritage from my dad (ie. I’m not Aryan although my mixed parentage allows for a Coorg quotient from my mum). North Indians often patronize us, dumb, black southies. But, having a soft spot for older people and curious about the interaction, I greet Asha in turn.

“Oh, are you renting that flat from Karen? Are you alone?” she asks, “and where do you come from?” The inevitable urge to place a new arrival. Although I normally avoid my tangled histories, on impulse I tell her that I’m from an ashram in Andhra. “Which one?” she questions, and, of course, I have to name the place– the country is famous for its ashrams, and their spiritual leaders, gurus. Spirituality” is a postmodern commodity that we Indians market aggressively. In return for my personal info, Usha offers a startling titbit, with an enigmatic smile and wink, “There’s been a burglary here” And, “better watch out for Karen, she’s hard to deal with. Rude woman, not like her husband.”

On the first day I move in nothing is ready, all Karen’s promises to see to stuff remain unfulfilled. Quite enraged, on the verge of leaving the place, I mouth off to Agnello, the guy in charge of maintenance, Karen’s brother-in-law. Curtain rods are falling down, the curtains hung are disgusting, there is no gas hob, the shower head is missing, and, woe betide, the sheets are too small for the mattress. The apartment is in need of a thorough dusting and cleaning as well. But, Agnello, a lanky man in his forties, lackadaisically charms me out of my fury. As he placates me, Aruna turns up again, and, seeing Agnello, informs me sotto voce that he is very helpful; she and her daughter only talk to him after checking to see that the coast is clear of Karen.

Over the next two days when all is slowly put in order, I come to the realization that this process is Goa. Two weeks before, when I had arrived in Luisa-by-the-Sea after a 12 hour drive (we’d started at 4:30 am), nothing had been organized either. The owners seemed to wait for the person actually to walk into the place before running about to put things in order. Agnello is a great pacifier, with his easy smile and lanky stride; and, finally, he explains Aruna’s cryptic remark on the burglary that never was.

“It was a set up. They told the police money was missing from the locker, but there were ten people sleeping there. Don’t tell me not even one person saw anything? Anyway, they were all Kashmiris, you can’t trust them. So much money missing, and nobody sees?”

And much later, Karen,

“it was Fayaz’ relation. He brought Hafiz, they are all in it together. I had to pay up Rs. 95,000 in settlement. If I did not, the police would ‘ve been after me as Hafiz didn’t fill up the Form of Particulars.”

Dear blog reader, please reflect on the names we Indians have:
Karen, Ronaldo, Aruna Mallick, Agnello, Fayaz, Hafiz. The names pay tribute to various religions and cultures. The Portuguese colonized Goa in the 1500’s, quelling a petty Sultan; they were forced out by the Indian Army only in 1961 (the year of my birth). As in the rest of India, the colonized are proud of the heritage and culture imbibed through their colonizers; only here it is the Portuguese not the British. The recent colonizers left a legacy of Catholicism, although, ironically, the caste system remains.

A Brahmin Catholic is distinct from a non-brahmin catholic. Similarly, the vegetarians are distinct from the non-vegetarians–the ‘non’ prefix demarcates the good from the non-good! In the West, vegetarianism may distinguish the politically correct folk, in India, it marks the higher caste Brahmin through their diet. Only the lower caste eat meat, and only the lowest would eat the meat of a cow, ie. beef.

As for Aruna Mallick, that name has Sanskrit roots, Aruna being the dawn, a name common in both the North and the South, to Hindus and “non-Hindus.” Names, as for most Hindus, are chosen by markers of caste, community, astrological significance, and auspiciousness. The difference here is that she introduces herself by her first name to me, a younger woman, and allows me to call her “Aruna”. But, as I shall learn, that westernization is superficial, a diaphanous veil over the high caste, well-born female scion of a ‘good family.’ “Mallick” is her husband’s family name, a family which, I will be repeatedly informed, is not on a par with hers. Ironically enough, ‘Mallick’ turns out to be common to both Hindus and Muslims, originating from the Arabic malik meaning ‘king’ or ‘lord.’

Their looks mark the Kashmiris, Muslim or otherwise, as the ultimate Aryans, tall and fair with hooked, noble noses. Their names are testimony to their heritage, Mughal, Afghan, Pashtun, and religion, Islam with a strongly Sufi bent.

Rumi, Sufi mystic, writes,

And, from the Upanishads of the Hindus,

That is infinite, this is infinite;
From That infinite this infinite comes.
From That infinite, this infinite removed or added;
Infinite remains infinite.

I find the Hindu scripture expatiating on the Sufi poet, or vice versa, or as you will…