Dog F(r)ight

Batakrishna Dey
A Bengal Patachitra Painting

Hard to believe, but I was once a dog-lover in my childhood. I am now utterly dog-fearing. I dread being anywhere within a mile of a dog. For many decades I have been well-known in my immediate and extended family for my extreme fear of the canine species. How, why and when exactly this transformation took place I cannot recall, but I do know that I seem to have nurtured this kind of a contradictory love-hate feeling for dogs for long. This is a story of the many twists and turns in my relationship with dogs.

My childhood was spent in our ancestral village in East Bengal, now in Bangladesh. Our home was right on the bank of the mighty river Padma – as wide as the sea, angry and turbulent in the monsoons, but quite calm, cool, peaceful in winter. The river and its banks used to be the center of our myriad activities – morning and evening walks along with friends, taking baths by jumping into the river, swimming across to the “char” or the small, sandy island in the middle of the river, and beautiful boat rides.

We had a cute little puppy, a lapdog, lovely and lively, well-trained and obedient, a constant joyful companion on our walks by the river. Like other members of the family, it enjoyed all human food such as rice, dal, fish curry, sweets and even fruits, of which mango was his favorite. I loved this puppy dearly. 

After our ancestral home was devoured by the cruel Padma river changing its course as it did every few years, we migrated to Kolkata. For long we had no member of the canine family in our household. But after some years, my eldest brother brought one home, having received it as a gift from a friend. We named it Blackie, and spent many enjoyable hours with it. A happy dog, Blackie especially enjoyed running and playing in a nearby park. Alas, this did not last long. As I grew up and started spending more time out in the city, walking the streets to high school and college, the seeds of change were sowed, the genesis of the change in my feelings for dogs.

While I loved Blackie, I could not persuade myself to like Kolkata’s many stray street dogs which, often without reason, barked threateningly at pedestrians. Inexplicably, I was a soft target many times, a victim of some fearful chases, especially later at night when the streets were deserted. And thus started my dislike, even a dread of dogs, a feeling I have not been able to shake off till today.

When I moved to Delhi, it was easy for me to forget about dogs. First, I do not remember having to face a stray or street dogs menace of the kind I did in Kolkata. Moreover, under strictly enforced rules, dog owners had to use leashes while walking their domestic pets. My common points of intersections with dogs diminished and I can’t say I was unhappy. So far, so good.

It was not so good however, when I was forced to confront a large and rather fierce Alsatian, in the home of my boss where I was invited for an official meeting. A unsuspecting visitor, I was expecting the host to greet me at the door but instead came his “deputy” who did a thorough security check of my person by smelling my feet, sniffing my hands and almost climbing up to my face with its tongue hanging out. With a wildly beating heart but helplessly attempting to maintain a polite demeanor, I could do nothing except surrender abjectly and pray! My boss finally entered, and mildly, perhaps affectionately, rebuked his baby, saying merely, “No baby, go baby!” Baby refused to leave. After the meeting was over – yes, it was in the presence of my boss’ “security guard” – I came away, hugely relieved but not without having suffered a frightful experience that only deepened my trepidation of dogs.

Another dog encounter was in Pittsburgh, USA when my daughter and family then lived. During our lovely visit one summer, my wife Uma and I went on an evening walk. While we were returning home from the walk, (to my eyes) a demon-sized dog belonging to the neighbor across the street came running out of nowhere to chase us. Fortunately we were close to our house and could manage to rush inside to our safety. But not without another massive fright. I think I can still feel my heart pounding wildly!