Revisiting Dogs of Ahmedabad in response to NYT piece

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Excuse the fact that my dog illustration looks like a bizarre cross between a donkey and Scooby Doo who needs reading glasses

I am going to go out on a limb here and stick my neck out** to say that perhaps for the first time in the history of the Western media’s reporting out of India the ubiquitous stray cows story has been replaced by a stray dogs story.

Although my opening may not much read like it, I am actually applauding The New York Times’ Gardiner Harris for doing a piece about India’s often menacing street dogs. “No country has as many stray dogs as India, and no country suffers as much from them. Free-roaming dogs number in the tens of millions and bite millions of people annually, including vast numbers of children. An estimated 20,000 people die every year from rabies infections — more than a third of the global rabies toll,” Harris writes.

As someone who grew up surrounded by Ahmedabad’s famously ferocious dogs in the 1960s and who has continued to evince a keen interest in them even now, I can testify to how much danger they can pose. In February, last year, I wrote what I thought was a reasonably amusing post. It bears repeating here in light what Harris has reported. Before I quote myself let me quote this paragraph from his story because I can see some Indians’ nationalist pride getting hurt.

“India’s place as the global center for rabid dogs is an ancient one: the first dog ever infected with rabies most likely was Indian, said Dr. Charles Rupprecht, chief of the rabies program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Dog bites cause 99 percent of human rabies deaths,” he writes. The idea that the first rabid dog in the world was most likely Indian may not gone down that well with many.

Perhaps some day I would write about how dogs, as in “kuttey” in Hindi, have always symbolized all that is mean and devious in popular culture. If gadha’ or a donkey/ass is the ultimate symbol of imbecilic incompetence in many parts of India, “kutta” is the ultimate symbol of vicious bloody-mindedness.

Here is my February, 2011, post:

The preeminent feature of Ahmedabad’s nocturnal ambient noise is the canine bark. One can never say for sure what provokes street dogs to bark. More often than not they seem to bark at themselves. When that is not the case they are just barking at something we humans cannot fully comprehend.

I for one have concluded that they are keeping at bay alien invaders whom the human eye cannot see and the human ear cannot hear. So I suppose that’s a good thing. I don’t think aliens factor in dogs of Ahmedabad among their wide ranging threat scenarios.

During two visits to the city, one some six months ago and the other ongoing, I have done a less than scientific study of dog barks at night in and around certain neighborhoods of Vastrapur. The canine population of the street on which my brother Manoj lives appears to have increased, although I could not say with any degree of certainty. May be it is the same pack of dogs that roam various streets at night making sure that their human inhabitants are never really fully comfortable at night.

The nightly canine cacophony normally begins by 11 p.m. The first wave consists mainly of warming up their vocals. They are checking a yelp here and a growl there. There is always the top dog in any pack, who is usually heavier, more self-assured in his composure than the rest. His jaws look much more powerful, his eyes fiercer and his tail much more tightly coiled up. He never really walks but gently bounces on his claws as the rest of the dogs just follow in obvious deference. When he stops, which he does as if he is doing the world a favor, the rest automatically disperse behind him in reflexively servile positions.

After 11 p.m. it is impossible to predict when these dogs will bark and for how long. However, I have noticed fairly regularly that at the end of every barking session, which could last anywhere from a minute to five minutes, the top dog, or what sounds like the one, lets out a couple of very low register barks. That seems to tell the rest, “Okay guys, shut the fuck up now. It is time for me to catch a cat nap.” Of course, there are always rebels, mostly former top dogs who have fallen from grace because of age or ousted from their position in a bloody coup, who are outside the bounds of canine hierarchy. They howl and bark as and when they please as if reminding the insolent new generation that they once ruled. The reigning top dog has to suck it because he knows that will be his lot some day.

The barking reaches its peak around 2.30 in the morning just as most of us are in deep sleep and usually by 3 a.m. it suddenly dies down as if prompted by some primordial communication among the species. That’s when I began to write this post this morning.

Most Indian cities have a pretty robust street canine population. My sense is that dog catching as a part of city services has gone down considerably. One reason could be that municipal bosses such as city commissioners and mayors live in homes which are not on the streets where dogs proliferate. So when they are in power they could not care less about the citizens who are kept awake at night. And when they are out of power they can’t do anything about it anyway. Also, they are old and sleepless.

** I am aware that this is an awkwardly mixed sentence but I like the image of “going out on a limb and sticking my neck out.” It is not sufficient to merely go out on a limb. One also ought to stick one’s neck out.

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About chutiumsulfate

South Asians can infer from my name what I am. View all posts by chutiumsulfate

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