we could never afford dogs while growing up.
in bombay, arshad and maria lived on the floor above for a time, and they had a pair of dogs; later, their bitch delivered a litter too. for my sister and i, this was pure joy. and then one film that arshad uncle acted in did exceptionally well, and he moved to a larger house elsewhere. most puppies, we heard, were to be sent away; to grow up as orphans. we wanted two—but our modest home, our family’s finances and our assigned religion, were all too small to afford us pets. looking back, i’m thankful for that: we’d never have done justice to those dogs—what with growing up and studies and new cities and other passions flowing into our lives.
another neighbour also kept several dogs. i remember how their kids would play with the dogs for a few months, and then the dog would increasingly be consigned to a trainer. sure, the owners loved the dogs, and often toyed with them, and fed them and (really) loved them, but who has the time to run with the animals everyday, take them to pee-and-poo, and play as much with the dogs as they want (nay, need). the animals grew fat, and just this recently, one of them died . he still lived longer than his wild kith do, but what use is a longer life whence the years betwixt are as insipid as this?
i’ve moved to delhi, away from home, for a time. back home, megha recently moved in next door, and she owns a dog too. my sister played with the dog often, and this infatuation of hers won her an audition for a role in megha’s film. (the feeling of caring for a rather hapless animal is rewarding in its own right, but we welcome these additional rewards too.)
once, we took a camp of kids for a hike, and an accompanying stray went missing all of a sudden—we heard a yelp shortly after, and quickly organised our group to protect the children from the panther we’d felt was trailing us. i don’t think the group was ever in danger, but the killed dog (inadvertently) made sure we were super-cautious. at other times, we hated monkeys at our campsite because they stole food and were an aggressive menace—but whenever a panther strolled past, the din they made alerted us into ensuring that everyone at the site was within protective bounds—the panther was living his life, and we had to make sure not to infringe on his territory and excite him into doing something we’d grow to regret. all-in-all, we’ve been good to animals, and they’ve never done us any unwarranted harm.
i can’t claim to read animals better than professional-trainers (or naturalists or wildlife enthusiasts), but i’m pretty comfortable with them. i once had a snake bite me just so i could feel what it would be like. i’ve tried rescuing snakes, although i usually get to them after they’ve been beaten by a frantic watchman. a snake that gets hit once will not live because it can no longer ingest food—and it’s wretched to see the snake die in your hands. every pet i’ve had around me grew up as an orphan—and while i appreciate the sentiment of caring for an orphaned animal, it just seems so unnecessary when pups are intentionally separated from their mothers. furthermore, it is heart-wrenching to see a dog stand in attention or whine for a morsel when i eat, or have to wait at a door because the animal isn’t built to overcome that man-made obstruction.
(dogs who live with and help the blind are fabulous. but that discussion doesn’t apply here. i hope that much is clear.) if i live in the hills, i’d surely keep a pet; or rather, i’d let him remain wild, yet live with me when and if he so chooses to. like the cat i had in guwahati who came in on winter nights to sleep in my bed and left each morning without a mew. i didn’t feed her, didn’t pet her, nothing. and one day she chose not to return. and life went on.
the animal, then, would have the hills to run in, game of his own choosing to chase, and my company whenever he wants it. we’d run, and go for treks, and perhaps he’ll stand by me when i need to poo in the wild (so that a bear doesn’t scare me shitless again). but if i never find the courage to live out the himalayan dream, i do not want a pet. being a pet might be the best form of captivity there can be, but it is captivity nonetheless. a companion in the hills, is beautiful. neutered orphans as pets in city apartments, is plain sad. that’s all.
first written in 2013. some rephrasing and edits in 2019.