You have never really experienced Bangalore if you haven’t had any encounters of the canine kind. Of course am talking of the more harmless kinds where you live to tell the tale and laugh about it without being emotionally or physically scarred for the rest of your life. The thing about Bangalore is that, no matter where you go, you are never far from a stray canine interested in looking you up.
Growing up in Bangalore has lent me its share of weird encounters. When in school, there were the ones lying in the pavilions around the school ground, mocking us with the ease of their lives and the amount of time they could just sleep, while we had to deal with cane-wielding teachers ready to dole out the thwacks. All of them were mostly harmless, except for one or two which friends characterized as rabid, which never really scared any one until we reached 8th when we were made to learn by-heart that rabies kills people! Needless to say, every dog on the ground assumed a status straight out of a Stephen King novel!
Around home, however, there was this stray that strayed into the neighbour’s house, managed to convince them to adopt it and one day decided to chase a prancing 10 year old with a huge glass jar of Maltova in his hand. The said 10-year-old had to cross the breadth of the neighbor’s house, which was a gigantic strip of ground to cover those days, and run into his compound to safety, scared and with a memory for the rest of his life. How he managed to not drop the jar is still beyond comprehension for him.
Soon Chamarajpet ended and Srinagar began. And there started the exposure to territories and gang wars. Every day and night was punctuated by dogs howling at each other, claiming and defending territories and the odd scooter sound synchronized with a chasing dog’s growls and barks. It didn’t help that we were less than 10 feet from the roadside and sound had a way of neutralizing the walls. Combined with auto rickshaws that couldn’t climb up the hill, these made for sleepless nights. The monsoons brought out the worst in them, and we were clearly notified that the end of our compound was the beginning of their territory. This meant that driving down the slope to the gate in the dark was usually done in full glare of the dogs with their eyes reflecting the vehicle lights and their rabid aggression, as they stood there daring someone to go past their line of pee. We couldn’t thank God enough for ensuring there was no tree to pee on on the left side of the compound!
The first week of engineering in RV was marked by a lecturer making a grandiose entrance, despite a fishy face, and telling us what a tough time we were going to have the next four years and how difficult it was for people to get into Infosys. He also made a mention of the stray canines on campus and that hostelites were pretty close to them. Somehow, during my 4 years in college I was never fortunate enough to see any hostelite get really intimate with a stray. Maybe it happened only within the hostel walls.
Still, dogs in college continued to evoke the same reactions as in school. Lazing away and sleeping while we had to dig into huge books and look at the scores of pages to study for tests to be held less than an hour away, they didn’t paint a very motivating picture for us. And there was this friend who made it a point to envy sleeping strays every time we chanced upon one, going into existential questions and why we couldn’t spend life that way without a worry in the world. Questions that seem more pertinent now than ever before.
Despite the number of dogs in college, I never got to share food with them. The closest I came was when a friend decided to get friendly with a particularly diseased looking stray and proceeded to use the same hand to dig into another’s lunch box. Somehow, the connection was not lost on us and like good friends we promptly chipped in with our lunch for the poor guy who’s lunch had just been violated. I later got influenced by this compassion for strays and on seeing an apparently dying dog in front of my house offered it some water in a coconut shell. The dog smelled the water, stood up and limped away scared. It limped the streets for a couple more years, every day looking like its last.
Work after college meant that the encounters only increased in number and were more direct. Nature of work ensured that some days we had to work late and the return journey and route used to be influenced by the number of dogs on the streets and their aggressiveness. Sometimes there was nothing you could do about it but pray for smaller territories. Like on KR Road where you get chased by dogs like in a relay race, where each dog chases you to the end of its territory from which point the dog of the next territory takes over till the end of its territory and so on.
If the trouble is closer home, you are doomed! Like in the case of a good friend of mine, a dog close to his house ensured that he could not watch any late night movies or hang out after dinner with friends and had to be home by 9 PM! Talk about stray dogs enforcing a curfew! Parents somehow have not gotten wind of the idea. I did give him some ideas of either killing it or feeding it biscuits and befriending it. Considering that it might cost like 5 bucks for a pack of biscuits, Rs. 150 a month in the worst case to ensure an active night life wasn’t too much price to pay I figured. He disagreed with either option and decided to suffer in silence and daylight.
For me, dogs on a particular street were key enforcers of fashion sense. No, they are color blind, so I don’t trust them with helping me stop wearing red on red. But when it comes to sunglasses, I usually test a brand new pair by driving when wearing them, behind BMSCE where there was a particular pack of dogs that chased people with hideous sunglasses. To my credit, they chased me only once and I promptly stopped wearing those.
Moving out of Bangalore has meant that I am a lot more scared of strays now than before. Just not being used to their presence all the time has made me so I guess. Sometimes I wish the city would be rid of them forever, by hook or crook. Then other times I feel they need a better life, someone to adopt them or at the very least that they vanish from the streets gradually in a controlled manner. But then there are times where I feel the city would never be the same again without these creatures and maybe they can be managed. But again, its just a set of wishes among many for the city I love so much…