December 15, 2008

Man's best dogma

A dog. Four-legged pet. Faithful. Obedient. Man's best friend.  Everybody likes dogs. Right?

A dog. Four-legged pet. Faithful. Obedient. Man's best friend.  Everybody likes dogs. Right?


I am no Jack London or James Herriot writing about noble beasts. I hate dogs. Dogs are loathsome, odoriferous, noisy, mercenary gluttons who might obey you so long as they are sure of a culinary benefit in the offing. Definitely one of God's more despicable creations.  

"Get away from her, you bitch !"    -- Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in "Aliens"

Pick a culture, pick a language. The equivalent of "Dog" is always also a curse word. The ancients who formulated our languages knew what vile creatures dogs were. They knew dogs are not meant to be pets.

Take the Bible, for example. There are very few references to dogs as pets. But there are numerous references to dogs as unclean, carnivorous, blood-thirsty, dangerous and destructive creatures.

The only dog I remember in Hindu mythology is somewhere near the end of the Mahabharata. There's this cur which follows Yudhishtira to heaven and then turns out to be his father or something. Weird !

Anyway, we're digressing. The point I am trying to make is that dogs should not be pets. They are barely tame, carnivorous, beasts who should be in zoo cages alongside leopards and rhinos. Not lazing on front porches.

But my life didn't quite turn out that way. I live in a suburb of a city where every other house has a dog, and often more than one. In my earliest recollections, running errands for my mother always involved the challenge of charting a route to my destination such that my encounters with vicious mutts were kept to a minimum. It used to make even an uninteresting job, such as posting a letter, so much more fun.

"There's a fierce rivalry, nay, a cold war between the two most widely read newspapers in New York -- The Times and The Post. On one occasion, The Post called The Times a 'Yellow Dog'. The next issue of The Times carried a small rebuttal on the corner of the front page -- 'In reference to The Post honouring us with an undeserved title, we would like to say that we will treat them as any Dog would treat any Post.'"

Just as I was about to enter my teens, I lost a major battle in my war against the canine breed. My kid brother, using fierce tantrums and wild arguments to defeat my feeble protests, managed to convince my parents to get a dog. My parents, even my severely orthodox, obsessed with hygiene, South-Indian Brahmin parents, relented.

Horror of horrors. The enemy now had a foothold inside my last line of defence... "Home Sweet Home". With great difficulty I survived the next few years until it was time to go away to college.

Ah, college. Far away from home and Caninus Domesticum. Although the campus had its share of mangy mongrels, those gentle beasts were fairly easy to get along with. They had seen generations of students with furrowed brows. They kept to themselves, never showing undue interest in anyone without a packet of biscuits.

DOG, n.
A kind of additional or subsidiary Deity designed to catch the overflow and surplus of the world's worship. This Divine Being in some of his smaller and silkier incarnations takes, in the affection of Woman, the place to which there is no human male aspirant.
   -- Ambrose Bierce, "The Devil's Dictionary"

In the meantime, the number of dogs at home kept waxing and waning, and my college life was dotted with letters and photographs to that effect.  I found these to be something to a conversation piece with women, who are fascinated with the four-legged creatures. Here I am, a fully-grown male of their species, and they are more interested in the pups at home. Well, at least the creatures infesting the homestead had some use.

Ay, in the catalogue ye go for men; As hounds and greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs, Shoughs, water-rugs and demi-wolves, are clept All by the name of dogs:    -- Shakespeare "Macbeth", 3 (i)

When I passed out and came back home, it was like returning to Old McDonald's Dog Farm. "Here a Dog, there a Dog, everywhere a Dog Dog". I had but to hold up a biscuit and whistle, and I felt like the pied piper of Hamlin. Old dogs, young dogs, big dogs, small dogs, white dogs, brown dogs, hairy dogs, short-tailed dogs, wagging dogs, they all came bounding up to me.

"Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."
-- Matthew 15:27

Today, the rate of food consumption in my house is huge. Each day, the dogs eat 2 loaves of bread, 2 litres of milk, 1 kg of raagi and 2 kg's of rice. I'm just talking of the dogs' food consumption here. "Dogs eat crumbs" ? That's a laugh.

To sum up, I've had plenty of exposure to those canine fiends. Dogs are NOT all that they are made up to be. All those flowery adjectives you find in those James Herriot books are just myths... old wives' tales. I am not making this up. Here's the truth, the gory truth.

Myth 1: Dogs are faithful.