A brown dog, mottled and dirty, sits at the edge of a road divider. His nose points to the south towards Churchgate and his tail nestled on the divider stones points towards Borivali. He sits there every morning till about 6.15. I see him every morning as I pass the divider while going to work. Some say he sits there for a larger part of the night too.
He does not sit there every day. Some days he lies down under a tree that escaped the BMC tree-chopping squad. The tree stands there almost in the middle of the service road that the divider cuts into two.
To the east of the dog is a Vyayamshala, a local gym. A large board with the image of Arnold Schwarzenegger smiling lasciviously looks down upon the pedestrians. This board has recently replaced an earlier painted picture of Hanuman in a flying posture. The image of Schwarzenegger is unusually bronzed. From afar one could easily mistake him for an Indian hunk.
This is the place where all young men from the neighbourhood sweat it out before they head out to work. There is an old well in the compound of the Vyayamshala, and banana trees grow all around.
To the west of this dog is the Western Express Highway. Between the service road and the highway are ‘small hills’ created out of the debris of road repairs, construction work, and other such grey waste that a city spews onto its streets. Gardeners have attempted to cover this ugliness with exotic varieties of trees and grass.
To anyone walking down this road, the dog is right in front of their gaze. They has to see him and then cross the road onto the highway.
I have never seen a dog sit so straight in the middle of the road. Yes, there were some who slept at the entrance of the bus depot, forcing the bus drivers of the early morning BEST buses to take longer curves while entering the depot in our area.
Some of the dogs took too many chances, or did they?
What if the bus driver forgot about the sleeping dog, and took a shorter curve?
In these many years, no dog has died under a bus in our area. Under a car, yes, but never under a bus.
There seemed to be an implicit trust of these mutts on our public transport, and the bus drivers to this day have not let them down.
Deep down in my heart, I have always believed that dogs never really sleep. They have one eye open for all sorts of mishaps. That may be the real reason that we haven’t had many accidents.
However, let us get back to our dog that we left sitting on the road-divider.
There are many stories that have come up around this dog. The regulars on the street have noticed him sitting morosely through the night on the divider stones. The watchman, an elderly old man from the interiors of a north Indian village, believes that the dog is waiting to join his wife who was lost to him years ago. His wife was eaten one day by a leopard that had strayed from the Sanjay Gandhi National Park forest into the streets of Kandivali.
Those were the days when the strays were picked up by the BMC vans and left deep in the jungles of SGNP. These were then eaten up by the hungry leopards that later developed a liking for dog meat.
So, he waits there on the divider, the crime scene of an ancient murder.
“Does he wait for his wife?” I ask the watchman.
“No. You fool. She is dead, isn’t she? He believes that the leopard will stray back again,” he replies rather impatiently.
“Then, will he confront him,” I ask.
“Yes,” says the watchman. “He will fight him and kill him. He will take revenge and his wife’s soul will find peace.”
That was one hell of a good working-class story that I had heard in a long time.
I look at the brown and mottled mutt. Could this dog could take on the might of a leopard? This skinny, sad fellow with a strange, insane determination in his eyes. Who knows, he is perhaps waiting for his wife’s murderer. And when that day arrives …
In the winter when the sun rises much later, he sits on the divider for a longer time. I stop to take a closer look. Perhaps I will discern his truth in some strange way by staring long and hard at him.
A few men, cleaners and drivers of long-distance tourist buses parked nearby, invite me [out of curiosity mainly] to warm myself at the little makeshift fire that they have lit.
One of them invariably begins: “Do you know why he sits there?”
“No, but I would like to know.”
“I have heard his story,” says one of them. “He was a farmer’s dog. The farmer had saved him as a pup from the clutches of a hungry leopard. (A leopard in this story too.) He had gone to the forest to collect some firewood and had seen this pup’s mother splattered in blood, half-eaten by a leopard from the SGNP forest. The pup lay hidden in the bushes. The farmer brought him home.”
“What happened? How did he land up here? Was he abandoned?”
“‘No,” the cleaner replies. “He was very close to the farmer.”
“The land on which those high-rise buildings stand built by the big construction company – that was his farm. That was the beautiful land that this dog roamed upon. Five years ago, the Company wanted to buy the farm to build these buildings. The farmer refused. The hired goons of the Company killed him, and cut his body up in several pieces, and threw them in this well. They say he died screaming. He screamed for his dog several times before he breathed his last,” added the cleaner.
Seeing that by now I was completely into the story, he continues: “That’s why he sits on the divider. Don’t get fooled by the direction of his nose. Look at his left ear. (The other one has been chewed by the leopard). His left ear is locked onto the well. He still hears his master calling out to him.”
So, this was the dog that had witnessed the slow but steady march of the city into the farms and the forests, the murder of an innocent man, and the loss of an older way of life.
My respect for this mongrel had increased manifold. So much oppression, so much of a struggle, and such a cruel history had been inscribed onto his little, mottled body.
Sometimes when I leave home earlier than usual, I would bump into a few maidservants rushing to their work in the tall skyscrapers. They would catch me looking at the dog. One of them would stop to look at me looking at the dog.
I would ask peevishly: “Do you know why he sits there every day?”
“Of course, we know,” they would say. “He has been wooing the females all night. He needs to rest. Doesn’t he? Look at those eyes. Do you see anything but lust in those eyes? All these strays that you see on the streets are his.”
They abuse him and walk away.
Well, that’s my dog. And that’s my story.
Either he is this dog with longing in his eyes for his one true love, my hero who wants to take on the might of this city, or, he is a Casanova of dark, moonless nights.
Or, perhaps, he is all of them.
Indeed, who can tell?
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