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One man & his dogs

It was hate at first sight when former director in charge of ITC’s hotels, travel and food businesses, Habib Rehman first laid eyes on a small white Spitz adopted by his wife Sukhi 15 years ago.

india Updated: Jul 31, 2010 17:22 IST
Parul Khanna Tewari

It was hate at first sight when former director in charge of ITC’s hotels, travel and food businesses, Habib Rehman first laid eyes on a small white Spitz adopted by his wife Sukhi 15 years ago. The dog-loving Rehman had an aversion to small dogs, so he banished Gori to the servant’s room and ignored her every time he spotted her. But in the best Bollywood tradition, one stormy night brought about a change in his relationship with Gori, which has finally culminated in Rehman’s first book – a memoir about Gori – just released by Roli Books on July 29.

Puppy Love
A Home For Gori documents Rehman’s love for his pet. He explains, “Gori’s story will help me share my joy and sorrow of owning and loving a pet with other animal lovers.” Recalling that occasion when he caved in, Rehman says, “One night, I let my wife get Gori into our room. She jumped up on our bed and snuggled inside the comforter, next to my legs. That’s where she slept for the rest of her life.”

Indeed, as his relationship with Gori developed into mutual love and respect, Rehman says he realised that apart from her size, Gori was all heart and loyalty and affection – the same as any big dog or more. “I treated her with disdain,” recalls Rehman. “It wasn’t an equal setting. But this book is about our love, not our guilt.”

DogsRehman and Gori soon became inseparable. She tasted the many treats prepared at the house during parties and even gave Rehman company at dinner. She would also fret whenever Rehman had to be away on work.

Gori passed away in 2005 when she was 10, and her passing left a big hole in Rehman’s life. He recalls, “I always wanted to document my love for Gori, so after she died, I kept journals about all the anecdotes I had concerning her. One day, a friend from Roli asked me why I had decided to stay on in Panchsheel Park after retirement. I told him how I wanted to stay close to where Gori was buried. That’s when he urged me to write a book.”

Canine Capers
After Gori died, Rehman kept on adopting dogs. “I have 15, and I will get more,” he says. Rehman had to organise a system to ensure their well-being. Each of his dogs has an assigned kennel that is air-cooled. “There are two people who look after the dogs. Both are trained in medicine, and there is also a van, in case of an emergency,” explains Rehman.

Every morning and evening, while he sips his tea, the dogs come up to his room in batches and spend time with him. Rehman calls all the 15 “a big extended family, with each dog having distinctive traits from each other.”

He doesn’t evoke such love only from his pets but from most dogs. “I have a chemistry with dogs. Wherever I go, they come to me,” says Rehman. “In fact, two strays outside my home often follow me to my bedroom.”

Rehman’s love of dogs is fascinating, because while growing up in Hyderabad, no dogs were allowed in his house. “My grandmother didn’t let us have a dog. Ours was a traditional Islamic household in which dogs are considered impure. I am not sure if this contention is true,” says Rehman.

It was only when he joined the army (which he left after a few years) that Rehman finally learnt to love dogs. “I was in charge of 25 soldiers in the erstwhile NEFA (North East Frontier Agency). That’s where I met Bullet, a Bhutia dog. He became my friend and protector,” says Rehman. “In such inhospitable terrain, I began to dwell on the nature of dogs and began to love them.”

Ask him about his enduring love affair and he says, “Brothers fight with each other, fathers fight with their sons, and even spouses fight with one another. But dogs will always love you, they will never leave you or let you down.”

Pet Names
Baba: Gori treated this dog like a child. So people called him chota baba, hence Baba.
Dada: This German shepherd is known for his dadagiri.
Dasi: Meant to give Dada company, this German shepherd was called Dasi (servant).
Genghis, Jahan and Jabeen: Rampur hound Genghis is named after the Mongolian ruler who was known for his speed and swiftness. Jahan was Genghis’ companion. Jabeen is their son, named after Genghis Khan’s son.
Johnnie and Walker: Named after Habib Rehman’s favourite Scotch, the labradors represent its gold and black colours.
Bibi, Babu, Babu and Robin: Short names for the small dogs.
Pilaru: Servants called this spitz Pillu (colloquial Hindi for pup). Pillu soon became Pilaru.
Gabbar and Laila: Dada and Dasi’s pups. Gabbar because he’s strong. Laila in memory of a dog Habib Rehman had earlier.