Barking up the right tree: Review of The Book of Indian Dogs by S Theodore Baskaran

Hindustan Times | By
Feb 11, 2017 08:43 AM IST

Dog lovers will enjoy The Book of Indian Dogs, the first comprehensive guide to Indian breeds in half a century

Kuro is my favourite person in the world. Honest. I can’t take long walks with the spouse without arguing about politics, ethics, feminism, family life, progeny, relatives, household economics, national economics, world economics, interstellar expeditions, spirituality, God, phew!

Chippiparais, labelled the greyhounds of south India, are native to southern Tamil Nadu.(Karthik Davey)
Chippiparais, labelled the greyhounds of south India, are native to southern Tamil Nadu.(Karthik Davey)

The Book of Indian Dogs
The Book of Indian Dogs

I, however, take long walks with Kuro in companionable silence. She has some habits that are frowned upon in polite society. Like urinating in the street, having no use whatsoever for cutlery, preferring to scarf her food noisily leaving rice grains scattered around her plate, and appreciatively sniffing friends’ posteriors. She is also given to staring at good looking men, once sitting down outside the glass doors of a gym to watch a shirtless specimen lift weights. This last proclivity is embarrassing since I do not share her dogged interest in pulchritudinous people. Indeed, every day, twice or thrice, I cross the road to avoid beauteous folks. Dog promise.

Memorial of Waghya, Shivaji’s dog. (Pundalik Dhuri)
Memorial of Waghya, Shivaji’s dog. (Pundalik Dhuri)

Anyway, last night, as part of a new bedtime ritual, I decided to read out selections to her from The Book of Indian Dogs by S Theodore Baskaran. It went really well. Kuro tilted her head to convey her deep interest in the efforts being made to revive beautiful indigenous breeds like the Rajapalayam, the Mudhol, the Chippiparai and the Pashmi. She threw her chew toy aside when I read out the bit about greyhound racing in Faridabad in Punjab; scratched her ear when I pushed the page with the picture of a Himalayan mastiff under her nose; and contemplatively licked herself when she heard that most of the Tibetan spaniels in England are descended from two dogs called Lama and Dolma, who were transported there in the 1940s. Occasionally, she jumped up and clawed my leg in an attempt to get me to tell her again and again about the dog memorial in Eduthanur in Tamil Nadu. This ‘hero stone’ features a man named Karundhevakathi and his dog Kovivan, who were killed while fighting cattle rustlers back in 614CE during the reign of the Pallava King Mahendravarman I. It’s the kind of information that would leave any canine panting with pride.

The Vaghari hound of Gujarat
The Vaghari hound of Gujarat

She was a bit put out, however, on hearing that foreign dogs brought in by the British – those long-departed pestilential fellows responsible for visiting all manner of evils on the subcontinent including the railways and caramel custard – displaced most of the hardy indigenous breeds and messed with their pure bloodlines. Canine miscegenation, what a loss of caste! Oh, the horror, the horror. As a proud desi descended from a robust strain of Haryanvi street dogs expert at waking up the neighbourhood at 2am with blood-curdling howls, she isn’t herself a terribly twice-born type. When the time comes, I’ll have to place an ad under the ‘cosmopolitan’ subhead on – ‘caste, community, language no bar’.

Still, her own mixed-upness hasn’t stopped her from being disdainful of the lumbering Alsatians, the foolishly good natured Labradors, and the neurotic Spitzes. She thinks they are “too westernised.” She isn’t very articulate in Human but I know she believes the quality of her life would be vastly improved if she hung out with Jonangis, Kombais, Koochees, Alaknooris and Pandikonas – all graceful Indian dogs – instead of the bimbo golden retrievers down the street. Incidentally, Nehru had a golden retriever named Madhu. Appalling. Why couldn’t he just call his dog Tommy like everyone else?

The Bakharwal is a mountain dog originating in the Pir Panjal area of the Hindu Kush and the Himalayas.
The Bakharwal is a mountain dog originating in the Pir Panjal area of the Hindu Kush and the Himalayas.

I spent much of last night reading out loud from The Book of Indian Dogs and Kuro’s intellect is much improved as a result. She did convey to me, though, that she wished the book had been longer, had more pictures, and been produced in a larger, more sumptuous format. Apparently, this size makes it difficult to ogle at Bhakarwal dudes to one’s heart’s content.

She also expressed a certain unease with the chapter on stray dogs and the threat they pose both to humans and wildlife. Couldn’t feral dog populations be controlled by a combination of sterilization and effective garbage disposal, she wondered. Of course, these are questions that wiser dogs than she have pondered about.

It all reminded me of the scene of the great dog cull in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s The General in His Labyrinth and the protagonist’s remorse afterwards. I jumped up to read that bit out but Kuro expressed her displeasure by biting her purple cushioned bed. She’s not a fan of magic realism. Few proud desi dogs are. I let it go.

One good book a night really is good enough for a woman and her best friend.

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