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On the virtues of not owning a dog

These are intolerant times. Something as small as your dog's name could land you in trouble, says Saumya Balsari.

india Updated: Mar 04, 2006 18:51 IST

I was accosted by auntyji yesterday while I was shopping for ready-made aloo paratha (you can tell I can't make fluffy chapattis) at Bee-Cee Vee-Jay Kay-Dee Mart. She was chatting with Mrs Arora near the frozen spinach. I had been eavesdropping on their conversation and found out that the actress Manisha Koirala is currently in trouble for inappropriately naming her dog and for offending religious beliefs. She has been provided police protection while she continues to plead that she does not own a dog, and indeed, has not had one for the past two years, and that her earlier dogs were named Tanya and Tweety.

I was stunned when auntyji suddenly turned to me, probing if I had a dog. These are clearly hard times and dog days in which to write humour. I was stunned into denial and dropped the packet of aloo parathas that I'd taken so blithely from the freezer cabinet. It fell from my nerveless fingers. I said categorically that I did not have a dog. Auntyji continued to look suspicious and asked if the man behind me shopping for ginger was my bodyguard providing police protection. I said again that I had never owned a dog, even if it was man's best friend.

I realised that my voice sounded a little weak and unconvincing, but that was because auntyji has that effect on me (and on grown men like the owner of Bee-Cee Vee-Jay Kay-Dee Mart). Mrs Arora looked disapproving when she heard my attempts at self-defence, and barked her question: what breed was my dog?

I was hypnotised by the size of the swinging diamonds in Mrs Arora's earlobes and my voice froze like the samosas behind me. I felt it was a strange question to ask, but she was clearly waiting for my reply. It took some time coming, as there were a number of dog breeds to consider and my mind was on steaming aloo parathas.

All the while Mrs Arora glared like my Hindi schoolteacher who used to fling my notebook across the room to land neatly (every time) into the wastepaper bin and roar, "Naalayak!"

I began to stutter, hoping God and the Queen could save me and I lied and said that my dog was a corgi. Auntyji wanted to know what I had named the corgi, shoving a bunch of dewy coriander accusingly into my face. The two women waited, eyes swelling as large as the watermelons in the boxes behind us. I stammered, and told them I simply called my canine "The Dog".

It was evidently the right answer, for which I used up all my lifelines but didn't need to phone a friend or go fifty-fifty. Auntyji smiled in satisfaction, her lips like a bobbing boat in calm waters that let sleeping dogs lie.

(Saumya Balsari is the author of the comic novel 'The Cambridge Curry Club', and wrote a play for Kali Theatre Company's Futures last year. She has worked as a freelance journalist in London, and is currently writing a second novel.)

First Published: Mar 04, 2006 18:51 IST