“The Book of Dog” is a precious reminder of who we become in the company of dogs
Mine is a cat house. Before meeting our first tabby at the age of 18, I thought of myself as a canine person – the remnants of which still linger. Among the many benefits of growing up in India, perhaps the most important is that a child is always around animals.
Even without a pet, children grow up in the company of cats, dogs, and sometimes even cows that have made the neighborhoods as much their home as the human inhabitants. Shortly after mealtime, it is not uncommon to hear voices rising from the houses calling on the various wanderers to fill themselves with leftovers. In my neighborhood—and in many others, I’d like to believe—animals and humans coexist in harmony.
My early school years in Bharuch were marked by Gudiya wagging her tail and following my mother and me to the school bus stop. A few years later in Vadodara we were outnumbered by Romeo, Laila and their litter of seven puppies. A month of summer was spent with us babysitting the neighbors indie, Raju, when they were on vacation. In Kolkata, Bholu found her way to us and for seven years we cared for her and her many litters.
Bholu died of old age in 2019, but her spirit lives in our hearts and her descendants, who now run the neighborhood. When I go out for my evening runs, I stop to pet Biskoot, Blacky, Bholu (version 2.0) and any other dog that responds to my unimaginative calls of snapping fingers or tch-tch-ing.
Now that I think back, my life can be bounded by the comings and goings of canines – which is remarkable since we never had a pet dog. But my memories are not particular. We all love dogs in our own way. The dog book is an ode to all the wonderful times dogs have given us and changed us for the better.
Remarkable, funny and introspective dogs
The dog book chronicles the life of man’s best friend through personal essays, poems, haikus and photo essays. Written by dog lovers (who are also some of India’s popular public figures), each play is a celebration of the deep and enduring love between dogs and their humans.
I’ve always believed there were three types of books: cerebral, sentimental, and a mix of the two. The dog book belongs to the second type. It’s hard to critically read books that have purely sentimental intent, especially those about personal relationships. To editor Hemali Sodhi’s credit, she chose contributors who have rarely, if ever, waded into words.
When I picked up The dog book, I had decided not to read it the old-fashioned way. The only way to read this anthology is to celebrate the many dogs who have loved us and pledge to do good for our loyal companions for as long as we live.
As I flipped through the pages reading about the many remarkable, funny, and introspective dogs that live among us, I was reminded that to love is also to lose. Of all the injustices in life, the short lifespan of dogs has to be one of the most serious. The only way to save yourself from this particular heartbreak is to fall in love with animals that will outlive you – turtles, elephants, and maybe even red sea urchins.
The emotions in The dog book are intense – you could laugh at a dog’s stupidity and sob just as easily in the next few lines as the author remembers a beloved pet through times of sickness and death. Every time a piece started in the past tense, I braced myself for the heartache that awaited me in the final paragraphs.
As a pet parent who cared for an elderly cat after a stroke and maggot infestation, I know full well that illnesses in pets can be particularly distressing. I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose them. But I imagine that when the time comes, instead of crying, pets would want us to remember them fondly and care for other pets with the same fondness they gleaned from us.
The lessons they teach us
“The Bow-Wow Years”, “The Dogs Someone Drew”, “Shehzada Ozu: The Postcolonial Pekingese”, “Tingmo’s Day” and “The Canine Commandments” are very funny. We have first-person accounts of dogs as they tell the quirks of their humans, a love letter to fictional dogs and imaginary pets, and the commandments for being the right human your dog thinks that you are. These pieces constitute the cheerful and light segment of the book.
‘The Way of Sunlight’, ‘Doggone Gods’, ‘The Elegant Mr Darcy and the Brooding Heathcliff’, ‘Dogs of a Lifetime’ and ‘Pumba and I’ are about dogs that have saved us time and time again as we swim through through the tides of life. Warm and funny, these stories remind us that without dogs, life is diminished.
“Till Death Do Us Part”, “Siddhi: Queen of the ATM”, “The Dogs of War”, “Why Do We Go For Heart Children?”, “Death, Dignity, Dogs”, “The dogs never die”, “Editor’s Editor”, “Yippee” and “Kafka’s Last Mango” are incredible stories of love, devotion and loss. They are stories that completely overwhelmed me. As heartbreaking as they are, I think the fraction of our lives that we spend with our canine companions is what makes our time together so precious.
The dog book, and all dogs really, teach us two lessons: live in the moment and find joy in the little things in life. And as you go through life meeting, befriending, loving and losing dogs, remember that there are only two things that matter – all dogs are of good dogs and dogs never die.
As for me, I probably won’t be adopting a dog anytime soon. But until then, I’ll continue to video call and send virtual kisses to my friends’ dogs and pet the puppies that accompany me on my evening runs. Over the years, I hope to fall in love with every dog that has reached out to me. I hope you too.
The dog book, edited by Hemali Sodhi, Harper Collins India.