Supposedly, the world can be divided into two categories: dog people and cat people—and never the twain shall meet. Two recent books, The Book of Dog and Cat People, are a celebration of some of our beloved four-legged friends. The writings in it comprise a mix of short stories, personal essays, poems, original art and photographs by some of India’s leading writers, journalists and rescuers—passionate dog/cat lovers who share their most cherished memories.
In The Book of Dog, Atul Sarin talks about the time when he moved from London to Goa in 2005 and how the condition of the state’s street dogs saddened him. A chance meeting with a dog in an ATM inspired him to set up his rescue centre Welfare for Animals in Goa. Aanchal Malhotra writes an informative essay on dogs that were trained and deployed during World War I, valued as they were for their acute sense of smell, speed and loyalty. Mythologist Devdutt Pattnaik contributes a scholarly essay about the representation of dogs in Hindu mythology.
Some of the pieces in The Book of Dog are written in the first-person narrative of dogs themselves. Like Jim Brown who fondly recalls 13 memorable years spent with Fiona Fernandez’s family in a quiet Mumbai suburb. Writer Jerry Pinto shares a heart-warming story from the viewpoint of an old hound dog living in Mumbai’s Welfare of Stray Dogs Kennel.
Some dog lovers express themselves poetically. Gulzar pens an evocative poem on his companion, a Boxer with whom he has shared many morning walks and biscuits. Translator and writer Arunava Sinha shares haikus about a typical day in the life of Tingmo, his Golden Retriever. Novelist Anita Nair dedicates a poem each to her traditionally named pups, Sunderapandi and Nachimuthu.
Visual essays in the collection are a delight. Filmmaker Sooni Taraporevala beautifully captures the dogs of Mumbai’s Marine Drive post lockdown. Craig Boehman’s photo essay showcases random moments of his quarantine along with two cats in a Mumbai apartment. Sarnath Banerjee’s piece on the life of Shehzada Ozu, the postcolonial Pekingese, is striking mostly due to its powerful black-and-white illustrations. Divya Dugar’s essay about her adventurous 28-hour long train journey with three mongrels and a baby comes alive with pictures of her several travels with dogs.
Shobhaa De humourously describes her rather ladylike Pekingese. Complete with fancy air and graces, she is “more cat than dog”. Prerna Singh Bindra recounts private conversations with her dog Doginder.
While dogs are more trusting, cats are known to be more loyal to a house than its owner. “If a cat wants a home, it chooses where to go, and who will look after it,” writes Aditi Sriram. Anukrti Upadhyay’s piece throws light on the belief that cats are even inauspicious, bad omens. There’s something disconcerting about these sly, moody creatures, who are certainly more solitary and self-reliant compared to their canine counterparts. Apparently, cruel dictators from history, including Hitler, Napoleon and Genghis Khan, feared cats, points out Meera Ganapathi.
However, there are plenty of happy stories in Cat People too. Janice Pariat explores the clichés of writers and their cat muses—given that Hemingway, Lessing, Twain, Plath and Eliot were all devoted to their cats. A summer spent with her cat leads Saba Imtiaz to believe that a cat is more intuitive than one’s closest friends. Natasha Badhwar’s essay is the enduring legacy of her first tomcat who had to leave too soon. Meenakshi Madhavan Reddy shares the story of her first kitten when she moved from Delhi to Mumbai. “The nature of loving pets is to know that you’re going to lose them,” she ruminates. Needless to say, these two books are an absolute treat for canine and feline lovers.
The Book of Dog
Edited by: Hemali Sodhi
Price: Rs 699
Edited by: Devapriya Roy
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Price: Rs 499