‘Stray Dogs in Indian cities’ – a photo-essay by Gokul Krishnan. Gokul is a visual designer, photography being a hobby. He has always been a keen observer of nature, including people & animals. Photography allows him to capture the moment & freeze it in time, each moment narrating a story of its own.
Marina Beach, Chennai
I am a nameless Indian stray dog. At the end of that sentence, I still wonder why anybody would be interested in my story or my plight; nevertheless I will go on like I generally do with my life. I scavenge my way around for a meal & look for a quiet corner to rest my scrawny body. It’s a dog’s life.
Sometimes, I wonder regarding the usage of the word dog in so many phrases, a dog’s life, the underdog not to mention the innumerable movies where my existence is used & abused in their titles & dialogues. If you ask me, it particularly sounds even worse when used in the vernacular language.
But Really, How much of a difference does my existence make in an average Indian human’s life? Yes, I admit, I meet some humans who seem more friendly & compassionate than the regular foul mouthed stone pelting Indian, but again that gets me back to another dog saying” Every dog has his day” and I don’t see many of those days.
I am a nameless stray, born in murky gutters to sniveling bitches.
My very existence is testimony to Darwin’s theory of survival. I pushed & shoved my siblings to just grab a mouthful of that satiating warm milk which was just the beginning of a little more than pushing & shoving just to fill my ever hungry, rumbling stomach.
No prizes for guessing where my siblings are; one lay decaying, crushed under the unforgiving wheels of a garbage truck before the same wrinkle faced garbage collector scooped the dead mass & dumped it in the same truck.
The other not so luckier ones found our ways to other streets & corners trying to make a decent life of the one we were cursed with. My siblings are everywhere. We all have different stories, yet the same. We all look different, yet, we are the same; the Indian stray dog.
Chamundi Hills, Mysore
I am Raju, atleast that’s what the kids who run about rummaging garbage for plastic bottles call me. At this moment, I cannot place my feelings for them. Sometimes, they annoy me by running & screaming about randomly rummaging through my garbage. Yes, I call it mine, my only reliable source of food, at the end of the day. It goes without saying that I am possessive about it.
Sometimes, the same ruffians show me their generosity, when they catch me staring at them morosely as they sink their teeth into the hardened crust of the remnants of a bun. I gladly reciprocate with a tail wag & some wet therapy. They gladly lap it all up. Probably reason why I don’t snap at them when they create such a ruckus waking me out of my sweet afternoon slumber as they walk back from their school.
Some school, I grunt. Don’t humans get to learn some manners in their huge buildings they call schools? I know they’ll be back soon so I grunt my way back into sleep.
Grr… they are back & what do they have with them. Nothing, some bright plastic bottles they have picked off the street. I sigh & decide it’s time to wake up & try my luck elsewhere.
The last time I tried going into another alley, I was done for. I had moved into another one’s territory and what a roughing I had received. I had limped back to my street and went to sleep hungry & beaten.
The time before that, I was caught by those vans who take us to these weird buildings cramped with other dogs, putting us into nets & then the ordeal took another painfully long day. The end result is what you can see in my ear. As if one cocked ear & one limp ear was not enough, they had to do this as well. Humans are a crazy lot!!! Now what does my ear have to do with anything?
My rumbling stomach shook me out of my reverie & I knew I had no choice. I had to make that move if I had to sleep fitfully.
Maybe today I will not have such an eventful day.
Maybe today I will sleep on a full & happy stomach.
Maybe today I will be a lucky dog. Maybe today will be a good, good day.
My name is Lali. I stay in Lal Bagh, Bangalore, the only place I can call home. I was born not very far away from here, not very long ago.
Of my past, I can only say, I managed to survive. The only lucky one in the entire litter, Lali survived. Lucky Lali.
Am I happy? I should be. I am not.
There’s something wrong with me. What exactly, I will never know. Some of my friends say I am stupid, that I should be happy with what I have. I get to stay in Lal Bagh. On an average day, I get food to eat, I find a cozy corner to snooze the afternoon away, they say it’s a good life.
But Lali wants more. Lali is special. Lali wants a home, they snigger. I ignore the sarcasm.
That is the truth. Lali wants a home. Lali dreams of a home. Lali lusts for a home. Lali could kill for a home.
How I would love a crisp collar around my neck, to lead my owner, to rush into a home, while they closed their doors to the rest of the world. I always wonder how it might be to belong to a home, to have my own place, to have my own food & water bowl. To be cuddled & coddled. I wouldn’t even mind the visits to the vet, not even being chained. I told you, I could kill for a home.
Now how do I know all this? I have a keen sense of observation. My eyes have followed those golden haired dogs, the weird faced ones, the big ones, all those assortment of dogs behind those huge gates, inside warm houses.
Why wouldn’t they take me in I wonder? What is it that they have that seems so obviously missing from me? I wish I could convince that lady sitting there, to take me home. That I would be as faithful, as alert, as friendly as any other dog. I would promise I would be better than them. Just somebody, anybody, take me home, my head screams, but no one listens. Instead a stone lands on me. In my reverie, I seem to have wandered too close to a family.
I scamper away, a little hurt, but more to do with my ego than my limping leg.
Maybe this miserable life will come to an end soon & I would be reborn with a golden coat instead of this black one that I seem to be cursed with.
I am Lali, the lucky one.
Lali, the survivor.
One afternoon, I was picked by a young woman, who took me home. Yes of course, it didn’t happen just like that. While she came here every day to capture beautiful moments with her lens, I managed to charm her till she could not bear the long faces that I pulled every time she left. She took me home.
Lali, the lucky one.
Lali, despite her black coat.
You will not be surprised; she named me LUCKY.
Lal Bagh, Bangalore
I was named Leo. Born to a Golden retriever mother & a random stray. So what did that make me? Nothing. A mixed breed. A mongrel. I was quickly bundled away from my mother’s home, as I wouldn’t fetch any money. People are obsessed with pure breeds & we cannot keep them all, I heard them lament.
Even after all these years, I remember very clearly, the first night away from the warmth of my mother, away from my siblings. I was placed in a basket & whisked away into a new home with new smells & new people. I whined & whimpered. All I needed was that familiar fuzzy coat of my mum as I nuzzled into her. I had no idea how to cope.
But cope I did. The little boy in the house took me in & from that first night I stayed with him. Eventually, all memories of my mother’s fuzziness became hazy & I learnt to live in my new home & grew up to be a happy dog. I waited for Raunak to come back from school every day & the minute I saw his head bob around near the corner, I would launch myself at him slobbering all over him. How he loved me, and how I loved him. Life seemed perfect.
But all little boys grow up.
All little boys pack their bags & leave. Raunak hugged me that last night I saw him while I questioned him silently with my eyes. The next morning he left.
I waited for him every day, hoping I would see the same head bob around the corner, but it never happened. I heard his mother call out his name over the phone often, but I wanted him home.
I finally settled into a routine with the servant who sullenly took me for a walk & sullenly fed me.
One day he took me for a walk, longer & on a route that was not the usual.
He left me & walked away. I tried following him, confused when he shooed me away with a stone. What was wrong with this man?
I do not want to talk about the next two days. It is too painful for me to recount what I went through.
Finally, I settled once more into a routine, a routine which was largely waiting for Raunak to come back & reclaim me. I went to sleep hungry for a few days, because I simply had no idea how to find my own food. I had to ward off nosy dogs on the street which sometimes ended in a cut here & a bite there. But in the end, I pretty much settled down.
The only thing that I craved for was a friendly touch, a gentle pat, a scratch behind the ear. How I missed that! When I saw those other buggers on the street ambling away, I would feel that they are so much better off than me. They didn’t even know what they were missing out on. My mother’s breed did not ensure a lifelong home for me. Instead it made my misery worse. It showed me what love feels like, how warm a home can get & then it was cruelly snatched away. My fate was sealed with abandonment; I was flicked away like a fly.
I am an abandoned stray dog and all I want to do, is to go back home.
Besant Nagar, Chennai
The burning refuses to go away. I don’t know when I picked it up. It all began with a lot of itching. It just got to me. After sometime, I gave up & started running, hoping I could just sprint away from whatever it was that was gnawing at my body. Hoping the unbearable itch would just not be able to catch up, the faster I ran, the worse it became. I finally gave up running & got back to biting at them myself.
The flies buzz at my wounds, and I snap. Can’t I just be left alone? I look at that miserable creature one last time before I flick it away with my mouth & spit it back on the sand. I rolled once again on the rough gravelly sand, to get a moment’s respite from the itching.
I looked around my surroundings, bored & hungry. I was at a mela that was being wrapped up. Children were being bundled away by their parents as the sun was setting. Some children were hanging around popping peanuts into their mouths. The workers seemed to be in anticipation of a new place, where they could re setup their mela again. Today, they were just happy to go home, done with the day.
I wish I could be done with today as well, done with this annoying disease, done with the itching. I wish I could wake up tomorrow free from all the pain, & just get on with my life, reset it, just like those mela workers.
I woke up the next morning as itchy as ever.
Marina Beach, Chennai
The searing heat, the unquenchable thirst, the quest for crumbs, the pursuit of a shady corner….
The search for a cool dip, a friendly pat, yearning for approval & acceptance, a wee bit of kindness.
Escape being pelted with stones, escape being beaten with sticks, escape noisy fireworks, escape the fatal wheels of a speeding car,
Wondering what could be more pragmatic, escaping from death or life itself.
Nandi Hills, Karnataka
So here I come again, my friends, to tell you my plight & my fellow Indian stray dogs.
We all are bound by that one single thread, weighed down by circumstances, weighed down by our looks & our origins.
While patriotism is in its frenzied state, during red letter days & rallies & protests, we have no takers.
While dog shows are organized for our counterparts with their fancy ears & faces, we are considered a menace.
What humans fail to understand is that the same fancy dogs that are abandoned on the street, add to our numbers. Their genetic make up gets ensconced into ours, while we merge with them; yet, we retain our identity, & take pride in the fact that no two Indian dogs would ever look the same.
We outlive our blue blooded counterparts, with all their high class breeding & champion blood lines, in spite of the conditions that we live in. Yet, we have no takers.
We love our human friends, just the same & would gladly sleep in any corner they feel fit to dispatch us to. We are happy little mutts with waggy tails, no different, yet, are perceived so differently.
We are the same, but just as different.
If only the hypocrisy & craze for everything from foreign shores would peter out some day, we would get our rightful place under the sun, beside the hearth & under a roof.
If only we had a voice.
If only we knew the language.
If only we would be acknowledged for what we really are, The Indian dog, without the tag of the word stray.