By Adarsh Madhavan
Suddenly, I am getting noticed even in the dark, unlit, streets of Kannur.
Normally, I slink past, under the cover of the shadows, like most of the poor street dogs that I try to feed. But lately, my lanky frame is being recognised, worn shoes, faded office cap et al.
Tommy was sneaking a biscuit from my hands, while the others looked on, afraid to approach me when a man in a swank car stopped near this night gathering of dogs and man. I thought wow; here was someone who was really concerned about the safety of these poor doggies. The man downed the window on his side and said, “I have been noticing you feeding these strays since some time now.” I thought, wow, a compliment from a kindred spirit? But it was uncomplimentary and unspirited: “You know you are doing a dangerous thing. These dogs will multiply (what, they are rabbits?) like anything and they will start biting everyone.”
They are good dogs, I said. And they were. These were being cared for by a woman who lived all alone and she just let them free all around her home and around the area too. I was only adding a touch of Rs10 biscuits to her endeavour. But the way this man in the car addressed me, it looked as though I was feeding all the strays in Kannur and because of that they were all going to multiply (What, they are RABBITS?) and the whole city was going to be filled with rabid dogs. I held my cool. If you protest, if you fight, if you tell them to go chase, well, rabbits, they will take revenge – not on me, but on these poor harmless creatures. They are not my dogs. I just give them some biscuits and frankly, these aren’t strays, I tried telling this man.
“They will go crazy – just a month ago, we rounded three of them and destroyed them,” he retorted.
My mouth opened. I had nothing to say. Any dog would go crazy if it is constantly chased, stoned and with hardly a morsel in its belly for days, perhaps weeks.
Then another night, a neighbour next to this lady’s house caught me in the act of feeding biscuits to Tommy and gang right in front of his home. He asked why I couldn’t feed them from somewhere else; and why in front of their home. He had a point. So I apologised and since then never dropped even a biscuit crumb in front of their home. But I continued the act in front of the lady’s house. Much before this, members of a sect that had an ‘on and off’ office directly opposite my brother’s home, protested when they found out that I was feeding some strays every night on top of their walls. They were going to complain, they said. But it was their wall and I was on the wrong side of it so I kept quiet and stopped feeding the scared bunch on the walls and only on the road, where bikes, cars and other vehicles roared past, missing the hunger-stricken lot by a whisker.
We are flanked on the left and the right by dog owners. The lady on the right who owned a rather large-sized old dog (come to think of it, the one on the left was also large – plus, an ultra fierce one) said she had a hard time taking him on his usual susu night rounds because of these dogs that hung around. “They are a real menace!” she declared as they melted out of sight by her mere stare. No, I argued. They are very timid creatures, they just run away. They are even scared of me even though I have been feeding them for close to a year. “No,” she said. “I am going to poison the whole lot!” Once again, I opened my mouth. I had no words. And even if I did, it would only in return harm these poor little doggies.
Then the other night, while I was feeding this lot right in front of our home, a car stopped and a young chap jumped out and asked why couldn’t I feed them on the road, why on their walls? My mouth opened again. He was from this sect that owned the building opposite our home. Not even one grain was put on their walls after they ‘complained’. So what was he talking about? He realised his mistake but he ranted on. They were reinforcing their compound walls with steel rods, which will prevent these ‘dangerous’ creatures from coming in, he informed me. He went on and I stood with my mouth open.
The next day I did call a senior member of this sect whom we knew since the time my father built our home, nearly 50 years ago. The man was sympathetic. But he had the same voice as the others: “…the danger is, some of them are going to bite someone in the area and then all the fingers will point at you. They will say you have been encouraging them to multiply (WHAT, THEY ARE RABBITS?) and then you will be held responsible!”
I was speaking to him over the phone, so he couldn’t see me with my mouth open wide.