My dog's prejudice

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C.P. Ravikumar

Apr 21, 1991, 11:23:18 PM4/21/91

Here is a little humorous article by Kannada writer
B.G.L. Swamy. It appears in the collection ``Pradhyapakana
Peethadalli'' (From the chair of a Department Head).
B.G.L. Swamy was a world renowned botanist. He served
as Professor and head of the botany department in a
well known college in Madras. Being the son of Kannada writer
D.V.G, Swamy had a natural penchant for literature.
A number of his writings relate his experiences as a teacher and
as a departmental head -- the redtape in the college administration,
politics within the department, his problems with Tamil
speaking staff and colleagues, students, research, and so on.
Being the department head, he was in several tight
situations and had to resolve them tactfully. He
had many successes and several failures. He writes
about them in a humorous tone.

His book ``Colleguranga'' (College : A stage) was made into
a film by director Puttanna Kanagal. His book ``Hasuru Honnu''
(The Golden Green) is a unique contribution of the Kannada literature
-- it is a scince book about plant life, but written from
the point of view of an artist. The book won the Sahitya
Academy award. Swamy died a few years ago while serving
as a Visiting Professor at Mysore University.

My dog's prejudice

By B.G.L. Swamy
Translated by C.P. Ravikumar

My wife finally forced me to bring home a dog puppy. I cannot
tell you enough about all the trouble this dog pup has caused
me. I had to feed the pup, give her a bath, and take her for
a walk every morning. My wife took the `responsibility' of playing
with the dog and teaching her tricks. Every morning when the
`Hindu' arrived on the front porch, the dog would run and
bring the newspaper to either me or my wife. This was the
result of my wife's extensive training to the dog. I am
not exactly sure whether she also taught the pup to growl
at the pictures on the front page of Hindu. At first, the
dog would growl at each and every picture; as time passed,
it would only growl at pictures of men. I brought this
to my wife's attention, only to be silenced with a rebuff.
``Will you stop complaining? She is a dog, but that does not
mean she is not intelligent! She is beginning to recognize
people, aren't you Ruby?'' And she picked up the pup and
planted kisses on her. But I continued to observe the pup
and noticed a behavioral pattern developing. The dog developed
the habit of growling at pictures of specific people. And
ultimately, at the pictures of a specific person!

Those were the days when Kamaraj ruled over Tamil Nadu.
Almost every magazine or newspaper carried a picture
of Kamaraj. Ruby would begin to growl as soon as she
saw Kamaraj on the cover page. No amount of cajoling
or petting would console her. The only way to prevent
these incidents was to hide magazines from Ruby. For
this reason, it became embarrassing to take my pet to a
friend's house!

One evening, I had taken out Ruby for a walk and stopped
at a corner shop for a pack of cigerette. The dog began
salivating. I understood, and bought her a couple of
crackers. While Ruby was enjoying her snack, the newspaper
delivery boy arrived with a stack of Tamil newspapers.
The shopkeeper clipped a sample newspaper in front of
the shop. I heard a growl and turned back. Ruby was
looking at the newspaper angrily and barking incessantly.
I turned around and found a large picture of Kamaraj
on the newspaper. Ruby made a scene. She jumped and
tried to get hold of the paper from the shopkeeper;
she even managed to tear a portion of the newspaper.
People began to group together, wondering what was wrong.
I decided it was better to disappear from the scene than
try to explain the situation! I handed a ten rupee note
to the shop keeper and fled, taking Ruby in my arms.

When I reached home, my wife sensed that something was
wrong. ``Why, what happened? What did you do to Ruby?
Did you hurt her? I can't understand your hatred for the
poor thing!'' I handed the dog to my wife and explained
what had happened. I did not forget to add my dissatisfaction
about the dog's behavior. My wife completely ignored my
complaints and proudly looked at her pet. She even kissed
the dog! I threatened that I will not walk the dog
from then on. ``Oh come off it! It's all your mistake
any way! Who asked you to take Ruby to a cigerette shop?
Who asked you to smoke in the first place! If you
had suppressed your urge for a while, none of this would
have happened. To blame the poor little darling!''
I simply did not know how to respond.

I decided to do something about Ruby's awkward behavior.
Since it became clear that my wife would not be sympathetic
in this matter, I contacted my friend Krishnan, who is
an expert dog trainer. In fact, he is an expert in
the mammal behavioral science. When I explained the
problem to him, he said. ``Some dogs develop a hatred
for a particular thing or a particular person. Don't
ask me why. Now look at you, you have hated vermicelli
right from your boyhood. Can you explain why? There
is nothing seriously wrong with your dog. After all,
she does not bite anyone or anything. Barking and
growling ... you can live with that!'' It became
clear to me that there was no cure for Ruby's
strange behavior.

Except for her hatred for Kamaraj, Ruby was indeed a
fine pet. She would come into my Lab along with my
wife and play around. My colleagues and my students
have developed a special friendship with Ruby. Even
if I am not in my Lab, she would find me through
her sense of smell, jump all over me and lick my
face. If she heard a rat move inside the lab (and
there were quite a few of those around), Ruby would run
after it and catch it. Sometimes she would make up
imaginary enemies in air and run after them. I could
not bring myself to give away Ruby. But her behavior
bothered me all the same. I started my job as a
Professor when Kamaraj was Chief Minister of Tamil
Nadu. I had met the man on several occassions and
respected him. It disturbed me that my dog would not
like him. I expressed my concern to my wife. She
sympathized with me, and agreed to ease my discomfort
by volunteering to take Ruby for walks.

Meanwhile, the state was getting ready for Kamaraj's
birthday celebrations. The entire city of Madras was
decorated with color lights, flags, and mango leaf decorations.
Posters such as ``Long live Kamaraj'' appeared almost
everywhere. Cutouts of Kamaraj were placed on several
important places in town. When my wife was walking
Ruby near the college campus, a group of people were
getting ready to paste a picture of the Chief Minister
on the college wall. Ruby freed herself from the
dog chain and ran towards them. She was agitated by
what she saw. Growling and barking, she went after
the picture and bit into Kamarj's face. My wife
did not know how to explain all this to the men. Instead,
she gave our home address to them and hurriedly returned
home to inform me of the incident.

Next day, an officer from the Public Works Department
showed up on my door step. He explained why he had
come and began his investigation. ``Is this dog
yours?'' I nodded in agreement.

``This dog has destroyed Kamaraj's poster.''

``So I heard. What can we do now?''

``Sir, why did your dog do this?''

``What can I say? The dog has always disliked Kamaraj's face.''

``But why?''

``Beats me.''

``You have not trained the dog. You should have taught
the dog some manners.''

``I don't think there is anything wrong with her manners.
Except for this little problem.''

``What is this Sir! I don't believe you are saying this!
You are a teacher, I have heard. You correct mistakes
of your students, don't you?''

I did not like his modus operandi. I interrupted him.
``No, I don't try to correct the behavior of my students.
Much less my dog.''

``OK, let bygones be bygones. Why don't you just write
a letter of apology ?''

``A letter of apology?!''

``Yes Sir, as someone responsible for the dog ...''

``Why should I write for my dog? Suppose a dog from the
street had done this ... who would you ask to write a
letter of apology?!''

He grumbled something inaudibly. ``My boss there sends
me to get a report and you here argue with me like this.
What am I to do? In all this, I am the one who must
shuttle back and forth like a dog.'' He wailed.

``Tell you what, you don't need a letter of apology.
What you need is a letter of regret.'' I consoled him,
and proceeded to write him such a letter. Next day,
a yellow newspaper reported the following as a news item:
`` ... The owner of the dog was summoned to the court
of law. Since the owner apologized for his dog's
behavior, he and his dog were released without
penalty.'' (Kunduchi, 10-7-1956).


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