I have long believed that one can predict the status of a city by looking at the condition of the dogs. The stray dog is the only creature that has managed to co-inhabit urban and rural spaces with humans.
Everytime I visit a new place, I keep an eye out for the stray dogs. I have had to encounter them on dark, lonely roads, holding my breath and ready to scram at a moment’s notice. I have also had groups of stray dogs wag their tails and jump up on me gleefully.
In the bits of Himachal Pradesh I have experienced, I found the stray dogs to be healthy, friendly and generally Instagram-ready. Goa too has a healthy population of stray dogs, but with a dark, evil side. The stray dogs of Goa (tired of all the noise, littering and EDM bullshit) have become a fearful lot that bark and chase away lonely trespassers, romantics on scooters, and harmless drunks such as myself.
When in Bhubaneswar, I spend most of the day lazing in bed, watching trashy films on the television, waiting for the sun to set. Once Surya devata has retired for the day, I step out to gulp down Bhang from the friendly neighbourhood chhennawala, and look for the guy who sells pre-rolled joints for 20 bucks.
As a nocturnal being, I have to encounter stray dogs on a daily basis, stuttering home late into the night, or walking into a shady lane where a peddler has set up his humble empire.
The stray dogs of Bhubaneswar are friendly, cordial and mostly interested in matters pertaining to their own business. I have never been chased by stray dogs – whether I was walking, stumbling, rolling, or being dragged up.
I pin this down to two reasons. 1. Bhubaneswar mostly goes to sleep by 9 PM. Stray dogs have been given their time and space to exist, and they reciprocate the gesture by being nice to the entirety of the homo sapien specie.
The second reason could be attributed to a recent proliferation of Shirdi Sai Baba devotees in the city. Sai Baba temples have sprung up around the city, and unlike other gods, Sai Baba’s principles are relaxed, secular and attuned with 21st century ideals. As a Shirdi Sai Baba devotee, you needn’t fast on Mondays, consume only salt on Tuesday, and offer your small intestine on Wednesdays.
Shiridi Sai Baba’s emphasis on providing for needy humans and animals, and the many pictures of Sai Baba with dogs at his feet, seem to have had a lasting impact on the denizens of Bhubaneswar.
THE BULLS OF BHUBANESWAR
I have been surrounded by cows throughout my life. In fact, if I could somehow avoid the dung and the stench, I’d go so far as to state that cows are among my favourite animals on earth.
Of course, I am partially biased towards the Buffalo, for reasons both spirtitual as well as Rastafari. [Read my blog on my favouritest animal in the world – The Buffalo!]
But that doesn’t change the fact that I have grown up around the sights, smells and sounds of cows. Like the family who’d been alloted a government quarter below ours, and had generously brought along with them three cows and two calves.
Amidst the brouhaha and worshipping of cows, we have doled out a rather raw deal to the bulls of the nation. Those that come from a sturdy lineage are castrated and sent to farms to work as oxen. Those that aren’t sent to slog in harsh conditions are retained only for the purpose of procreation. And yet, in our cruel, capitalistic world, we have chosen to deny bulls even that final pleasure – choosing instead to artificially inseminate the finest bull semen into cows – rending the bulls of India practically jobless.
All over the country, bulls roam around homeless and desolate. They haunt obscure lanes, surviving only on the sympathy of Facebook photographers who add a watermark and pimp the photographs for personal glorification.
The Bulls of Bhubaneswar however, differ from their brethren around the nation. Owing partially to the predominant Shiva culture that presides in the city, bulls are worshipped, respected and well fed. There are shelters that only take in wounded and aged stray bulls, shopkeepers feed them an eclectic diet of fruit buns, bananas, and (on bad days) cheap laddoos.
The bulls of Bhubaneswar amble about merrily from street to street, colony to colony, helping the laymen of the city absolve themselves of their sins by feeding them a banana. They are healthy, agile and nimble (in case a BMC towing truck happens to pass by). Bhubaneswar is said to have more than 500 temples, and this has spun off quite well for the bulls. They are a cheerful, happy lot.
And as I stumble back home, drunk on the sins of the night, the two of them stand on the roads looking at me from a distance. They perceive me as neither a friend nor an enemy. Just a co-inhabitor of the same planet.
As I close the gate to retire for the night, I catch the bull swatting flies away with its tail, a wide smile acroos his face.
Like the logo of a milk production company.