The dogs of Balewadi

Psst- The Street dogs of Balewadi don’t look anything like the picture above. I’m too scared to stop and take their picture most of the times. So let’s just make do with this free pexel picture for now, eh? 😏

Dogs are a man’s best friend, they say. I think dogs also learn from men, like monkeys. But I don’t see monkeys hanging out about in everyone’s homes or on the streets here, like we have the dogs. So this is the story of the dogs that I see occupying the homes in our society, as loved pets and the street dogs occupying the areas outside the society, as the loved, but better left alone, urchins.

Every morning I go for a run outside. I have this strange fear of the street dogs. I don’t fear the pet dogs on the leash that much. But the street dogs are free, and carefree and move in packs, loyal packs. I could say that the fear is almost irrational, since I’ve only heard stories of runners or running thieves being chased down by the sane or sometimes mad street dogs. But not once, have any of these street dogs chased me down. That doesn’t stop me from slowing down every time I come across a pack of the street dogs, lying on the road, nonchalantly. Sometimes they lift their heads to see this strange woman pounding the road with her thud-thud-thud runs, disturbing their sleep, sometimes they don’t even bat an eye. I try not to have any sort of eye contact with them, because I don’t want to send any wrong signals. By wrong signals I mean, I don’t want to say, ‘I’m really friendly’, or I don’t want to say, ‘actually I’m really scared of you, but I’m pretending to be cool so that I fool you’. 

Over the course of my morning runs and observations of these packs, I realized, that they have a structure and a society. So right outside my home, there are a string of restaurants and a McDonalds. The pack of street dogs that rule in this locality, are better fed, have a collar so that the municipal trucks don’t tow them away, are loved and petted by all the rich restaurant goers. I think all the society dogs want to be secretly friends with them and live like them, without a leash. Every time I see one of the society dogs on a leash cross their area, there is always a strong tug on the leash to try and break free. There are no competitive barks, but almost like this discussion, where the alpha of the street dog pack runs and stands on a higher ground and barks a series of short gruffly barks, which makes the clean, cultured society dogs tug on their leashes even harder. One day, I even saw a female street dog slyly follow the rich and well-groomed male Labrador who was on a leash and then both of them taking turns at sniffing each other when the care taker was not looking.

Once I cross this posh road to the other side of the main road, where there are fewer restaurants and slightly less affluent people living, I see the quality and the behavior of the street dogs change. It seems like although they’re free, they have to work harder for their food. They aren’t well fed or well-loved like the up market street dogs near McDonalds. I see them digging in through the open trash and fighting hard, even amongst each other, over the tiniest find of food. They seem angry at the world and almost despise the pet dogs and chase them away with a ferocious relentlessness, with group barking that is so shrill, so loud, that you can hear it from miles away. That is when I slow down and change my course as well. I don’t want to mess with the angry dogs, for some reason.

And so, with each run, I come across the society and hierarchy of the dogs living in my area. The privileged pets, the middle class workers who aim to be part of the privileged pet group, the middle class or lower middle class rebels, and the disgruntled with life and angry dogs. But each time, I’ve noticed, that the one dog that stands out, is not the huge Alsatian pet dog in the society, but the muscular and lean male street dog who commands the pack at McDonalds. He is always looking out for his pack, and his pack follows him with blind loyalty. There is almost an unsaid respect amongst the society privileged dogs and this alpha street dog, and I swear I thought I saw a deferential nod one day between these two dogs, on one of my runs!

And then I think about how George Orwell wrote the Animal Farm and how we have Disney’s movies like The Lady and the Tramp and wonder, whether these artists created these works as an analogy based on human nature/societies or whether human beings give their intelligence too much credit and that we’re no better or different than dogs or monkeys, when it comes to societal structure and dynamics?

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