Thursday, August 27, 2009


I was climbing down the long flight of stairs that rode on the back of a long rocky natural slope, on top of which sat the South Delhi Kali Bari (house of goddess Kali) when the guard called out “Arrrey… Arrey... !! Mataji toh gir jayengi”. I turned back to see an elfin figure in a saffron saree hanging on for dear life from the railing that ran along the staircase. But instead of holding the railing to climb the stairs, this elderly woman was on the other side of the balustrade, trying to haul her way along the slope. I rushed to her aid. By now, gravity had bent her body into a downward pointing arrow and I mulled over the appropriateness of giving her a firm push to help her along but then decided against it. Though precariously placed, she seemed determined and proud, so instead I just stood behind her so that I could break her fall in case she slipped…

As things turned out, it wasn’t necessary and granny managed to make her way towards a rocky outcrop on the slope and sat down. Considering her actions and surroundings, I had expected to see a weather-beaten face, undisciplined and stained teeth, like dirty naughty children breaking through the line at the morning assembly and a disheveled and disorientated air that accompanies every tramp. And yet, when she settled down on that rock face after giving the spot a thorough dusting, she turned towards me and smiled with the sort of poise one might associate with aristocratic grand dames one might encounter at polo grounds on a Sunday afternoon. “Thank you, young man”, she said and smiled through her sparkling teeth. She wore her downy white hair short, and her saffron robes were clean and crisp. She looked like such an oddity on that mossy outcrop that I just had to ask “What’re you doing over here, ma’am?” She seemed a little surprised by the question. “Me? Why, whenever I come to Delhi, this is where I choose to stay…” But why not inside the temple? Why here, exposed to the elements on a rocky slope where one can’t even lie down and sleep… “Well, that’s my little experiment. I don’t intend to sleep but instead I’ll chant through the night… And anyway, I don’t like restrictions… neither rules nor walls… I’m happy under the open sky (and she said the last bit in a rather refined Anglo-Bengali English).” I was carrying a packet of Britannia cakes with me and so I asked her if she was hungry enough to want to eat a few…? “No, no, son, I shouldn’t… I’m 82 (she was remarkably nimble for her age and her unlined face didn’t seem to be much older than someone in her late 50s or early 60s) now and have managed to keep myself away from every ailment till now but I should watch what I eat or else… (she grinned) I will get into trouble…”

Mataji doesn’t want me to reveal her either of her names, neither the one she has as a sadhavi, nor the name her parents had given her, but this is her story… in her words…

“I was born into the raj bari (royal household) of Kumilla which was a part of the state of Tripura. After the partition, Kumilla became a part of what is now Bangladesh. It was a very happy childhood and while my mornings and aft ernoons were spent running around the corridors of the raj bhawan and in the arms of my uncles and grandfather, listening to stories and playing pranks, my evenings were spent sitting on a cot in our courtyard with my grandmother while Shiraj kaka, the Muslim cowherd sat at our feet. His nimble fingers would work on the jute ropes he made and his soulful voice would seem to bring the stars to life as he sang beautiful songs about everything from the joy of the monsoons to the pain of separation… life couldn’t have been better. Then one day, one of my favourite uncles died, just like that… Suddenly, the man who carried me in his arms and told stories about kings and saints every afternoon was gone the next afternoon. I couldn’t get over it. I asked myself, where did he go? Why did he go? And if we are all to die, mother, father, grandfather, grandmother… everybody, then why bother with living? I didn’t know whom to ask…

One of the saints my late uncle oft en told me stories about was Swami Vivekananda. So as I grew older I started reading his books. This was the time when Bengal was in the grip of nationalistic fervour and Vivekananda’s nationalistic ideology inspired me a lot. Somewhere I read thathe felt that while India had produced more than its share of lions in every field, we still hadn’t supported the women of this country enough to help them emerge as the true lionesses they are meant to be and to that end he resolved to set up an educational institution and ashrams for such women. While still a child, I wrote letters to organisations that run in the name of Maa Sarada (Rama Krishna Paramhansa’s wife) and Sister Nivedita (Swami Vivekananda’s Irish student who dedicated her life to Vivekananda’s ideals) and soon as I was old enough to join them, I told my parents I had made up my mind never to get married and dedicate my life towards becoming the lioness Vivekananda wanted the women of this nation to become. I wanted to work towards alleviating the suffering of the poor and the needy as well as in the service of the Almighty, and it really was tough to tell where one ended and the other began. My mother had always been very supportive but my father was your typical conservative and domineering zamindar and he wasn’t too excited about my plans. However, I’d made up my mind to never do something just because I have to, and from that day, till today, I have lived my life on my terms… Of course the tremendous respect my parents and the whole family had for Rama Krishna Paramhans, Maa Sarada and Swamiji, and the powerful tidal wave of the spirit of independence that had engulfed Bengal helped them let me go.

After finishing my schooling I went to Kolkata and started working as a volunteer at a refugee home. This was in the days just before the partition and I found it difficult to come to terms with the horror and suffering of that time. And then I met Madame Lizelle Reymond who took me under her wing. I was her ‘little friend’ and it was through her loving teachings that I was born again in her heart.”

Hmm… Lizelle Reymond! The Swiss lady who authored Sister Nivedita’s biography and was a student of the spiritual master Sri Anirvan… Mataji hadan impressive spiritual and philosophical lineage. She had also had interactions with ‘The Mother’ (Rishi Aurobindo’s spiritual collaborator and successor). And in spite of spending her days walking along the mountain trails beyond Almora, painting images on smooth river rocks by the Ganga in Haridwar, and sleeping under the great blue dome, she keeps abreast of national issues. “All this brouhaha over Jaswant Singh’s take on Jinnah is just a storm in a tea cup. I remember the great killings in Noakhali when the Britishers emptied the whole Bata shoe factory in Kolkata of all its 300-odd Muslim workers and sent them to Noakhali with instructions to rape, murder and pillage for three days, assuring them that the cops would be held back. My maternal uncle was the police chief in Begumganj and he kept requesting for permission to protect people from the mob but the permission was never granted. He saved as many people as he could… Carnage like Noakhali’s was then used to incite Hindu mobs and this forest fire of hate ended up dividing us.”

I asked her if she ever got lonely, living her life all alone, never having considered marriage or family. “No, I don’t get lonely. I find friends everywhere. And then I have my books. I carry some with me. And some characters from some books stay with me forever, like friends that have come alive from the pages of a book. I find my best friends in Tagore’s books…” And her answer? Did she finally figure out why people die? And where do they go when they die? “No, I didn’t find the answer, but I did figure out that it is ok to die. I have lived my life without regret and there is nothing more I want. No Moh, no Maya… and yet my life has been touched by so much of divine love. Now all I want is a beautiful death” and she smiled a beatific smile. But what is a beautiful death? She said, “When my time comes I should embrace my passing, not knowing who I am, or where I might be, without a thought, a care or an unfulfilled desire…”

I left her on that rock that night, a picture of dignified calmness and contentment. Some might call it happiness… I can’t be sure. But if there is happiness in renunciation, perhaps that picture came very close…


Thursday, August 20, 2009


A lazy Saturday lunch with family and friends at a farmhouse had erupted into an afternoon of fear and frenzy. And a red brick structure that housed the generator unit was the eye of the storm. I first heard a child scream, and then there were others… I rushed out of the ‘pool room’ with my friends and saw their children shrieking and running towards us, all the while pointing at the ominous ‘generator room’ that stood silently behind them. While their nervous parents kept asking what had happened, the children, overcome by fear and exhaustion, took a while to catch their breath. Then the eldest child, with the colour slowly returning to his chubby cheeks, whispered “Anaconda!!”

Another kid stretched his arms as wide as he could, thrust his sweet round belly out and grimaced as he tried to stretch some more until one thought he might split in two and said “this big… even bigger”. Then another child said, “It was a cobra… it had big teeth…” Hearing this, the gardeners and care takers who had gathered around us picked up shovels and sticks and ran towards the room… In the commotion, it took me a while to get my bearings and by the time I set off for the ‘GR’, the gardeners had gotten more than a head start. As I ran, I tried to imagine what might have triggered that reaction… An Anaconda was out of the question. J.Lo and her rubber toy from that Sony-Columbia production must have made a big impression on the kid but those nearly 30 feet long monsters are only found in South America. But a cobra wasn’t all that unlikely in the woodlands around Gurgaon. And a cobra is dangerous. In their attempts to kill or catch the snake, one of them could get bitten… I ran harder, hoping to reach before either snake or man suffered injury… or worse.

Just as I was about to reach, the high pitched babble inside the GR stopped abruptly. For a charged moment or two, there was deathly silence, and then I saw the men emerge. The last one to come out held a long black and now limp snake by the tail, and its head, smashed and bloodied, dripped long thick drops on the wet grass. The men looked rather bemused, unsure whether to celebrate or mourn the hunt. It obviously wasn’t a cobra. I stopped as the men walked up. “Mara kyun…?” I asked… but of no one in particular. They didn’t answer but the one holding the snake dropped it at my feet and then they all gathered around it. It was almost two metres long and nearly black in colour. One of the men had a minor bruise on his right forearm. “Kata..?” I asked. The man nodded and sat down on his haunches. So did the others. The silence, the nodding… it was almost surreal. The parents too had reached by now. They panicked when they saw the broken skin and urged the others to take him to the doctor but that man seemed to have given up hope. He just sat there as if he’d turned to stone and kept staring at the dead snake. “Zehreela nahin tha… wasn’t poisonous”, I told him. The man gave me a bewildered look, perhaps not knowing what to believe. I had told him the truth though. It was a rat snake, a harmless rodent eater.

That was two monsoons ago. Reptiles and most humans, I’ve learnt, don’t get along very well together. Most find them creepy from a distance and are paralysed with fear from closer quarters. And that fear oft en gives way to hate and more oft en than not, people will kill snakes or at least try to if they come across one. And not just snakes. These gardeners from the above instance would regularly kill monitor lizards (gohera) on the farm, imagining them to be poisonous too. However, for their benefit and that of all others who might care to know, lizards, at least the ones found in India, are all non-venomous. Something about these scaled crawlers gives us the creeps. Perhaps it stems from the legend of Satan taking the shape of a snake to lure Eve into sin.

But snakes are far from evil. They are just super efficient predators who are amongst the most effective vermin controllers on the planet. And for those of you who think that we don’t need snakes and can control our rodent populations with our own methods should know that nearly one-fourth of food grains produced are lost to pest like rats and a lot of the rest is contaminated by their excreta. And these rats manage to overrun our warehouses in spite of our best pest control methods like fumigation etc., which by the way leave highly toxic residues on the food that reaches our tables. Snakes and birds of prey like owls are essential for maintaining ecological balance and ensuring that our world isn’t overrun by rats.

And the fact that some snakes are venomous doesn’t make them all bad. We humans aren’t their natural prey and given a chance they will always avoid us. But not everyone is convinced by that logic so when the office gatekeeper found a slender, nearly metre long brown snake with bands coiled under his wooden guard-hut last year, I didn’t want to take a chance and used two empty plastic bottles to truss the snake into one of them. I didn’t know if it was venomous or not but was pretty sure that if I left it here, the guard and the others would in all likelihood kill it or get bitten in the process. So I tied a sack cloth on the bottle mouth that ensured the snake could breathe through it but couldn’t bite and took it with me to the Delhi zoo.

At the Reptile Home in the zoo, I approached one of the care-takers/curators (it’s a fine line separating the two at the Delhi zoo) with my bottled treasure and asked him what kind of snake it might be. “Hey Bhagwan! Yeh toh krait hai! It’s a krait!” Incidentally, kraits are 16 times more venomous than cobras. “You’ll be dead in five minutes in the summer and you might get a little more time in the winter because the blood is thicker,” he said. I later learnt that he might have been exaggerating and though extremely potent, krait venom on an average, takes around five hours to kill an adult human being. The man refused to accept the snake though and since setting the snake loose within the zoo premises would’ve been a bit like dropping a mobile land-mine in a children’s playground, I drove the ten odd tentative kilometres from the zoo to the city forest, this time, constantly checking the bottle to reassure myself and then released the lethal little serpent in an isolated corner of the forest. I’d like to believe that my actions saved more than one life that day.

When the rains come, so do the snakes. So let me share with you a few simple ‘things-to-do’ if you see a snake, in your garden, your bedroom or bath… Lessons I’ve gleaned from my time spent with herpetologists, naturalists and woodsmen…

_ Always stamp your feet when walking through possible snake habitat. Snakes can sense such vibrations and will take the warning and slither away to avoid contact.

_ If you happen to come across one, back away and give it a wide berth. Most snakes can’t strike beyond half their body-length. Run (away) if you want to, they can’t out run normal healthy adults.

_ Don’t try to kill the snake. They are easily avoided and in all probability, the creature doesn’t deserve it; the environment, the granaries and you need it; and lastly your attempts to kill it might bring you within the snake’s striking distance.

_ In the event that a snake is killed, avoid going near it for a while. It is said that even involuntary muscle tremors could lead to a bite.

_ If you see a snake on your property, intimate the fire department, the police or the municipal corporation. If in Delhi, you could also call Wildlife SOS at 9871963535. They have well trained wranglers who are equipped to capture and remove snakes.

_ It is nearly impossible for most of us to distinguish between venomous and non venomous snakes so one should avoid unnecessary bravado.

_ If bitten, try and capture or at least photograph (yes, cell phone cameras should do just fine) the snake. Most government hospitals stock antivenins but these are species specific and identifying the snake quickly will save moments and perhaps lives.

_ Treat all bites as venomous bites, immobilise the area, keep the wound downstream from the heart so that envenomated blood has to travel uphill to reach the heart and get the patient to the nearest hospital. It is a medical emergency. The serpent might still be instrumental in ushering us out of our gardens on occasions but here’s hoping the ‘fruit of knowledge’ will help us understand each other better and build both tolerance and forgiveness, for sins both imagined and real…


Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I had just gotten out of my car on a residential alley in South Delhi’s Shivalik area when I heard the thing roll past – a blue box on wheels, belching and trundling along like a car out of Noddyland. An elderly, bearded and rather naked Caucasian gent was at the wheel and together, the two made a rather intriguing picture. The car stopped a few houses away and I walked over. “Hello” I greeted him. “Hello”, said the man. “You’ve been driving for a while…” I observed, looking at how he’d cast off every layer of clothing save one. The man peered at me for a brief moment and then hollered… “Matias… Matias…!” I must’ve upset the guy and now he was calling for backup… I tried to appease him… “Sorry… I didn’t mean to…” but the man wouldn’t listen. “Matias! Matias!!... MATIAS!!!” I heard footsteps rushing towards us and braced myself for a confrontation. It was a young man. I tried explaining but he spoke first, “My father doesn’t speak English. Can I help you…?” Oh, ok… An hour later, Matias Sabah, his brother Izma and I were sitting in a food-court where I was introducing the concept of paapri-chaat to the two Uruguayans and trying to figure out how they ended up so far away from home.

“My father said ‘My life has been living me for all these years… now it is time I start living my life’, and with that he gave away his fl ourishing electrical consulting business to his employees, got into this car and it’s been two-and-a-half-years since, but he hasn’t stopped driving…” said Matias. “When we were young my father would say that one day we’ll take a car and travel around the world, get into all its quaint cultural crannies and wake up on a new place everyday. It was a fantasy that fuelled our imagination through school but then the very act of living creates such a stupor that in the web of work, girlfriends and weekends, dreams evaporate like vapor in the desert. My brother and I had all but given up on that childhood fantasy when one day our father called and reminded us of that dream… He said that since he was now in his 50s, if we didn’t leave now, it mightn’t be possible for him to live his dream of traveling around the world.

At the time Izma and I were working with a hardware fi rm. We had partners we were committed to; Izma had picked up a house and I’d finally bought a car and a motorcycle with all my savings. Perhaps in everybody’s life there are such moments when one knows that a decision one takes now would finally end up defining the rest of one’s years. At that moment if my brother and I’d refused, we’d still be back home in Uruguay doing a nine to five like the rest of the world. Life might’ve been easier but what about the incredible transformational experiences I’ve had on the road… It wasn’t an easy decision at the time but when my brother and I sat down to discuss it, we realised that we just had to do it. So we sold the house, the bike and the car to raise funds… our girlfriends were left behind…” Matias had a wistful look in his eyes as he fiddled with his phone. I asked if she’d still be waiting for him. He shook his head and waved his hand, as if to brush the memories aside, “I don’t know…” and then after a while, “I hope she does… but whatever is to be, will be…”

Matias, Izma and their father Mario Sabah had left Montevideo, Uruguay in the December of 2006 with three objectives – 1) see the world 2) introduce Uruguay to the world and rather interestingly 3) bring all non-resident Uruguayans back to their country because it is a beautiful country and needs the best to come back home… “We’re a very small population, just three-and-a-half-million with about a million spread all over the world. We wanted to meet Uruguayans living outside and ask them to come back home, and three such families that we met have already gone back. It is such a peaceful country. We have seen so much of the world and there is a lot of money outside but no peace… there is so much peace and freedom back home that I’ve learnt to treasure it even more.”

This journey of a lifetime that the Sabahs were on has been a recurring fantasy for me and many of my friends, but I guess whenever the moment had presented itself and I had the opportunity to choose between the demands of adventure and the comforts of familiarity, my ideals capitulated and their remains were oft en brushed under the carpet of procrastination. Perhaps the next time such a moment arrives, I will have learnt from the Sabahs and their ability to jump onto a bucking bronco of a life and experience all its highs. While planning for my own trips though, I had read up a fair bit about the others who’d been on aroundthe- world-road-trips. All of them, from celebrity investor Jim Rogers to a Danish couple I came across in Rajasthan, had emphasised the need for a sturdy all-wheel drive vehicle that could last the rigours of such a trip, have the wherewithal to climb mountains, wade through waist deep waters and haul passengers and luggage over bogs and dunes. But here was a trio from the heart of South America who had travelled a million miles in a tiny 1977 600cc Citroen Mehari. “We picked this car because it had been our companion for all our boyhood adventures and it’s been there in the garage for ever and ever. Sometimes while climbing up a mountain the car grunts and gasps and seems to be suffering so much that my brother and I get down and start pushing even while the car is in gear. On the big highways perhaps a golf cart could’ve been faster but this car has never let us down. While driving into Pakistan, the heat was too much, around 54°C and trucks had stalled on the highway but this tiny thing kept rolling. Also this car’s easy to fix; it struggles to touch 60 kmph, but we are in no hurry… no office to get to, you see. And the pace is just right for taking in the view.”

Great, go ahead and rub it right in, but what about the money? “All that we managed after selling all we could didn’t last us beyond Colombia. So we went to Citroen and asked them to sponsor us which got us to Turkey. But since Citroen doesn’t have dealerships beyond Turkey, there we went to a Turkish football club which had contracted an Uruguayan footballer and asked him and his team to sign tees, which we auctioned and that money got us till here, but now we’re broke again. But no worries… we’ll reach Australia and raise some more.” So I guess where there’s a will, there’s a way… and so crumbles one of my biggest excuses.

One of the best moments on this trip for them was when they were lost and stranded in Croatia and a local walked up to them and invited them into a party in his own house and insisted that they stay for as long as they could. When their car broke down in Iran, a country which they thought might be too conservative to embrace strangers from the ‘West’, they were yet again invited into homes while their car was repaired. And what about the dangerous moments? “In Colombia, we were stopped at a roadblock manned by a contingent of FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – an insurgent group that has become infamous for its kidnappings) rebels and I was sure we’d get kidnapped and killed. But while they were going through our documents, my brother stepped out and gave them a coin and told them he was giving it to them for luck. My father and I were very nervous and half believed that he would get shot for the stunt but surprisingly, the rebel commander took the coin, smiled, handed us our documents and waved us on, and that was it. It might seem like a big bad world when we sit in front of the TV but when we stepped out, all we saw were beautiful people and all we experienced was generous hospitality. Even in war zones like Pakistan, there was poverty and devastation and yet people always welcomed us with open arms and a warm smile. We travel without weapons, relying on the goodwill alone of our fellow men, and at no point did we feel that we needed anything more… this is the truth. And religion, whether mine or anybody else’s, I’ve come to believe, is a lie… When we believe in each other we are good and beautiful, but whenever we start believing in this lie called religion, we become petty and intolerant. But it’s a wonderful world. Like my father says, don’t let life live you… go out there and live your life…” I sighed and nodded, while Matias and Izma dug into another plate of paapri-chaat.


Thursday, August 6, 2009


Thirty-three-year-old Diane Whipple was exhausted. It had been a long day and she’d just picked up her groceries for the week. As the elevator climbed up towards her floor she shift ed uncomfortably… The grocery bags were heavy and she was alone in the elevator. She would need some help but didn’t want to ask her neighbours. She didn’t like them too much, neither them, nor their mean dogs. The elevator-speaker chimed… Diane had reached her floor. As the door opened she saw her neighbour and smiled a half-smile… then she saw the dogs, huge beasts weighing about 50 kgs each, straining at the leash. As soon as she saw them, she shrank back in fear. The dogs seemed to pick up her sense of dread and became more aggressive. Diane tried to avoid eye contact and tried to shuffle away without further aggravating the dogs that were snarling and snapping ferociously. Their owner tried to calm them down and pull them away but the dogs were too strong. They pulled and strained at their leashes till a horrified Diane saw them break away and charge towards her. For ten horrifying minutes, the dogs tore into Whipple while their owner struggled to pull them away. Diane Whipple died a terrible death. The owners were jailed and fined and the dogs, Presa Canarios (a powerful breed of dog used for herding cattle and guarding property), were executed.

Now if you hate dogs and can’t figure out why they are called man’s best friend, I can see you going ‘there… I told you so… they should be put to sleep. The whole lot of them’. But if you can’t bear the thought of not sharing one’s life with a canine friend I foresee two possible responses. If you’re the type who can’t stop mothering and pampering her pet (it’s usually a ‘her’ in such cases… ‘mothering’ comes to them more naturally), you’d probably be pretty horrified to learn that a ‘dog’ could actually kill but you’d probably tell yourself that Buddy would never do such a thing. He is cho chweet. Funnily enough, the owner of the two Presa Canarios that killed Whipple, Marjorie Knoller, said the exact same thing – “I had no idea… how can you anticipate this… a dog that is gentle, loving and aff ectionate could do something so horrible, so brutal…?” And if on the other hand you happen to be one of those pseudo-macho types and happen to own a Presa, or something similar like a Rottweiler or a Neapolitan Mastiff , perhaps you feel a hint of pride, “Gosh, I own a dog that could kill? That is so… er… cool!” Well, if you felt either reaction, then you must know that you don’t deserve to keep a dog. And it is owners like you who give dogs a bad name, validate the fears of the dog haters and are responsible for creatures that have unfortunately become, or could become possible threats to people in your neighbourhood.

Some facts. Dogs are wolves. Period. Centuries of domestication and selective breeding have turned them into polite and patient partners in progress but inside that cuddly exterior, most breeds of dogs are still animals that could kill to live in the wild. Of course, dogs have been great partners in our mutual evolution. Dogs chose to be our partners when their wolf ancestors started following our nomadic hunter-gatherer forefathers. This proximity led to a shared lifestyle where eventually these ‘wolves’ started helping us with our hunts in the hope of finding scraps from our spits and before we knew it, man and dog had become the best of friends. But that word ‘friend’ is misplaced. Dogs don’t want to be our friends. They want to be led. And if in any home a dog does not find a leader, there is bound to be trouble. A dog, like a wild wolf, needs to be part of a pack. When we bring a pup into our homes, that little creature seeks out its place in the pack and in the absence of discipline and leadership, because it is genetically programmed to seek hierarchy and order, it assumes leadership of its human pack. Once a dog assumes pack leadership, owners would be left with a dog that is at least disobedient and perhaps even dangerous…

Now if you are the ‘mothering’ type, we’ll talk later, perhaps in a future issue, but know this… a dog wants to be treated like a dog, not like your ‘baby’ and in all likelihood your dog is either neurotic or obese or both and you’re probably killing it, literally, with all that saccharine-sweet affection. If you need something to ‘baby around’, make your own… or at least find another person… Your dog is happy being a dog. And even that cute Pekingese is NOT YOUR BABY. It still is a little wolf at heart. But for now, I will try and share my concerns on this increasing trend of keeping big powerful dogs as symbols of status and pride.

I was walking with my dog, a female Rottweiler, through a busy lane in Khan market when a man approached us. He patted the dog and asked if she was “tough-shuff hai ki nahin…?” I politely inquired what he meant and he shared his concerns… “I had a Doberman once. It was useless… nice to everybody. Anybody could come and pat the dog and he wouldn’t say a thing. So I encouraged it to be aggressive. I stopped letting others meet the dog, kept it chained through the day and let it roam at night. I had to beat and bully it to make it bark and snap… Arre, Doberman bhaunkega nahin toh faayda kya? What good is a docile Doberman… Then one night when I returned home rather late, the gate to the house was locked and I had to climb over it; the dog was loose and guess it mistook me for a thief and took a chunk off my bottom… useless dog. I think I’ll get a Rottweiler now, but yours is too soft . Tez nahin hai…” I half wished she would take out another chunk and even out this gentleman’s bottom but she just ignored the man. Such people shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near dogs.

Unfortunately a lot of us use these big powerful dogs as symbols of machismo, just like tattoos, fast cars and big bikes. We abuse them and hope to compensate for our shriveled manliness with an aggressive dog instead. The Presas that killed Diane, as well as most Pit Bulls, Rottweilers and German Shepherds that have caused human fatalities in India and around the world are actually victims of such twisted ownership. These powerful animals need constant leadership and discipline from their owners that both channels and controls their instincts and makes them into loyal companions who would willingly lay down their lives for their ‘human pack’.

It is important to emphasise that these breeds are not killer breeds but merely powerful animals with strong drives which when abused and misdirected, become far more lethal than smaller, less determined breeds like Pugs and Beagles. Kennel Club registrations all over the country show a disturbing trend of more and more people purchasing big and powerful guarding breeds like the Mastiff s and Rottweilers. Some pick them because they need a dog to guard their new riches. And a rare few, because they have researched the breed, admire it for its history and attributes and find it compatible with their lifestyle choices. But most, and this includes friends and colleagues, pick them for their formidable looks, massive size and sheer macho appeal. They do not realise that most of these breeds were bred to walk for miles and fight off wolves, bears and thieves while protecting their flock and people, wrestle with bulls, fight armed gladiators and wild animals in the coliseums of the Roman Empire, or hunt big game. A sedentary life with a 20 minute walk twice a day is a life of frustrations for these powerful creatures. And especially with such dogs, it is important to ensure that every human family member, from the eldest to the youngest infant, is above the dog in the ‘pack hierarchy’. This can be done by ensuring the dog always eats last, never pulls on its leash and listens to instructions. (If you want to know more about the methods, pick up any of Cesar Milan’s books). Without the above precautions, every family that owns such dogs is sitting on a ticking time-bomb.

I truly admire these big dogs like the Rottweiler. For every Diane Whipple there are countless legends like the one about a Rottweiler protecting his injured master from about 20 miscreants whom he held at bay during a riot in Germany. Or you might’ve heard about one that woke up its sleeping owners in the Australian outback during a forest fi re. I know that when I walk down a dark alley with my dog I’m safe; I know when the dog sleeps on the porch at night, my family is safe. But I know this on the basis of a relationship and trust built over long walks and painstaking role and rule definition. If you own or hope to own such a dog, you owe that to your family, your neighbours, the dog and yourself…