Dogs and Our Ambivalence

No other creature with the possible exception of donkeys is as thoroughly misunderstood as incessantly scandalised and as terribly mistreated as dogs. And all this despite that we cannot have enough of their virtues. This ambivalence is enigmatic to say the least – sentinels of homes and urchins of streets, loyal to the owner and faithless to the partners, considered useful and trashed as useless almost in the same breath, intelligent and stupid, alert and insomniac…Why this ambivalence and why this distrust?

It is possibly because they know too much about us. They know the arcane secrets of our ancestors, our follies and foibles, moral lapses and immoral gaffes, depleting innocence of our children. This omniscience seriously frightens us so much that we try hard to get back at them by calling them names, attributing motives to their acts, stereotyping them, demoralising them, and seeking desperately to put them in their places.

Because they know about our secret plans, our rendezvous, hiding retreats, places where we shed tears, where our essential loneliness confronts us, where we let out a long breath in silence, where the lost utopia of childhood lies, where our dreams have gone for a toss, where our instincts were distrusted by bully classmates and woolly class teachers. And ultimately where betrayal and redemption get entwined in the elusive pursuit of a small but beautiful word – hope. They know all.

Jealousy, yes, we are jealous of dogs: carefree carelessness, wild nature, pristine innocence, unpretentiousness. Dogs are everything we want to be but know that we could not and never be – bohemian, irreverent, fearless, shamelessly bold, eclectic…

This eclecticism is deeply embedded in the ideological neutrality of dogs. A healthy dog in chains, customised uniform and with a pet trainer, and a vet doctor to boot is capitalism embodied. A dog panting breathlessly, tongue lolling out, and tail wagging purposelessly is socialism incarnate. One having taken the murderous assault of always insomniac truck drivers – agents of the murderous market economy – is communism decimated; one in the spate of passion and adultery is the epitome of consumerism. Dogs indifferent to pain and pleasure signify stoicism. Cynicism turns live in the company of wounded dogs, who have been shedding their fur, do not bark any longer, and know that being a watchdog in public and a lapdog in private is the preordained destiny of everyone.

We distrust them because they are ever suspicious of the apocryphal intentions of the municipal administration and the legitimacy of the state by clinging to their territory and resenting determined attempts at intrusion.

Oh, it is dogs that unequivocally settle the discourse on secularism. As they release themselves raising their hind left leg, balancing themselves beautifully on the other three, one eye pretending to shed tears and the other one poetically shut, they do not discriminate among places of religious worship. They know that absolute disdain for religion is what secularism must amount to.

There is a beautiful image in Saul Bellow’s novel, The Dean’s December. Its central character hears a dog barking wildly somewhere. He imagines that the barking is the dog’s protest against the limit of dog experience. “For God’s sake,” the dog is saying, “open the universe a little more!” The dog’s rage and outrage, its yearnings and desires must be everyone’s.

Sanjay Kumar wrote this for Cafe Dissensus. Sanjay is a graduate of Delhi University and is heavily invested in movies, history, literature, and popular culture. He is based in Patna, Bihar, India.

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