Have Indian dogs passed IELTS?

Strange but true: Why people tend to communicate with pets only in English


Suresh Pattali

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Published: Thu 20 Oct 2022, 7:45 PM

Last updated: Fri 21 Oct 2022, 5:44 PM

The next time you are in India, especially in Kerala, and happen to utter the goddamn expression “kutte ka naseeb” (a dog’s destiny) to delineate someone’s pathetic predicament, chances are you could be bitten to pieces in the streets. You will never know who pounces on you — judicial activists, animal rights advocates, cops, media men with venomous digital teeth, or the dogs themselves. Get ready to scoop you up in pieces of bones and teeth — of course, in biodegradable bags. Plastics are banned. Every dog knows it.

Those were the days when people could move around freely, except when you returned from the market with fresh beef spiked with dog meat, wrapped in almond leaves and dripping fake blood. Those were the days when kids, in the company of a pack of tail-wagging dogs — stray or pedigree — could wander around playing hide and seek, splashing rainwater, plucking baby’s breath, or catching fish. Today, in a role reversal, humans stay indoors for fear of Covid, kuttas, bloggers or scribes — not necessarily in that order — while stray dogs rule the streets unchallenged.

I was one of those who incarcerated themselves for the aforesaid reasons when I landed in the Dogs Own Country to attend a wedding at my daughter-in-law’s place. As neighbours who have caged and muzzled Rottweilers despised my dogged determination to stay behind the bars, I thought I should at least venture out for my morning constitutional, when daughter barked from inside: “Are you mad?” I pulled the hand brake, piled out and pounced on Kerala’s quintessential tapioca and fish curry. So far so good.

That’s when my cell phone pinged a WhatsApp notification. First came a picture of a puppy resting on my daughter’s shoulder — as calm and innocent as a human baby — followed by a message and a crimson heart, which I wasn’t sure was meant for me or the puppy. She’s coming for the wedding and needed to be picked up at the airport.

“So, where’re you going to keep your dog?” I queried.

“Dad, please mind your language. He has a name. I call him Chester and he is my baby.”

“A dog is a dog is a dog,” I retorted, but she wouldn’t budge.

A day after the puppy class came the pre-wedding event when pudava, or the wedding dress, is presented to the bride by the would-be sister-in-law. The day was perfect, with the monsoon taking a break and the evening remaining breezy. The wedding home basked in the glory of raindrop ornamental lights and the guests were about to retire when an uninvited guest gatecrashed and parked itself in the drive. There was a spontaneous chorus to eject the trespasser, but who would bell the cat, er, in this case, the dog? The canine community is protected by Indian judiciary so any high-decibel bark could be construed as animal abuse.

I wasn’t sure in which language I should talk politely to the canine guest less than three months old. India speaks 121 languages so how do I know which state it hails from or whether it has been naturalised by the Citizenship Amendment Act? Kerala being a redoubt for millions for migrant workers, I wouldn’t dare make a guess. That’s when a 70-year-old domestic help emerged from the kitchen, swinging a wooden coconut scraper at the puppy and shouted with the utmost tenacity: “Go away.”

The four-legged promptly took two steps backward with tail tucked between its legs, and one step forward with a forlorn look. I was surprised it knew English. Seems every Indian dog is born with Wren & Martin fed into its brain.

“Sit there.” The puppy obeyed with a wailing sound. All the 28 states in India not only communicate with the canine community in English but also christen them Western names. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, everyone — from the rich to the poor and the young to the old — tell the dogs to “go away” instead of “poda” or “jao”, and “sit” instead of “baitho”. We call them Churchill, Chester, Tomy, Stalin, Lucy, Daisey, Maggie, Gracie, Stella, Charlie, Oliver, Teddy. No one name them Madhavan, Krishnan, Kasturba, Gandhi, Saravanan, Anjana, Purushothaman, Netaji, or Hegde. Seems all the Indian dogs were Don Bosco or Good Shepherd graduates and have got through IELTS. What a dogged democracy!

The puppy, who played a divine sentinel in the day in the warmest part under the couch, not only mauled everything in the patio but also destroyed all property in the neighbourhood it could lay its teeth on. People who came to seek damages shouted at us in Malayalam and at the dog in English. “We’ll show you”, “Don’t ever come here”, and “get lost.” Seems the dog is the last man standing in the lineage of British colonialism.

The dog shouted back, in a language unknown to me. Being in constant conversation with her own puppy, my daughter would know better. She thrust her iPhone in the dog’s face and let it bark.

“Vava, what did Siri say?”

“She says it’s neither English nor French. It’s Greek to her.”


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