I am residing alone at a friend’s house in Bangalore. His family and him are on vacation but they have generously let me stay for the duration of my work stint.
When I came back from the office yesterday around 8pm I immediately took notice of a dog crying loudly. The high-pitched yelping was coming from somewhere close to the backyard. I imagined some affluent family locking out their dog on the terrace for doing something obnoxious and now they were teaching him a lesson. Both the thought and the noise were annoying so I set them aside in my head.
Around 11pm, my mother, veterinarian and canine specialist, came online to Skype but her microphone was not working. In waiting for her to reconfigure it, I became self-conscious about the dog crying. What would she think if I did not even check, did I not care? It was starting to sound like a very anxious dog too. I went outside, peered through the backyard metal fence and began to see what my ears were suggesting: a deep concrete tank sunk in the ground at the bottom of which was a stray dog that had probably fallen in and was now sloshing about in a pool of mud. The dog barked when he caught me staring in the dark, I ran for my headlamp.
I could not manage to turn on my lamp the first time I went back out, so I went back inside, switched the batteries, checked it and bolted back out. In my haste, I forgot my keys inside and locked myself out of the house. Shit, but I will deal with the new problem when I come back, I thought, there probably would not be any other solution than to sleep outside anyway.
I hopped the back fence of the house where I was staying into the large empty plot of land behind it. On the far end of the plot was the next parallel road, and at the back where I now was, was the tank surrounded by garbage and fallen branches from adjacent palm trees. I shone my beam into the tank and the dog peered back panicked, jostling in the only corner where a little bit of refuse made for a dry spot above the mud. He was a good looking, tan-coloured 50lb or so classic street dog, not thin or fat, floppy ears that should normally have be straight. I trusted him and trusted my heart and jumped in.
This 2x2x2 metre tank was the definition of a cesspool. It smelled like human shit, the water was murky beyond belief and filled with plant and tree waste and everywhere, small to medium-sized glistening spiders and centipedes were crawling up and down the walls. For me getting out was no problem: I could jump and grab onto the upper ledge or hoist myself out by using a concrete stub midway up the wall made for the purpose, but the dog was stuck. He was freaked out by my presence and kept trying to avoid me while also returning to the drier corner. I discovered that at its deepest point, the pool would probably reach my waste.
Using what I know of dogs, I began the process of winning his trust. I slowly offered my hand to smell, anxious eyes. I motioned with it towards the back of his head, a show of teeth. So I retracted my hand and began to talk to the dog. About five minutes in, I managed to pet his head, then his back. Then I touched him in an uncomfortable spot and he tried to bite, not voraciously, just nervously. We shimmy around the tank and back to the corner. It was beginning to dawn on me what a shithole this was, and the dog had spiders crawling all over its hair at one point. So the process of winning the trust went on and I began to show the dog that I could exit the tank at will, but he kept looking at another possible exit corner which was barred by thorny branches. Sometimes he would try to bite when I reached for him but never hard, even the times when I could not move my hand away fast enough. My third time showing the way out, I saw a man heading towards me, a policeman or a guard by his stature. I turned off my lamp and began to approach him and talk, he grabbed me roughly by the arm and gave me a despising stare down — What the hell is this guy doing?! I could here him thinking. I tried to show him the dog but he was too disgusted by my muddy appearance and smell. He led me to his colleague waiting at the road.
“No English” they told me. A man driving an SUV stopped to see what was going on and gave me a lesson in rough English about how foreigners were not Indians and had to be inside by 9:30PM! I had to “show these men my passport and get to bed or else I would be put on a bus”, he threatened. Well, I let him get through his speech and leave. I had no passport, no keys, no cellphone and no one at the house to vouch for me. Cop #2 was talking on his walkie-talkie and Cop #1 had begun to relax. I talked to him with gestures, imitating the dog’s cries and my climbing into the tank to help. He actually got it and with wide eyes asked “Dog?!”, “Yes, in the tank!” I replied. He motioned for us to go check it out. He had let go of me at this point.
When he saw the dog he looked like he understood. I explained that I needed time and patience, that I did not want him to shine his Nokia to give me light, he got it. After another half-hour of patient seduction, I grabbed the dog by the belly with one arm and the neck with the other to restrain his biting. Treading in the deeper waters I managed to get his front paws up to the edge but the cop refused to touch him to take him up the extra 30cm. I dropped him after a minute of strenuous attempts and the dog lashed out as it fell straight down into the water. Back to the dry corner, heavy nervous panting. Again, 2o minutes of careful talking, petting. I understood that he would only accept to exit from the one particular corner of the tank which he had been eyeing all along, likely the same one from where he had fallen in. I cleared the corner of its thorny branches and attempted to pick him up again. The cop was throwing me a thin electrical cable to wrap around the dog but he was not trusting me and the wire looked weak. But then when I lifted him for the third time, one hand on his chest from underneath instead of the neck and the other supporting his rear-end, I managed to hoist him to the edge with no resistance, where this time, the cop had the cable ready to snare the dog’s neck and pull to match my final hoist, and the dog made it out!
When I exited the tank again, I could see the dog running for the front fence and over. I was elated, any lack of documentation problems were nothing now that this was over. Through the back fence, I showed the cop my computer, my things, which were well-lit from inside the house, the cop nodded. He was also smiling from ear to ear and surprised me with a friendly firm pat on the shoulder. Cop #2 had two new, more-officially dressed buddies with him, but Cop #1 said something quickly to him and then said for me to “go”, and I understood what a precious opportunity to get lost this was.
I walked around the block back to the house, hopped the front gate and sat down, back on the wall, just breathing. Two minutes later the same two cops showed up. They were making sure that I was staying at the house, I was worried about how to explain to them, after all that, that I still did not have the keys. They grasped that I was at a loss for words to explain the bad irony of the whole situation and arranged with me that we would meet the following night (tonight) for a follow-up (they never came). Last but not least, cop #2 asked me if I was hungry!
Can you think of any place you know where guards or police officers would come to act this trustingly towards a foreigner, under these circumstances, and without understanding what you are saying? Help them pull a stray dog out of essentially an open semi-septic tank? Offer you a meal afterward?
I used the garden tap to wash my clothes and self and put them back on for mosquito protection. Then I wrapped some sheets I found in the gardening shed around myself for warmth and face-cover. The maid did not even see me when she came in the morning, and was not the least bit put off by my appearance or crazy story. She then told me –
There are not just spiders in the tank, snakes are there too. Cobras have come into the backyard from there!
I now know that there is a veterinary college nearby which could have helped in the morning. In the mean time, I am sure that the dog had already been there for a while when I got home, so why hadn’t anyone else taken notice? I crossed the dog this morning on the way to the office. His limping on one leg did not prevent him from quickly running away. What would you have done?