(Published in Business Standard on October 19, 2014)
Anyone with a degree in psychology, or biology, or secondary school, or, indeed an internet connection, will tell you that gentle touch is critical to human emotional development and health. You know what I’m talking about—those experiments in which scientists take two baby monkeys and put them in a cage with, in one case, a mother monkey-shaped structure with soft cuddly padding, and in the other case, a mother monkey-shaped structure made of cold poky metal. The first baby comes out of the experiment all smiling and well-adjusted and dreaming of working hard to buy a house in which it can raise its own babies, and the second one locks itself in a room wearing metal spikes and listening to a lot of bad music, is always attracted to the wrong kind of monkey, and eventually shoots its classmates in school.
Recently I passed a photo of ten adorable puppies pasted on a pet shop window, and it occurred to me how nice it would be to have a dog again. Dogs are soft and furry and affectionate. They’re nice to touch. You can love and be loved by them. Having one could keep me from going gaga before my appointed time. It’s a win-win thing.
My family has had three dogs in my memory. Kipo the boxer puppy died of hepatitis at seven months; Toffee the Dachshund was nicked when he slipped out under the gate; and Simba the Labrador spent nine delightful years warming our hearts and biting us whenever he felt like it before dying of a tumor.
We haven’t had a dog since Simba, because upon his passing my mother turned into a raving independence-eater. That’s like a man-eater, a carnivore that has tasted human flesh and now won’t go back to deer, except in this case she has tasted freedom after raising platoons of children and now won’t go back to being tied down by responsibility. But she loves dogs, so I took a shot.
“What do think about my getting a dog?” I said to her.
“What’s for me to think about?” she said.
“Well, I mean, of course it would be my responsibility.”
“You absolutely should get a dog as long as you housebreak it, walk it, feed it, take it to the vet, and don’t leave it alone for too long.”
“Yes, but just as back up, if I had to travel would you—”
“No,” she said.
“Of course, that’s what kennels are for,” I said. “How about on the odd occasion when I’m out for a few hours in the eve—”
“No,” she said. “You can forget your tango.”
I appealed to our cook, before remembering that he hadn’t much liked Simba.
“Lalji,” I said, “what do you think about my getting a dog?”
“What’s for me to think about?” he said, with a tone designed to politely spear your heart. Déjà vu all over again. They were doing some kind of coordinated pincer movement.
“Remember how Simba used to put his neck on your foot when you were sitting,” I asked my mother, “and he’d lick his chops and swallow and snooze companionably?”
“Yes,” she smiled, love blooming in her eyes. “He was so sweet.”
“Wouldn’t you want to have that agai—”
“No,” she said.
Sometimes the woman makes Polpot look like a softie. I examined her closely. She appeared to be composed entirely of flint and stone, with a couple of metal bits here and there. So it doesn’t look as if I’m going to be able to get a dog.
But that’s okay, I’ll just be over here wearing spikes, listening to bad music, hanging with bad apples, and cleaning my gun.