I have no Diwali parties at my house anymore – most of my husband’s and my friends are scared of our large dog, Khal. And because he is a well-behaved, friendly mutt, we refuse to lock him up in a separate room in his own home. No, it’s not about being egoistic or disrespectful to people who don’t like dogs. Isolating furry babies when they are already anxious because of loud cracker sounds can create behavioural issues in them, and we don’t want to take that chance.
And if we are invited for a party, instead? We have to politely refuse that as well. Reason: I can’t leave my anxious dog alone at home. This works well for my husband, who'd rather Netflix than socialise with fellow human being. Me? I am constantly in a conundrum: I want to go to that party but also not leave Khal behind. The sort of pet-mother that I have become, I often choose Khal. And I lose one friend at a time.
My husband and I have become a young-but-grumpy couple: Why play dhol during Ganesh Chaturthi? Why are the baraat loud in weddings? Why would you learn to play musical instruments in Mumbai? Why would you let your human babies loose in the garden? Why, oh, why do people not like dogs? This is the version of us that's madly and obsessively in love with our dog.
We now only like those who like Khal, and we only love those who welcome him to their homes. Unfortunately, there are not many such people. So, now, we have befriended fellow pet parents with whom we discuss how to avoid ticks in dogs and how many times their canine poops in a day.
It doesn’t end here. I can't just fire my current house help if she is inefficient, takes too many days off, or is rude with me. Even though none of this applies to to her yet, Mumtaj has leverage — Khal. She has known my pup since he was four months old. Their relationship is nothing short of endearing. If Khal refuses to move from his spot while Mumtaj sweeps the floor, she often lifts his legs to slide the broom from beneath it, and Khal lets her.
However, things with my new cook Lakshmi have not been so easy. He barked at her for days. How dare this random woman enter the magical space from where my food comes? But she braved his soul-gutting barks. She is a fighter, and I am determined to keep her at all costs.
Could I find a better cook? Sure. But I won’t – I can’t. For me, Mumtaj and Lakshmi are godsend. Most house help, even drivers who don't necessarily spend much time indoors, refuse to work in homes with a big dog. Take even the car washers, for example: Didi, way too much dog hair; Didi, the car stinks. And finally: Didi, please find someone else to wash your car.
On walks, I have spoken to more strangers after Khal entered our lives, than all the years before. He is a better conversation-starter than even the more famous piece of artwork.
There are the curious folk: Hi, does he bite? Oh, which breed? Does he listen to you? Why is he wagging his tail? How come his tongue is out? Why is he looking at me?
Then, there are those who scowl at us, or worse, those who gossip among themselves, thinking I can’t hear. Look that’s a pit bull. The same dog that was in the news for eating that lady alive. Or: What a lucky dog. He gets to sit in a car while people have no money to eat!
It's not all bad though. While far fewer, there are some along the lines of: What a handsome dog! and Wow! That’s a Dogo Argentino (Khal's breed), no?! And the best: You have trained him so well!
One day, Khal barged into a neighbour's house like it’s his own. I kept calling him back and he kept exploring one room after other. Worse, he actually peed in their master bedroom. After recovering from the shock of what had transpired, I'd run home to fetch my cleaning supplies. What came next knocked me off my socks!
My neighbours were patting Khal and he was licking them, happily. I had to clean up the mess, but my neighbours became my best friends that day. I even got Diwali mithais from them – and it wasn't soan papdi. Is't that big enough to let me know that they really like me…or, maybe, Khal?
We've had to deal with stark changes since we've brought him home, but he brings us immeasurable joy. And its such sparks of conversation or Khal's daily, little, everyday heartwarming moments with Lakshmi and Mumtaj that give me strength, and make me happy and grateful that my (fur) baby is loved by others in my daily life, too.
Riddhi Doshi is a Mumbai-based independent journalist, Kathak student, and first-time pet parent.