A Dog’s Life

Anjana Basu

May 5. Kahini threw a tantrum today. You could hear it echoing through the flat and I’m not certain the breadwala didn’t get the shock of his life doing the para rounds.

Six in the morning and a shrieking, “I wanna wanna go home” instead of the alarm clock. Kahini’s got this very high-pitched shriek that sounds like a cockatoo on heat and is guaranteed to damage eardrums at close quarters. Anyway, I was the only one who heard it at that hour of the morning and I pulled the pillow over my head.

When we met for breakfast at eight, she’d gone. Ankus and Panchali were very surprised. “Tchh, strange chick,” said Ankus. “Where’s she lobbed off to?”

“Home, I think,” I said, and I told them what I’d heard. Panchali shook her head. “I told you, I told you, Ank.’I just wanna go home”. She was on that trip yesterday.” “Did she say anything about coming in to work this morning?” Ankus asked severely. “I suppose no one remembers that the Harvard campaign is being presented tomorrow. Hunh? Hunh?” “Don’t get tough with me, Ank,” Panchali said. “I’m not supposed to know when your work is going in.”

We finished breakfast and made a collective dash for office. Ankus had a meeting to catch and Panchali and I wanted to bring our paperwork up to date.

Kahini did not come in. She called to say that there was a problem at home and that she’d try and make it tomorrow, okay? Ankus stomped around like a large white thundercloud when he heard, muttering that he hoped she had a good reason.

May 6. The reason was a dog. Put like that, it sounds a little absurd. But that’s what it was. “I don’t believe that chick,” Ankus kept repeating when he heard that Kahini had apparently picked this stray dog off the road and taken it home. Her mother, naturally, had refused to let it inside the house. It could stay in the garden, she said.

For a couple of days, the dog had stayed in the garden. But then it had decided to dig up the rosebushes. Kahini’s mother had promptly evicted it from the premises and rung up to tell her daughter so. Kahini had made a brief trip home and hidden the dog in the garage. That was the day of the early next morning after tantrums.

Obviously, the next thing that happened was that Mrs Bhasin found the dog, put it and Kahini into a taxi and deposited them somewhere near the Corporation Office, to do as they pleased. Kahini had promptly put the dog into another taxi and taken it whining and piddling to the flat. The fact that the taxi driver let her do it speaks volumes for her persuasiveness.

May 7. The dog had a fight with the mirror in the hall. It’s obviously straight off the streets and hasn’t seen a house before. It looked at the mirror and snarled, growled and had hysterics. Kahini ordered the cook to put a sheet over it. Now, that’s a very useful mirror. We all brush our hair in it, or straighten our clothes before we take off for office.

Ankus refused to have the sheet, collared the dog and forced him to sit in front of the mirror until his hysterics stopped out of sheer tiredness. Panchali stood there beside him lecturing him on cruelty to dumb animals. All in all, it was a very noisy day. People from the other flats kept ringing the bell to complain.

May 10. The dog is called Princeton. Spelt Princeton. Every morning, Satya cooks it a breakfast of poached eggs and rice. Panchali is convinced that the dog leads a very confused life between Kahini’s screeching, Ankus’s Punjabi galis and Satya’s Bengali. I don’t think she helps by cooing to it in Tamil.

May 11. A tense day at the Agency. Kahini missed her deadline for the GDC presentation and it was all because she went running off to buy dog soap and dog toilet powder.

Ankus and she had a loud fight about it in the middle of Creative. You could hear them all the way to the Conference Room. The Manager sent up to find out what the noise was all about, and everyone looked sheepish because no one wanted to tell tales, or even give an explanation. Besides, what could you say? Kahini missed a deadline because she went to buy dog soap? That’s not even a negotiable excuse.

May 12. Ankus is not talking to Kahini. Panchali is doing her best to play peacemaker. I heard her explaining things to Ankus late into the night.

May 13. I don’t think the peacemaking worked because at breakfast Ankus said that Princeton was exactly the kind of dog he expected Kahini to have. “It goes perfectly well with her brand personality.” He didn’t go straight out and call her a mongrel, but that was bad enough. The dog growled at him from behind a table leg.

Panchali took the dog out of the room while I tried to tell Ankus not to make bad worse. “I can’t work with that chick,” he said, got up from the table and pushed the chair back so hard that it fell over. Kahini, luckily, was in the bathroom.

May 14. Ankus refused to brief Kahini. I caught him passing on her work to Panchali. No one like the situation. The Creative Head finally got into the act and marched them both down to the Manager. As a result, there’s a kind of truce.

May 15. The dog peed on Ankus and Panchali’s bed because Panchali forgot and left the door open. She sent the sheets to the dhobi without telling Ankus. “I mean really, there’ll just be another scene. And the way Kahini pampers the dog is absurd. She’s the type of person who spoils dogs and children. This guy needs discipline, don’t you, you ugly mug?” Princeton looked soulfully at her and shivered from head to foot, whining in the sort of way that usually makes Ankus want to kick him.

Since Ankus didn’t know, he managed to make a fairly normal meal of dinner. He even offered the dog a piece of chocolate. The dog whimpered and hid behind Kahini’s skirts. “You’re just a big bully,” Kahini told him,” that’s your problem. You don’t realise your size. It terrifies people!”

“Come on, Sexy,” he said to her, “I’m not that bad. It’s your dog that’s the problem.”

May 20. As if things weren’t bad enough. Tomorrow, Ankus’s parents are coming to town. Panchali was busy banishing her plants to the back verandas. “I’ve never met people who were allergic to plants,” she sniffed. “Non-ecological stuffed shirts.” She’s always grumbling about Ankus’ parents. It’s the only time I’ve seen Ankus really angry with her. And the situation is made more difficult by the fact that they’re newly married.

“I don’t know about love,” Ankus told me, “but I wish she’d at least try to be nice to my parents on the few occasions that we see them.” I suppose Panchali was trying. She ran up and down between the Flat and the Agency all day, whenever she could find time. By evening, there wasn’t a green leaf to be seen anywhere in the place.

May 21. Ankus’s parents came for dinner. Despite the fact that she had trotted out a new kanjeevaram, Panchali almost had I SUPPORT GREENPEACE written all over her face. She was stony, stiff and impatient. However, I suppose her cooking made up for it in a way. Kahini made an appearance in a white midi and cooed and charmed and hand fed them the way she does her dog. That did a great deal to defuse the atmosphere.

May 22. Panchali was up early putting the plants back. I could hear the scrape of the pots. She was singing while she did it. After a while, the dog started whimpering, so I gathered Kahini was up too. The clock said it was 6.30.

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The dog came and chewed up my office diary while I was sleeping. Kahini begged and begged me not to be angry. She said she’d replace it.

May 23. Minutes of the meeting with Law Talbot & Co Ltd

1. Client to revert on final items for gift for the English and Telegu consumer scheme poster.

2. Telegu trans of consumer scheme poster with client. Client to revert.

3. Client to give Agency despatch instr. for dangler, sticker and poster.


May 24. Minutes of the meeting held with Johnson Aisher & Co Ltd

1. Quotes for 10 sec dealer TVC to be obtained by 1/6. Agency to revert.

2. Gujarati translation of radio spot with client. Client to revert.

3. Positives of b/w 20x5 ad to be handed over to ABP.


May 27. Kahini gave me a black Filofax with an embossed leather cover. “I hope you like it,” she said. I did. It looked expensive and was obviously imported. Later Panchali told me that Kahini had borrowed the money from Ankus. “ I don’t know why he did something like that,” she kept saying. “We’re short this month.” I’m going to make sure the dog doesn’t chew this one up.

May 28. Party on Saturday. Token of having acquired a four crore client who had written a bestselling novel.

Princeton wet the gaddi in the drawing room. Kahini scrabbled up the sheets and went running for the dhobi. Unfortunately, she couldn’t find him, so the sheets and mattresses are lying in a puddle that reeks of dog piss and Kahini is yowling up and down in her rock star sunglasses trying to apologise to everyone.

May 29. The gaddi was sent for washing. Panchali got Satya to find the dhobi and Kahini took Princeton out for a walk so he wouldn’t try to bite the dhobi when he came. You could hear the whole para whistling when she went out.

I spent the day running around ordering food for the party. The decorator couldn’t give me small wicker baskets to mask the light bulbs, so I had to go all the way to Chandni.

May 30. Last night, Ankus and Panchali had a blazing row. Panchali got very drunk at the party and insulted the chief guest, who’d just publicized a high profile expose of corporate scandals. “Frankly,” she told him, loud and slurry, “Vikram SSSheth, you’re not. You’re not even Ssshbaa De.” Unfortunately, she said it at one of those moments when a hush falls over conversation and everyone stares meditatively into their tumblers of scotch. People stopped rattling their ice cubes and looked up sharply when they heard that.

Ankus rushed into action a little too late: the guest was his client. “You see, she’s heavily into this literary criticism thing, “ he explained. “I mean, she used to write these essays for her school magazine, books I have recently read and that sort of thing.” All the while he was explaining, he was looking daggers at Panchali.

He hustled her away into a corner so they could discuss the whole thing in private. We could hear snatches of, “makes passes…Can’t write…fool!” from Panchali and “None of your business can’t hold your drink...bitch!” from Ankus.

Ultimately Panchali got fed up of arguing with him, walked to the nearest sofa and went to sleep. Ankus decided he had to take her home and tried to carry her out to his bike. But he was also drunk and he dropped her, so they started fighting all over again, until Panchali’s eyes closed like they had magnets in them.

The way it was, we would have spent the night in the office, except that Kahini kept worrying about her dog. She kept saying she had to go back until Ankus took her on his bike. “Tell that bitch if she wakes up that I’ve gone home,” he told me.

She didn’t wake up till eleven, by which time Ankus, very sheepish, was back. He made halfhearted attempts to help us clean up. I finally told him to go open the French windows and let some air in. The place was reeking of alcohol and even the durwans had hangovers.

There was a lot of food wasted. People got drunk and started taking legs of tandoori chicken, chewing on them and throwing them out of the windows. That was the only time I missed Kahini’s dog. He would have helped clean up.

I heard Panchali’s voice and went in to find her looking accusingly at Ankus. “What’s the matter now?” I asked.

“He’s a bully!” she said. “He mauls me around when I’m drunk! Just look at my arm!” There was a bruise blackening on it where she must have fallen last night, I mean this morning. Ankus just stood there by the open French windows with a stupid look on his face and let the words hit him.

I had the place clean by two, with no help from either of them, and no sign of Kahini. I spent what was left of the weekend with my cousin.

May 31. I came home in the morning to find Panchali feeding the dog. “You’re late for work,” she said.

“So are you.”

“Oh, I sent word I was going in after lunch. I think I’m still out from the party.” Ankus and Kahini had already left. “Are you and Ankus talking?” I asked, before I left. She gave me a crooked smile and fed the dog a crust.

June 1. Kahini went shopping at lunch and came back with plastic bags full of clothes. She changed into a new T-shirt and modelled it for us. With her dark dark skin, frizzy hair and cockatoo shriek, she’s really quite exotic.

She waltzed around the room crooning the latest number from the Pink Elephant and banged into Ankus who happened to walk in. He laughed and pushed her away, making some noisy remark.

June 2. Ever since the party, Panchali seems to be on edge. She’s very quiet at breakfast and the last couple of evenings, she’s been busy with yards and yards of material and a needle and thread. Whenever you talk to her, she kind of wraps herself in the material and doesn’t answer.

“It’s just the party,” Ankus said. “She doesn’t like making scenes like that.

June 3. Ankus tried to get Panchali to see a play this evening, but she refused, so he took Kahini. I found Panchali busy with her embroidery. She had the dog at her feet and a letter on the table next to her. “It’s from Ankus’s parents,” she said. “They wrote to say how much they enjoyed the dinner.” “That’s good,” I said.

“Yes.” She sounded indifferent.

June 4. Ankus talked to me about Kahini over breakfast. “She’s the sort of person who spoils dogs and children, but I suppose her heart’s in the right place.”

“You mean Princeton hasn’t been peeing on your bed,” I said. “Princeton...oh..yes. Panchali had a letter from my parents yesterday.” And his eyes wandered over the wall for some reason.

June 6. I found Panchali packing. She said it was high time she had a holiday. “Of course, I have to ask the Manager for leave. I haven’t done that yet.”

“Then you might not get it,” I said. I turned and found Ankus had walked in. “Well, hello. Are you also going on this holiday?” “She’s being stupid,” was all Ankus said.

June 7. Panchali’s case is still standing packed. Kahini has gone to Bombay on leave, and left the dog. Ankus took it for a walk after office, grumbling. “What’s the matter, “I asked Panchali. “You obviously haven’t got leave, so why aren’t you unpacking the suitcase?”

“I’ve had enough of him,” she said. “It’s time I left for good.”

“If it’s that party, you shouldn’t say things like that to clients.”

“Oh, it isn’t just the party. It’s...oh, never mind, you never notice anything anyway!”

June 9. Kahini still isn’t back and I’m tired of acting as a punching bag between Panchali and Ankus. I think the dog does it much better. Last night, Ankus threw the suitcase out of their room and then went and slept in Kahini’s room. I’ve decided to go out of town for the weekend, even though I don’t think I can quite afford it this month. Anything for a spot of peace and quiet.

June 10. As it turned out, I didn’t have to. They made up. Ankus filled the room and drawing room with so many red roses that I’m sure he must be bankrupt. I was there when Panchali walked in. She stared at it, swallowed and burst into tears. “Your parents will hate it,” she choked, when she was capable of speech.

June 13. Kahini came back with a whole wardrobeful of new clothes. She came to dinner in a T-shirt with sequined zebras. Princeton slobbered all over it. “Oh, Princeywincey,” she cried, “I missed you. Did you guys miss me? Tell me everything that happened!”

We told her. She burst into one of her loud fits of hysterical giggles and hugged Panchali. Then she went tearing off and came back with more bunches of red roses. “I’m so glad, I’m so glad,” she sang all evening,” and danced Princeton round the room. He got so excited that he piddled on the red roses. Ankus sat there in the middle of the noise looking as if something had hit him on the head. It’s a long time since I’ve seen him looking like that, but I think Kahini has that effect on people. She’s so...unreal.

June 15. We woke up this morning to find Panchali gone and she’d taken Princeton with her. There was a note on the dining table. It said: I’m fed up with people who can’t appreciate plants or animals. Don’t even try to find me. I’ve gone home. But I can’t understand why Ankus and Kahini are so happy.





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