Like many diabetics who have allowed themselves to be beguiled by the medical industry, which in this century is totally driven by the lucrative mode of disease-management instead of the old , unprofitable quest of curing diseases, I too take regular 50 minute brisk walks in my neighbourhood. I do it in late evenings since I have another unhealthy habit of reading/sleeping late in the night – so the health-giving dawn greetings to the rising sun in tasteful parks are not for the likes of me.
My walk timings coincide with the waking up time of the neighbourhood streetdogs, who are then just revving up after daylong healing slumbers, for their yet another nightlong vigilance and customary combats for territory and fairer sex. All my walking routes pass an informal cluster or two of ragpickers` shanties created bang upon Designated Green Areas against all real-estate business logic, fiercely de-facto protected by municipality and police against all laws and regulations , since these make their own life a bit easier. And , their camp-follower packs of streetdogs have seen me occasionally walking along and chatting with resident ragpicker children returning home after their working day, they kind of know me and sometimes tailwag me too in a friendly way – even when I am alone. I admit I feel a bit proud and socially integrated.
But there is another aspect to this. Out of habit and a lifelong desire to pass inconspicuously I mostly dress like gentlemen of the land. Trainers, jeans, T-shirts in summers and trainers, jogging-gear by Nike/Adidas types, wool ski cap, zipped jacket in winters. The dogs have mostly seen me kitted out thus. But in winters sometimes it is too much bother dressing up. So I keep my indoors gear of kurta-pajama , ski cap, with a jacket zipped to hide all sins of deportment , and the technical necessity of trainers of course. It is dark and cold , and who will really notice an old — nay, middleaged —curmudgeon like me anyway?
Well , dogs do. Puzzled, half recognizing me from their canine algorithms, they give me warning barks from far distances to become recognizably like myself or clearly otherwise — an intruder. When I get near they recognize me of course, but they are not pleased. They avert their faces refusing to acknowledge familiarity, growl frustratedly, and pretend to scratch behind their ears in extra detail till I pass. Some newcomer or visitor to the pack even growls at me frontally and frankly. And when I tell him/her to shut up in imitation Gymkhana Club accents , it is done , but done reluctantly. Walking away from them I hear their baffled barks at the sky of What– The – World– Is– Coming – To type. Now sahibs are taking to lower class drag!
Truth is, they are acutely class-conscious dogs. Being streetdogs they have never seen gentlemen in indoor muftis. They are familiar with cars of course; gentlemen in polished shoes walking half a dozen steps to the cigarette wallah or to ask for local directions. And memsahibs in colour and plumage with loud consumerist voices are top– of – the– social—heap of course; they often empty out the high- net- worth uneaten food of their overfed offspring`s Tupperware tiffin boxes for dogs` memorable picnics. Teenage louts on motorbikes they recognize shrewdly as future sahibs and therefore shrug off tolerantly. But dhotis and pajamas and cheap saris of the domestics and other hanger-ons , lungis of hawkers, rickshawpullers, or cheap rubber chappals, and , god forbid, bare dirt- encrusted feet—no, no, emphatically no go. Reactivating their vulpine specishood they surround, hound , and harry away such lower class riffraff– protecting property and title faithfully.
Not just dresses. From afar they can accurately gauge gait and intent, and of course the various shades of class confidence, and calibrate their response accordingly. For working classes , more so for unorganized ones, their barks and growls are unmistakable, aggressive and state-sponsored. And this is no mystery. They are streetdogs of Delhi after all, where all classes petition and contend; and their district is of among the topmost ratings in Realty Index. All their life`s karma is consumed in the outer reaches of the shifting tides and ebbs of power of their neighbourhood`s sahibs and memsahibs. Streetdogs know the score alright. They have to. Like slumdogs.