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Heavenly bodies

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on February 15, 2019 Published on February 15, 2019

“The dogs,” says Bins. He’s just returned from an expedition to Delhi’s Khan Market. “What about them?” I ask. “I know what they are,” he says, with a mysterious smirk, “I have figured it out.”

“Aren’t they just...dogs?” I ask. “Nah!” he sneers. “How can you say that? They LOOK like dogs, sure. They BEHAVE like dogs, sure. But I’ve been seeing them ever since I’ve been coming and going from Delhi. So that’s about 10 years. In all that time, the Dogs of Khan Market have remained EXACTLY THE SAME!!!” He says this with a triumphant flourish. “They have no puppies and they always look old. They always look fat.”

I have to agree with him. The number and variety of dogs never seems to change. There are always around five or six. They lounge around in the two corridors that connect the front and back of Khan Market’s backward-facing “C” shape, and the central channel that separates the front row of shops from the back. All the dogs are noticeably tubby. In winter, some (but not all) of them wear warm jackets made of what looks like old woollen blankets.

None of them are breeds. Some have white hair around their noses. Some have asymmetrically floppy ears. None of them is beautiful, or especially well-groomed. In fact they look slightly moth-eaten, without actually being mange-ridden or injured, like stray dogs elsewhere. Aside from living out of doors, they all look well-loved and well-cared for. None of them is aggressive. Instead, they look at the passers-by, the customers trotting about overladen with purchases, the familiar shopkeepers, the strawberry-wallahs and delivery boys, with an all-knowing, all-seeing expression.

When they sleep, it’s with the extreme abandonment of creatures who have never known a moment’s fear or insecurity. They lie on their backs, with their paws in the air, their private parts displayed, their ears spread out, their toothy mouths half-open. These are dogs who know they’re safe, who have never been kicked or beaten or mistreated. These are dogs at peace with the world, and with their place in it.

Bins looks at me in a knowing way, as I share all these impressions. “So, so, so. What does all this tell you?” he asks. I shrug. “They’re happy dogs. The Khan Market shop-owners’ association cares for them. A donation bowl is kept at the entrance to the two connecting-corridors.”

Bins is shaking his head. “I used to think the same way. But today, finally, I have understood.” He pauses, savouring the moment of revelation. “First: They are immortal. They never die. Second: They are incarnations. Of loyal customers who have passed on. Third: They guard the entrances to the corridors and remind us to behave ourselves in this great old market.” He pauses again. “Fourth: To become an Immortal Dog, you have to die of happiness. In one of the shops.” He grins. “And I’m working on it!”

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

 

Published on February 15, 2019
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