Pune’s stray dogs, cattle victims of city’s changes

Ashoak Upadhyay Mumbai | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on October 28, 2013

Two months back, the local media reported 35 cases of stray-dog bites daily, and senior citizens in the swishy neighbourhood of Kalyani Nagar were most upset. The civic authorities responded by claiming routine clean-ups of garbage dumps, the ubiquitous symbol of a city rapidly being overwhelmed by its own detritus. The stray dog menace is attributed to official negligence. How else can the city’s citizens explain canine growth to 40,000 — despite civic campaigns at sterilisation? For their part, officials point to more inconvenient truths — the mushrooming of street food stalls till late night, restaurants unmindful of the refuse they dump at the nearest slums.

These are the signs of Indian urban growth, unplanned, chaotic and frenetic. Strays in Kalyani Nagar, Pune’s toniest neighbourhood, are constantly on edge.

Across the town on the western side in Pashan and Sus Road, the stray dogs are growing in number. On Sus Road that leads to the former Asian Games village and its arterial lanes, rusted garbage dumps spring up overnight like warts on a landscape losing its verdancy.

But the Pashan/Sus dogs are benign in spirit and not at war with senior citizens — they are at war with themselves. Turf battles turn them into howling wolves at night. As the sun rises over an increasingly smoggy sky, the few fast food joints at the street level whet canine appetites and anxieties. Stray dogs turn into playful pets like those found in villages. They reflect the semi-urban nature of Pashan’s transformation, a microcosm for similar changes at the margins of a city spreading like an ink stain.

They do not hunt in packs; they cast lazy and rheumy glances at passersby, jump at the offer of broken chapathis near the local temple, and turn away from plastic.

Once the mainstay of rich farmlands and dairies, abandoned cows and bulls huffle aimlessly from one garbage dump to another in search of fodder.

What they find is plastic. Abandoned by farmer-owners now speeding into the urban chaos, the bovines appear gripped by severe anomie. But memory or instinct serves them well; they settle to chew the cud of their fate on the hot tar of Sus Road or pavements where once the soft and loamy earth would have affirmed their ancient bond to an eco-system now vanished.

They are at peace with them; the cows settle for the spilled-over refuse of plastic from the garbage dumps — leftovers scattered around by the more nimble hunter-canines. Their body clocks unfailingly bring them to these feeding troughs at sunset. They have no other choice.

Strays are a part of urban life, but their numbers can tell you something of a city’s fate. Detroit city’s 50,000 strays measure loss, the city’s rapid decline. For Orhan Pamuk growing up in Istanbul, the packs of dogs with their “defiance of the state” he describes in his wonderful memoir, appears a counterpoint to Istanbul’s “end-of-empire melancholy,” its century-old decline.

In Pune, stray dogs herald the growth of chaotic urbanisation. It is the free-roaming and yokeless bovines still tied to their ancient rhythms of time that symbolise loss — a loss of the unremembered village.

Published on October 28, 2013
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