Doggone It ! The IAS Is In The Doghouse Again!

This piece is not about the IAS, it’s about dogs

I am a congenital dog lover and therefore I have to agree with Mrs. Maneka Gandhi on this one: the decision to exile the Delhi IAS couple of walking fame to Chinese claimed territories is hasty, disproportionate, over the top, and wrong. But not for the reasons given by the lady – I know neither of the officers or of their competence. My reason is simply this – anyone who loves dogs and takes them out for a walk after a hard day in office cannot be an entirely bad person. Did the “walking” interfere with the training of athletes ? I don’t know. Was the stadium shut down at the express orders of Mr. Khirwar? There is no evidence of that and it is extremely unlikely since the stadium did not come under him. Did it deprive India of a dozen gold medals in the Olympics? I don’t think so, given our track record in the pre-walking days. Does the incident provide a convenient scapegoat to the govt. for beating the IAS, an institution this govt. must demolish completely to achieve its totalitarian aims? Yes, as earlier instances of harassment of other IAS officers shows. How is it that a Samir Wankhade who misused his powers to maliciously lock up people without any evidence or due process gets a cushy posting in Chennai while an officer who walks his dog in a stadium is shunted thousands of miles away ? This is not to defend the “walking” but to disapprove of the arbitrary and harsh punishment. But to turn now to the focus of my blog – dogs. A word first about the deteriorating standards of our media: they have given us the complete biodata of Mr. and Mrs. Khirwar but we still don’t know the name of the canine at the center of the whole imbroglio. Since said pooch has played the leading role in extending the couple’s short ramble in the Thyagraj stadium to a longer walk to Ladakh, we are certainly entitled to know the dog’s name, whether it was in English, Hindi, third language, mother tongue or regional language. But I’m not complaining too strenuously, for this also gives me an excuse to relate some of my doggy stories.

It’s no easy matter finding out a dog’s breed or naming it, even for us IAS types with all the general knowledge acquired at Rau’s Study Center. Till today, for example, I clearly recollect that day in 1975 when I was sauntering at Library Point in Mussoorie with my now long lost batchmate, Mukul Joshi. We saw a man with a little doggy’s head poking out of his coat pocket. We were intrigued and wanted to see the whole dog; the stranger took it out: it fitted neatly into the palm of his hand ! Neither of us had ever seen such a tiny pooch, so we asked the owner what breed it was. He replied, “Yeh Chihuahua hai.” Mukul was non-plussed and retorted: “Isko kya huahua hai ? Yeh itna chhota kyun hai ? ”

Names of dogs are important because they tell us a lot about their owners. Someone with a dog named Custard or Dumpling is likely to be a diabetic, the owner of a Sultan will have more testosterone than is good for him, anyone with a dog named Tommy or Tiger probably had English as his third language in school, anyone who has a dog called Yogi will end up in Agra jail, a Spice or Samosa in all likelihood will belong to someone whose diet is strictly controlled by his wife, the owner of a Bhim is likely to be a BJP supporter, any pooch called Bogey can only belong to a golfer, and not a good one too. You get the point, don’t you ?

Naming dogs is no cake walk, believe you me. I wanted to name my last pet Bark Obama, but it just refused to bark; it also didn’t byte, so that ruled out Laptop. I finally named him Brutus (the only part of the English literature I still remembered from my Hindu college days) in view of his gravitas and dignified bearing as a pup, neither of which were much in evidence when he grew up. But this was not the first time I was proven wrong in the naming game – I christened my first born and heir presumptive as Sidharth, and the only Buddhist quality I see in him now 40 years later is a tendency to renounce life along with his job and watch Netflix in Puranikoti full time.

Dog naming posed a bigger problem for a colleague some years back, in the era of the late Mr. Virbhadra Singh, the then redoubtable Chief Minister of Himachal. Being an ex ruler of Kinnaur district (where there is only one surname – Negi), his kitchen Cabinet and office drawer consisted exclusively of Negis. This was not appreciated by others in the IAS who took severe umbrage at having to take orders from Negis all the time. My friend, in a cathartic move that would have delighted a psycho-analyst, acquired a pooch and named him Negi ! This created quite a stir in both the senior and junior lunch clubs in the Secretariat and even at the evening bacchanalian bouts in the tehsil offices once the Jamabandis were properly fudged and attested. On being asked why this provocative name? my friend replied: “So that there’s at least one Negi I can order around.” Unfortunately for him, the Chief Secretary was also a Negi, and my friend served out the rest of his career in the Ayurveda Department pushing Chyawanprash as a living. History has no record, sadly, of the fate of the four footed Negi.

BRUTUS December 1998 – June 2010

A word about my own Golden Retriever, Brutus, aka Golden Receiver to my neighbours as he was wont to greet every visitor with a wagging tail instead of barking at them and asking for their Aadhar card. Brutus had a pedigree longer than all the Shuklas put together and would have turned up his nose at the Thyagraj stadium – nothing but the Narendra Modi Stadium would have done for him. He was a one man dog, the man being your humble blogger. When Neerja and I took him for a walk only I was allowed to hold the leash. If Neerja took it even for a moment he would stage a dharna on the road and bring all traffic to a halt. While watching TV in the evenings, Neerja was not allowed to sit next to me (not that she particularly wanted to); that place was reserved for Brutus. One morning in 2007, when I was badly injured by a falling tree and lay sprawled out on the road with a broken spine and smashed ribs, Brutus would not let anyone approach me for ten minutes. He kept the doctors away, which, I suspect, helped my bones to heal faster than they would have done had the docs got their hands and scalpels on me. He weighed 45 kilos but was terrified of cats, birds, spiders, monkeys and any loud sounds – this last bit was a blessing in disguise because it ensured that we never watched Arnab Goswami or Rahul Shivshankar on TV.

There was one incident, however, when Brutus landed me in an embarrassing situation, albeit unknowingly, which impinged on civil military relationships. Colonel Abhay Rastogi and his wife Gauri were good friends of ours and we met regularly for drinks of an evening. Abhay and Gauri had a beautiful Labrador bitch named Saira, and as Brutus was now of age, we decided to broach the subject of a canine union to them.

” Gauri,” I said casually one evening over drinks,” why don’t we mate Saira with Brutus? They’ll have beautiful puppies, don’t you think?”

There was a tinkling sound as Gauri dropped her glass of Bacardi, followed by a thick silence you couldn’t have cut through with a butcher’s knife. Abhay decided the time was ripe for a bathroom break and hurriedly exited the room. Gauri looked at me like a Major-General would at an errant Havildar. Finally she spoke:

“That’s impossible”,  she intoned, ” Saira is an army dog and we couldn’t possibly mate her with a civilian dog. Their puppies would be hybrid para-military types.”

So that was that as far as civil-military liaison was concerned. We continue to be good friends, both Saira and Brutus have moved on to canine heaven, and there’s a lesson here somewhere for all of us.

Which, precisely, is the point of this blog. Let us not judge too hastily in this age of instant opinions. People who love dogs, like Mr. and Mrs Sanjeev Khirwar, cannot possibly be all bad or the ogres that the media has painted them out to be. The whole incident has been blown out of all proportion because this country needs a cause celebre every day to feed our insatiable appetite for sensationalism. Let’s not put the Khirwars in the doghouse just because they happen to belong to the IAS. In any case, Ladakh and Arunachal are lovely places, and I’m sure their (still unnamed) pooch will prefer it to a stadium, with or without athletes. This posting may just be the best thing that happened to them. There are worse places than doghouses.

Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. He is a keen environmentalist and loves the mountains. He divides his time between Delhi and his cottage in a small village above Shimla. He used to play golf at one time but has now run out of balls. He blogs at http://avayshukla.blogspot.in/

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