Black Dogs

The ambiance is New Delhi and the time – the summer of 97. A year earlier, I was new to Delhi. Fate brought me to the big city to seek better career. Then I got a job with Siemens.

My career star ted as a Marketing Executive in Siemens Ltd. I was told by many that to start one’s career in such a big company is in fact very lucky – it will give me immense confidence and an open outlook. Being new to the work culture and in an attempt to prove my mettle, I worked hard. Sometimes work as much as two people – work till the late hours, evenings, weekends, at home; well I could do that since I was not married then. In a way, I was challenging my boss’s and my own limits of working hard. I think my boss did not get along well with his wife, and so he preferred to stay at office, rather than home and I with him. So he was happy with me. Early on, I developed a habit of taking over more difficult assignments or the ones people would avoid. Pretty mu ch not saying no to anyone, I would often get more than my fair share of projects. At times it overwhelmed me, but being young(er) and brash, I didn’t think much of it and put in more time towards it.

After few months, things started to slip and then I realized that this cannot go indefinitely. I realized, I had to say ‘no’. Took some courage but in the end said no. Needless to say, since a lot more people were relying on me, things were not digested very well. My boss frowned a little, and then assigned it to someone else, who came back to me on how to get his work done. For next few weeks, I could feel the strange tension at work and I started to feel uneasy with my boss around, who stopped giving me anything. Back then, my father was one of my best advisors; so I called him. I talked to my father about it. It was one of those days when you are just fed up from work and I told my dad that I am thinking about resigning. I was really stressed out. The week that followed was worse. I started having what is called as bad-days in the corporate slang. I was too tired, stressed upon reaching home.

So far I forgot to mention that I was in Delhi with my cousins (brothers). it was a joint family home – three families, with 10 kids in total, ranging from less than a year old to almost 18. Of course, couple of bhabhis (sisters-in-law). One of the middle ones among my bhabhis got really concerned with my state of mind. She would often say, “Forget about him (the boss) and sleep now. Worry about work tomorrow.”; but I guess she started sensing the troubled times I was going through.

One day another cousin of mine from Ludhiana visits Delhi. It was a Friday and I got a phone call at work from home that my cousin is visiting and he has to leave early next day and I should try and come back home early as everyone is going out for dinner.

As a good boy, I do so. I left early from work and reached where everyone was meeting for dinner. After a fun, laugh-a-riot, loud my-big-fat-Indian-dinner, everyone headed home. Everyone settles down, few people were watching TV, others just relaxing, kids were running around. I was helping few of my nephews and nieces with their homework.

That’s when my bhabhi calls me, “Sonu, idhar aanaa. (Sonu come here)”.

I walk into the other room and my sister-in-law is sitting on the sofa with my visiting cousin with all his papers and stuff spread on the table. As I look around I see some charts drawn on the sheets of paper filled with some strange symbols. I knew it was someone’s janampatri (horoscope).

At this point I should mention that my visiting cousin has a fine knowledge of palmistry and astrology. As is quiet common in India, my whole family generally seeks his help in many occasions – starting a new business, in the matters of marriage, kid’s future etc.

Anyway, I found that that the charts and horoscope that were spread around on the tables were mine. My bhabhi told me that while I was at work, she explained to my cousin that I am really stressing out for last few weeks and seems to have lot of trouble at work. My cousin needed my date, time and place of birth and instead of calling me, they called up my mom and found all the details. My cousin then intervenes and tell me that bhabhi asked his help to figure out a more heavenly solution or upaaye (an astrological solution) to the problems I am getting at work. Of course, that what they were waiting to talk to me.

My cousin worked on creating my horoscope and made all the calculations for me during the day. Being who I am, I told them that I was fine and it is just a phase, it will pass.

“I don’t need an upaaye“, I said.

But … I was rendered speechless, and told to sit down and listen to what my cousin had to say. So I did sit there with a blank face. In thick soup, is what it seemed to me. My cousin ran some more numbers on his calculator and kept drawing some strange symbols on the chart in random boxes it seemed. He also kept referencing a red book (Lal Kitaab) and asking me few small questions now and then. Whenever I would try to say something or mention the futility of the situation, my bhabhi would signal me to keep quiet and not to disturb my cousin in his calculation.

Twenty minutes later my cousin lifts his head and I was looking at a face that was very happy with confidence of an astrological solution which will help me out. He tells me that my present boss and I do not get along very well. Wow, that’s was very psychic, I thought, but kept my mouth shut.

He continued, “It is due to that fact that we do not have astrological compatibility”. Here comes compatibility which is tested at every point in your life, in India.

And then he made a prediction, “You will quit this job, but there is still some time in doing so”.

You must understand that by this time, I had decided to give him the audience and was getting amused and surprised. So far he mentioned what everyone sort of knew and maybe predicted that if the things continue the way they were, I would quit this job. Likely there was something on my face that my cousin noticed, but ignored it.

He carried on and explained to me that my boss is a “black dog” who is barking and pushing my good fortune away from me.

I joked that I work for a human, not a dog; of course he gave me a frown and explains that my boss has the astrological characteristics of a dog. Right at this point, in time and space, there is some good fortune and the darker side is trying to take over.

He then presents a solution, “You will have to pacify the dog and then he will be an encouraging and helpful boss. In that role he will also help you in advancing to me for my career. Otherwise, he will continue the way he is”.

He went for next 10 minutes and in the end he suggests an upaaye. He suggested that every morning, I should feed few black dogs with biscuits (Indian cookies) and things will be fine. I was explained that the black dog will eat the cookies, and will be happy that I fed him, and in the end this will change some astrological influences that are causing stress in my life. At that time, I thought it was very funny, and at the same time, a part of me what thinking … this could be interesting; it may make up for a good story later in life. My curiosity got better of me and I decided to test the theories out. I did not speak my mind. I owed it to my bhabhi for the concern she had shown. I patiently listened to my cousin. I also argued that in the morning I have to drive an hour to work, and I’m not going to look for a black dogs and be doing any such thing as feeding them biscuits. I would get late for work. My bhabhi gives me a look to keep quiet and listen to my cousin. I listened.

In the end my cousin suggests bhabhi that if I’m little reluctant in doing so, she should keep some biscuits aside after I touch them in the morning and feed them to the passing dogs in the street. She agreed that this may work out to be the best option. Anyway, it was way past my bedtime and I was feeling sleepy and so all of us retire to their respective rooms.

The morning dawns. I am ready for the day and when I’m about to leave, my bhabhi stops me and hands over a packet of Glucogold biscuits and asks me to throw it to some black dog I encounter on my way. This is getting a little out of hand, I thought. I said that I was not going to do it; she opens the packet and takes my hand, and puts it on all the biscuits, and keeps the biscuits in a separate bowl. I wipe off my hand and drive off. This carried on for about a month and things were fine, not great, but just fine. As far as boss was concerned, I think the tension had subsided a bit and it was better than before. If it was due to the black dogs enjoying the Glucogold biscuits or anything else, I cannot say.

Then probably the stray black dogs stopped coming to our street or the municipal Corporation took them away. And that’s when my trouble started. One fine morning, she told me to take the biscuit packet with me. I was quiet reluctant to do it. So she tried her brahmastra (ultimate weapon), and asked me if I would refuse if my mother asked.

“Think of me as your mother and do this, please”.

If anyone has grown up in India, you would understand that there is no way out of this brahmastra. I then took the packet from her and went on my way to work. I think it was a lucky day as I encountered a lonely (maybe hungry) black dog within few yards from home. I gave it whole of the packet. Felt a little embarrassed as few folks and couple of elderly people stopped and stared at me. We all smiled and went our way.

Every morning bhabhi would give me a packet of Glucogold biscuits to feed the black dogs. She, somehow or the other, would make me take it and let the stray black dogs have a party every morning. Mind it, that sometimes these dogs also get to enjoy the Krackjack, or Monaco or some other brand of biscuits. I am sure they were all getting healthier, to get at least one guaranteed square meal every day. There would always be more than just the black dogs. There would be browns, the grays, the spotted and many other colors. Within few days most of these dogs became familiar with me and would wag their tails when I approached them. It was not just the dogs, even some of the bystanders, elderly folks, some shopkeepers, and others who knew me by now. My nephews and nieces had started calling me Kaale Kutton Waale Chacha Ji (Black Dogs Uncle). It was amusing, most of the time. Above all, my relations with my boss were improving.

Then one day, I did not find any dog. Maybe they decided that they have had enough biscuits and it was time for them to move on. That was the day which filled my life with some difficulties to find the black dogs. I rode my scooter, dressed for work, hunting for the black dogs. Found some, gave them the whole packet and was done. As the days passed, it was getting difficult to find black dogs. I started waking up earlier every morning so that I get to reach office in time. Then I started to carpool to office with one of my friends. It was quiet hilarious the first time I told him what all was going on with biscuits and black dogs. We had a blast laughing in his car. From then on, he also started to help me spot some black dogs if he saw one. If we happen to find no black dog, we would eat the biscuits by ourselves. Once my friend even suggested that I should give them to my boss for he is the ultimate dog we are trying to tame. I listened and did offer few biscuits to my boss; and he did eat few.

On my way to my friend’s place, I would see a black dog and would stop my scooter near it. Now hearing the screech of brakes, the dog would get scared and run away. I would park my scooter and run after the dog and seeing me running after them some of them used to run far away and faster. Few of them would growl back and bark at me. Other times, they would not let me come closer to them and few even ran after me and I would run towards my scooter. At times, I threw the biscuits they would get frightened and run away (maybe thinking I am trying to hit them with something). I couldn’t help in such cases as the biscuits were plied on by cars or scooters. Some of the dogs would stay there only and I would throw them some biscuits. Couple of dogs would run after my scooter wanting more.

Ultimately I was getting a familiar figure in the dog society. Once I almost got bitten by a dog who wanted more. Now that I think about it all it is very funny especially for people watching someone running after the dogs to feed them, early each morning. People on the street would stop to see this dressed person dealing with the dogs. Few would laugh at me and walk away. Couple of them even started recognizing me and we started exchanging greetings. The school children waiting for their bus on the roadside also started to know me and waved when I passed. Many would point towards some dog sitting nearby which I could not locate.

The roadside beggars would say, “Bauji, abhi abhi ek kala kutta us taraf gaya hai” (Sir, a black dog ran away in that alleyway few seconds back).

I would turn my scooter on that road. So my social circle was increasing, among the people and most of all, the dogs.

This was carried on for about three months or so. Many times during this time, I would get late for office. I was too embarrassed to give a reason that I was looking for black dogs. Things carried on. When I used to get late, my boss would get upset sometimes. Over time, I stopped it. And even my bhabhi forgot about it. When I think about it today, I couldn’t help laughing about it. It was really hilarious – specially my encounters with the black dogs.

And about my boss, well he is not my boss any longer, as I left that job, as my cousin had appropriately predicted, to find a new one. My relations with my boss did improve, and he over time also realized that there is more to life than just work. I don’t know whether it was because of the biscuits or something else. He is one of the hardest working people I have met in my life. His passion for his work was commendable. He also expected people working with him to give as much as him to their jobs. I learned a lot from him professionally and personally. He showed me how passionate one can be about his work, and how one person can make a difference in a company. The lessons I learned while working under him are going to last for a lifetime. I believe that I need to thank him for the path he showed me, making my life a little better, enjoyable in Delhi.

Or should I say, thanks to him, few black dogs enjoyed a nice breakfast for some time.

Saturday, February 20, 1999

Copyright, JPS Nagi 1999-2010