In praise of: The Pariah Dog

‘The Pariah dog’, wrote an acute observer of Indian ways, ‘has always been on downhill slope of popular contempt’.  Natives ignore his ‘novel potentialities of his characters’ and discourage him by ‘keeping him at a distance’. He is denied affection to which its British counterpart has a social claim. The Pariah dog longs for a master; a mere approving look touches a chord is it heart. Compared with English dog, says Kipling,  ‘the poor Indian outcast is a pagan, a creature without faith, or at least without that soul-saving reverence for authority which ennobles character’ and concluded rightly that ‘the Pariah does not know the joy of adoration’ for he has no master. [1]


The name ‘Pariah’ given to him is ‘tainted with the  worst of the philosophy’ to which centuries ago in Greece, ‘he reveals more of the currish side of canine character.’ He snarls more often than a civilised dogs and uncovers more of his teeth. Despite this quarrelsome nature, Kipling judged him as a ‘lendi’, a coward since ‘in a fight he does not abandon himself to the delight of battle with stern joy of the English dog, but calculates odds backs down with an ignoble care for his skin.’

Keeping a dog in one’s house was not a respected thing to do in not-so-modern Indian culture. It is hard to say since when Indian started tolerating the presence of dog in their houses. Historian points to an English influence which can not be denied. The ‘best friend of man’ has been officially condemned by both Hindu and Muslim authorities. He is not allowed inside the house and often beaten up if it dares do so. But his faithfulness was often rewarded. At least by Yuddhishtra who refused to go to heaven unless his dog might accompany him. There is no place for dogs in Hindu heaven. A very vulgar saying gives many clues about Indian attitude, “If all the dogs go on pilgrimage to Benares, who will be left to lick the dishes clean”. Manu have decreed many things against the dog. I am not aware of kindly words said in appreciation of a dog’s admirable side by a Hindu or Muslim poet.

A vast majority of Indian Pariah dogs still live on street and is attached with a place rather than a person. They are infamous for their chronic hunger. Even if you fill your pet Pariah till its nose with food, it would sneak into your kitchen and taste whatever it could find. It is aware of his misdeed. It dashes off from the kitchen at any sign of trouble. It would not return till hunger grips it again. On its unwelcome return, it shows a remarkable desire to flaunt its cuteness. It wags its tail for no reason and it tries to give a very innocent look by keeping its head low and making a eye contact from that angle. After slowing approaching its master, it would lay down in his/her feet asking for forgiveness.

I would not call him ‘a lendy’, a coward but it is not a a brave dog either. In the presence of his master or in a pack, he might do great things by showing admirable courage. But once alone, it will never face odds if it can help it. It is very curious in the matter of reptiles. It likes to explore them with utmost care. Sometimes it misjudges the danger and get itself hurt. There have been many incidences in my village where a dog was bitten by scorpion.

Indian Pariah have few claims to looks. It is rare to find a Pariah dog with both of its ears straight. However it has many other qualities which will outweigh its lack of looks and ‘conspicuous gallantry in action’. According to M. Krishnan, Indian Pariah ‘is tractable, clever,  even sagacious, self-reliant and most importantly absolutely incorruptible.’ By personal experience I can vouch for his loyalty.  There is no better house-dog. It is hardy and cost next to nothing to feed. ‘It never make friends with strangers whatever the bait, and will wake and give voice to the slightest suspicion of anything wrong.’ It does not howl all night but only bark when there is a need. It is this quality, rather than its willingness to sink its teeth into stranger’s flesh, which makes it a great dog. It is clever but you can not teach him ‘fetching the ball’ for it is usually not interested in thrown things which does not smell eatable. It is clever in managing his food and love related affairs. It usually leaves its master house and spend its time in jungles when its time comes to an end but it always comes back in its last few hours to its master house to expire. No pet Pariah dog in my village is known to die outside its master house.

I believe that Pariah has been improved in its look and has been established as a breed. These are welcome signs. It would be pity if this dogs is allowed to meet the same fate as of Poligar and Mahratta.

END NOTES :

[1] ‘A popular sketch of Indian animals in their relations with people’, John Lockwood Kipling.
[2] The Pariah, M. N. Krishnan, Collected articles, ‘Nature’s Spokesman’, ed. Ramachandra Guha


Dilawar

 

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Author: Dilawar

Graduate Student at National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore.

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