Once upon a time (I love stories that start that way, don’t you? There’s something so deliciously indefinite and speculative about it. It could have been yesterday or a million years ago in another universe.)

Ahem. As I was saying- Once upon a time, there was a woman. Most tales begin with women. They are the chief cause of most problems in the world, but without them, there would be no stories, and where would we be then, without stories?

The woman I speak of, she was no ordinary woman. She was a Woman, if you will, long of limb, and proud of bearing. She had a nose that made most eagles blush, and eyes the exact colour of a Bombay monsoon- that is to say, dark grey tending to black, with occasional flashes of unruly lightning. Her lips were curved in a perpetual half-sneer (and fine, pale-pink lips they were too, lips the colour of smoked salmon) She was intimidating. She was the kind of woman who took the swagger out of a man’s walk. She was the type of woman who, when walking down a dark street at night in Delhi, would cause a hardened rapist to quickly get back into his Maruti Omni and speed away. She was Quality. She had the arrogance of one used to power all her life, and unafraid to wield it.

Now, our Woman (Let us call her V, for convenience sake) might just as well have sailed through life, being an artist, a columnist, a social worker and an activist, only occasionally causing minor disruptions and bulldozing lesser dreams if she had not, on that particular night we are going to speak of, met the Dog.

It was late, and she had just finished visiting some rather flustered folks in a slum on the beach, whose daughter’s education she was paying for (The daughter was of course completely hopeless at school, and hadn’t the slightest desire to study. She wanted to marry the muscular mechanic who could do wonderful things standing up behind the tool shed. Good house, good pay, no mother-in-law.).

V was walking purposefully towards the main road, where Yusuf would be waiting with the car, some distance away from the slum. It wouldn’t do for the subjects to see the expensive car, it would only annoy them and make them wish for things they didn’t need.

And that is how, ten steps away from the lights of the road and the air conditioned safety of German engineering, she met the Dog. He was annoyed with the Woman. She was in his territory. He growled. She paid no heed. Hm. That simply would not do. He barked. Her disdain was a sight to behold. Finally, he charged toward her, teeth bared, and she didn’t quicken her pace the slightest. So he did what any self-respecting dog would do, given the circumstances, and bit her.

It was only a small bite, hardly a scratch. His teeth had grazed her calf, drawing but a few droplets of the noble blue blood.

And she, instead of running, turned with a snarl and kicked the Dog full in the face with her heavy, sensible shoes. He was confused. In his experience, even the most hardcore people ran when he tried to bite them. His face hurt.

She was seeing red. Nothing and nobody attacked and bit her and got away with it. Especially not a mongrel from the slums where she, with her noble heart, was helping people. The rage pounded in her head and behind her eyes. She kicked the disoriented Dog again, a smooth, brutal kick, her quadriceps and hamstrings and calf muscles honed by hours in expensive ladies-only gyms and taekwondo classes. The kick caught the Dog on the side of his face, just below the ear, and his front feet buckled and he toppled sideways into the dry sand. He moved his hind legs feebly, trying vainly to get up, but his treacherous body was shutting down. He wanted to run away from this mad person who kicked for no reason instead of leaving his territory in peace.

She wanted to teach the Dog a lesson. Oh, she would teach it a lesson alright, such a lesson as it never dreamed of in its mangy little doggy nightmares. She descended upon the Dog, and caught him about his throat with one hand, using the other to clamp his muzzle shut. And with a mad, vicious, vice-like grip, she walked out of the slum with the struggling Dog.

When he woke up, the back of his head hurt. He vaguely remembered being bound with towing rope by a short, muscular man, the type of man who does as madam says and asks no questions. Dog wondered if they had hit him to keep him quiet while they took him wherever he was. (V had. With a hard jagged piece of broken concrete).The place did not smell familiar.

Then she walked into view, the madwoman who kicked. She smiled at him. He growled warily. Then she took his picture using a big DSLR camera and walked out.

He was in a small, bright room. It was V’s outhouse turned studio. The lights were professional photographer’s lights- two sets of Kinos and a baby. There were no dippers or diffusers- the lights burned bright on the Dog, as he stood chained to a loop of metal on the floor (Long ago, she used backdrops, which she secured to the floor and ceiling using the metal hoops. V was nothing if not thorough)

Dog was a fairly big dog. Almost the size of a small Labrador, and almost the same weight to boot. He had short brown fur, good mongrel fur, with a small white patch on the chest that somehow never got dirty, no matter what he did. Dog had big, pointy ears.

Right now, there was a short chain that looped around his throat and was locked into the hoop on the ground. He could stand up and sit down and lie down. He could not walk. He could not jump. He could not bite at anything unless it was put before his jaws. When he realized this, he promptly sat down and began to howl.

He howled and howled, as only dogs in despair can howl. But the room was soundproof and nobody heard. The next day, he heard her approaching the room, and he started to his feet and began to bark. He hadn’t had a drink of water for over 36 hours and no food. He did not conserve energy. He was a Dog. He barked.

She stood looking at him for a while, as he barked and growled and menaced her with his long white teeth. Then she took another picture of him, and left, locking the door.

This time, she did not come back for two days. He heard her, and jumped up again to bark. She repeated the previous performance, and left. He noticed she had bandaged her leg.

When she came back a week later, the room stank. Dog had voided himself in every possible way and now wallowed in his excreta. She screwed up her nose. Yusuf and another man came in later, dragged Dog into a corner and held him, half-choked, while a maid scooped up all his filth, muttering all the while. They chained him again and left.

Dog’s skin was loose. He was dehydrated and could barely move. Clumps of his fur were falling out, his pointy ears had succumbed to gravity and there was a dull, listless look in his eyes. And still, when She came in and sat down and smoked a cigarette and read to him from an anthology of Edgar Allan Poe’s poems, he growled. Then she adjusted the lights, took his picture, and left.

It took Dog seventeen days to die.

Her leg had scabbed over and healed and the scab had fallen off by the eleventh day. Her rabies shots were done. The final picture was mournful, just a single light illuminating Dog’s freshly dead face as he stared soullessly into eternity.

When she was satisfied with the picture, she walked over to him and stared down at his body for a while.

The rage was gone. She felt vaguely empty. She did not like the feeling, so she kicked Dog, shook her head as if to restore it to its past arrogance, and walked out of the room. Right until the end, Dog did not understand her. He had barked at her for as long as he could, then he growled, and finally he moved his lips in token anger. He was, after all, just a Dog.

Later, Yusuf dragged out Dog’s body and buried it in the garden, and over it he planted a mango seed.

V exhibited huge blow-ups of Dog dying in an avant garde show. A Japanese businessman bought them all for an obscene amount. She put twenty undeserving slum girls through school with it, and felt a little better.

Yet, somehow, it ate away at her pride, whittling it down slowly so one day she woke up and the sneer was not on her lips anymore. Years later, when she was four and sixty years of age, she got a severe case of botulism from eating a raw mango from the tree in her garden, and died. Her maid said her last words were “That fucking Dog”.

She left all her money to the Blue Cross. 
he left all her money to the Blue Cross.

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