Dog Over Dogma

At the age of ten, I devised the crime that would be the crowning glory of my squalid and disreputable career as a child. The victim, as usual, was to be my long-suffering grandmother — my Nani.

Nani weighed in at about 90 pounds on a good day and age had diminished her height to about 4’11”. She had spent her life as a strict Hindu. A hardened vegetarian, she recoiled from eggs and meat and also stayed away from garlic and onion for good measure. Food was supposed to sustain you, not give you any pleasure. She did, however, make an exception for vanilla ice cream.

Whenever she announced her intention of visiting us, a flurry of activity became necessary in the kitchen. A sacred set of vessels, untouched by eggs and meat, would be unearthed with the zeal of rugged frontiersmen panning for gold. They were made available for her use with some pomp and circumstance. Upon her departure, these would be returned to their secure location. Woe befell any child who she caught eating meat or eggs in her presence.

This time I was ready for her. My scheme involved one pious Hindu grandmother, an egg, and a carefully selected spot in the refrigerator door.

Things happened fast. Without suspecting foul play, Nani opened the refrigerator door. The air was pierced by a sudden, sharp cracking sound followed by a wettish plop. Within milliseconds, Nani added to the cacophony with a heartfelt plea to Lord Rama. She then darted to the bathroom to take a series of showers and spent the rest of the day at her makeshift altar — presumably praying for the egg’s soul. I spent the rest of the day reading corrupting Hindi comic books and buying illicit fireworks.

Although my criminality waned as an adolescent, I continued to see my grandmother as an unbending relic of old Hinduism, ill suited to the modern era. That opinion was to change when I turned fifteen. Through some emotional skullduggery, I forced my mother to buy me a dog. It was a floppy little German Shepherd, the intellectual runt of the litter. I named him Tuffy. For the first few days, Tuffy preoccupied himself with urinating in surprising spots and violating my grandmother’s altar. But soon his vigor waned and he became listless. He had stopped eating and forewent any food we provided him with the air of a Michelin guide reviewer. He would wrinkle his nose at the food, give me a woebegone look, and then return to lying on his side.

The man who sold him to us speculated that Tuffy was craving beef and would just not be satisfied with anything else. A high maintenance puppy, he’d have done better with the Kardashians. Now we were in a quandary. How could we possibly begin importing beef into a household with my god-fearing grandmother? At the same time, we couldn’t just let our four-legged diva continue his ill-advised hunger strike indefinitely.

It was Nani who abruptly ended the dilemma. Without warning one day, she gestured at the moribund mutt and commanded me: “Give him what he needs.”

You may be struggling to understand how stunning this directive was. To put things in perspective — it’s like the Ayatollah of Iran running a 5k in an American flag bikini. It’s Mike Pence showing up to a gay bar in leather chaps.

And so it happened that I began going to the beef market on Tuesdays right after my weekly pilgrimage to Lord Hanuman’s temple. With a vermillion mark adorning my forehead, announcing my Hinduism to the world, I’d walk past the freshly chopped cow head at the entrance of the butcher shop with my breath held and a prayer for forgiveness on my lips. The butchers- who instantly identified me as a pious Hindu- looked at me quizzically.

“You DO know this is a BEEF shop,” they would say slowly as if I were the village idiot.

“Yes, yes, just get on with it!”

But it was all worth it when I served Tuffy his first beef meal in a Hindu household. He sniffed at the bowl expecting the usual nonsense. But after the first exploratory sniffs, he seemed transported into a world of gustatory ecstasy. His tail wagging, he tore into his food bowl. Holy cow! It worked!

Over a few weeks, Tuffy’s ribs got submerged in muscle and he began growing at a frightening pace. Soon, he had the brawn of a wolf and the brain of an alcoholic tadpole. He spent his time running headlong into walls and lying across my feet like a living blanket while I did my homework.

Amazingly, Nani got through these dramatic new changes with equanimity. She didn’t spend any extra time at the altar, nor did her shower regimen change. She kept her distance from my beef-eating dog, but regarded him with kindness. For the first time, I realized that there was more to my grandmother than her chants and prayers. She favored compassion over canon. She favored tolerance over tenets. Indeed, she even favored a dog over dogma.

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