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The Dog in The Dock

‘If you break this door and let this dog go, then we will all go elsewhere.’

The Dog in the Dock (Photo: Kovuuri G. Reddy)

The whimper of a dog fills the floor. I go still as I step onto the threshold of the ground floor of the multi-storey building under construction. I look around. The whimper continues but I cannot see the dog. I start to climb the stairs but the whimper of the dog follows me, receding.

On the seventh floor of the twenty-one storied building, I check for what progress has been made by the builders since my last visit. Now there are more pipes and tubes and cables and stacks of planks. Satisfied with the progress made, I start to descend the stairs discreetly. Most falls, trips, or accidents occur on the stairs in a building.

The whimper of the dog becomes clearer and louder.

I find the dog in a cubicle. The cubicle has a door of wooden planks with the latch of a twisted iron clip linked to the nail on the un-plastered wall. The dog starts to push one of its legs between the lower-end of the door and the floor.

I ask myself, why is this dog in the dock? Can I go outside and ask someone to let the dog go? What will they say? If the dog is locked up here, there should be a reason, I say to myself. Outside the building, children are playing on the heaps of sand and some grown-ups are sitting on the heaps of gravel. A few men are preparing iron grids for ceilings and some women are carrying trays of bricks on their heads. There are huddles of men and women around the hearths, wood-fire billowing. The lids of the pots on the hearth rattle, steam escaping.

Sadiq, the supervisor of the construction site, arrives, and reminds me, ‘Demand letter for payment is sent, you have to pay.’

But I say, ‘The construction is delayed, over three years.’

‘If you look around, ours is the only building where construction is going on,’ Sadiq says. ‘Only our builder has not declared bankruptcy, is not in jail like other builders.’

Sadiq is right. There are many semi-built buildings in the area around Noida and Greater Noida. Around Delhi and New Delhi, many reputed builders have declared bankruptcy after taking loans from the public-sector banks, or are in jail for financial embezzlement. Or they haven’t started the construction at all on the land of the farmers that was allocated to them by the Uttar Pradesh government, but instead mortgaged the land for some other purpose. However, the unaffected ones are the brand ambassadors of builders: the celebrities from the film industry and cricket, who got their payments. The affected ones are the thousands and thousands of first-home buyers. They’re in dire straits.

‘I will try,’ I say, ‘to pay.’ And I assure myself that I’m also the lucky one to book a flat here, and I should explore another way to pay for the pending instalments. I ask Sadiq, ‘Why is the dog locked in here?’

The dog’s whimper grows, louder.

‘Perhaps it disturbs them,’ Sadiq says.

‘Who?’

‘The people who work here, their families.’

‘There are other dogs among them.’

‘This dog is misbehaving, possibly,’ Sadiq guesses.

Our misbehaviours are punished by a parent, or police, or society, or community, and we are also punishing dogs’ behaviour.

‘It can also be among other dogs, they will decide,’ I say.

‘Give me the check for the demand letter,’ he says.

‘I will try, God promise,’ I say.

‘No trying, you have to, otherwise there will be a penalty,’ he says. The building is under construction for more than eight years; the payments are linked to the progress of the construction. The building has only walls, but it has grown taller: the skeletal structure of the building is in place. ‘Will you give the check now, or…?’

‘I will give it to you when we reach your office,’ I say. ‘But let the dog go.’

Sadiq shouts at the people who are outside. A tall man, with a towel wound around his head for a headgear, arrives and stands before Sadiq. ‘Open the door,’ Sadiq orders.

‘We cannot let this dog out,’ the tall man says.

‘Why?’

‘We’re teaching it a lesson.’

The dog whimpers, louder and louder.

‘What lesson?’ Sadiq asks.

‘To behave.’

‘Open it or I will break the door, and let the dog go,’ Sadiq says to the tall man.

Without haste, the tall man picks up crumpled paper lying on the floor and says, ‘If you break this door and let this dog go, then we will all go elsewhere.’ He is aware, people like him are rarer to find here for they live and work on the site. Their stay on the site ensures the building is built every day in some way. Moreover, their presence assures the flat buyers that something is happening.

Sadiq knows builders need construction workers. And builders become angry when supervisors fail to keep the workers working on the site. Builders are angrier when their workers leave from their site to another site. Then, the supervisors face the fury of the builder: a volley of unpleasant words, and further delay in their wages.

The tall man senses Sadiq has no answer.

Sadiq pleads, ‘Do something.’

The tall man says, ‘Give me some time, I will think.’ And he leaves and goes to join one of the huddles around the hearths.

‘What shall we do,’ I say.

We crouch down to come closer to the dog.

Sadiq says, ‘My life is becoming like this dog.’

‘Mine is worse than this,’ I say.

The dog struggles to push its head in the slender gap. We see its nose. A black nose. And we see its leg. Sadiq stretches out his hand and touches its nose. The dog whines. He feels the tears on the dog’s face. ‘Is it crying?’ I ask.

Sadiq is silent for a while. Then he explains, dogs do not cry. The tears are dissimilar to tears in us. We shed tears in sadness or in joy or in loud laughter that springs from the bottom of the belly. But the tears in the eyes of a dog are to wash away the dust or foreign particles in the eyes, or it may have an infection. Dogs bark, whine and whimper; they do not cry, but they vocalize their sadness.

The dog manages to get its tongue out. It wets Sadiq’s hand. The dog’s whimper mellows. Sadiq stands with arms akimbo. ‘We will do something,’ he says.

The dog barks: neither a whimper nor a whine, but a jolly woof!

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Kovuuri G. Reddy

Kovuuri G. Reddy

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Independent journalist; short, short story writer; living in Sweden. Worked as a broadcast journalist and teaching journalsim and media in England and India.