In the middle of the city of Mumbai lies the forest of Aarey. It is an inconvenient forest indeed, taking up all that space, making the commute home more complicated, the trees trying to stand up straight surrounded by buildings ten times their size. The city likes to call it a ‘colony’ so the forest wouldn't take itself too seriously, so that it would remember that people lived in it, utilised its resources. But all of this resentment between the city and Aarey never affected Kaali.
Her life was simple. Every morning she would run down the concrete forest road to the steps of old Mrs Mendonza’s building in Royal Palms for those delicious breakfast leftovers. Mrs Mendonza was never too excited to see her. She would just step out of her ground-floor apartment feebly with a stern face each day and put out the bits of food for Kaali. There was no pat on the head, no telling Kaali that she was a good girl. Kaali would eat her food quietly and then sit next to Mrs Mendonza on the building steps as she watched the garden silently until the Sun became harsh. Mrs Mendonza would then get up and go inside, without glancing at Kaali, who would then be on her way.
Kaali liked Mrs Mendonza. She wasn't like other humans who would rush to every dog they saw and feed them whatever they had. Kaali was always suspicious of them. No, Mrs Mendonza had chosen her in her own quiet way.
Kaali often used her time to go around exploring the city. She would watch over-excited humans feeding over-excited dogs every step of the way. She would then look at the other humans, the ones that shared the street with the over-excited dogs. They held little human puppies whose bones stuck out visibly like the broken bench in Bandra Station, the one on which the wooden planks were as good as gone, leaving behind the cold iron skeleton, rather uncomfortable to sleep on. Kaali sometimes wondered why the over-excited humans never fed the humans that shared the street with the dogs.
Kaali would watch the human mothers cry at night as they cradled their puppies. It’s her own fault if she won't just eat it, Kaali would think. What sane mother would let such a child live and suffer? Kaali once had to eat two of her own puppies that came out too fragile to survive. She cried as she ate them, but life goes on. She always wondered why humans didn't want their puppies to be happy.
Kaali soon found out that she was different from other dogs. They were friendly, she was not. She had a feeling about most humans. It wasn't a good feeling. She would growl if they came near her. She would hear them sneer at her and the moment some of the human puppies started throwing stones at her, she would know that she had been right in her judgement.
The only place she could go for some peace and quiet was that spot in the middle of the forest where the humans lived in mud houses. The mud houses had these strange shapes on them, shapes that made Kaali’s head feel dizzy. Those humans never bothered Kaali. She had a good feeling about them. They fed her sometimes when she was hungry. She never had to ask, they just knew. But she didn’t know why the humans lived in a place where the leopard could make a meal of them anytime he wanted. But perhaps this was what they were used to, she thought, just as she was used to Mrs Mendonza’s leftovers. She had managed to warn them of the leopard one night and they had driven it away with that hot yellow light that only humans knew how to make. Sometimes Kaali wondered if other dogs were so in awe of humans only because they had these strange powers. To Kaali, this didn’t make them special at all. Dangerous, perhaps, but not special.
The only other dog that Kaali cared about was a majestic male with golden fur and deep-set eyes. She would go to Carter road only to see him. He was always walked by different humans who all wore the same clay-coloured clothes. The excited humans would look at him lovingly but wouldn’t go up to him. He was a serious dog, a dreamy dog, a grand dog. But he never noticed Kaali. Why would he? Poor Kaali was a simple street bitch with a coat so dark, one could barely see her eyes. She didn’t mind. She was just happy that she wasn’t the only dog who was different.
But everything changed that day. When Kaali went to Mrs Mendonza’s doorstep, she was fighting with a human from the mud huts who held a big cloth bundle.
“My husband had given me this dress ten years ago,” cried Mrs Mendonza, “and you have managed to tear it in a day! What kind of a washerwoman are you?”
“I didn’t do it, madam,” the mud-hut human said, sternly.
“You won’t even admit it? This is the only red dress in my closet. I know every inch of it!”
Once the altercation was over, the mud-hut human stormed off and Mrs Mendonza sat down at the apartment steps, looking rather shattered. Kaali finally had the courage to go up to her. They looked at each other for a moment. Suddenly, Mrs Mendonza tore off a piece of her damaged dress and tied it around Kaali’s neck like a handkerchief. Kaali then saw Mrs Mendonza smile for the first time. Surprised, she began to bark loudly.
“Yes, yes, you little bugger. I have bacon for you today.”
After her meal, Kaali decided to visit the mud huts. But something was wrong. She saw a lot of the over-excited humans from Carter road standing with the humans from the mud huts facing humans who wore all the same clay-coloured clothes, those clothes that the many masters of her crush always wore. They were all arguing. Why, she wondered, are all the humans at tenterhooks today?
She went ahead and blended in with the over-excited and the mud-hut humans. Suddenly, there was a noise and those large merciless metal contraptions appeared, the ones that Kaali always watched as they dug into the soil and tore it away from the earth. They were present at half-made buildings and sometimes in the middle of the road, but Kaali had never seen them in the forest. The contraption began to crash into trees and those strong old trees, that Kaali had seen stand still since she was a puppy, began to wobble.
The excited humans charged at the contraption, screaming. Kaali barked at the contraption. It didn’t stop as the humans tried to block it. But Kaali saw what none of the humans noticed--there was a human sitting inside the contraption, like the brain of that monster. She quickly made her way through the crowd, jumped onto the monster’s strange wheels and before anyone knew it, pulled the human in the machine out so hard with her teeth that he fell to the ground.
The excited humans cheered Kaali as she growled at the brain of the monster. But the same-clothes humans charged at Kaali with sticks. She wasn’t scared of them. She stood there growling. Suddenly, the mud-hut humans were standing in front of Kaali, like a human-wall, fighting off the same-clothes.
Kaali watched for a while as the humans fought each other, unable to understand the fuss when she had taken out the brain from the machine. Suddenly she heard something in the distance. A bunch of human feet and a bunch of dog feet. Before long, the source of the sound had reached the scene. It was a crowd of more same-clothes humans with five dogs on leashes. Kaali looked at the dogs as they growled at her and her fighting humans. Golden, furry, deep-set eyes-- he was one of them, but they all looked the same, just like the same-clothes humans. They growled and tried to bite the excited humans and the mud-hut humans. Suddenly, Kaali realised that her crush had nothing grand about him. What a stupid bunch of dogs, she thought, charging at their masters’ orders like savages. She growled. She could see the master human among the same-clothes humans. He wore same-clothes too but he had a different hat. She made her way to him through the kicking and screaming and sticks and cursing and bit him hard. He screamed at the top of his voice.
Suddenly, all the same-clothes men attacked Kaali with all their might and all the same-clothes dogs rushed to bite her. Her humans fought the same-clothes humans and the same-clothes dogs long enough for Kaali to escape. But she was injured, her vision was blurry. Aah, she thought, I’m as weak as my puppies when I ate them.
It was close to morning, and since Kaali could only walk so fast, she limped towards Royal Palms. Mrs Mendonza was watering her plants when she saw Kaali limping to her with the feeble sunrise behind her. Mrs Mendonza picked Kaali up and lay her down in her lap to nurse her. As she drank the water for Mrs Mendonza’s plants, Kaali wondered what might have happened in the forest as she left. She became unconscious from the pain of her injuries, oblivious to the fact that there were other brains behind the machine and other masters and other same-clothes humans who brought more metallic monsters and more same-clothes dogs. Some of the excited humans were caught and caged by the same-clothes humans, and the forest that still thought it was a forest became a little less of a forest that night.
When Kaali finally opened her eyes, she looked up at Mrs Mendonza who looked shocked. Kaali looked around and suddenly saw before her a crowd of over-excited humans and a crowd of mud-hut humans, worn out and exhausted, sitting at the steps of Royal Palms watching Kaali. Some of them began to rub some liquids on her wounds and place a white cloth on her forehead. She didn’t like all the touching one bit, but she was too exhausted to growl. If only the humans would set her free from the pain rather than comfort her, she would be much happier.
But she wasn’t upset as she looked at all of their faces one by one. She had a good feeling about them. And surrounded by a good feeling, Kaali didn’t mind bearing the pain for a little longer until she shut her eyes to join her puppies.
[Inspired by the Chilean dog, ‘Negro Matapacos’ Black Cop-Killer.]
Paroma Bose enjoys storytelling of every kind and when she isn’t writing to publish, she is writing for her YouTube channel ‘Cinemawali’. She has previously been a comics writer, script reader, subtitle editor and social media manager. She is currently focusing her energies on content creation. She likes to spend her time overthinking until it punishes her with madness or rewards her with new stories.