Saturday, September 04, 2004


Curzon's Books is a really small bookstore I came across this week in one of the by-lanes of Prabhat Road. The shop is run by an old Anglo-Indian lady, claiming direct descent from, of all people, Lord Curzon. It was already considerably disorienting for me to see someone of foreign descent managing to entrench themselves in Pune's Brahmin heartland. Add to that the unthinkable idea of her running a book-store catering to readers of Marathi. That she should claim descent from one of the most hated Viceroys of colonial India, infamous only for his ill-advised partition of Bengal, and later his obstinate opposition to the women's suffrage movement in Britain does not cast any illumination either. Stranger things, however, are known to have happened.

But then again, I digress.

One book in particular caught my eye for the sheer audacity of its title. पुण्याचे कुत्रे आणि त्यांचे साम्राज्य (पुरुषोत्तम प्रका., पुणे) (The Dogs of Pune and Their Empire) by Dr.V.S.Rajpurohit.

Dr. Rajpurohit claims to be a reader in Sociology at the University of Pune. I must confess to not having heard of anyone of that name, and some queries to acquaintances haven't been of much use either. The most obvious hypothesis is that the author is writing under a pseudonym. But that does not explain the need to so brazenly declare oneself a fraud. Surely, a book with as intellectual a tone as this would inevitably fall into the hands of the most ruthless of cynics that this city has to offer (yes, I refer to certain world-famous individuals from one of the equally world-reknowned 'Peths' of the old city).

Perhaps with his brazenness, the author also expresses his amorality -- his disdain for the laws of men and yet an affinity for the canine world that surpasses in its (well, for lack of a better word) dogmatism, the most fanatic of religions.

The book itself begins innocuously enough, by etching out in well-measured words, the geographical lay-out of Pune. Very meticulously, and with the air of a master violinist tuning his instrument, Rajpurohit (I have resigned myself to calling him by that name) catalogs the breeds and social hierarchies of the mongrels that inhabit its streets. Typically, he completely ignores the domesticated variety, preferring to look at them as only passive gene-pools that scatter their seed now and then to the 'real' population outside.

The subsequent portions of the book then set an unrelenting pace for ideas and insights that lasts till the end. This is where Purohit is in full flow, as he paints before us a vivid, evocative picture of the lives of these canine dwellers. Their street-wars, their alliances and betrayals, lust and affection, not to forget their ugly yet unalienable facets -- cannibalism, incest and disease. He shows a remarkable zest and empathy for their stories, and an even more astounding analytical mind when it comes to guaging their territorialism and sense of good and evil. For instance he tells us that the small lane that straddles Raviraj Hotel off Bhandarkar Road is home to a bunch of albino siblings. From certain genetic markers (this scientific discourse was frankly beyond me), Rajpurohit deduces the existence of an "illicit, passionate tryst of unmitigated lust between a pure Dalmatian and a common mongrel of mixed blood". The siblings themselves, claims Rajpurohit, stake their claim on the extent of this lane (not more then a hundred steps long), and exhibit a unique degree of discipline and organization in their pack behaviour. A token based system ensures that the road is constantly watched. Each individual takes turns resting and fornicating. Occasionally they will venture out into the other surrounding bylanes of Bhandarkar Road. On such occasions, the unit displays military precision in their attacks on their fellow canines, and a very well-defined hierarchical system for distributing the spoils of war. The description is almost too surreal to be true.

Refreshingly, unlike other Marathi authors, Rajpurohit does not shy away from classical English references either. "Let loose the dogs of war...", he snarls, spewing forth vitriol in his tirade against the Pune Municipal Corporation's pest control department.

So it is with some bewilderment that I consider the case of Dr.Rajpurohit. He writes in a highly stylized, idiomatic Marathi, and feels completely at home with the lastest forensic techniques in his field as well as classical English literature. One wonders, whether a man of such diverse faces would find the world of men large-hearted enough to accomodate him. It is only inevitable then, that such an excellent man should go to the dogs.