This morning I wake early, around 4 a.m. to look out our fifth floor window. In front of an iron gate some men sit, conferencing on their parked motorcycles. I do not know what the building is, or why the men are there. One seems to be a guard. They seem like friends.
Around them is a conference of dogs. One tiny, seems to be in charge. One, black with a curled tail, seems to be an adversary. None of the dogs like him.
My husband joins me at the window,and we begin whispering, narrating the thoughts of the dogs. One man, on a scooter is their clear favorite. Even five floors up we see expectation in the dogs’ postures. They respect their favorite man.
When he drives off all the dogs follow him. It is the opposite of mushing, his scooter pulling them along behind him. Dog joy, all wags and jumps. As they run alongside, they look back and forth from him to the road ahead. They disappear behind a building and we are sad to have lost them.
A moment later the man returns followed by the dogs. He pulls up in front of the gate with the other men, and opens his scooter seat. We can’t see what he takes out. A can? Something wrapped? He hands something to some of the other men. They fan out to separate the dogs before feeding them. As they do they talk casually to each other.
Each time I look out the window in the pre-dawn, the men and dogs have rearranged themselves. Among the dogs, Indian dogs, far from Alaska, I know which ones like each other, which are outcasts. Dog culture is ever readable.
Our older daughter joins us at the window. And we tell her what we have watched so far. Instantly absorbed, she says, “Look at that brown dog. He’s an outcast!”
We are from Fairbanks, Alaska. We understand dogs. We live in the midst of mushing culture (even if we don’t mush ourselves). We have lived with dogs, broken up dog fights, watched other people’s dogs. In Alaska, dogs are a part of the deal.
These dogs remind me of the dogs at grad school bonfires, where occasionally there were more dogs than people. Here in Pondicherry, there is no bonfire, no snow, but there are a few motorcycles and scooters with men standing around them talking, and on the edges these many dogs play and bicker, lie down, sort out their troubles.
By the time their favorite man, the one who took his scooter to get them food, is preparing to leave, our youngest daughter is awake and watching the dogs too. Each of us speculates about the dogs’ motives. The girls feel sad for the outcast dogs, who sit and watch the other happy dogs from across the street.
The favorite man takes treats out from the seats and hands them to another man who hold them high above his head. All four of us know what is going on. We may not know what the gated building is the men and dogs stand in front of, or why music has begun playing over loudspeakers in the streets or what the words are.
But we know the man is holding the treats above his head because the other man, the dogs’ favorite, needs to leave and if they don’t work together, the dogs will chase after him and follow. My husband does this to our dog when I drive away. If he holds her ball about his head, her retriever nature kicks in and she won’t chase my car into the street.
We are right, as the favorite man departs, the man with the treats hands them out, tricking the dogs into staying at the gate. They eat their treats. They go back to lounging. Later, after the sun comes up, they are gone and one man, the seeming guard, stands alone at the metal gate.