Street dogs of Mumbai aren’t very different from us. They have personalities, idiosyncrasies, characters traits, names and stories. These pets of the underprivileged — the hawker, chaiwallah, shoeshine man, the homeless — are somebody’s Raju, Tommy or Kali.
In the 22 years of working with The Welfare of Stray Dogs (WSD) and roaming the streets and bylanes of the city, I have met the most amazing street stars, with quirky names. I have met many Aishwaryas, Sonams, Raveenas, Karishmas, Vidyas, Shah Rukhs and Salmans.
Arvind, a shoeshine man who used to live and work outside Eros theatre, named his dogs after the movies that released there. Pretty was inspired by the Julia Roberts-starrer Pretty Woman (1990) and James by James Bond, and when Eros screened its first Hindi movie, Kaho Naa…Pyaar Hai (2000), his dogs were christened Hrithik and Amisha.
Bush, who lived for more than 16 years outside the erstwhile American consulate at Breach Candy, was named by the policemen stationed there, as a response to George Bush (Jr) who had named his kitten, India. After Bush died, we realised his popularity, as hundreds of comments from the residents of the neighbourhood poured in on our Facebook post. A 20-something man shared how he would give Bush his entire tiffin on his way home from school.
Traffic, who used to be fed and looked after by the traffic policeman at the Fountain Junction, was always “on duty” with them. He must have been a traffic policeman in his past life for he would run and stand besides any vehicle that was hauled up for a traffic offence.
Captain, the one-eyed white dog, lives at Shivaji Park. All the walkers and park regulars recognise him as a marathoner who sprints with the runners training for the marathon, all the way to Nariman Point. The first time we noticed him was at the finishing line at CST at the Mumbai Marathon some years ago, having run with a full marathoner. And at Kings Circle, there is Periappa, who hangs around Anand Bhavan and Café Mysore and feeds on idlis, dosas and pongal.
It is also interesting how street dogs are named by the people who look after them. The most common name is definitely Kalu or Kali. I have met so many Kalus and Kalis till date that sometimes it becomes very confusing. So, we add prefixes to them to recognise which Kalu/Kali is being talked about. There is the Regal Kalu, the WIAA Kalu, the Strand Book Stall Kalu, the Ghetto Kali, the Adore House Kalu and so on. Once on a mass immunisation drive, I was noting down the names of the stray dogs and asked a man to tell me the name of the brown dog I had just vaccinated against rabies. He said “Kalu”. “Lekin yeh toh ‘brown’ hai (but he’s brown),” I said, to which he replied: “Kalu naam padh gaya, kya kare (he was named Kalu, what to do)”.
Other common names are Rani and Raja, all majestic in their own right and, of course, Tiger. Some of the Tigers can be mouse-like, though.
It’s also weird how dogs have been named Puppy and continued to be called so even when they turn 10, while some pups are called Buddhi (old woman). Then, there are some strays, that are named after their physical traits — the dog which has a permanent limp is Langda, the poor fellow who has lost his eye is Kania, the thin one is Sukri, the fat one is Jadya/Kaddu, the tall one is Lambu, the short one is Chhotu and a dog with a nerval twitch which shakes all the time is Disco. The dog outside The Ghetto pub, which loved eating tomatoes, was called Tamatar.
So next time you spot a Mumbai street dog, ask around and someone will tell you his name, and perhaps, his story.