His subtitle on the cover says that it is a “madcap story about how three dogs trained a family”. The dogs -- first Bambi, then Chops and finally, Wag -- are central to the book, the family’s life revolves around them. Thick with barks, a stray bite or two -- doggy matters from being in heat to potty training, the books is very strictly for canine lovers.
Its charm comes through with its funny moments, interweaved within the doggy stories: When three children unite to pressurise parents into letting them have a dog, Lal writes, “Parental defenses went up at once like umbrellas in a thundershower”. The thundershower prevails as the boxer breed Bambi comes home. Bambi’s anecdotes are those that every dog owner can identify with such as that, there’s a verandah marked out for her ‘ladies’. Bambi is endearing. A prospective mother-in-law’s visit has its tension filled moments when it is discovered that Bambi has eaten the bowl of rasmalai meant for ma-in-law. But the ‘saas’ is a dog lover too, so Bambi is forgiven.
Lal’s setting is South Mumbai; the Tardeo area figures in what one presumes is 1960s and 1970s Bombay (not Mumbai). The late commentator and theatre actor Pratap Sharma makes an appearance with his fabled Alsatian, Ranjha. Bambi and family meet Sharma and Ranjha at Mahalakshmi Race Course, immediately identifiable for the SoBo crowd, so many of who take their dogs on walks there. There is a bit of Altamount Road in the book -- Washington House, Chitrakoot and where the writer “ogles at a Porsche”; obviously, not a time when Porsches and Mercedes were frequently seen on Mumbai roads, like now.
When another boxer called Chops enters home, which is now Delhi, Bambi loses her ‘career woman’ image and is wooed by the macho Chops and his charms. The pace is quick, and Lal makes some observations through doggy behaviour; Chops is, “chauvinistic like a typical Indian male”. Maybe, if the book had to appeal to a wider audience, Lal could have cut some dog action. Here, those who do not have too much of canine inclination may tire of the endless examples of dog training and habits. Black ‘n’ white sketches make for a pleasant addition. Finally, a Labrador called Wag comes in, a bit of a hoodlum, which sets the tenor for a rambunctious end. The book ends with a farewell growl as Wag exits the world and the readers’ lives. The last chapter is enlightening for those who’d wish to own a dog or understand dogs.
Lal quirkily adds, and there is some truth in his, “Certain kinds of people are stereotyped with certain kinds of dogs. Macho young men in black leather would like to be seen with a hip chick and a brace of Rottweilers or German Shepherds…” Strictly for those who believe that dogs make the world a better place.
New on the shelf
Pink Sari Revolution
Eve Ensler dubbed it as a call to women everywhere to take the world into your hands, while Sonia Faleiro called it a powerful, engrossing portrait of one woman’s fight for female empowerment in India.
The book is a stirring take at how child-bride Sampat Pal, leader of the Pink Gang starts a woman’s vigilante group in Bundelkhand and fights against the toughest of odds.
Pink Sari Revolution, Amaina Fontanella-Khan, Picador India, Rs 599.
Soak yourself into the fascinating world of legends, myths and dark imagination. Chosen and introduced by Neil Gaiman -- the highly acclaimed author, these short stories are bound to thrill younger as well adult readers who dig the unnatural and the other world.
Unnatural Creatures, Stories
Chosen by Neil Gaiman, Bloomsbury, Rs 499.
Both titles are available at leading bookstores.