MIDC, Andheri is to Suburbs what Nariman Point is to South Mumbai. Lined with companies and export units, this is where most of the software industry works. Traffic for the whole day, this place is the buzz of activity in the suburbs.
When you pass the MIDC headquarters and take a right to go toward SEEPZ, you come across the Tunga International Hotel. Just before Tunga, where the BEST buses enter the gate to enter the MIDC BEST bus depot, you have a big hole just next to a big drain, just diagonally opposite to Tunga International Hotel. The hole has been open for quite a long time now. In the day time, you will probably find MTNL technician joining wires and having a cup of tea as the drain flows some feet from them.
The hole acts as a speed breaker for the vehicles going toward MIDC. Sometimes it can take a long time to cross the never-stopping-traffic road. Behind a hole is a generator station. Next to the gate of the high wall of the generator, just next to the big office building stands a pani-puri vendor.
Last Friday, one of my colleague did not come to office and I had to fill in for him. By the time I left from office, it was already past 9:00 PM. It would take me more than an hour to be home an I was feeling very hungry. I did not want to eat anything heavy as mom had prepared dinner.So the next choice was eat light so that I can survive without a hunger pang till I reach home.
The pani puri wala was the obvious choice as I came out of the office. He had less customers as the once busy area slowly becomes less crowded as people head for thier homes. Tired people trying to go home. I stand near the pani puri vendor as he serves his sole customer. I look around as I wait for my turn keeping an eye on the bus from SEEPZ.
It was at this time when I saw him, sitting right in front of me, thin and easily missed, he sits lazily in front of me, uninterested and bored. One of the thousands strays of Mumbai, nobody would notice him. If I have been the same person 4 years ago, even I would have missed him.
I give a short whistle and he attentively looks up trying to find the source of the whistle. I smiled as I remember another dog back in Amsterdam who would be equally confuse by the whistles. I give another whistle and he looks at me. His tail starts wagging as he looks at me with expectation of food or affection. I can never tell.
He walks up to me, stretches his legs and then stretches his body back, the same way Sheru would stretch his body when he wanted me to take him out. His tail is constantly wagging. A dog does not need much to be happy and when he is happy, he cannot hide it.
The pani puri wala starts giving me pani puri and the dog sits looking at me expecting me to throw something in his way. The pani puri wala reads my mind and throws a puri at the dog.
“Woh khata hai?” (Does he eat puri?) I ask him
He smiles “Sab khata hai sahab” (He eats everything)
I finish my plate of ravishing, spicy pani puri. He hands me a shev puri. The dog is still hopeful. I take the shevpuri and gives it to the dog.
“Usko dena hai sahab?” The pani puri wala asks me “Woh poora din yahich baitha rehta hai” (He sits here the whole day)
“Rehne Do”(Leave it) I reply “Maine de diya” (I already gave)
Surprisingly the pani puri wala hands me another shev puri, this time strictly for me.
“Woh bahut khata hai sahab”(He eats a lot sir) He tell me
“Abhi bhi itna patla kaise” (Still so thin?) I look at the dog savoring the spicy shev puri
“Koi aur kutta mooh nahi lagayega” (no other dog will even touch it) He says “Yeh 2-3 plate din ke khatam karta hai” (This one eats 2-3 plates a day)
I look as the dog finishes and turns back for more.
I bend down to pat the dog
“Choona nahi sahab” (Don’t touch him) the pani puri wala warns me “Uchlega aap par” (He will jump on you)
I still go ahead and pat him. The dog goes berserk and starts jumping around, his tail wagging furiously.
“Dekha sahab maine kahan tha” (See, I told you)
“Daro Mat. Mujhe adat hai” (Don’t worry I am used to it)
I smile at him. Its been a long time when somebody jumped so happily after seeing me even though it may be for the puri I gave him. I try to calm him but dogs can be quite enthusiastic sometime. Instinctively the pani puri wala throws another puri at the dog and the dog leaves me for the puri. I cross the road toward the bus stop.
I look back as the dog is eating another puri thrown in by the pani puri wala. I have been reading Abodh‘s blog for a long time now and he is the one who is in charge of Welfare of Stray dogs. He has always seen that the strays are taken care by the people on the streets, be it the street vendors or people working on the streets. I see my bus coming. I look at the dog for the last time before getting in.
In the fast city like Mumbai, dogs have come to live a life of their own and somehow they have learned to survive. The dog opposite the Tunga Hotel did learn to survive too and maybe he will survive for a long time. I don’t know his name neither the Pani Puri wala but I guess I can name him;
Puri – The dog who likes to eat the puri from the pani puri.