Book Title: Tall Tales by a Small Dog
Author: Omair Ahmad
This is an interesting book, one which would have alerted us that we are reading a good writer in the making, if it were not for the fact that Omair Ahmad has already written two well-received books, the first of which won him the Crossword Award for fiction in 2010. He has already carved his space in the canon of contemporary Indian English writers. This collection of six (connected) stories seems like a filler, something to send forth into the world to show that the writer is still there, that you may still expect another wonderful work from him in the future. In the meantime, listen to the dog!
The writer sets out to give us a sense of Gorakhpur from a different point of view — that of a street dog. This seems deliciously eccentric — while animals have always talked in our stories, we haven’t had a contemporary account of a place, of the gullies of a town seemingly from a dog that talks to the writer who pens it down — because dogs cannot write, ‘opposable thumbs and all’. Kallu the dog is the narrator of the stories and the first story, ‘The Dog Thrower of Chhote Qazipur’, is a wonderful read from the title onwards! Having lost a samosa from his very jaws, Kallu begins to follow a dada, Bilal, who had a samosa in his hand. The others in his gang make fun of Bilal, saying that the dog is in love with him. Bilal relents and feeds Kallu, who begins to follow him around loyally and becomes a part of his gang. Then all hell breaks loose in this idyllic haven of the gang when the Rath Yatra and all that followed had its impact on Gorakhpur. A minor defection from the gang by a Hindu is taken care of by Kallu being thrown on the gang that Amit had defected to. The story goes on through curfews and defiance and the partnership between the dog and the man and ends most unexpectedly and satisfactorily.
The next is a fantasy, ‘Dagger in the East’. Here the dog is only a narrator, not a character. You become aware that the writer has got tired of the dog! The next story, ‘The Buddha’s Smile’, is funny and interesting and well-written with twists throughout the tale. ‘Does it Catch Mice’ begins with an anecdote about a Chinese dog and an Indian one talking of democracy and freedom, but goes on to spin out a tale of impersonation that we may come up with on empty evenings. There’s no dog after the first page. ‘Haggu and the Magic Bullet’ is the kind of story that our states thrive on — gangs and police and doctors, about unlikely friendships and zealous police officers using one badmash against another. The dog is missing again, but it is the narrator, or is it? ‘The Golden Rendezvous’ that ends this collection begins with the observation that Tharki had a disease that afflicts ‘all of Akhand Bharat, that undivided India of the imagination, that flows all the way to Siberia…’ This is the way we ‘fawn over those firangis with pale skin…’ A funny tale about the protagonist discovering his libido then goes on to show how this lust for the pale skin can fire the ambitions of a small-town boy to the success that life in a white country means.
If short stories are your thing, this book is for you. Does it do justice to it the title, why should you care? The writer doesn’t.