Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My Tragic Predicament

I bet whoever invented comedy was never in a comic situation himself. I'm not sure if I have said this on my blog before, but whenever I find myself in some considerable amount of soup, my friends find the situation extremely stimulating to their funny bone. On the other hand, I don’t know if my sense of humour is warped, but my hearty appreciation of a truly comic situation has earned me many a cold stare. Extrapolating along those lines, I expect the following narration to be deemed funny by my readers since the said situation had, when seen from my perspective, all the elements of a tragedy.

Before I approach the incidents of the evening of the 13th of October 2009 AD, let me describe the place where I live. I live in a room that is about three-quarters of a mile in the horizontal direction from the nearest railway station, and three floors heavenwards from the nearest patch of earth. The second dimension, however, has no bearing on the current story. I have to travel the three-quarters of a mile (and the three floors as well) by foot every evening since the train driver doesn’t want to leave his track and drop me closer to my home, and I don’t own a car yet. Now all along this road there are houses and many of them have dogs. Many of those dogs do not like people walking by their houses. Especially people with backpacks and occasionally wearing monkey caps. And I can’t remember if Shakespeare said something on this subject, but he definitely ought to have observed that the smaller a dog, the stronger his objection to people walking by his house. Before I came to the US, I had no idea that so many varieties of toy dogs existed in the world, and definitely no clue that they thought of themselves as guard dogs.

A block before my house there is a house which has two of these creatures. One is a black and white cocker spaniel and the other one is something which could be anything from a dirty hairy teddy bear to a stick-less feather duster that has seen a bit of dusting, but is none of those things only because it barks like a dog. The owner of these creatures is apparently very proud to show them off to the neighbourhood and so she ties them with really long leashes to her porch railing and leaves them there. The leashes are long enough to allow them to run about freely over the stretch of sidewalk in front of their house, and short enough to prevent them from going on to the street. Now when I return from the school, I have to keep in mind to circumnavigate that particular stretch of sidewalk and walk just below the curb, with the creatures trying their best to tear at their leashes and nip at my ankles and getting strangled in the process. If I’m feeling particularly cheerful and the owner is nowhere in sight, I may even stop and bare a fang or two at them, reprimanding them for being so selfish-giant-like in their attitude and taunting them for being helpless against their leash, both in my mother tongue. Then when I have passed the house I can climb up on the sidewalk once more and continue as if nothing has happened. In fact there’s a large black Labrador in the very next house who barks at me from within his fence (and often makes me jump out of my skin if I am absent minded), but even he has his principles and he will let me go on the days I am barked at by the neighbour’s tiny dogs, for I think it is against his principle to agree with those creatures that pass for dogs at the neighbour's house.

So let us come back to the incidents of this fateful evening of the 13th of October 2009. I was returning home after dark by the usual route. I was in an unusually cheerful mood for some reason and was whistling some tune. I don’t remember the reason or the tune anymore now because what happened next drove them permanently out of my mind.

As I approached the aforementioned house from a distance, I saw the dogs in their long leashes sitting dejectedly at the edge of their property. With hardly a thought, I came whistling and went down on the road at precisely the right point to avoid being nipped at the ankles. And not a moment too soon, for as soon as I descended from the sidewalk, the infernal creatures dashed barking to the point where I was walking a moment before, tugging at their leashes, ready to strangle themselves. I was enjoying myself thoroughly at this moment when it suddenly dawned on me that all of them were not getting strangled that night. The larger of the two dogs, the cocker spaniel, was tied with a long leash that wasn’t tied anywhere at the other end and before I could say “What ho!” he was upon me like a pack of hungry wolves.

Well, looking back at the moment now I think he only jumped down from the curb and came barking up to my feet with bared fangs, but at the moment it surely felt like all the dogs in the world had attacked me. The feather-duster who was still tethered to the porch encouraged him with furious barking as well. Now the principal complaint of the dogs, as far as I could interpret their language, was that I was passing by their house. However, they seemed to be pretty much fuzzy about the solution to this problem as they were very reluctant to let me leave. I tried to ignore the beads of perspiration on my forehead and the chill running up and down my spine and slink away homewards, but the cocker spaniel ran alongside me and held me at bay. As far as he was there, I wasn’t going anywhere.

So being the brave person that I am, I did the only thing left to do. I turned and faced the chap and asked him what the matter was. I had read somewhere that bolting from an aggressive dog encouraged it to chase and I sincerely hoped the dog had read it too. Besides, long ago I had been similarly reprimanded by a far larger and far more aggressive street dog in Kolkata and I had obtained promising results by turning and facing the specimen at that time. I did the same here and as soon as I had done so, the one-foot tall dog considered the prospect of fighting with the five-feet-something human being in front of him, and retreated a couple of steps towards his abode. I took a few more steps towards him and he retreated more, all the while facing me and barking. The hairy teddy bear didn’t believe in retreating in such a dignified manner though, and although he was decidedly more vociferous while protesting against my intrusion, at the sight of me advancing towards the house and his comrade retreating, he turned tail and ran to the porch. When I felt the spaniel had been thoroughly cowed, I tried to go home, but the problem was, as soon as I retreated, he was assuming I was scared and would chase me. So I decided to stay there and terrify the dogs until the owner came out to investigate, which she presently did, with “What’s the matter?” written all over her face.

“Your dog is running loose.” I said, trying to sound hurt.

“He’s LOOSE?” she bellowed. “What rubbish!” was implied afterwards.

“Yeah! Look at him, he’s loose!” I suggested, just as the dog tried to jump at me again now encouraged by the presence of his mistress. She saw the loose end of the leash and quickly stamped on it, stopping the dog mid-jump.

“Oh thank you so much!” she remarked, as if I had knocked her door and told her that her little puppy was loose and would get lost if she didn’t tie him up again.

“He attacked me, you know.” I tried sounding hurt again.

“He ATTACKED you?” she bellowed again with a tone that was part mother-who-thought-her-child-could-do-no-wrong and part trainer-who-knew-her-dog-knew-no-such-trick. “What rubbish!” was re-implied.

I looked around. There was no witness except the two dogs, and they weren’t going to talk. So I decided to press charges. “He jumped upon me as I was going by the road. They bark at me every day but they are tied up. Today he was loose and he jumped on me.”

“I can sue you for that.” I tried implying. She didn’t get it.

“Well, he must’ve come loose…” she said and went inside pulling the dog behind her, signaling the conversation was over. I took the hint and headed home. But the incident has left me wondering if I can ever laugh at that Tom & Jerry episode again, where Tom stood too close to Spike’s kennel and tried provoking him, only to be skinned by the still-leashed bulldog.

Comedy, as I observed before, is enjoyable only when you experience it second-hand.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

How to recognize a Bengali?

How do you recognize a Bengali at a formal dinner?

Recently I had the good fortune to see a Bengali scientist who had received an award for excellence in research. He was coming out of his evening reception and going to the formal dinner on his award ceremony day. His attire was like this:
  • Black tuxedo jacket
  • Matching trousers with silk braids
  • White dress shirt with pleated front and wing collars
  • Black silk bow tie
  • Black cummerbund
  • Red rose in lapel
  • Black zippered office-goers' bag hanging from one shoulder
  • Black woolen muffler wrapped Bengali style around the bow tie.
The last two items, of course, announced him as a Bengali from miles away. But whatever he was wearing, he made us Bengalis in New Jersey very proud that day. Especially Bengalis like me who feel naked without their side-bags and monkey caps.