Himanjali Sankar: Of Dogs, Daughters and Dumbbells

Our guest blogger is Himanjali Sankar, author of The Stupendous Timetelling Superdog, who talks about three things close to her heart.

“Uff, this Rousseau,” said my five-year-old niece, Suhani, reprimanding Rousseau who was following her around doggedly (I don’t know if Rousseau thinks dogged is what dogs must be – in any case, it is one of his defining characteristics), “he is such a little astronaut.”

I was struck by the fabulousness of her statement. I am envious of the effortless wordplay that young children indulge in. Sentences that are fascinating, hilarious, disorienting, nonsensical and beautiful. The other day, three-year-old Neil was intensely wrapped up in a game on the iPad while my older daughter sat next to him, reading a book.

“Gayathri,” he called out to her but Gayathri who lives in her own world remained oblivious. “Gayathri,” he repeated loudly, not taking his eyes off the iPad for a moment.

“Yes?” she asked faintly.

“Gayathri, you must not waste water,” he said firmly and carried on with his game.

I don’t know when the randomness of childhood stops being wonderful. But if Neil was thirteen and not three, chances are we would have ignored his statement rather than be entertained by it. My younger daughter, Samhitha, is nine and has conversations with invisible friends, sometimes shushing them, sometimes chatting with them in a manner that is quite wonderful. But her days are numbered. One of these days someone (maybe me) will ask her who she is talking to and she will be mortified and not do it anymore.

There is obviously an age limit to activities that have to do with make-believe. Make-believe on the part of an adult is not cute. It is delusional and often degenerates into lying and falsehood. And beyond a point it plunges into that dark zone called insanity.

This insistence on following certain rules as we grow older, the need to distinguish between truths and make-believe and dissembling perhaps has to do with the way the human brain develops, making us the most intelligent and superior of all existing species, as we extend our mastery over the animal and plant world. But the cost we pay for rationality and reason is the refusal to accommodate the irrational and unreason. I do it, for sure. When my thirteen-year-old threw a random fit a couple of months back I told her, “Get a grip. You are thirteen. Stop crying and justify your behaviour, explain what is bothering you.”

As a parent I think I need to do this because my kids are going to be on their own in some years’ time. In order to lead lives that are happy and meaningful they must learn to be rational, and socially and emotionally well-adjusted.

But when we got a dog I decided to let go. He did not need life-lessons, housekeeping or social skills because he was not going to go off to college or to a soul-crushing office. He would not need to interact with friends, relatives and colleagues. I could protect and love him lavishly and even if he became a little bratty it would not make his own life less happy.

It was not a totally wrong decision as far as Rousseau goes. Rousseau is a very happy dog. It is, of course, another matter that his excess mirth causes some inconvenience sometimes. For instance, he likes to drag the garbage bin from the kitchen all over the house, leaving vegetable peels, empty packets and dirt and dust in his wake. When especially happy he likes to dig up flower pots and when I mildly object he changes course and uproots plants instead. And at night, snoring rather stentoriously, he sprawls right across our bed so that we are forced to huddle romantically in one corner. But, hey, romance is good.

I enjoy his high spirits and the happiness he gets from small, random acts like destroying the furniture and tearing clothes off the clothesline. But friends and neighbours are not always generous. My husband’s colleague was downright annoyed when Rousseau took a sip of his coffee the other day. And one of my friends was much frazzled by a small tear in her dupatta which happened when she stupidly tried to pull one end of it out of Rousseau’s mouth.

However, I do admit that his podophobia is a little unfortunate. But he cannot help it. It is a condition. Move your foot in front of his face and there will be a growl followed by a bite. But, hey, scars do heal. Not to worry.

This is my personal take on how to bring up dogs and why it should be different from the way we bring up chidren. I have no particular opinion on how to take care of dumbbells though. I must admit at this point that I added dumbbells to the title for purely alliterative purposes. My apologies for that. If I am ever entrusted with a dumbbell or two I will surreptitiously note its behavioural patterns and then, frankly and openly, share them with you.



  1. I loved this little piece of writing,.so warm and so true.
    I do not know what I like best, a)how to bring up children or b) how dogs should be left alone to have their own life or c) the bit about the dumbbells.

  2. Loved the piece!

    Dumbbells can be treated pretty much like dogs – you love them lavishly and it’s alright if they become a little bratty.

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