Is it that one cannot judge a book by its cover or that one should not judge a book by its cover? Memory fails. However, in the case of The Making Of Dog, either would be appropriate because the cover is clean, whimsical, attractive and inviting. So is the title. The frontispiece and the title page keep the enchantment going and the author photograph on the last page shows an attractive woman with a gorgeous dog. Everything bodes well till this point.
From here, dismayingly, it all goes downhill. Dismayingly, because there is a good idea hidden within a confused story and an even more confused narrative style. There is a reason why everyone is not a children’s writer. Many people would like to be; an excruciatingly large number try to be, but most should be firmly discouraged. It’s not about having a great idea and stringing words together. It’s not even about being good with children or liking them. It’s about being responsible while having tremendous fun. The really good children’s writers take their job very seriously.
Sawhney writes a creationist story without any of the charm that traditional stories of creation have. Her animals are anthropomorphic, talking in jarring colloquial slang. She coins words like ‘fantasticious’, ‘triumphicious’ and ‘gigantiwonderous’ under the mistaken notion that by doing so she automatically enters a children’s world. (Roald Dahl coined words too and how beautifully in place they sound.) The humor is awkward and the conversational style Sawhney aims to achieve just does not pass muster.
More than anything, however, this book is not so much about Dog as it is about God (and a male one at that!) who has a “gentle voice with the power to soothe”. We are told that God was thinking: “…in all the many forms that he had. After all, the Christian God and the Hindu Gods and Allah, and all of the Gods are one.” Ouch. If you are not Christian or Hindu or Muslim, just consider your God included. Such careless plugs for communal harmony and trite statements like: “God is everywhere. So he doesn’t have a seat, really. Just think of a mind, spread all over the world, laying quiet for a minute…” divert attention from what could have been a really nice tale about… dogs.
Final verdict: howl!
By Deepa Balsavar
Author: Priya Sawhney
Illustrator: Sumedha Sah
Tota books, 2014
Subject category: Contemporary/Fable