Pshango is a young, black Labrador suddenly abandoned by his human family. So from being a ‘protected’ pet, he is forced to fend for himself on the streets of Delhi, where gang-dogs and gang-humans roam and rule. How he meets up with the Pariah gang (of dogs) and comes to terms with all the changes in his new life are the main themes driving the plot, which is intertwined with a thread involving a set of thieves out to hold a rich man to ransom and the tributary tales of the inhabitants of Peepal Enclave, including an intrepid, lonely girl called Sabiha and a set of Rottweilers that go by the name, Lalaram Louts. Throw in a couple of happy elephants called Komal and Anarkali, an about-to-wed couple called Sleazy and Lovely, some dog catchers and a deadly mean mother-and-son duo who make Sabiha’s life a misery… these are some of the cast of characters, apart from a whole lot of canines named mostly for their personalities.
What’s disappointing, though, is that Every Dog Has Its Tale doesn’t quite match up to what we have come to expect from Ranjit Lal. The storyline seems convoluted and sometimes forced. In fact, somewhere in the third part of the novel, the plot is dominated by the shenanigans of humans and the dogs disappear altogether for a while. Thankfully they are introduced back into the action before it’s too late.
The writing is inconsistent, and doesn’t flow as in some of his other books. The biggest killjoy is the excessive use of parenthesis: you feel like there’s one or more on every page, even though that is not the case. This only adds an ‘explanatory’ tone to the telling, which doesn’t help the pace or lucidity of the narrative. For instance: “‘Yes,’ muttered Cigarette Butt rising uncomfortably from the bedroom floor. (There was no furniture in the flat.)” Or, take: “With a horrible sinking feeling (like you get in nightmares where you find yourself appearing for an exam you know nothing about) Sabiha realised that the chances of her…” Or even: “The truck was heading back towards the garbage dump and school (the way they had come), and gaining speed.”
The other big, big let-down is the stereotyping, and this is really surprising. Ranjit Lal is not one to shield himself behind political correctness, but he is always, always sensitive and true to the needs of the narrative. Except in this instance. Why can’t a sweet-looking girl or boy of supposedly ‘normal’ physical proportions and intellect do ‘bad’ or ‘mean’ things? Why does the bully always have to be fat and spoilt sick by a meaner mother? From Rowling to Ranjit, this is the trope that prevails. And why this all-bad stereotyping?
In a strange way, the animals redeem themselves. Or maybe it’s not, given how the author’s heart beats for dogs. The Lalaram Louts – superior, all-knowing, aggressive Rottweilers all – eventually do the ‘noble’ thing as, it would appear, the well-bred, pedigreed and upper class are perceived to do. That’s a stereotype, isn’t it? It’s the middle and lower classes that are the ‘louts’ – at least, that’s the feeling you get with the human characters.
Maybe we get so caught up with spinning the gripping yarn that sometimes we overlook things – I can’t help feeling that this book was written in a bit of a hurry, and maybe published in a greater one. Still, it makes you stop and think about street dogs and their expressions of territoriality and how they survive and serve, and about pedigree and expectation.
But for all the crabbiness in the review, most readers are likely to enjoy reading the book and they will skip the boring bits. And that’s fine. I really do love the pictures. Anitha Balachandran has a lovely, earthy style and a few spreads would have added to the atmosphere. Clearly, the coloured stickers of characters to identify at the end of the book is a ‘novelty’ idea aimed at those who are not quite readers yet.
Characters in the story recall characters in other stories. Komal and Anarkali remind you of Gerald Durrell’s Rosy is My Relative; the Pariahs remind you just a little of Nilanjana Roy’s brilliant The Wildings; Duchess the Red Setter taking care of an orphaned human baby harks back to Kipling’s The Jungle Book or the Sundarbans myth of Bon Bibi; and then of course there are so many movies about dogs and cats.
Curiously, a book I had bought a while back surfaced just as I was completing reading this one: Michael Morpurgo’s Born to Run, the story of a greyhound, left to drown as a pup, and his many lives. It made me wish there had been more in Every Dog Has Its Tale.
by Sandhya Rao
EVERY DOG HAS ITS TALE
Author: Ranjit Lal
Illustrator: Anitha Balachandran
Price: Rs 195.00
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction
Tags: Adventure/Dogs/Pets/Animals/Humans/Animal Lovers/Humour