Not a Petty Affair

Tarun Goswami

Pets continue to fascinate Calcuttans. Every year dog shows are held at Salt Lake Stadium, Deshbandhu Park and Kennel Club where canines of various sizes take part. Bigger dogs like Great Dane, Mastiff, Afgan Hound, German Shepherd Dog and Labrador take part; also smaller breeds like Pomerian, Lasha Apso and Spitz are popular among city’s pet lovers. Even in days of Babu culture, pet dogs, cats and other winged creatures were important aspects of showing off their extravagance.

Brojendranarayan was the adopted son of Raja Rajnarayan Ray of Posta who squandered his inherited fortune on fulfilling his whims and fancies. It is said that way back in 1860 he had spent over a lakh of rupees to celebrate the wedding of his mistress’ pet cat. His mistress stayed in Bowbazar. Around 300 people were invited for the feast and he had gifted a gold chain to the new bride. He returned home and boasted about his profligacy. Elated, he told his wife, “Who else could have spent so much to celebrate the wedding of a cat? His wife retorted, saying she knew of a person who had spent more than a lakh on the marriage of his monkey. Brojendranarayan was taken aback and inquired “Who was he? His wife replied “Why? My father-in-law – in your marriage?” Brojendranarayan was also known for keeping bulbuls which regularly participated in fights.

Manmatha Nath Mullick, uncle of Pradmnyu Mullick took keen interest in keeping various kinds of pets. He even imported a pair of zebras from Africa to pull his landau after his friends told him that they would indeed consider him to be a man capable of great feats if he was able to domesticate this African wild animal. After the two zsebras were brought from Africa, Manmatha along with his friends got into the landau pulled by the two zebra. Hundreds of people had gathered on the streets to watch the feat. Two people continuously sprinkled water on the animals just to show that the stripes were original and not painted.

Nemai Chand Bose, a renowned attorney was a lover of pets and had a couple of Saint Bernards. This breed of dogs hailing from the ice-cold Swiss Alps cannot withstand excessive heat and hence his pets were taken to either Simla or Darjeeling during the summer months. As there was no air conditioner at that time, ice was used to bring down the temperature of the rooms.

Bengali aristocrats started keeping pets after coming in touch with Europeans. In those days the size of the dog was proportionate to the wealth of the person. Behala at that time had plenty of water bodies, fields and orchards. The British had set up a race course where every Saturday a large number of breeds used to participate in races. There were various breeds including Grey Hounds, Mastiff, Great Dane and Dalmatian. The racing track was situated in the area where Majerhat Brigde ends on the Behala side. Though after independence the racing track made way for a government housing complex, the place is still known as the Old Dog Race Course.

Swami Vivekananda too, was a dog lover and his pet dog Kelua had played a leading role in reducing the property tax of Belur Math. Bally Municipality had hiked the tax arbitrarily as they did not consider Swamiji to be a Hindu monk because he had crossed kalapani. So a meeting was held at Belur Math. When the officials of the municipality came, Kelua entered the chamber – the venue of the meeting. The officials were scared seeing a dog of such gigantic size; the meeting ended quickly and in the end they reduced the tax, substantially.