Denizens of New Kantwadi Lane

Spotty

Spotty is the alpha female of the pack of 4, sometimes 5 to 6 dogs that live in our lane. She is mostly white with a black patch over her left eye. When she is terrorizing Limpy, the other resident female in the pack, the hair on her back stands up like a Ridgeback’s. Spotty gets all the scraps when fish are being cleaned for the next door neighbor, and most of the biscuits handed out by the various neighbors on a regular basis. (I am told that Tiger biscuits are a favorite of dogs in Bombay.) Limpy’s limp is improving and the terrible open wound in her neck has healed miraculously quickly. The two males are Brownie and Slice. Their coloring suggests that they may be related to Limpy in some way.

Rhea and Slice

These dogs are the friends of Rhea, the plump, self-possessed, independent, stubborn and bossy 4-year old who lives next door; the daughter of Vandana, a single mom. Rhea goes to kindergarden in the mornings, dressed in her school uniform, with a handkerchief pinned to her dress. In the afternoon, between changes of clothing (which happens about 5 times a day), she roams the lane, entering other people’s houses at whim, much to the consternation of her “servants” who lose her constantly. The cries of “Rhea!” ring out every few minutes as someone or another tries to catch up with her. Rhea comes into our office to make cards, taking pieces of printer paper, pens, scissors, and glue, and writing her favorite number: “5” everywhere.

There are numerous cats, most of which hang out in the back alley, along with most of the rats, although some rats do venture into the front alley from time to time. This is the first time I have seen rats shaped like Dachshunds – long and low. The cats don’t much mind the rats. In fact, John saw a rat jump on a cat’s back, and the cat merely looked at it in surprise, but didn’t bother to do anything.

The dogs become quite active at night, and bark at any stranger that comes along. Our friend Kumar calls us on the phone and asks one of us to come and fetch him from the main road because he is afraid of the dogs. So, we have to walk him in and out when he comes over to check in on us. The rats squeak all night long. The cats are silent.

Then there are the two-legged adult neighbors, who are mostly Christian. The Fernandezes, who live across the lane, keep 2 parakeets in their front window, one blue and one green. Myra Fernandez has asked me to ask Nina not to talk so loudly, particularly in the afternoons, when she and her husband take a nap. (Those of us with Airtel service must go outside to talk on the phone, and many times, Nina stands in front of the Fernandezes bedroom window and yells into the phone.) “We’re old” Myra says by way of explanation – “we need to sleep in the afternoons – tell her to go the other way when she talks on the phone.”

The neighbors in the back, behind Vandana, are a drunk but nice husband, and the wife who refused to pay for her share of the unofficial sewer cleaning, but did get the BMC to come and do the job.

Vandana is the tatooed mother of Rhea, who owns the beauty salon on the other side of us. She doesn’t get much business, so she is converting the salon into a residence, enlarging the toilet area to include a place to bathe. She and her best friend, a young, thin, attractive woman who spends most of her time at Vandana’s, are two of very few women in Bombay who wear shorts in public. Vandana’s ex comes by every so often to see Rhea, who runs over to our place and asks rhetorically: “why has he come?” He spends most of his time yelling at her (“don’t walk around without your chappals!”) and being ignored by her.

Our landlord, Iqbal, comes by every once in a while to ask us to pay half of the bribes he’s had to pay to one BMC official for renting us the space to use as an office. This petty official is now coming by on a regular basis to extract baksheesh from the rest of the people doing business in this residential neighborhood.

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