The story of a bond that became an obsession between a man and his best friend…
The cover picture says it all. A man standing at a doorway and gazing at his dog. The man, sixtyish, is in silhouette against the bright light of a garden and the dog, looking the other way, is small, white and fluffy. The reader may be pardoned for anticipating a maudlin account of a man-and-beast love story and in doing so would be fully justified. Love story it is, and with huge dollops of unabashed sentimentality but with a lot of other elements that go into making this book a hugely interesting read.
A Home for Gori by Habib Rehman (co-authored by Kishore Singh) is not just an ode to all things canine but also, incongruously, to art, architecture, cuisine and the rich cultural heritage of places like Delhi, Lucknow and Hyderabad. A secondary thread weaves inconspicuously through the tapestry of the author's deep and abiding love for dogs, one that traces the career of Rehman from ex-army man to hotelier and from hotelier to an iconic visionary of the hospitality industry. To the reader, Rehman, a well-known social figure, is synonymous with the ITC-Welcome group of hotels and some charming lesser known facts about the author are revealed here. These include the fact that the Major's foray into the field of hospitality was entirely accidental and the outcome of an inexpert stint of ice-cream making at a garden party!
An initial chunk of the book brings alive the plight of the armed forces stationed at remote outposts. Rehman's concern for the nutritional content of the soldiers' diet, his keen interest in the food cooked by the kitchen staff for themselves (which he was not above helping himself to!) and his deep bonding with dogs that are in the habit of attaching themselves to soldiers posted in hostile regions, paints a picture of a warm, humane man with wonderful people and animal skills. When Rehman's wife gets home a cute little pup, the author (who has a fancy for bigger dogs) is initially disgusted. The snow-white pup is predictably named Gauri or Gori and how the pup forges a bond with the author — one that goes on to become an obsessive attachment on both sides forms the crux of the book. The language is simple and unadorned, giving pride of place to the relationship between the little dog and her master. Often reading like a rapid reader for high-school students, the simplicity of style comes across as a refreshing change from the presently popular trend of applying complex and convoluted literary techniques by writers. Kishore Singh, known to be a master of the understated and the caustic, does ample justice to the sweetness of the subject.
Where it fails
It is in etching the human characters and the interplay of relationships (between master, mistress, servants, step-granddaughter, step-daughter, new wife) that this book fails. While Gori is described in great depth (the details encompassing de-worming, intricacies of doggy illnesses, abortion, mating and food preferences among other things), the human characters are two-dimensional and flat and one feels deep disappointment when the death of the author's wife is dismissed in merely five sentences. Sukhi, a character the reader comes to both love and empathise with, deserved better.
This is essentially a Delhi book and there is easy familiarity as one is led down venues like Panchsheel Park, Siri Fort and Purana Qila. The bits about Hyderbad and Lucknow etiquette revolving around the cooking and serving of food is hugely fascinating as is the information imparted about the legacy of Dum Pukht cooking. An unexpected little detour to Prague with the hippy guitarist and his mangy mutt provides a breath of fresh air to the predominantly Delhi flavour.
Dogs are notorious for giving their owners the slip just when the bond is at its strongest (their life spans being very short by human standards) and the concluding chapters of the book sees Rehman planning a house in Delhi that will serve both as a cenotaph for his beloved (dead) Gori as well as being acknowledged as an architectural marvel. He eventually succeeds in both. This slim memoir could easily have done with another hundred pages of writing, but as it stands, is a story told straight from the heart.
A Home for Gori, Roli Books, 2010, p.128, Rs. 150.