It amuses me to think of how many, and how very strange memories I have of the Guwahati Book Fair.
This happened when I was in the ninth standard. It was the last two days of that year’s fair, and a bunch of us friends decided to meet up in the afternoon, go to a resort and do some go-karting, head to a pub, get smashed and find ourselves a bunch of girls to hang out with. Well no, it was fucking 1994 and there was no go-karting in fucking Guwahati, and definitely no pubs. My city was the kind of place where, if you went to one of those dimly lit bar-cum-restaurants and ordered a drink (if you drank, that is. I didn’t.), chances were the manager would come to you and ask if you were so-and-so’s son, and it would turn out that you were distant relatives and oh dear god you were going to be in so much trouble when you went back home. The only time we would hang around with girls was in school, where if anyone got too interested in a girl she would come and tie a rakhi on the guy. So yeah, what we planned to do was to meet at the Book Fair, and go buy books and head home at 7:00, which is when most of Guwahati fell asleep.
What happened that fine day was something else altogether. Post-noon, I had that pleasurable flutterby feeling in my tummy that heralded the arrival of fine bibliographic pleasures on the horizon, and I distinctly remember playing ‘Koncham Nilavu’ very loud while getting ready to go. (For a very long time, ‘Koncham Nilavu’ was my default let’s-do-this-shit-yo song of choice) I headed out just at about 3 ( we were supposed to meet at 4), the perfect time to adjust for a bus delay. As I walked out the gate, there was a dog sleeping nearby – not an uncommon sight by any means, and my motto in life at that time being ‘Canis Dormiens Nunquam Tittilandus’, I sidestepped the noble animal and proceeded to my destination.
The bitch jumped up and bit me on the thigh! It wasn’t one of those Stephen King Presents Cujo-level bites with a lot of gore and ripping sounds of muscle and tissue, neither was it a playful Disney Dalmatian-level nip – the bite was just enough to make me holler. My shout made the dog let go of my thigh and growl loudly, and I did the most logical thing possible – I kicked it twice and ran back inside the house. Not forgetting to lock the gate.
I admit to being very panicky, and hoping that there was no blood. Ran to the bathroom, switched on the light, took my jeans off (remembering to thank my lucky stars I had worn jeans and not a normal pair of trousers). Nope, a little scratched skin, but no trace of blood. My Junior Red Cross training kicked into gear (most people thought the JRC was nothing much beyond singing campfire songs, ogling at girls from other schools and designing blood donation posters. I disagree) and I washed the wound thoroughly with detergent and lots of water to make sure no trace of the dog’s saliva remained. By then, my panic levels had lowered themselves to sustainable levels, and I was beginning to worry about the fact that I had lost about fifteen minutes and I should head to the Book Fair as soon as possible. And that’s precisely what I did, remembering to take a stone along just in case the dog was around.
And I wore the same pair of jeans, of course.
By the time I got to the fair, the fear had been replaced by boisterousness . You will have to admit there is an inherent coolness to replying – “Nothing much, got bitten by a dog”, when someone asks you what’s up. My friends snickered a little, one of them was a little worried, and talked about an uncle who had been bitten by a dog and ran around the house on all fours after a year, because he did not get any shots. You needed to take shots, each aimed at a precise point around your navel, or else you would be barking mad, quite literally, in a year. “Nah, not going to happen to me”, I said. “I cleaned it thoroughly, and there was no blood.” I came back home, very pleased with myself, at about 7:30. There were a bunch of people in the living room. They looked worried. Apparently there was a rabid dog in the neighborhood that had bitten some people, and they had managed to kill it. One of the kids that were bitten was in hospital. I figured it was high time I speak up about my adventure.
It was a long night. Lots of injections ( none around the tummy, thankfully), lots of weeping ( my mom), lots of murmurs about irresponsible teenagers who do not know about their priorities, and fuck, no meat for a year. Thanks to that stupid dog, I had to change my diet, I had to remember specific dates every month to go and get more injections, go visit some temples with my parents who were convinced that there was an evil spirit at work mucking about with my karma-lines, and miss a kick-ass school picnic. And to this day, everytime I see a sleeping stray dog, I mentally prepare myself to be ready to kick and run if the beast shows the slightest intention of lunging at me.
But I bought some great books that day, so it all worked out in the end.