July 27, 2020
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Every dog has his day, but not his say. In English stories dogs characteristically say "Woof woof!" and the more articulate add "Bow wow!". In French, dogs say "Ouah ouah!" In most languages when dogs talk, they talk in double syllables. It's part of their dogginess. In Indian languages, dogs bhaunk, but unlike English, French or even Korean dogs, who are only dumbstruck because, any minute, they face being turned into kebabs, they have no specific vocabulary.

Indian literary animals are not all inarticulate. On the syllabus for the Senior Cambridge exam, 40 years ago, there was a poem which began :

"Koo koo karti

Shor machati

Yeh dekho hai

Koyal aati"

I can recite the rest, but will give it a miss, the point being that Koyals say "Koo Koo", sticking to this double-syllable rule.

India was indeed a land of speaking animals. Aesop, a Johnny-come-lately, wrote his fables in 600 BC, whereas The Panchatantra's verbose beasties draw on tales from 1500 BC. Its lions, wolves and monkeys become models for the young Kipling-and thence to Disney.

Perhaps the presence of domesticated dogs on the Indian landscape is, on this time-scale, a relatively recent thing. And their entry into the cities, the frisky, public-quarrelling and shameless public couplings of 'Moti' and 'Prince' are even more recent. Too short a time for literature to incorporate their lexicon. It may also be that dogs are still considered unclean, as pigs are in the Judeo-Islamic tradition and, while the porkies say 'oink-oink' in Christianly piggy stories, they are banned from speech in Islamic literatures.

The inhibition of a parallel untouchability would account for the silence of the dogs.

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