Of Pets and Koottunkans

She heard the howling from a distance and with some difficulty located the puppy in a pit covered in soil. The puppy had not opened its eyes yet. Ants had gathered around the puffy eyes. The mother dog was not seen anywhere near. Picking it up, she turned the puppy to look at its rear. She felt gratified for it was a male. She also noticed it had a short tail which was uncommon of the dogs in the region. Its red coat with no spots whatsoever was again a satisfying aspect for there was a belief that a dog with spots on all its legs and forehead would be unreliable. Holding the puppy by its neck she brought it home. Her name was Aleykutty Varghese Koottunkal. The period was 70s.

She christened the puppy Kamaan, a name unheard of till then.  The popular names for dogs at the time were Tippu and Kaisar. The name Kamaan was suggested by her husband K M Varghese, who also was fond of pets.

Kamaan grew up to be the leader of a pack in the locality. Every member in the family reserved a small portion of the food in the plate for the dog, which would be served to him before dropping the plate in the wash bin. If the dog is not around, one would shout 'Umbo Umbo'. This was the signal to him that the meal was ready.

Kamaan had a good time being a pet. Everyone in the family loved him and in return he watched over the house dutifully. On Sundays he was adamant that he tailed the family to church despite the dissuasion and threats. His company triggered a series of dog fights on the way.

Life was smooth until the untimely demise of K M Varghese in 1977. Aleykutty Varghese was at a loss to deal with the void created by her husband's death. She had to act tough. She was a determined soul who would not compromise on her children's welfare. With the little resources she had she managed her children continuing their education.

While these transformations were taking place, Kamaan was the worst hit as food was a big problem in those turbulent times! He switched his base to Varghese's younger brother K M Mathew's house. But he always rushed to his first home on hearing an 'Umbo Umbo' call. K M Mathew and family were pet lovers too. They treated Kamaan well until the Panchayath appointed dog catcher caught and killed him along with the pack he had been leading. He was above ten when died.

Among Koottunkans, three families were great pet lovers. These families were of Varghese, Mathew and John. While Varghese loved both cats and dogs equally, Mathew loved cats more. John was and still is crazy about dogs. It is a ritual for him to feed, nurse and train the pet dog. None of them allowed a pet dog entering the house. They were kept outside with occasional warnings reminding them of their place. The dogs were of native origin, mostly Indian pariah but at times cross breeds were gifted by friends.

Since Kamaan's death, there were a series of dogs at my home. Blackey, Mridulan, Icy, Gillette - the list goes on. There was one thing common about these dogs. They all had unnatural deaths, mostly by consuming poison. A neighbor, who was a butcher by profession, poisoned these dogs to save his bone collection which was kept in a stinky stream. The dogs in the vicinity used to steal bones from the bone pit making the whole place stinking like hell. Periodically, the butcher with the help of his assistants would prepare a concoction of Othalanga (Cerbera odollam), pieces of broken glass and minced meat, which would be placed where the dogs visit. We would see the dogs dead on our door steps in the morning or never see them at all. They would be lying dead somewhere, leaving the locality stinky for may days to come with their bodies decomposed . I still remember burying them in our backyard, a painful ritual that leaves one heartbroken.

K M Mathew was an ardent cat lover. He named the cats with such names as Biju, Binu, Anu, Ponnu and Katherin. In fact there was a lineage of cats descending from Biju, a ferocious cat who did not allow anyone but Mathew to approach.

Tippu. When you visit Koottunkal K. M. John's house, it would be this guy welcoming you. He is ferocious to strangers, but friendly and excited with others. He is very camera shy and I had to persuade him a lot for a pose.

Gone are the days, when these families were buzzing with life. It was a balanced ecosystem where animals and humans coexisted and cooperated to make the concept of family complete. Today there are no pets in these families. The houses are empty barring a few elder people eagerly waiting for their children to visit, which would happen occasionally but mostly a short lightning one.


  1. 'Kamaan' (it was supposed to be short for 'Commander') was a progeny of 'Kaiser', the tail-less pet dog of grandmother (Aleykutty Mathen). The genealogical line is proved by the lack of tail which was a rarity among the canine population at Pallippuram. The two tail-less dogs were a curiosity in the village in those days. But eventually you could spot tail-less canines in unexpected places, even in faraway villages, which indicated the wayward behavior of 'Kaiser' who was rather indiscriminate in his affections, in sowing his wild oats.

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