The Indian Shepherd


In a deal that clicked a couple of years too late for me, Syed would sell the disused Nikon from his studio for a thousand rupees to me. He loaded it with a complimentary black and white roll too, making it a point to quote the sum he was sacrificing as he stepped out of his three by three darkroom. But Tinku had already passed beyond the point of infinity where no film ever captures anything.

I was twelve when we moved to the rural district of my paternal hometown from the City we were living in on account of my father’s transfer. It was a disturbing experience to have moved away at once from everything that had meant anything to me ⁠—my school, my friends and my favourite haunts. Life seemed to have come to a grinding halt in the new, alien place. The people and places had a stolid air of rusticity about them. The markets were shabby, the roads dilapidated, and the shops sold ludicrous stuff. It was like falling through a wormhole into some ox-cart age towards the end of the twentieth century.

We got used to certain Mr Lalchand who would drop in often, trying to be friendly with the family whose kids could speak English.  He never tired waxing eloquent about his brother in employment of a certain wealthy merchant who owned an ‘Alsatian Dog’. This dog had somehow fallen from grace, we were informed, and raised a family with a local bitch. The litter was housed in a garage at the back of the sprawling estate.

After many family sessions and heated debates, my parents acknowledged we were entitled to at least a pup in a recompense of sorts for this abrupt shift to the rural habitat. Off we went then early on a cold December morning, and after due permissions from the putative owner, we laid claim to a tiny, chocolate-furred pup with a cute black snout and paws white as snow. I don’t remember why we named him Tinku but I believe it was inspired by some Hindi movie.

Although we made a cozy little house for the pup with the best stuff we could lay our hands on, he preferred to hide in our beds under the quilts. He was a ravishing little thing with kohl rimmed eyes that begged to be hugged. He moaned and whimpered endlessly in the first few days of his stay with us. What unsettled our parents was the maddening resemblance of his moans to a human infant. At one point of time, my father commanded us to return him to the litter if it couldn’t stop the lament. Miraculously, he didn’t mewl even once that night and ever after, except once when he fell sick much later. He had a small appetite and would turn away from bowl after just a few licks. He preferred to wet our faces instead with his moist little tongue as if that alone filled his tummy. For a while, the entire family was excited except when he soiled the beds.

Tinku grew up to be a wolf of a dog in a matter of months. His yelp made room for a deep-throated bark that could freeze the heart of a stranger. His reverberating growls ended in sharp, snapped reports quite like that of a pistol. He gave short sliding chases to people trespassing spaces around our house. But to his credit, he never put his teeth to a human ankle.

The very first rains had me excited and depressed in equal measures. My cherished shoes got ruined in the omnipresent muck on the unpaved roads. Tons of wet soil jammed the space between the wheels and the mudguards of my spanking new bicycle. It poured so hard that the river nearby wandered right up to our veranda, chasing the rabbits and foxes away from its banks into the fields and farmhouses and orchards of mango. Tinku had a fertile season of adventures chasing the unfortunate creatures through the grassy, waterlogged fields. He wasn’t hugely successful in his sorties though except when he chanced upon the odd frazzled rodent. But it did hone his hunting skills, his pounce, his snarl, his speed and his murderous bark. Many were the times when I ran after him, my hockey stick waving in mock fury, till one day a shard of glass cut open my sole.  It was not uncommon to let go of the slippers in the middle of a wild chase through the muddied expanse. The injury grounded me for a fortnight and made both of us tense and restless. Chained to a longish leash, he had to make do with bawling at ants, lizards and houseflies, as I reread the adventures of the Famous Five.

Soon Tinku became an acknowledged, some would say infamous, landmark in the vicinity. Humans, felines and canines of the neighbourhood were all deeply in awe of him, and most did their best to postpone a rendezvous. Even our friends and acquaintances grew wary and their visits plummeted. It was not for the faint of the heart to cross the path of an Indian Shepherd on permanent alert, even if he was a saint at heart.

The river receded with the rains and reclaimed the denizens of its banks to their natural warrens in due course. Tinku started missing the gorgeous times he had had and turned sour and irritable. He would often stun us with his deafening outbursts for the tiniest of provocations. There were times he would go in mad circles chasing a fly on his tail, his paws swishing about the floor furiously. And when he was particularly upset, he’d leap into a midair somersault. ‘He is an acrobat trapped in a dog’s body,’ my father swore when he saw him do that the first time.

Before the rains finally said goodbye it brought forth a howling tempest that refused to subside. Trees tumbled and power lines snapped and with no electricity, it was pitch dark by the time it was evening. It rained for hours and hours never missing a beat and water filled up the fields again.  We finished a hurried dinner among candles and took to bed early. But Tinku could barely contain his excitement. He barked and whined and kept rushing from one room to the other and then to the veranda that resembled a raft.

The gale relented towards the midnight and we could hear the frogs croaking in a chorus through the windows.  Suddenly though, Tinku’s growling took over everything else. For all I could remember, I had never heard such rumbling emanating from his throat. It was punctuated by shrill barking and a mad scratching of the floor.  I chided him angrily to stop the ruckus he was making in the dead of the night. But the dog seemed to have gone wild. He kept letting out a breathless discharge of snapping and barking, and jumping all over the place at the same time. Remembering the torch that always sat on my study table I was about to get off the bed when suddenly I heard the stern voice of my father, ‘Stop! Don’t move, wherever you are!’ He was standing at the door and he sounded highly alarmed. Tinku’s madness increased in intensity. I could hear father calling out my sister for coming up with the other torch or something. I was aghast and stunned, not knowing what had happened. Had the dog gone berserk and would attack me any moment now? Weird things were reported to have happened to bastard dogs in tempests and something had surely overtaken our own pet.

By the time a source of light was found I was sweating profusely, and Tinku was still at his rabid best. The sharp beam of the torch hit his green fluorescent eyes that were focused on the study table and he was salivating profusely. The beam moved to the study table to fall on a glistening, black cobra, standing tall with its hood fully extended and the tongue flashing in and out, swaying sharply, ready to jump.

A yelp escaped my throat and I flew on top of my father in a trance. Tinku refused to leave the battlefront and we had to close the door on him. Before long our house was bustling with neighbours known and unknown. Mr Lalchand appeared and vanished to return with a spear and a set of canes. My mother appealed to them with folded hands to allow the reptile to go away. But it was argued that instead of slipping away the deadly creature will stay put because of the rains, and then God only knows what might happen?

A pitch battle ensued between the armoured crowd and the nearly airborne cobra amidst flashes of torch-beams. It took a while for the experienced hunter in the lot to pierce the enemy’s hood. It was a six feet long  serpent with a gorgeous hood, and everyone agreed how fortunate I was to escape its wrath. Undoubtedly, my tryst with the Almighty that very night was only a drop of venom away. The crowd dispersed after a while but not before hymns were sung to Tinku’s gallantry. Everyone wanted to pat him on the head. With the enemy gone, Tinku now lay flat and deflated on the floor, unconcerned with the hullabaloo. But none of us went to sleep that night till the daybreak. We kept thanking the deities for the day we had decided to adopt such a loyal pet. Everyone remembered something smart he had done at some point of time, or even something naughty.  I for one was feeling reborn to the Earth, and I knew I would never forget that night for the rest of my life.

The following day I pressed my demand for a camera, even a second hand camera, so that I could take my saviour’s photograph, or even a cobra’s photograph, were I to face one again. Father conceded, but fixed a small budgetary ceiling beyond which he felt it was a waste. My eyes were set on an SLR camera and the grant could have bought only a used one. I started doing the rounds of the studios of the town asking them if they could spare one. Syed’s brother was a classmate of mine and that is how we came to meet and start the negotiations that lasted beyond the brief life of Tinku, my Indian Shepherd. He lived for two years or so before he was fatally poisoned by a slimy neighbor who suspected him of murdering his cat but then that is another unfortunate tale.


  1. Interesting tale. Sad to hear Tinku’s life was brought to a premature end. Guess it is sad for dog owners, when dogs live their life span and depart. Sadder still this must have been.

    And the incident of the snake found echo with me. I too have had an encounter with a snake, though in my case it was a simple Krait and nothing as majestic as a cobra. But the poor krait met the same end as the cobra. We humans encroach upon the habitats of these creatures and build our civilization and then consider them as intruders and kill them when they trespass our so called properties.

    And yes, nice to know how you got your first camera. I can tell story of how I got my first and second camera as well. But I was never destined to become a photographer. All people are not made for all arts I guess.

    1. Yes, TF, the memory still saddens me. We had several pet dogs after that and although most of them lived long, none were even a pale shadow of the brave one. And hey, kraits are 22 times more poisonous than the cobras! Glad you escaped the reptile!

      That SLR didn’t last long, the EL2. It met its end at the hands of an enterprising cousin. As for photography, how do you know how good you are unless you have tried. I regularly come upon laughable photo-blogs. 😉

  2. That’s heartening to hear about tinku saving your life and disheartening how his life was cut short. Would love to hear about that too. I lived in a rented house few years back and their dog was also poisoned by neighbors… I just wonder why they do that.

    1. Jas, it happened two decades back but we remember him often. We feel bitter about his untimely death too and that is something I’ll find hard to write about.

  3. Hi USP,

    Quite a gripping tale of bonding between an animal and a human. So, the adage is true and valid. A dog is truly a man’s best friend. What a cruel end to the creature.
    Photographs are memories, slices of life, captured on film paper. It’s one moment which you would cherish later on in life.
    Keep up the good work



    1. Right, Jay. the adage is true as you say, except that we tend to exploit our superior station. I couldn’t come around to photograph him, however.

  4. That was one reason I never had pets. They will always go before you (well almost) and the pain will be unbearable. Why will anyone knowingly inflict such a pain on himself is beyond me.

  5. Ohhh! that’s why they say dog is man’s best friend. Such tales abound where pets (especially dogs) saved their owners’ life from reptiles, thieves, even earthquakes. But he had a sad end! I would like to hear that story too.

    1. Dogs have proven their loyalty on million occasions. I have had the fortunes of experiencing it first hand. Sadly, the other part of the story is gory.

  6. This is a nice narration. My father being a police officer had keen interest in Dogs. He used to say if you do not have the knowledge about dog’s training do not keep them. It becomes the worst kind of pet.

    1. I agree, Pradip. I did invest a ton of efforts in Tinku even though I am not a professional trainer and it did smarten him up. After that, I list interest and the future pets were sloths.

  7. Engrossing narration. Tinku reminds me of Timothy from the Famous Five. How cruel of your neighbor to kill another pet for the sake of his own. Would like to hear that story too.

    1. Now that you remind me, of course I wanted to name it Timothy! But my eldest sister was so hung up on that movie called ‘Tinku’ and my mother ruled in her favour. That, George was not of the same gender as mine, didn’t help matters either!

      His end was a grim incident. Maybe someday I’ll just write about it. Thank you, so much.

  8. Nice post ! A dog is after all a man’s best friend and there is no gainsaying that.You were fortunate to have had its company during your growing up years !

  9. dogs and cats have a short life span and that’s exactly why I don’t like to have pets. but ironically, our house is always filled with cats and dogs. currently, we have a dog quite similar in nature to your Tinku (although mine is an Indian stray). and ever since he graced our house our relatives and friends decided to stay away. but instead of biting and scratching, he prefers to push and shove everyone. he hasn’t killed even a fly yet :D. most importantly, he protects my kittens.

    that was a wonderful piece of writing although the end was really sad. i had a smile on my face while reading this post. but 1000 rupees was a lot money those days. how come you had to settle for a used camera?

    1. I presumed it’d strike a chord with someone like you who is in the thick of pets and loves them too. Glad it worked! It is comforting to learn that you have a pet that behaves like my departed dog. And I am sure Tinku didn’t kill that cat. As for the camera, Syed wanted to me to pay INR 2,000/- (there was a 50mm lens too). He said a new Nikon EL2 would set me back by 4,000 or so. Importantly, one had to travel to Mumbai or Nepal to buy a new one. Yes, my father was a generous man, may God rest his soul.

      Thank you for enjoying my writing.! 🙂

  10. So proved again that dog is man’s best friend and in your case savior. It is an engrossing read, heart wrenching and heart warming at the same time. I like the way you bring twist and turns in your narration. The way first and concluding paragraphs are connected is something to learn from…

    1. True, Saru. Dogs have been man’s best companion since times immemorial and it has been proven time and again. Yes, Tinku’s end was sad. A million thanks for the glowing compliment.

  11. Dear Mr. Pandey,
    Interesting, simple but gripping narration. You paint every hue of life with equal command.
    Your forte is not only language but broad spectrum themes too.
    Keep entertaining us.

  12. Beautiful story, beautifully narrated.
    My husband’s home in Hardoi, when he was a kid, functioned as a dog hospice, and injured and ill and dying dogs found their way to his home directed by some unknown compass. He nursed them with great care and love, got them treatment from the local vet, and when they died, buried them in the local cremation ground (took them in a rickshaw with his dad). He spent variable number of weeks with each, and has stories and memories galore.
    What I find most amusing and touching is that when we marvel at the amazing things our little daughter does, as all new parents do, his side of discussion invariably wanders off to drawing parallels with his dogs and explaining how babies are just like dogs. 🙂

    1. Your comment has left me speechless. I pray to god to bless many more humans with a heart like that.

      Man is said to be the paragon of living beings. While that can be hotly debated, a human infant is a breathtaking creation. Still, when you look at a canine pup, you will be amazed by its sensitive, intelligent, sage-like face, its eagerness to interact and oblige you. It is natural for your husband to be recalling all those countenances. 🙂

      Thanks a ton for the compliment!

  13. Sorry USP bhai, couldn’t write earlier because was out of station……… Beautifully narrated another thriller…….loved this story as well, was hooked till the end……..sorry to know about the sad end of Tinku. You are master of all genres. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post as well. “The German Shepherd had somehow fallen to bad ways, we were informed, and raised a family with a local bitch……..” Hahaha 🙂 your twist and selection of words…………amazing…….God has gifted you this unique talent……… & once again the story has proved that dogs were, are and always will be man’s best friend. Secret of your first camera revealed :)……….. All the best brother 🙂

    1. Samir bhai, thank you for the mountain-load of encouragement! I have been thinking of telling Tinku’s tale for some time now. I am glad you like the selection of words. 🙂

  14. That is a heart-wrenching tale, I can only imagine the ordeal you must have gone through when the Cobra had entered your house, the loyalty of dogs is simply unmatched. I know how special Tinku is in your life, I could feel the love you have for him and how much you miss him now. The last line just broke my heart, so sad to know about Tinku’s premature demise and you couldn’t even get a picture of him.

    I can very well relate to this post because I love animals, though I prefer cats over dogs, but still I love dogs too. I really hope Tinku didn’t kill your neighbor’s cat, the way he died was unfortunate and heart-breaking. 😦

    1. Many thanks for your lovely words, Akshay. Yes, it is hard not to fall in love with the pets and often they pay us back many times over. Most of us would have a tale or two to tell about them. As you have correctly observed, Tinku has made himself unforgettable to us, especially me. And I am sure he didn’t kill that cat.

  15. I grew up in a govt colony surrounded by thick forest so we had close and frequent encounters with snakes .While walking on the roads, we would wait patiently for the magnificient creature to cross the road before we continued ahead.If found inside our cupboards or under our dining table or inside the loo, we were witness to various heroic ‘traps’ or kills of the snakes by the elders.
    Then there were these bollywood influenced tales of snakes having camera lens inbuilt inside their eyes which helped them chase and take revenge of their brethren or spouses killed by humans…You may laugh but we were made to believe and we did till we discovered science beyond books..
    Hey…your tales always take me back to my own childhood !!

    1. Each on of us is a repository of amazing tales. I would love to see those sails of memories unfurled.

      Rather than laughing, I am nodding and smiling, remembering our own wide-eyed appreciation of those Bollywood stoked myths! Glad to have brought back memories of childhood to you. Thank you! 🙂

  16. Heart touching , the story made me happy and sad both ! Love the name Tinku. reminds me of our pet when I was a kid, she was named Meenu:)
    Wish you and your family Merry Christmas and A Very Happy New Year.

    1. Yes, it is a sweet-sour story as is often the case with pets. Glad to remind you of Meenu.

      Wish a Merry Christmas A Very Happy New Year to you and your family too! 🙂

  17. the memories sometimes are so deeply embedded inside our mind and heart,even after years we can recollect the instance by every moment that followed after. And specially those ones such as the experience with TInku,leave a lasting impression. A real tale woven beautifully in words.

  18. This is such a moving and heart wrenching tale. Your childhood is full of wonderful and emotional memories. The way you have written it makes it even more beautiful. I could see how Tinku was such an integral part of your life and the amazing bond you shared with it and how it saved your life. I felt deeply pained at its death and the way that came about. I know how painful that would be. I was deeply moved at the end of it. A remarkable childhood tale beautifully told.

    1. Childhood is often full of wondrous memories. And dogs have often risen to serve their human friends although the reverse may not be necessarily true. Yes, it is heart-wrenching but there are times when I wonder if I also share the guilt, being a human. Thank you for reading.

  19. I know what it sounds like when a dog sees a snake. Ah! and dogs; they are the noblest creatures, aren’t they? I’m always touched by doggie stories. Tinku was a shepherd indeed. I hope he is resting in peace. It is so very sad to know that he met with such a cruel end. Poor thing!
    USP, I don’t have the words to compliment you on your writing. Let me just say I’m already waiting for that unpublished first book and the ones that are to follow. 🙂

    1. I guess they are genetically wired not to attack the snakes as long as possible. Tinku did his job well enough and I am sure he would have physically handled the snake, had there been a need.

      Thank you for the words of encouragement, Divya. It will keep me going!

  20. what an experience! the house in which i live is filled up with scorpions of all size, and my cats have saved me one too many times from being stung, because they always discover them the instant they start crawling on floor.

  21. Very touching tale. Although i personally am not very attached to animals, my sister is. I remember the family hiding the news of the dog’s death to her, a few years ago.

  22. Umashankar

    Sounds like Ozimandius … a tale from an antique land. I haven’t experienced North India yet – made a few brief visits to Delhi and one to Jaipur … yet to see the real UP, MP, Haryana, Rajasthan and Bihar. Must travel to these places.

    I am digressing … you brought out elements of life in rural India so vividly – I could picturise the muddy roads and the flooded river banks – brought back memories of childhood.

    Tinku was quite a character, eh? Must have been fun having him around. Dogs, they are such alert, watchful and loving creatures. Sad that after safely seeing off a cobra he had to fall prey to a human being … which one was the poisonous creature?

    But why did you end it so abruptly …just when I was settling into the tale you nipped it much like the director of a Saas-bahu serial … now I have to wait for the next installment. Before you get worked up let me take bail by saying that I am not drawing any comparison between your story and the bilge that they show on TV. 🙂

    Loved this tribute to your old faithful!

    P.S – You know what Tinku is a name given to people here in Kerala – it is unisex too – I know people of both sexes who bear that name.

    1. Jayadev, This Ozymandias is no antique land nor it lies by uncharted shores. You only have to move a couple of thousand kilometers to the north of Kerala, in your own country. 🙂

      Tinku was great. But for him, I wouldn’t have been boring you with this blog today! There is no doubt as to who is the most poisonous species on this earth.

      Lastly, I have to confine my posts to the format of a weblog and anything beyond two thousand words may boomrang on a blogger. That was an interesting bit on the name ‘Tinku’. A million thanks for so many kind words!

  23. Uma, what a riveting tale! Such wonderful writing. I could literally see everything you wrote about-Tinku, the cobra, the rain, the flooded countryside. How vividly you recaptured these dazzling moments from your childhood.

    1. NP, some of the childhood memories are surprisingly fresh and crystalline. I am happy if I could capture them in words. Thanks for the encouragement.

  24. That story reminded me of a scene from a movie. Your writing is so exquisitely detailed that Tinku and your neighborhood sprang to life. What an incredible story. I was so worried Tinku was going to be bitten by the cobra. It’s terrible what that slimy neighbor did to him two years later. I like how the stories of Tinku and the camera were intertwined.

    1. Helena, it was one the scariest nights I have known and after the hullabaloo, we kept chatting till dawn. I dearly cherish the memories of that pet till date. I am happy you liked the narration. Thank you.

  25. I liked it US. Is this `memoir’ style different for you?

    Kept me enthralled to the very end. Every bit of it convincing, with the right amount of detail. & the `Indian Sheppard’ being an ideal title of course. I saw many dogs in India – a real problem in Mumbai – can’t say I saw a Sheppard.

    I’m always quite taken with your terrific selection of pictures too btw. Beautiful stuff.
    Cheers, ic

    1. Ian, I am thrilled I could impress a master storyteller like you. If you liked the style, I may have hit the bull’s eye!

      Yes, stray dogs are aplenty in India; at times they are a menace too. But, they are a sensitive species.

      I carefully scour the net for suitable pictures and try to obtain permission from the creators. Kaethe Bealer was kind enough to allow me usage of the exquisite portrait.

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