For the last six years, a daily visit to Juhu Beach was a routine for Aparna Karthikeyan because there, she discovered a community she grew to love — proactive animal lovers and the coolest canines, two of who became her own pets. This month, the author and journalist moved to Chennai but her new book for kids, titled Woof!: Adventures by the Sea (Red Panda, Westland), is a love letter to Mumbai.
The story revolves around a pack of indie dogs who discover a pup left by the beach. She is named Shingmo and together they tide through thick and thin — from racing each other to having to survive on junk food left by a garbage truck. “I cried many times while writing the book. This is a fictionalised story but real life is the harsher truth; the dogs get beaten, punched and kicked,” Karthikeyan says.
Since 2016, India’s dog population on the streets has grown by 17 per cent, bringing the tally to approximately 35 million. And the book is Karthikeyan’s attempt to speak up for indies. As the mother of two dogs — Puchu and Shingmo, who both find themselves in the book — her aim is to subtly instil the ‘adopt, don’t shop’ message in readers. “A lot of times, we don’t think of strays as people. When we say we want to buy a dog, we’ll only name the popular breeds; we treat it as though we’re buying an LG or Samsung fridge,” she says.
Karthikeyan has set the story around Juhu beach. PICS/SAGAR KOLWANKAR
But at the core of Woof! is the idea that human-animal bonding is one of the most precious things the world can give; this was shaped by Karthikeyan’s own experiences of observing how people around the strays — be it chaiwallahs or the homeless — spend time with them and have names for them. Children who have read the book have told her that it has made them both laugh and cry, which for the author has been heartening, because writing a book can be a very lonely experience, but reading, like hanging out with canines, is not.
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