Unloving you

I know there is no emoji for Unlove. Maybe one is supposed to click repeatedly on Love till it goes sour & blue like Roquefort cheese? In any case, Unlove would be an emoji that women would use more often than men, since women seem to fall out of love faster’n men fall in love.

I’m waiting for the trolling.

And still I shall dare to claim that men are sensitive creatures.

May I continue? Have you stopped laughing? As I know you will, because this is a serious matter. Back in 1968 Tom Jones sang a song by the title of Delilah and the world went gaga. The song was about a crime passionnel, a crime of passion. A man kills a woman in a fit of jealousy – how that is any less deplorable than honour killing, I shall never know. As regards the song, I find the text too chilling for me to quote from it at any length, just google it and you’ll get the case history. She is spending the night with a lover while he watches the ‘flickering shadow of love’ on her blind from the street outside. The lover leaves at dawn and our Samson agonistes – which has nothing to do with agony, by the way, but simply means “a contestant in the public games” – well, this particular contestant goes and puts an end to the whole shindig with his knife.

Well, that’s how ‘sensitive’ men can/could be, since the stone age, to be exact, or from the stone age till today, or till last Tuesday, to be even more exact, when a 27 year old man went into a haircutting saloon in Düren, Germany, and shot his wife in the head before putting the nozzle to his own temple and blowing his brains out. The wife survived, thank God.

Had the wife pressed the Unlove button? Had she simply told him, “I don’t love you any more”? No, apparently the Samson in the song didn’t have a clue until he was walking past Delilah’s window – just out for a stroll and not stalking, mind you – when he saw the infernal light. So Delilah was being unfaithful and had been caught in flagrante delicto, as they say. But I very much doubt this version of the events – as related by Samson – because Kasia, who is a psychotherapist, once told me that women usually start looking for a new partner after they’ve left the old one, whereas men leave their old partner because they’ve found a new one. And the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ take on a very different hue in the case of men when we consider the male predilection for women half their age.

Kasia doubts, in short, the whole ‘happening to walk past her window’ business and maintains that Delilah had already jilted Samson, which is why he was stalking Delilah, as simple as that. That is when I tried to tell Kasia about male sensitivity, making her laugh till the tears came, as the Germans say. The Germans – the men – also drink till the doctor comes, but that is neither here nor there. Whereas it is not often that I can make Kasia laugh, or cry, let alone both at the same time, so we’ll let it stand at that – but the point is that we men do not have an Unlove button, as I was trying to tell Kasia, God or Mark Zuckerberg having forgotten to give us one. We do not have too many emojis either. Like dogs, we have to express all our sentiments by growling, or barking, or whining, or snarling, or wagging our tail – have I left out anything? Oh, and we cannot sweat, that is why we pant, which women often mistake for passion.

Kasia, like all women, has around a thousand emojis to talk to her husband (that’s me!) without saying one word. The ultimate emoji is the woman’s face, I declare. It’s like a logogram, as with chinese or japanese characters – and about as readable to us men. It’s not just that women make faces about as numerous as Han characters, what they say – the audible emojis – may have a completely different meaning depending on the tone. It’s like Kasia saying, “Yes, yes, you are right”, which means that I am wrong.

Otherwise ask any zoo keeper. Are lions sensitive? Are tigers sensitive? All large and dangerous animals, animals who can hurt you if rubbed the wrong way – are they sensitive? They are short-tempered – apart from being short-sighted – and irascible and unpredictable. But are they sensitive? I claim that they are and the best proof of it is the missing Unlove button – or even the double click on the Love button? Must try that one out.

All in all, women remember their old loves, men never forget them. Men cannot unlove. They carry their old flames in the dark dungeons of their heart till their dying day: the girl who used to walk barefoot from room to room with the grace of a kathak dancer (which she was learning); the girl who used to walk up to the crowded bus stop like Cleopatra looking for Mark Antony among the camel drivers at the Cheops pyramid while Caesar lay cold and lifeless in his Temple at the Forum in Rome – otherwise there might have been another crime passionnel! And then the girl ogled steadfastly from afar for a whole undergraduate year who carries the blush, together with the ogler, to this day; lastly, the girl who used to wait for the worst kind of verbiage – I’m talking about the love letters of an ongoing novelist or what my mother used to call my ‘epistolary literature’ – in any case, ‘she’ used to wait for them as if for rain. It’s that waiting emoji that has survived. The letters have gone where they should.

And does Kasia mind? Not in the least. She is not jealous of all those ‘foreign’ princesses and queens who held sway before her reign. It’s hardly a kingdom, more of a duchy, I’d say – but nothing is grander for a woman than to hold sway over a man’s heart, which is like the Vatican filled with not just two popes but any number of popes and all of them women.

There is no Unsex button for the man either, it seems, otherwise why should W. Somerset Maugham write in his autobiography “The Summing Up” (1938) that sex was about the best thing he had experienced in his earthly existence (not his exact words)? He was 64. Gabriel García Márquez wrote his “Memories of My Melancholy Whores” (2004) when he was 77. The story? A 90 year old journalist seeks sex from a young prostitute who’s selling her virginity to help her family. In any case, the nonegenarian finds not sex but love. Sensitive, eh? Sensible, too. See, men don’t think of anything but –

Love, what else? Even when they are ninety.

Talking the talk

‘…you’ve a fine bit of talk, stranger, and it’s with yourself I’ll go.’

That’s what Nora Burke, the young wife of Dan Burke, an elderly farmer, tells the tramp in J.M. Synge’s one-acter ‘In the Shadow of the Glen’. The setting is an isolated cottage in County Wicklow in Ireland in the year 1903. Dan is pretending to be dead and Nora is alone in the house with the ‘corpse’ when a tramp comes in. Nora goes out to look for Michael Dara, a youthful shepherd. That’s when Dan reveals to the tramp that his death is a ruse. Dan springs up again when Michael proposes to Nora, and kicks out Nora who leaves with the tramp, for a life of freedom, as even the Wikipedia will tell you, in its synopsis. But that’s missing the point. Nora goes with the tramp because…

‘…you’ve a fine bit of talk, stranger, and it’s with yourself I’ll go.’

It’s neither the first nor the last time that a woman has fallen for ‘a fine bit of talk’. As a man, I can only have secondary knowledge of what goes on in a woman’s mind, as Alexander Pope, the English poet (not the English pope, there’s disambiguation for you!), pointed out back in the eighteenth century. But this particular characteristic of women is perhaps the most endearing to men like me who are anything but ‘strong and silent’ – or rich, or influential, or famous, or successful, or anything of the ilk to appeal to the ur-instincts of the mother woman looking for a father for the superman according to the dictates of the Life Force – that’s the kind of horse apple people like George Bernard Shaw had the time & the leisure to dish out, you guessed it, in 1903! GBS was also an Irishman and a dramatist, like Synge. And he wrote his four-hour four-acter ‘Man and Superman’ the same year as Synge’s Shadow of the Glen. Synge died at 37, Shaw lived to be 94 – need I say anything more?

Yet Synge’s tiny output of five short plays and an unfinished one have accompanied me throughout my life, whereas I put Shaw’s numerous plays – and the prefaces, which were longer at times! – up for jumble sale shortly after graduation. I began life talking – or trying to talk like a Shavian – until I realised that there’s more of a Nora Burke than of an Ann Whitefield (the heroine of Shaw’s M&S) in every woman, especially the kind of women who had caught my eye & whose eye I was trying to catch in return.

As things turned out, I didn’t catch their eye – there was nothing much to catch anyway! – but I must have caught their ear, don’t ask me how. And that was their undoing. I talked and when I couldn’t talk – because they were out of town e.g. – I wrote. I wrote letters. My mother used to call it my epistolary literature – sarcastically, of course – but how did she guess? The beginning of all literature is a pretty girl who’s foolish – call it romantic enough to believe that life will not be as boring with someone who’s got ‘a fine bit of talk’. I call it the Nora Burke syndrome. Could even have called it the Nora Barnacle syndrome, in honour of Joyce’s muse & spouse. That would be the third Irishman in our gallery, and a dramatist too, for that matter!

In my case, I dragged those pretty girls through the dusty streets of Kolkata in the afternoon heat – and talked. God knows what I talked about – I mean that literally, since neither I nor the girls know any longer (I checked!). We walked the walk & I talked the talk. Not walking my baby back home but talking my baby back home. Though a suspicion strikes me even now. Did they listen? I should have quizzed them but I was far too busy following my own train of thought. I did check to see, from time to time, whether they were on board and listening – and they gave me a beautiful, heartwarming, slightly tired, slightly flustered smile. Or maybe they simply looked? I’ve forgotten. But I haven’t forgotten that look.

Since the days of the troubadour poets, women have been a sucker for poetry, because poetry is just another name for the way men are supposed to talk to women – for a certain purpose & with a certain intent, I hasten to add! The knight errant was handy as the action hero but the chatelaine was secretly in love with the minstrel. Not Tom Cruise but Robin Williams, if you know what I mean, ask any Hollywood screenwriter. And the best of all poetry is oral poetry. And the best of all oral poetry is when you are talking to a girl & telling her – no, the best of all oral poetry is when you are – I was about to write kissing her, but the Indian censor board wasn’t all that liberal in those days.

And I still have to tell you about Europe and Kasia and so on – shush! She’s listening! So let me give this choice piece of advice to all young men wondering what makes young women tick.

Try talking to them.

And why do you think it’s mostly women who read, by which I mean books, novels, these days? And they write ’em as well, in case you haven’t noticed. Practically taking over that side of the business too, I’m afraid. It’s their turn to talk now, it seems.

Try listening.

Bulbul shit

We didn’t have sex education in those days, just the standard sexist education which was no education at all, so far as sex was concerned. I don’t think I have publicly used the word ‘sex’ till well after my graduation – neither in speaking nor in writing (if we sinned, it was only in thought). I still remember the shock that I got when I chanced upon the famous four letter word in my pocket dictionary. Used to go back and peep at the word – which comes between fuchsia and fucus – when nobody was looking.

As an adolescent, one looked for forbidden knowledge in books & films. I discovered early that Bengali literature – for adults – was the equivalent of the self-cooked veggie diet of a pious Bengali widow compared to what they were dishing out in English literature – books in English i.e. There again, the paperbacks were more sinful than the hardcovers and the worst were the paperbacks tinted pink or yellow at the edges, as if the book had been dipped in some kind of a lotion or solution – sideways! – after the printing and the binding had been done. Friend of mine said the lotion was possibly a disinfectant to prevent STD in case the book had pornographic content.

As regards films, let me proffer the late regards of a growing, no, grown-up, what the hell, grown-old boy to his former heroines such as Helen in Gumnaam (1965) and Saira Banu in April Fool (1964). I put Helen before Saira because Gumnaam was the first Adults Only film I ever saw in my life – before I’d reached adulthood, don’t ask me how, ask the Kalika cinema in Kalighat and possibly even they wouldn’t know. Well, Helen Jairag Richardson of the Anglo-Indian-Burmese descent was the first woman I’d seen in a bathing suit – in the film, naturally – and she looked divine, just as divine as Saira Banu in her glitering one-piece swimsuit in April Fool – her blow-up – at times cut-out – was on hoardings all over Kolkata. In the advert, they’d decorated the swimsuit with rows upon rows of round, swinging medals cut out of tinsel, to reproduce the glitter effect. It was the first time a woman in a swimsuit had been publicly hung in Kolkata. Kolkata was stunned.

And then we come to the film songs.

Bullshit is for the vulgar West; we Indians are sensitive and, like a particularly delicate climbing rose, our sensibility has been dunged with generous doses of bulbul shit over the ages. Bulbul, of course, is the Arabic, Urdu and Hindi word for the nightingale, a bird with such a ubiquitous – some say obnoxious presence in the lyric poetry of all the aforesaid languages that Bollywood lyricists caught the infection early on and continued to churn out bulbul shit by the film and by the LP long after Helen and Saira Banu had made the Eastern world take a quantum leap by sporting western swimwear.

But even as Sharmila Tagore was demonstrating how an Indian girl could wear a hipster sari and still be coy in no less depraved a place than Paris (a lot of An Evening in Paris, 1967, was shot on location), Mohammad Rafi was charming our pants off by singing the corresponding film songs – well, let me just repeat what a particularly sacrilegious friend of mine once said: “If God were to sing, He’d be singing like Rafi Saab.” And when Rafi Saab sang, you didn’t listen to the words, thank God.

Because you’d be listening to the worst kind of sentimental, tearjerking tripe that intelligent, goodlooking and hardworking Indian women have ever been subjected to – or made the subject of. There will be the standard references to her ‘soft lips’ and ‘silky hair’; you can ‘drown’ in her eyes, unless they are busy discharging ‘bijli’ (which can mean anything from lightning to electric sparks); the same eyes could also be shooting arrows at your ‘heart’, which shatters so easily, being made out of ‘glass’; ultimately all you want is to rest in the ‘shadow of her eyelashes’.

The hero, in such songs, is always the suffering hero and rarely the conquering hero (unless it’s Shammi!). He is mostly ‘on the road’, whether as a traveller or as a vagabond, is not clear but he is on the lookout for a ‘home’. All these women have been breaking his heart in the past, and the last in line is none other than his ‘murderess’. She is also a temptress whose eyes are like wine glasses and whose looks are like heady wine. Finally, the hero is ‘mad’ with love – hence the heroine, together with the rest of the world, have to suffer his antics on grounds of insanity, not inanity, please note.

That, roughly, is the gist of approximately forty thousand Hindi film songs. The rest of the inanity comes from the fruitless attempt to express such sentiments in English. Don’t worry, English pop songs have had their own quota of banality and inanity since Elvis’ desire to turn into a teddy bear and Cliff Richard’s desire to play with a Living Doll. Sex object in the West, love object in the East and paedophilia East & West – what a deal for women.

Back in the glory days, I was sitting with my then girlfriend in the Eden Gardens, Kolkata, actually named after the Bibilical Garden of Eden, as you can read in the Wikipedia. Well, we were sitting on the grass when I started singing Rafi’s Chhoo Lene Do Nazuk Hothoñ Ko for some reason, not karaoke, really singing. My pretty & very modern/liberated/emancipated girlfriend heard my rather wobbly rendition of Let Me Touch Your Soft Lips and just melted.

I ascribe it to Rafi Saab to this day.

Love & Sex II

In India, boys get too much love and too little sex; in the West, they get too much sex and too little love – or that, at least, has been my impression after spending half my life in India and the other half in Germany.

To begin with, the Indian boy-child grows up packed in the cotton wool of familial affection like a beetle kept in a matchbox – until somebody opens the box and lets him out to face the realities of life, among them, the separation & segregation of the sexes, though things have unwinded and people are less uptight these days, I’m told. I can only vouch for the way things used to be – which was bad.

In a book of mine – unpublished, needless to say – which I, modest as I am, thought of billing as ‘The Catcher in the Rye of a Calcutta Childhood’, I smuggled in the apology: ‘This is a book about boys; that’s why it’s all about girls.’ I grew up in the days of sexual apartheid. They wouldn’t let me in for the annual fair at my sisters’ school – a girls school – years before I developed those proverbial three hairs on the chin. At my mother’s college – the girls college where she used to teach – I was only allowed to go to the office (staffed by elderly males) and send word to my mother that her son (with more than the three hairs on his chin at the last count) was waiting for her outside the college gate. I might as well have gone to a medieval convent for novitiating nuns where they’d have asked me to wait on the drawbridge over the moat while somebody went looking for the abbess.

In my own college – one of the best and a co-ed college at that, a rarity in those days – I’ve seen the girls run 100 metres in saris at the college sports; otherwise the girls used to play badminton (likewise in saris) behind raised tarpaulin screens in winter. Oh, that was not because they were so demure, but because of the wind and to keep the feathers from landing all over the place, you think? I’ll stick to my theory that it was because the girls were so demure – or maybe we boys were so demure, who knows & who cares. Decency was decency, even if we waited for the sari runners to take a toss or got shouted at for taking a peep through the gaps in the tarpaulin at zenana badminton being played with more gusto than was seemly.

Love meant a long courtship commencing in the first year of college and lasting right through B.A and M.A. – at times even through the doctoral & post doctoral phases & stages – until one got a job and was in a position to marry. The sex thing came afterwards, after marriage: you’d sweated and slogged for around nine years by then, first at your ‘studies’ and then at ‘love-making’, in your spare hours. Don’t worry, Bengali love-making used to be as harmless as Johnson’s baby powder – wrong image! It was the kind of love-making that produced bad poetry instead of bonny babies. Friends patted you on the back and called you a lucky dog if a bonny lass so much as smiled at you in the corridor or in the library – the former sunlit, the latter gloomy as the gloaming but both romantic as hell as the setting for your first timorous, amorous encounter.

We were deprived, in other words.

Yes, deprivation was our privation. We learnt English because we didn’t get sex; we did well in Physics because we did not get sex. We were innocents. We did not know that once you get a bit of sex, you’ll have the feeling that you’re not getting enough of it and worse – that feeling will not go away. You’ll be a good, honest, virtuous, dutiful and well-behaved bank officer, say, for the rest of your life, marry and get promotions, go on holidays and raise children – with the secret ambition fermenting in your mind that you’re going to live like Hugh Hefner in his Playboy Mansion till ninety in your next life. Life, not wife, that’s what you’ll ask for the next time; gimme sex and not love – you’ll be telling the powers of darkness.

Now look at your western counterpart. If your problem was deprivation, then his is surfeit. He’s practically been bathing in girls from kindergarten upwards. He is practically never without girls or without women, unless it’s in the men’s locker room or in the gents toilet – where his father took him for the first time on a kind of male pilgrimage cum initiation ceremony when our young Lochinvar was still a babe in arms. Not that it helped, as we shall see.

Take the girls in Lochinvar’s class who seem to have been clamouring for Love from the age of Teletubbies onwards. And now our poor boy, who just happens to be goodlooking but dresses as if he’s borrowed the bedclothes off a rather careless hobo, can’t keep the girls from falling for him like ninepins, do whatever he might to cool them down; they hound him for Romance on the Facebook & clog his mobile with messages. And then the cruellest cut of them all: they crowd the gym & behave like cheerleaders on steroids when he’s taking a few baskets in his shorts – in short, our boy feels that he’s being treated as a love object.

But there’s this short, sweet, bespectacled girl in his class who takes the same tram to school – she’s dared to look at him twice during the whole of the past week and she’ll probably take another month before she finds the courage to say hi, even if she’s from the same class. She’s the only girl in his class the colour of whose underwear is still unknown to our hero – she never having flashed the same – what the hell, he hasn’t even seen her knees and not because he was being inattentive but because that’s the kind of clothes she wears: any grandmother would have found them très chic.

The number 66 has arrived. The girl gets into the tram the way a mouse disappears inside a mousehole. Quick as a cat, our hero dives in after her but where is she? She’s pretending to be invisible, which cannot deter our hero from giving her a smile of the energy-saving kind, as per EU regulations. And she has no choice except to smile back. A world-shattering, world-ending romance is about to begin which will last at least half the term, if not longer. Look, she’s texting about it already to her current Best Friend Forever.

As I was saying, in India, the boys get too much love and too little sex whereas in the West, it’s the other way round. But things are changing, they tell me.

Love’s story

The only literature Nobel laureate of India, Rabindranath Thakur aka Tagore, went and wrote a love story at the age of 67, some fifteen years after he had received the Nobel prize, which was back in 1913, the year that my father was born and Albert Camus was born and so on.

Sesher Kobita or The Last Poem was a Tagore kind of love story. The way Amit Ray, the bar-at-law from England, Bengali inellectual and iconoclast, courts Labannya, a ‘love object’ if ever there was one – just as women object to being treated as ‘sex objects’ these days – Amit is perhaps the worst kind of narcissistic romance-fantasizer in the guise of a woman-fancier ever conceived by man or pen – to plague women.

I must say in Amit’s defence that it’s Tagore’s daydream that we are dealing with. Nevertheless, to show Labannya sitting in the garden leaning against an eucalyptus (!) while the squirrels come to pick bits of walnut thrown by her – Tagore describes them as ‘hand-fed’ by Labannya – whereas I’ve seen these kritters behaving in a most obstreperous manner in Hyde Park, London, where they jump on to your shoe and hang by the crease of your trousers till you feed ’em… I mean, the Labannyas of today (eighty-seven years later) would have been up in arms hadn’t it been for the fact that Labannya dumps Amit in the end for a duller but more reliable and vastly more grateful nonentity called – you don’t want to know the name. Further, the ‘last poem’ of the title is not Amit’s but Labannya’s – and not just the last but the best poem in the lot.

So does Labannya win and Amit lose? There’s this undercurrent of competition between the two – or maybe there aren’t two, there’s only Amit and his daydream; maybe not even Amit and his daydram but Tagore and his daydream. As usual, when you read a love story written by a man – it’s a wonder women don’t laugh outright when they read the stuff men come up with, you know, about Labannya in the mellow morning sunlight among the misty Shillong hills feeding the squirrels – poor girl would have been ten times more worried about the spread of her sari on the grass; whether she should keep her sandals on or whether taking them off would be too much for Amit’s weak nerves; and, above all, how was she going to get up from the wet grass and not have Amit looking at her from behind and so on.

Women worry about things – well in advance – that men dream of, life has taught me. Women don’t improvise. You have to tell them from time to time that they are ‘spontaneous’ – huh, I’d like to see the woman who falls in love at first sight! A woman is merely mildly curious at first sight: is that hag hovering around him his wife or his mother? Ah, sister, is it? He’ll have to get rid of that paunch if he’s to have anything to do with me. He’s looking this way, he should see me in profile – and so on. And don’t tell me I’m being cynical. I was raised that way. By women.

Tagore was taking on the younger generation of Bengali poets who were beginning to show signs of unrest at his long reign. His way of doing it was to concoct Amit Ray as his alter ego, who, in his turn, concocts a ‘modern’ Bengali poet called Nibaron Chakraborty, and all of them rhyme away like a chorus of crickets not giving a damn about the fact that it’s supposed to be a novel. But that’s not how Tagore proves his modernity.

In The Last Poem, Tagore sets up Amit Ray as the archetype of the privileged, upper class, English-educated Bengali Romantic and then dismantles him while Labannya is like the moon rising at sundown, glow instead of glory, gentleness instead of passion. Women used to join the cloister in the olden days, Labbanya gets married and says goodbye to Amit and romantic love! She’s going to make herself useful! She gets married as she’d join an NGO!

I know where Tagore went wrong: in calling it The Last Poem, as if there can be a last poem – or a last word – in Love. A love poem will eternally be The Last But One Poem. Think of what the pill did to all the old plot lines for novels, from the romantic to the detective. Remember the old Frank Sinatra song? Love and marriage, love and marriage / They go together like a horse and carriage / This I’ll tell you brother / You can’t have one without the other.

You bet they can! And they can have love ’n sex too, all before, after and during marriage. The horse is inside the carriage these days, brother, ever heard of a thing called the motor car?

Mika’s Blog (2): Love

We have a slight difference of opinion on that point. Mika is – theoretically – in love with every hot bitch anywhere in the world, or at least in Plittersdorf. (I used to be just as bad when I was young, I seem to remember, but that’s neither here nor there). Otherwise Mika is as non-discriminatory as a draft constitution when it comes to – er, hot bitches viz. age no bar, colour no bar and race no bar, even looks no bar, the only bar being possibly the species. The lady in question should at least be canine, I’d always thought, until I saw Mika trying to cajole – not coerce – one of Kasia’s elder sister’s cats into playing doctor games with him – and getting a bloody nose in the process.

Talking of coercion, there’s no coercion in love in the canine world. Dogs are gentlemen, as a rule, and will never bite a female. I’ve seen tiny female dogs yap away huge hulks of boxers WP_20160220_13_08_22_Proand huskies. Especially when she’s ‘hot’, it’s the female who does the choosing. I’ve heard of a male dog sodomising another male dog just to show who’s king – it was a Leonberger that did it to a German Shepherd. And I’ve seen three male dogs – including Mika – pile on to the back seat of a tiny Fiat in hot pursuit of a lady’s – hot – West Highland terrier. Took self and two other passers-by to untangle the heap, I remember.

A question that I often ask Mika is: Do you have no shame? What is shame? Mika says. There is no shame in love and hunger – Mika says. There is no shame in bites, scratches, yelps and ultimately running away with your tail between your legs. There is no shame in licking your wounds – and other things – in public or in private. And to live for another day and another bitch (to steal Scarlett O’Hara’s punchline).

You see, love and survival are absolutely interrelated issues in the canine view of existence. You need a pack to survive. The pack has to love you – especially if you’re not the alpha dog, who rules by fear. You might be the lowest in the pecking order – originally discovered among chicken – but you still need to be loved, because they’ll bite you out of the pack otherwise, which is the same as death. Ergo, the opposite of love is death. Death is the difference between a little love and no love. Ultimately one dies of lovelessness.

That is why me and Kasia – short for Katarzyna – we form Mika’s pack. As such Mika is ecstatic every time one of us returns, even if it’s just from the cellar or from taking out the trash. In the canine view of life, danger begins right from the stairwell and we – or one of us – might be eaten up by rabbits or squirrels or moles or any or all of those creatures of the dark the moment we set foot outside the door of the flat. Mika never believes when we tell him that we’re just going to do the groceries and will be back in half-an-hour. He assumes the worst. That way he’s just happy to see us – alive. What a simple way of being happy.

Conversely, if we ever happen to leave him with the dog sitter for more than three days, say, he waits for the first 24 hours, mourns for the next 24 and then assumes that we are dead and that he needs a new pack – what luck, he has got a new pack or what’s a dog sitter for! He just transfers his love from the dead to the one who is alive and well and giving him his food and collecting his droppings and wiping his ass if necessary – as simple as adopting a child from the Third World, only the other way round.

Joke is, Mika will be mourning for the dog sitter for the first two days after his return, making us despair – has Mika stopped loving us? No, he has to begin trusting us all over again, trusting that we won’t get lost and go missing and put him through the whole ordeal of re-arranging his loyalties – the other name of love – all for the sake of survival.

It is of course Kasia – short for Katarzyna, which again is naturally only a nom de guerre (French), Künstlername (German) or stage name (English) – who is Mika’s real love. Kasia was supposed to be my real love too, or that’s what I’d told her at the time of our marriage. And then Laura came along, around a year later, weighing just three kilos and two hundred grammes and I had to tell Kasia that I’d married her under false pretences, the real love of my life was Laura. And then when Laura was around eight or nine, Gypsy came along – that’s Mika’s predecessor and a Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen, Mika being a Grand or a larger version of the same…

Ever seen a Basset Griffon? The longest thing about Mika are his ears. He’s a large dog on short legs. When he trots his front part, middle part and the rear sway from side to side like an Indian goods train on wobbly rails. His paws look as if they’d been designed for baroque furniture. He’s got mournful eyes, a mouth full of dangerous teeth and bad smell and a tail like an ensign. He chases everything from flies in the living room to public buses on the road. And he’s got a voice as deep as Nat King Cole’s – with a touch of Sinatra.

As I said, Kasia is Mika’s true love. I love him desperately but that’s of no consequence. Nothing is of any consequence, it seems. I had this strange dream about Mika going to heaven – heaven looking exactly like our small and dingy flat in Plittersdorf, complete with the nondescript surroundings of an erstwhile fishing village – well, Mika had gone to heaven and who do you think comes along to greet him and says: ‘Hullo, Mika, welcome to Heaven. I’m God.’

‘Is that so?’ Mika replies, ‘Nice to meet you. Have you seen Kasia anywhere?’

That, I realise, is love. Neither divine, nor human, just canine.

Mika’s blog

Not that Mika has started blogging. Mika never blogs. He doesn’t write or speak. He barks from time to time. He gobbles things from the wayside which have been lying there for some time. And then he throws up if it disagrees with him. He eats grass in repentance. The ‘leaves of grass’ – Whitman would have been pleased – travel all the way through Mika’s tummy and come out at the other end. You can’t blog about such things. Wonder whether I can.

Mika is not his real name. His real name is Lucien l’honneur du pied and he’s got an ancestry considerably longer than mine. It’s a French nWP_20150828_20_13_18_Proame which I guess means ‘honour on foot’. Mika is a Grand Basset Griffon Vendéen. His mother, Emmy, used to live in the forests of Westerwald – with Mika’s breeder. Emmy was taken to her ‘husband’ in France, who did a quick one day stand with her, before snarling her away! No wonder nobody understands anything about love, real love, romantic love, in Mika’s family. In any case, Emmy came back to Westerwald with a broken heart and a full belly – the belly got fuller by the day, until Mika and his eleven brothers and sisters saw the light of day, on the same day, being twins, if you know what I mean.

Of course not twins, since there were twelve of them. Emmy had had duodecuplets, from duodecim, that’s the Latin for twelve. I’ll call it Emmy’s dozen – from a baker’s dozen to the Dirty Dozen – and twins, for fear that she might bite me if she heard me calling her darlings – what was the word? – duodecuplets.

When we went to the breeder to pick (yes, pick, which means choose, and not pick up, which you do eight weeks later, good for the ‘socialisation’, we were told, wish I had been raised that way) – let’s start all over again, when we went to the breeder to pick Mika, Mika and his eleven twins were scattered all over the grounds, only Emmy knowing where her pups were. And then Mika fell asleep in the middle of a run, so half a dozen of his twins fell asleep on top of him, in a heap, as if they’d all been shot. So the breeder put the whole lot in an enclosure, where they promptly piled up on top of each other and went back to sleep. K. was making funny squeaking noises of delight and endearment by then. She bent down to touch one of the pixies – only to find Emmy’s cold nose in the way. Emmy did not like her brood being touched or caressed or disturbed in any way. It broke my heart to see her sitting there, barklessly, when we were taking away her smallest – by way of size – in a shoebox eight weeks later. And only a fool believes that a mother’s love – even a canine mother’s – is divisible. Or that she cannot count. We’d stolen ‘honour on foot’ from Squaw Emmy in her wigwam. Stolen goods, maybe that’s why we decided to call him Mika. And I couldn’t reconcile myself to the idea of going through life calling ‘Lucien! Lucien!’ into the shrubbery, or even exploding into ‘Lucien! Come here, you son-of-a-pig!’

‘So what shall I blog about?’ I was asking Lucien, I mean Mika.

‘Hot bitches?’ Mika suggested.

We were out for our usual walk in the Rheinaue, that’s the bit of green on the Rhine which is Bonn’s saving. ‘How can I blog about hot bitches,’ I protested, ‘when I don’t even know which ones are hot?’ Mika has told me that to write ‘in heat’ is sexist and impolite.

‘Can’t you smell?’ Mika said. ‘In that case, just watch me.’ I watched him with his nose to the aft of an absolute beauty of a Bobtail, around three sizes larger than him. It took more time to remove Mika from Ms Bobtail’s stern than it has taken me to write this blog.

And then I had the pleasure of watching Mika bark away an absolutely harmless and sweet cocker spaniel who was trying to be friendly. ‘Why did you do that?’ I asked Mika.

‘Oh, she’s just a bitch. And not even hot,’ Mika said nonchalantly.

‘What d’you mean? I thought she was charming.’

‘Bollocks,’ Mika said, pausing briefly to lick the objects in question. ‘You thought the lady at the other end of the leash was a doggess, didn’t you? Ha, ha.’

And thereby hangs a tail.