Dogs usually live for some ten to thirteen years. Small sized breeds may live a little longer, but the bigger the size, the smaller the lifespan. So I decided that within the lifetime of my pet dog Sukhu Mian I would like to go with him beyond the confines of Dhaka and travel all over Bangladesh; our motto would be to see and relish the sights and sounds of our country.
However, traveling with a dog in Bangladesh can't be stress-free. Journeying with a canine companion can, indeed, be immensely challenging. And this is what I found as I took Sukhu Mian to distant places of the country.
Sukhu Mian was only one year and a month old when we went from Dhaka to Sreemangal to see the land synonymous with tea. We could only travel by public transportation vehicles, but this turned out to be quite troublesome and challenging a way. The first problem we faced, in fact, was when a CNG taxi driver flatly refused to take us in. Suku Mian was a dog; why would he want to go to Kamalapur Rail Station in the first case and why should the driver take him there?
Sukhu Mian, however, is always eager to get inside vehicles when close to them. When I was talking to the CNG taxi driver about going to the rail station, his front legs were already on its door. He was dying to get inside and took in the exchange between the driver and me eagerly. But the man said: “I'll not take the dog inside my taxi; that will be blasphemy.” I wished then that Sukhu Mian would not be able to follow our exchange. I remained calm and quiet though for my dog always has a calming effect on me.
After talking to the drivers of a few more CNG vehicles, (with some I couldn't agree because they wanted so much more than the actual fare) we eventually found one who was ready to take us in at a reasonable bargain. The rest only asked exorbitant fares because of the dog. I wondered then: did Sukhu Mian feel guilty about causing me such stress?
Our journey was going to be in several phases. But the first phase that was to take us to the station already set the mood for the rest of the journey: we would be aggravated elsewhere too!
Nevertheless, we finally reached Kamalapur Rail Station so that we could take the morning train to Sreemangal. Our tickets were already booked, but inexperienced as I was in such situations, I realized my blunder at this point. I had booked tickets for a regular compartment – hoping to hold the dog in my lap –where many other passengers would be sharing it with me. I had held him in my lap on similar occasions before when we had gone to all sorts of places with Sukhu Mian by public transportation. But he was a puppy then and had now become a big dog; holding him in my lap throughout a long journey was clearly being too ambitious. Also, no dog can sit in any one place without moving sooner or later, and this is the case even if he is on one's lap.
However, it wasn't Sukhu Mian's size that caused us trouble when we got inside the compartment. The problem on this occasion arose because two men objected audibly to the presence of a dog in the compartment. They kept on objecting loudly, saying that they had children with them who were afraid of the dog. They asked us rudely to get down from the train.
Contrary to these men's claim though, it was clear to me that most of the children in the compartment were not afraid of Shukhu. Their demeanor said it all. They clearly liked him; a few even approached him with a smile and tried to pat him. Children often can be quite caring and down to earth too. Moreover, the ones in the compartment seemed to have taken to Sukhu Mian in a short time. Sukhu, let me point out now, is a Golden Retriever, a breed ranked very highly by dog experts for its friendliness with humans, especially young ones. No doubt a few can be quite fearsome, but there was no such creature in the compartment.
Meanwhile, the train guards came and joined the loud voiced gentlemen. After some discussion, the guards, however, asked me to go with them to discuss the situation. They took us to a small cabin at the end of the train. This was for the train staff and had two seats and a little space in the front; one could even stretch out and move in it. There was a fan as well. For us I think it was cozy in the sense that we could take refuge here. And I realized there and then, we could do so if we gave some extra money to the guards for their cabin.
On our way back to Dhaka, I didn't blunder again. This time I booked a big regular cabin for the two of us. Although the traveling ticket examiner (TTE) said at first that dogs should be sent to dog boxes, he didn't make fuss at the presence of the dog in the cabin. If you may ask me, certainly, I don't ever want to send him to a dog box and travel without him. Sukhu Mia's place is with me—when I travel and wherever I want to go!
But let me return to our trip to Sreemanhgal. SukhuMian's eyes told me there that he had fallen in love with it. And during the journey and back he seemed to have found great comfort in the endless lush fields and plants of the land, all rejuvenated by the recent rains. Shukhu Mian seemed to have gained a new life because of his pastoral experiences, which were very different from the city ones!
On another journey, Sukhu saw the banks of the Meghna. That was a journey by train too. He was very small and young then—only four months old—and I had to hold him in my lap almost all the time. While traveling to Bhoirab of Kishoreganj on this occasion, I saw a lady and two gentlemen in the train looking disapprovingly at us. One of the men even told me that Sukhu Mian was going to pollute the compartment by just being there; many of the onlookers nodded in agreement at this solemn pronouncement. These people kept searing us with their slighting remarks as the train moved on. Both my companion and I pretended as if we had not heard a word. After leaving Bhoirab Station, we walked to the riverbank through roads that were less traveled by. There we met people from the lowest strata of the society, mostly in rags. Strangely enough, these people were quite kind and sympathetic to us. As we moved on, crossing the Meghna River next from Bhoirab to Ashuganj, and then to Brahmanbaria by an engine boat, we found that the boatmen simply loved Sukhu Mian. On the banks, many stray people and children came to pat him. My faith in humanity was somewhat restored by their gestures. All of them acted like his relatives. One of the aged men even said, “Dogs are better!” Before I could ask the wise man “better than whom or what?” he just vanished into the dusty street.
From Brahmanbaria we came back to Dhaka by bus, but once again it proved quite hard to board one. In fact, the ticket man of one bus denied us entry only because one of us was a dog. However, we got another one after waiting for a while. I had to take one extra seat for him even though Sukhu Mian was so little then that he didn't need it. We had taken three seats at the back of the bus: two for humans and one for a dog!
I realized soon that public transports would always be a difficult option for me if I chose to travel with Sukhu Mian throughout Bangladesh. In this connection, I would like to share our experiences of going to Chandpur and also Jahangirnagar University by private cars. On these occasions we faced no trouble at all in the streets!
I wish pet dogs along with their owners could travel across the country would be able to move freely and comfortably with the help of public transportation. As we build gigantic highways and improve our transport systems for the coming decades of the 21st century, I hope our planners will make pets part of their plans. Surely a change in attitude is called for now; humans and dogs need to cement their relationships even more for we have been coming closer and closer over time.
True, some people despise dogs when they travel with their owners on public transportation, but some love them too and would not object to them. Homeless people always welcome dogs heartily. Some of them are even willing to feed them. The middle class and upper class are divided into two opposing schools here: the majority can't appreciate dogs but a few do love them.
The fact though is that dogs have an extraordinary central nervous system that enables them to come close to us humans. They love us selflessly and without any intention of betrayal. I hope therefore that the majority in this case will soon be become a minority. One day, I hope, we will all learn to appreciate dogs and welcome them in our travels across Bangladesh.
M Shakhaowat Hossain is a Senior Lecturer of English literature and language at North South University.