Paws and their stars

Ashok K Banker

How does a writer express his pooch love? Well, it has to be emotional, loving and from the heart…here, reputed mythology writer Ashok K Banker shares his pooch love. Excerpts.

Ashok K Banker with Willow

Willow is my boss lady. She knows when I’m writing and waits me out patiently (with a few impatient interruptions!). But when I’m home and free she knows it at once and demands attention. I work from home except for meetings and travels and she is so used to me being around most of the time that she can’t stand me being away for a whole day…,” says the talented author Ashok Banker. Before you think who Willow is…he adds, “She barks and scolds me terribly if I come back late. But if I’m away on a trip (she knows because she sees me take a carry-bag or suitcase) then she lathers me with love when I come back.”

Yes, Willow is the beautiful Basset Hound in the life of Ashok, an internationally acclaimed author of mixed-race based in Mumbai. His Epic India Library is a lifetime writing plan that aims to retell all the major myths, legends and history of the Indian sub-continent in an interlinked cycle of over 100 volumes. This includes the Ramayana Series, Krishna Coriolis, the Mahabharata Series, the contemporary Kali Rising thriller series and other works. His books have sold over 1.85 million copies in 13 languages and 58 countries worldwide. No wonder he is credited with the resurgence of mythology in Indian publishing.

Pooch love…

And the tale of Ashok’s pooch love is also interesting to share. “Oh, I’m a born animal, bird and nature lover. How can anyone not be? We are just two-legged animals too after all. We share this world, we don’t own it. We are all siblings traveling on this great Ark called Earth and we should respect and love our fellow travelers. It’s not just selfless love either. This entire planet’s eco-system is based on loving one another. Only by co-existing symbiotically can all our myriad species prosper and proliferate and keep the planet flourishing. As for dogs, someone once said – Dogs are human beings at their best. That is so true. They are such beautiful lovely creatures,” he shares.

First pet…

“When I was a boy I had a Cocker Spaniel named Tippu who died before he became a year old. It broke my heart and I never owned a pet afterwards. But during the brief time that Tippu was in my life, it was wonderful. As an only child raised by a single mother who was often away for weeks or even months on end, it was great to have a companion who was loyal to me to a fault, played games all day without tiring, and followed everywhere I went. I miss him even today, the little fellow. He got tick fever and had to be put down as he was suffering terribly but I cried and didn’t want to let him go,” he shares sadly.

Another pet…decades later…

“Once I was married, my wife disliked animals so refused to have one in the house. It was only when our son and daughter were in their late teens and pleaded with her for one that I chipped in and convinced her. That was how Willow came into our lives. She’s a pure-breed Basset Hound with a strong genealogy going back several generations but by some genetic quirk her litter inherited more Hound qualities than Beagle or Dachshund (those are the three breeds who were interbred by the French aristocracy in medieval times to create the Basset Hound for hunting). We don’t really care about breeding. We love strays equally. But Willow has a beautiful red coat and gets many admiring looks and compliments from other pet parents. She is not just a part of the family, she is like the matriarch! She bosses over all of us, especially me. And we love it,” he shares with a twinkle in his eyes.

On asking about who Willow loves most, Ashok replies, “She’s closest to me because I have always been her primary care-giver. I’ve stayed up all night sleeping by her side when she was sick, no matter how messy it was, and I am as loyal as a dog to her. She, on the other hand, being a Basset Hound is notoriously stubborn and snobbish and rarely comes when called – a Basset only catches a ball if it’s coming towards her, doesn’t like to chase it! It’s always a challenge to keep her exercising because they tend to get very lazy and fat but it’s good for me too and I enjoy it. Even at six years old, she is one of the most active and playful Basset Hounds.”

And that’s not all, Ashok keeps watching on Willow’s health, exercise, diet but his wife oversees her feeding and nutrition now because she’s a very fussy eater. “My wife, daughter and I take turns brushing, grooming her but I always bathe her and keep her free of ticks or infections and mostly it’s I who take her to the clinic for nail clipping, checkups, shots or health related visits,” he adds.

Spending time with Willow…

“I probably spend too much time with her! That’s one of the upsides of being an author, self-employed, and working from home. She loves going down by the stairs – all 20 floors of them right to the lower basement of the building, then sniffing around the parking basement, walking up to the garden, doing her thing, maybe playing with a ball. Then we go for a drive, I drive, she in the shotgun seat, looking out the window, cruising slowly so she can ogle the hunky dogs – she has a fondness for young muscular yellow Labs and literally collapses at their feet if she encounters one. We stop to socialise sometimes with other dogs but she mostly prefers to just cruise. We have a favourite route I’ve been driving since she was a puppy and she knows it by heart and always turns to lick me ‘thank you’ when we take the last turn towards home. At home, after she eats, she likes me to throw an empty plastic bottle around while she chases it. She tries to catch it and bite the cap off and I have to take it away before she can catch it. Then she gets a treat or two and settles down,” tells Ashok.

Crazy antics…

“Bassets are pretty sedate but when she was younger she used to have this tendency to go diving into any water body she saw. She jumped into puddles, potholes, a swimming pool at a resort once! The swampy pond on the Lokhandwala Back Road. The ocean of course but that’s different,” he adds playfully.

What Willow likes…

“I’m always there for her. I never pass the buck or hand her off to anyone. I’ve avoided long trips because of her for years. I have never kenelled her or left her with anyone else. I don’t believe in punishment training; only in positive reinforcement. I trained her using love,

making her realise that behaving well would please me and make me happy,” he quips in.

On vacations…

Ashok has taken Willow on vacations for a few times but he laments that good pet friendly resorts are so hard to find. “She gets a bit tired of long drives as she’s getting older but when she was young she loved them. One time we all five went to a resort (me, wife, son, daughter and Willow) and there was a small pool there that was not meant for pets of course,” he remembers.

On responsible pet parenting…

“Your pet is as much your child as your two-legged children. Treat them the same way: with love and respect. They will always reward you with more than you give. Dogs yield the highest return on investment of love you will ever make!” concludes Ashok Banker.

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