There was a lot to learn about how the University of Hyderabad campus functioned—how to hitchhike, where the bus routes go, what time the gates close—but over time, we picked these things up. I think the best part of getting to know campus, though, has been getting to know the many sweet and adorable stray dogs that populate it.
The first dogs we got to know were those who hang around the South Shopcom—they drifted over to us, sniffing curiously with their tails wagging. Right from the start, we, the American students, paid them much more attention than most of the Indian students, and within two weeks of our arrival on campus, they were following us up and down the South Campus road. The first one we named was Bandit, a brown-and-white spotted dog who loved to accompany us on our morning walks to yoga. Soon after, we christened Tiger, a tall, beautiful, striped dog who is the alpha of the South Campus strays and who is very protective of us SIP students. There are also Nuts and Coconuts, so named because they’re two of the few males on campus who still retain their manhood. Lingering on the outskirts of the Shopcom territory is Stumpleton—Stumpy for short—a determined but slightly skittish three-legged dog who reportedly lost his leg to a poacher’s wire trap in the forests on campus.
Elsewhere on campus, just off the main road, are the gym puppies—or rather, there were the gym puppies, since by now they’ve all grown up and left the nest. My friend Ida and I passed them every time we bicycled to the gym, and we always stopped to pet and play with them. We named three of them after Indian foods: Aam, Chapati, and Baingan, and our friend Jonny named the last one Zero.
One of the daily highlights of my direct-enroll Literature class was the arrival of Rabesh, the department dog, who would wander into the classroom, nod a friendly greeting to our professor, and then curl up in the corner to nap. There’s not much better than a class with a dog as one of its regular students.
Behold, the BEAR-RAT DOG-PIG, queen of campus. This aged matriarch reigns from F Canteen, with the face of a bear, the body of a pig, and the feet and tail of a rat. She often sits on the threshold of F Hostel late at night, glowing in the light of her throne. She’s one of the oldest dogs on campus, and many of the others are her descendants. She holds the place of greatest authority among all the strays, and also haunts the dreams of some SIP students.
A family of three siblings live in and around SIP—all three are entirely black, with bright dark eyes and pointed ears, and therefore have been named The Bats. The smallest of the three, the female, is Batunia, and her largest brother is Jimothy. The third Bat became more scarce towards the end of the semester and never received a name.
But of all the dogs on campus, none is closer to my heart than Happy, a sibling of the Bats from a different litter, whose home is SIP. Happy greets us happily every day with a joyous leap and an enthusiastically wagging tail, and happily follows us into our Hindi and Travel Writing classes. She’s intelligent and eager to engage, and it took me only three weeks to teach her to sit, lie down, and roll over. She loves everyone, and truly no name could suit her better. I will undoubtedly miss her once I’ve returned to the States.
Before I came to India, I was warned that there would be stray dogs, that they would be cute, and that I shouldn’t pet them; it was barely two weeks before I disregarded the latter advice. I know, too, that stray dogs are extremely disruptive to the natural ecosystem. Yet I can’t help loving them—they’re so friendly and sweet, and they fill the hole in my heart left from my missing my own dog, Tahoe. Without a doubt, one of the things I will miss most about the University of Hyderabad will be my many canine friends, and the delight they brought me every day I was there.