There is a coterie of dogs who live on the street in front of the place I’ve been staying at for the last couple of days. They’re aggressive towards other dogs and some vehicles, and observing them on various occasions indicated that their choices are arbitrary. They’re mostly nonchalant towards humans, even those who step right around them to open the gates, but some humans who don’t already know this are likely to feel a little threatened.

I’ve been receiving orders of food here frequently, and I’ve gotten used to having to go downstairs to collect the parcels, because of the presence of the dogs. Almost without exception, the delivery executives call me and say, “There are many dogs.”

            I laughed to my friend the other day about how I had learned a little machismo mind-trick because of what one of the executives had done. He had claimed that six dogs had surrounded him snarlingly (I was watching the animals sleep, from a window). I told him I’d come down and receive the parcel if he was afraid. I wasn’t taunting him or anything; I’m a person full of anxieties and usually appreciate having them be taken seriously when I require help. I was not always unafraid of dogs myself, and loud barks near me still startle me.

But by the time I’d put my mask and slippers on (stay masked, folks – what you do with your feet is up to you, though), he had already come up the stairs. No problem. The fear evaporated as soon as it was named, or so it appeared. Hence, my laughter later.

But all that was before I read about the tragic case of a Swiggy delivery executive in Hyderabad, 23-year old Mohammad Rizwan, who died this week after falling from the third floor while being chased by a pet dog, a German shepherd.

            The co-existence of humans and other creatures is a delicate balance, and highly dependent on the pre-existing ecosystem. What applies in a forest will not apply in a conurbation. It was certainly the responsibility of the pet owner to ensure that the dog was not near the door when the delivery arrived. Her right to have a pet in her own home is not in doubt, but with it comes responsibility towards both the animal and other people. This requires just a routine protocol, a simple step or two to ensure everyone’s safety. It’s similar to how I anticipatorily mask up, have keys and phone within reach, and ensure I’m not braless when the app shows it’s almost time, so that I can head downstairs should the delivery executive call. Those dogs in the street are not even mine, but the decision to summon a person to bring me food, and expect them to navigate through a canine crowd, is.

            This isn’t really about dogs at all. It’s about people, and our co-existence with each other. Even as tech makes our lives more convenient, and privilege as always creates ease, the concept that every service provider is also a human being has yet to really gain ground in the world. Or at least, here.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express in January 2023. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.