Downward This Dog is not the kind of book I’d usually pick up while browsing shelves in a bookstore. I think most readers will admit to having a sweet spot (that’s usually anything historical or dealing with WWII for me). Still, it’s always good to venture out of our comfort zones and pick something up that we otherwise wouldn’t, to visit an unfamiliar theme for a moment and help expand our knowledge from the comfort of our reading nooks. This is what Downward This Dog brought to the table for me.
In Downward This Dog Sanjay Talreja tells the fictional stories of immigrants coming from different parts of India who, for various reasons, have decided to start a new life in Canada. Even though the stories are fictional, in no way is the reality of the struggles of these characters and their loved ones in any form not real. Downward This Dog gives us an eye-opening, front seat account of the trials people face when leaving their own countries to settle somewhere else in search of better lives and better opportunities.
As a Latina, a child of immigrants, and an immigrant myself, it wasn’t hard for me to relate to these characters. Even though my own background was so culturally different from that of the characters in these stories, it was easy for me to step into their shoes and understand on a personal level the pains these people went through after leaving a country they’d never before planned to leave, but who saw themselves forced to due to circumstances outside of their control.
Downward This Dog is the host to six short stories in total: “The Kick,” “Postcards,” “Downward This Dog!”, “Big Ticket,” “Love Is All There Is,” and “Postcards 2.” Although, for me, personally “Downward This Dog!”—the story that also carries the main title—is the star of the show.
“Downward This Dog!” is told in the stream of consciousness style through the journal of Rukhsar, a Pakistani girl attending university in Canada. Through her eyes and her own unique voice, we experience firsthand the frustration the short-sightedness of the natives of the country we’re residing in can bring. We feel the exasperation of seeing someone appropriating our culture, using it as a prop to seem more cultured without really taking the time to understand what it means to us and our own particular human history. We inhabit the helplessness and guilt of seeing our family suffer the consequences of political turmoil while being far away and not being able to do anything to help them.
Here Sanjay Talreja’s talent shines brightest as he submerges us in Rukhsar’s authentic voice so that she feels as real as anyone living and breathing. She writes in her journal as a form of therapy, to help her decompress from the pressures, not just of being a young woman with any young woman’s real-life problems such as dealing with love, friends, school, work and life in general, but also to help her deal with the added stress that comes with living far away from the only place you’ve ever called home.
Although “Downward This Dog!” stands out of the compilation for me, the other stories also have their own unique charm. What really pulls them together into one same roof is the way in which they all delve insightfully into the lives of people so real they could very well be real human beings. Sanjay Talreja’s stories in Downward This Dog are deep but also light. They’re casual enough that you don’t need days to process them and yet they have enough depth and layers which makes them entertaining while at the same time giving you some food for thought to chew on.
The stories are all very undramatic, but that’s actually where their magic lies. They are microscopic looks into the sad reality of the disappointment of these immigrants who gave up everything they’d ever known to move to a country that promised them a life beyond their dreams but were left with only a little more than what they had back in their native countries. We get a peek into their otherwise, as seen from the surface, mundane lives. But they’re written with the delicate tact of a writer who understands it’s in the day-to-day that the immigrant fights his real fight. His talent shines in showing how the otherwise commonplace and ordinary is not commonplace and ordinary at all. They are but the stitches that we sow into the very fabric of our lives. Every immigrant knows the struggle of trying to puncture ourselves into a brand new, never before touched fabric, and the stress that follows in hoping the stitches hold. Especially when trying to integrate ourselves into a society that claims to understand and want to help us but yet often, without realizing it, only ends up doing the opposite.
So although this isn’t the sort of book I’m usually attracted to, I’m glad it made its way into my life. Downward This Dog is a good place to start if you’re looking to expand your reading palette. It does an honorable job of representing and bringing insight into a minority culture without ramming it down our throats. Its great strength lies in that the author has the talent to captivate with his words so that even when he’s telling you the simple story of an immigrant and potential restauranteur who’s seeking financial investment from a local dentist, you find yourself turning each page eager to know what happens next.