Fear is not a factor that either Amruta Fadnavis or her daughter Divija share in their lives where dogs are concerned. And both have a penchant for big dogs. Amruta had Labs and German Shepherds around her as a child and now Divija has a Golden Retriever and a Dalmatian, with a tiny ‘lion’ of a Shih-Tzu thrown in for good measure. Farzana Contractor spends a morning at their home discovering their abundant canine love
“There were 10 years of my life which were dog-less and I really don’t know how I went through them!” begins Amruta Fadnavis as we settled down with some refreshing nimbu pani on the lawns of Varsha where we had just finished a hectic doggie shoot. Three of them and quite a handful, I have to admit. If Coco, the Shih-Tzu was a livewire, Softie, the Golden Retriever was most calm and sweet. But it was Fubby, the dominant Dalmatian that one had to watch out for. At one point so engrossed was I shooting young Divija, Amruta’s daughter, I didn’t even realise Fubby, behind my back, almost went for my neck! But for Amruta’s quick reaction I might have had a Draculian experience. So glad she has been a sports person with quick reflexes!
Yup, the wife of the Chief Minister of Maharashtra is one talented woman, with multiple interests and loads of passion. Dogs is only one of them. She plays tennis, she sings, she dances; has trained in both, classical singing and Bharatnatyam. And she is a successful banker who continues working with Axis Bank as Deputy Vice President, even as she manages to juggle time to keep up with the umpteen number of tasks required of her, socially, officially and personally. And she seems to do it all with a fair amount of ease and outward calm.
I think Amruta Ranade Fadnavis’ demeanour and value system must have a lot to do with two aspects; one, her upbringing and two, the fact that from a young age, meaning a toddler, she was crazy about dogs and other animals and was allowed to indulge in them.
Amruta hails from Nagpur, where she went to school at St. Joseph’s Convent and grew up with true-blue middle class values. Her parents, both from the medical world, mom, a gynaecologist and dad, an opthalmalogist, had an immense influence on her life. Her mother Charula Ranade is a National Gold Medalist at badminton. And her father who sings classical songs and loves ghazals is an ardent tennis player with who she played tennis even as a child. That is, when she wasn’t playing with their Labs, Donny and Ninj, or Rani, the German Shepherd. Rani, to who she played midwife at age nine, when she was in the IV standard. She actually watched the entire process, helped her mom deliver the pups, even wiping one of the newborns! Amazing.
“Those were really wonderful years, my growing up, always surrounded by dogs,” says Amruta nostalgically, “my parents loved dogs and they were particularly fond of Labs. Even today they have dogs at home in Nagpur. It’s something which is ingrained in me and I am so glad I am able to give this experience to my daughter who is eight years old now, but wanted a dog ever since she was just one year old!”
As it happens, Amruta who married Devendra Fadnavis in 2006 couldn’t really get a dog when they were living in Nagpur when Mr Fadnavis was an MLA, for the simple reason that there were any number of people in and out of their home, party workers and the like. Not an ideal situation for a pet which could get rather high-strung with visitors all day long. These are the 10 years she refers to as the ‘dog-less’ years. “That was certainly not a conducive atmosphere to have dogs around. Both the people and the dogs would not have been happy,” she laughs. “So when we moved to Mumbai and there was more space and fewer people coming home, I decided we could now, finally, bring home some darling dogs.”
But she informs the choice of breed lay with Divija, who Googled intensely to study and understand which ones she wanted. And although she wanted a Beagle, they couldn’t track one down and her next choice, a Shih-Tzu came home, followed by the Golden Retriever and then the Dalmatian.
Divija is a smart kid who studies at Cathedral. Her love for her dogs is pretty apparent. When I asked her why she wanted a dog, prompt came her reply, “Because they make perfect friends!” and added, “They wont ever betray…” And again when I questioned what did she understand by ‘betray’, she replied, “They will never do bad. If you feed them and look after them and love them, they will be with you forever.” Yes, young lady, you are absolutely right. Love begets love. And in this case, it is pure and unconditional.
Says Amruta, “ Honestly, I am so happy the way my daughter has taken to her pets. And I can actually see the sense of responsibility taking on. She returns from school and goes straightaway to see them. She is caring and loving towards them and is in total empathy.”
Coco lives inside the house, in his own room, whereas Softie and Fubby have their own kennels in a large enclosed play area where a police dog handler, Sujit Gorpade comes in every morning and stays put till night time. He feeds them and walks them, gives them enough exercise.
I believe, since Coco lives inside the bungalow at Varsha, Softie and Fubby don’t much care for him. And so they have to be kept away from each other. Even the photoshoot had to be conducted likewise. Only when we were done with Softie and Fubby did Coco came into the frame!
Guess you have to pay a price for certain privileges. Coco has the creature comforts, but it’s Softie and Fubby who have the luxury of friendship.
So does Coco get to meet the visitors to Varsha? “Oh, don’t ask,” says Amruta, “Once a meeting was going on and suddenly Coco jumped in. Seeing him, Deven (CM to you and me) jumped and a whole lot of other politicians jumped! It was quite crazy!!”
Which leads me to enquire, ‘Apart from the occasional drama, does the CM get to meet up with the dogs?’ Amruta throws back her head and laughs, “Aarey, he doesn’t get to see us, so they are far away!”
Which leaves me to get back to Divija, who is full of charming stories.
According to her they are all very naughty, “Especially Coco who likes to take my chappals and play with them! He even runs away with the bathroom mats!” exclaims the child. Adding, “He makes these cute faces and makes us give him treats. Softie is very obedient, listens, follows rules, ‘Sit, stay’ and so on. But Fubby jumps on me, he does not listen to anyone! He also scares away crows and cats and chases flies! He goes mad in his own way.”
It’s amazing what having a dog around can do for a child. I wish there were more moms like Amruta who understand the role these pets play in the overall development of children.
Will you believe it when I tell you here is a child, meaning Divija, all of eight, who has had dogs as pets since she was five and who was even bitten by one of them and had to take three injections and is yet not put off or wary of them. Who in fact says, it was not Softie’s fault but her own, that the accident occured and that she loves him all the same…
Wow! Hats off to both, mother and daughter. May their tribe increase.