Beautiful Bella Chef’s Lil’ Girl

Vicky Ratnani has two passions in life.Food and dogs. As India’s top chef he is always cooking. And travelling and shooting for his TV shows. And when he is not doing that, he is destressing with Bella, the love of his life, says Farzana Contractor who goes visiting the Ratnanis at their home in Bombay

There are two things in life Chef Vicky Ratnani is passionate about. One you would already know; cooking, and two, dogs. Vicky says he loved dogs ever since he can remember. His earliest memory being when he was about six. It was when he and his family lived at Shivaji Park and there was a street dog he got home to live with him. Of course that wasn’t allowed, though he wept and he wept, the dog had to go. So he created a home for him in one corner of his building and made him comfortable there. He called him Tommy. “What else, could I call him? Tommy! There’s a Tommy in every child’s life!” he bursts out in his trademark, robust manner, waving his arms, making peace and victory signs, raising both his arms, signalling thumbs up, giving  a 1000 watt smile.

Digging into childhood memories Vicky says when Dabboo, his younger brother and the now famous photographer who shoots film stars wonderfully, was born, he was five. Somehow he managed to get a Pomeranian and convinced his mum to allow the pet to stay with them. But it took just two days for some other family member to banish the dog. Once again Vicky was heartbroken. He wept and wept.

So he made do with the three dogs that each of his three best friends in school, had. “That way I had three dogs though none stayed at home with me. Which was not the same,” says Vicky ruefully.

Then they shifted to Bandra where six of the building people had dogs and Vicky turned into a happy kid. “There was a Doberman, an Alsatian, a Dachshund, a Pariah and two Cocker Spaniels. That’s when I realised I loved Cocker Spaniels the most. However it took four decades for Vicky to get his very own Cocker Spaniel which was three years ago, 13 years into his marriage. And I suspect the role of Trisha, his 12-year-old daughter cannot be undermined in this accomplishment. I am just glad that history did not repeat itself and that as parents, Piya, Vicky’s wife, and he did not rule out a pet because ‘it is so taxing and time consuming to look after one’. An excuse most people give for not bringing home a pet, not realising how important it is to have one for the well-being of a growing child. “I am fully aware of that but you know, my case, when I was a child was different. We lived in a large joint family and different elders had different views, so that’s okay.  I had reconciled with that a long time ago. But I must say, when Dabboo and I moved to Lokhandwala, he did get an Alsatian, which of course went with him when he got married and which unfortunately has now passed away.

Well, all’s well that ends well and our focus now shifted to Bella, who was busy jumping from one sofa to another in search of her dumbbell. Vicky retrieved it for her from under the sofa and began playing with her, rolling on the floor, even as he started to narrate little stories about Bella who will soon be completing three years.

When they went to a pet shop around their house (called, Oh My Dog) to get her, they were interviewed for an hour by the pet shop owner, who very conscientiously wanted to make sure he was selling a pup to responsible people. An attitude I approve totally. For it is necessary for potential pet parents to understand the nuances of getting a new family member. It’s akin to bringing your baby home from the hospital.

“Bella is an angel. I love the fact that she is a girl. Girl dogs are so much nicer in temperament. My Bella is so obedient and loving. I have understood her personality. I know enough about dogs to know each one has a distinct one. Bella has a different bond with each of us,” says Vicky.

Piya, unlike Vicky has always had dogs around her. She grew up in Poona. Her knowledge of dogs is very good and it is she who is the primary care-giver to Bella.  Says Piya, “I try to understand her food needs. I serve her rice and chicken in the mornings and chicken and nuggets at night. Walks are taken care of by the servant and my daughter who is studying in standard VII. Luckily we have a terrace attached to our apartment so Bella does get to hang out in the open, in the sunshine amidst plants.”

Trisha clearly adores Bella and it was her idea to get home a dog. “Oh my God, she is so cute. I am always thinking about her. I try not to do so while I am studying though, but it is quite difficult. She is totally a part of our lives!” Trisha herself is so cute and disarmingly sincere. And she is just so careful when Bella goes up to their terrace. “I get so scared she may just jump off!” I assured her dogs are very sensible and that they instinctively know what is dangerous.

“Yes, we are all over-protective about Bella. You know, we never leave her alone. Not once have we done so. And whenever we go to Poona, she is on the road with us. She enjoys these car trips. I hope we can take her some other place too in the future,’ says Vicky.

I suggest Goa. Something I like to do with my dogs. It may be a long drive from Bombay but with about three or four breaks it most doable. Take along a picnic hamper, tea in a flask, pre-cooked food and treats for the dogs, a nice large dari to sit on wherever you find a nice shady tree in a field and you are set! Imagine how happy the dogs are when they reach Goa and have a clean beach to run around and nice ocean to swim in.

The topic turns to travel and putting your dogs in an airplane hold. “Never!” I say. And Vicky agrees. “When we feel so claustrophobic in a plane, just think of dogs! No way, man, no way can I put my Bella in a box!” Good, that ends the subject. It’s a nightmarish thought.

I ask Vicky what is the most special time he spends with Bella and this is what he says. ‘You know, when I wake up every morning, fairly early, it’s just Bella and I. For one full hour. I talk to her, play with her, she sits at my feet while I read, she comes up on the sofa and snuggles by my side, I go to make tea and she follows me. That is my special time. And I can’t tell you how precious it is. It totally destresses me. And if I am low for some reason, that is the time my spirit feels uplifted. I am so fortunate that I finally have my very own dog at home with me.”

Well, of course, every pet parent can identify with that. It’s the unfortunate ones who don’t who won’t know that feeling, until they get one themselves.

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