Long before we knew what hand sanitiser, masking, compulsive hand-washing and social distancing meant, the residents of the pristine Sparkling Apartments, a residential complex with lowrise flats, duplex apartments and independent houses, were very particular about hygiene. Every structure, driveway, garden, lawn and even cars were kept squeaky clean. So much so that some very finicky visitors from Singapore actually passed out with shock and delight!

CCTV cameras were installed everywhere, keeping a glassy eye on anyone and everyone. And God forbid if a pet dog or cat were caught pooping and the owner did not clean and sterilise the spot instantly! It was rumoured that if the owners had not brought poopscoopers with them, they were made to clean the spot with bare hands, though this was probably fake news. At any rate, the complex had won the “Cleanest Cooperative Housing Society Award” in Delhi for four years running, which made the residents exceedingly proud.

Oddly, however, after COVID-19 struck and wearing masks outdoors became mandatory, the CCTV cameras never caught all the determined early-morning and evening exercise fanatics who power-walked or jogged around the complex (as though they were training for the Olympics) with their masks hanging at their chins, leaving their mouths and noses exposed. If the cameras did record this, no one checked or monitored them. Even if they did, nothing was done. A few people did complain – to no effect. Visitors, however, were made to go through a sanitising shower, rumoured to be sprinkled with a little Ganga jal to wash their sins before they entered.

Then, one clean and clear morning, the huffing and puffing of all the bare-faced walkers and joggers was drowned by a roar of rage and anguish that rattled the windows and shook the doors. “What the hell!” Outside his apartment, the president of the complex’s RWA, Shri Gangajal Badrinathji, stood stock still, his face as twisted as the words he was using (I will be lynched if I repeat them here!). Wearing his sparkling, brand new, white trainers, hiding his large, hairy feet, he had stepped into steamy, stinky doo-doo and had almost slipped and fallen! There was an immediate uproar!

Within minutes, all the dog owners had collected, facing off against all the cat-lovers.

“See what your wretched dogs have done! Dogs should be banned!”

“How do you know it’s dogs? It could be your precious, stupid cats!”

“Ji, can you tell us whether this is dog poo or cat poo?”

The society president took a deep breath. “It doesn’t matter whose poo it is! It is poo! My 15,000-rupee shoes are ruined! I just got them from Amma-jaan!”

“You know what?” a bright spark, who had neither dogs nor cats, suggested. “Let’s check the CCTV coverage! We’ll catch the culprit!” He smiled maliciously. “Then we can name and shame them!” The secretary, Shrimati Golgappadas, a plump lady with a deceptive soft face, said, “Oh, we can’t do that! We’ll quietly tell the person and make them cough up 10,000 rupees, half of which we’ll give to the President-ji and the other half can be used to fund the Diwali celebrations!”

“Good idea!” The members of the RWA team examined the CCTV tapes. Unfortunately, they had no clue what time the dirty deed was done, so they sat glassy-eyed in front of the monitors, playing back the coverage from 10 pm to 5 am. They all were nearly asleep when, suddenly, the monitor depicting the footage for 03.35.49 hours went blank!

“What happened?” the secretary said.

“Ah … here, it’s back again! Maybe the electricity went off!”

Now, the time on the monitor was 03.40.24 a.m. Hey! In the driveway, just in front of the president’s gate, the doo-doo lay, fresh and steamy, rich and creamy, and oh so dreamy (if you were a dung beetle, that is!). “Only mangy cats prowl around at that hour!” the dog owners snarled. “Our dogs are fast asleep at that time!”

Excerpted with permission from The Great Poop War, Ranjit Lal, illustrated by Ambika Karandika, Red Panda/Westland.