Many things made Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent trip to India – which I had the privilege of covering from there – memorable.
There was the pomp and circumstance of the welcoming ceremony at the palatial presidential palace in New Delhi, where Netanyahu was greeted by dozens of troops in regal uniform and cavalrymen on neighing horses.
There was the visit to the Taj Mahal, a great edifice if you like symmetry.
And there was the off-the-charts greeting Netanyahu received by tens of thousands of people lining the streets of Ahmedabad in the western state of Gujarat. There has never been anything like that for any Israeli official, not in Africa, not in Latin America, not in America, and not in Europe.
The closest approximation was when Golda Meir, Israel’s first ambassador to Russia, went to the Moscow Choral Synagogue on Rosh Hashana in 1948, just four months after Israel was born, and was greeted enthusiastically by some 50,000 people. But they were all Jews.
In 25 years’ time it is doubtful I will remember any of that from my India trip. What I will remember, however, is getting bitten by a stray dog on a crowded Mumbai street.
“You heard right,” I told the unbelieving Wife, who thought I was joking in a phone conversation after the bite. “Bit by a dog in India.”
Or, to paraphrase that 1966 hit song by The Bobby Fuller Four, “I fought the dog and the dog won.”
Well, I didn’t fight the dog, I – unwittingly – stepped on the dog as I was walking a side street, awed by the bustle, the smells, the colors, the cows on the side of the road, the teeming people.
A policeman yelled at me as I took a picture of a Hindu temple, wagging his finger and shouting “no picture, no picture” as if I were a tourist photographing the Western Wall on Shabbat.
Startled, I stopped and then quickly walked away, looking at a map on my phone. The streets of Mumbai are full of dogs lazily lying around. Not paying attention, eyes on my phone instead of the road, I stepped on one of them. The dog then did what dogs do: defended its paw and jawed at my ankle.
Ah jeez, I thought when I rolled up my pants leg and saw the dog penetrated the skin and drew blood. I’m no veterinarian, but I know that you don’t have to worry if there is no penetration of the skin. But if the bite does penetrate, that’s a different story altogether.
The first thing I did was wash it off. The second, of course, was to Google “dog bites in India.”
The first item that came up was a BBC report from 2016. “India has some 30 million stray mutts and more than 20,000 people die of rabies every year,” the report read. “Last year, Global Alliance for Rabies Control reported that India accounted for 35% of human rabies deaths, more than any other country.”
That was uplifting. What a way to go, I thought.
It was the last full day of Netanyahu’s trip – he was scheduled to visit the Chabad House in Mumbai for a memorial ceremony that afternoon, and then meet with the Bollywood glitterati in the evening – and the last thing I needed was to miss all that and instead run around Mumbai looking for healthcare.
“It doesn’t hurt that bad,” I thought,” I can wait a day to get back to Israel and deal with it there.”
But the more I Googled, the more I was convinced the dog was probably rabid, and the more I started to feel phantom foam forming at the corners of the mouth. Though it was midday, I thought I saw a moon and had this weird urge to howl.
“Can’t wait,” I said to myself, hearing in my head my dad’s voice urging me to “do the responsible thing.”
So, despite some embarrassment (what kind of idiot gets bitten by a dog in Mumbai?), I got in touch with the prime minister’s doctor – who was very kind – who got me in touch with the hotel doctor, who administered the initial necessary shots.
There was no small irony in all this, since I was extremely careful – nay, neurotic – about not wanting to eat anything in India. I packed five days’ worth of bread, tehina, Cheerios, salami and cups-of-soup, and vowed to stay away from the local cuisine, even the local kosher cuisine, since I heard horror stories about folks in President Reuven Rivlin’s entourage a year ago who ended up hospitalized after eating local kosher food throughout their trip.
Nope, that wasn’t going to happen to me. I had to work. No stomach problems here. I was going to be careful.
And then I stepped on Fido.Der mentsh trakht un Got lakht
(Man plans and God laughs), I thought in Yiddish – the dog bite already having an effect, since I don’t ordinarily think in Yiddish – looking for a deeper lesson in all this.
Word got around the prime minister’s entourage about the incident quickly enough, and a couple of days later – back in Israel – I got a call from the Prime Minister’s Office.
“He wants to talk to you,” the secretary said.
“Who?” I asked.
“The prime minister,” she replied.
Now there’s a call I wasn’t expecting. Though I have covered Netanyahu for years, I can honestly say he doesn’t call that frequently to shoot the breeze.
“Herb, how are you? You were bitten by an Indian dog?” he asked, warmly. “I thought everyone was friendly in India towards us. You should have said you were with me.”
“That’s right,” I replied. “Then the dog would have licked me.”
He chuckled, I laughed, and we wished each other a good day. Years from now, our memories of the same trip will be vastly different. He’ll always have the tens of thousands of Indians cheering him in Gujarat. And me, well, I’ll always have Fido.