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Year : 2021  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 224-225

The curious incident of the dog in the nighttime

Fellow of the Indian Academy of Pediatrics, Developmental Behavioural Pediatrician, New Horizons Child Development Centre, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Date of Submission09-Aug-2021
Date of Decision10-Aug-2021
Date of Acceptance10-Aug-2021
Date of Web Publication31-Aug-2021

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Samir Hasan Dalwai
Fellow of the Indian Academy of Pediatrics, Developmental Behavioural Pediatrician, New Horizons Child Development Centre, Mumbai, Maharashtra
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ipcares.ipcares_251_21

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How to cite this article:
Dalwai SH. The curious incident of the dog in the nighttime. Indian Pediatr Case Rep 2021;1:224-5

How to cite this URL:
Dalwai SH. The curious incident of the dog in the nighttime. Indian Pediatr Case Rep [serial online] 2021 [cited 2021 Oct 24];1:224-5. Available from: http://www.ipcares.org/text.asp?2021/1/3/224/325094

It was a rainy September evening in 2009. A national developmental pediatrics conference had just concluded; some of us had taken Jane McGrath, Catherine McClain, and Pat Osbourn, faculty from the University of New Mexico to dinner, and Anand Shandilya was regaling them with one lovely anecdote after another. The subject veered toward books and Anand brought up Mark Haddon's “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.” The three were great fans of the book and an animated conversation flowed. Soon after, I bought myself a copy. Normally, I am skeptical about reading books on “conditions.” Some are self-indulgent, some too specific, and rarely leave you any better learning about the subject. But to have received such exalted reviews meant this one deserved a closer look. In 2009, I had just begun to look at children with autism at our clinics. Autism enjoys the unflattering distinction of being perhaps the most misunderstood condition (un) known to mankind. No wonder then, the range of opinions, judgments, and labels can be confusing. Trying to make sense of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 4th edition (then) criteria and other textbooks made me wonder if I had a disability. It was all too vague and dogmatic.

The Curious Incident begins with an interesting premise. We are introduced to 15-year-old Christopher Boone who is telling us his story in real time – he is writing it even as it unfolds! It is interesting to note that his chapters are numbered in prime numbers and that the story begins at “7 min past midnight.” We are straightaway led into the plot – our protagonist finds Wellington, the neighbor's dog, lying murdered on the lawn. Christopher decides to investigate the “murder” and write a murder mystery novel which paraphrases his analytical approach to the world around him in particular and life in general.

Everything thereafter is narrated in such candid factual detail, bereft of any lacquered motifs, that we soon realize that Chirstopher sees the world differently than most of us. He sees details that we all miss, his world in neatly organized in compartments and rules, and he has no value for hyperbole. Poor Virginia Woolf gets trolled for her “I am veined with iron, with silver and with streaks of common mud. I cannot contract into the firm fist who does not depend on stimulus.” He understands simile, abhors metaphors, and considers lies and metaphors to be akin. This dictates his choice of interests – maths and physics over language, machines over men, red color over brown and yellow, straight questions over rhetorical ones, puzzles over people, caring for his pet rat, Toby rather than chatting with his neighbor, Mrs. Alexander, solitude over company and outer space over the London Underground. The fact that he considers the killing of a dog as a crime akin to homicide and that it ought to be investigated with the same seriousness as that of a human, speaks volumes about his love for animals who he finds predictable, as much as his disdain for humans and their vagaries.

The title is telling – the killing of a dog by a human is actually a curious incident (a puzzle-which means it needs to be solved) pertaining to a specific “thing” (the dog) at a specific time (in the “night-time”). As we follow Christopher's emerging novel, we are fascinated by his attention to detail and to his memory for exact dates and in fact, any information he has ever come across. He can describe to the smallest detail a garden, clouds in the sky or the Milky Way as it is seen and remember dates, addresses, and entire conversations to the word. This is both a boon and a curse because sometimes the amount or kind of information to be analyzed, and especially to deal with an emotionally challenging situation, can be very overwhelming. Defense and safety mechanisms are as different-closing out the whole world in his mind, bending over and touching the forehead to the ground or throwing up are ways to deal with anxiety and panic. Touching and hugging can be near traumatic; nonverbal cues like raising an eyebrow have to be matched with mental pictures of emojis to grasp their essence. Anything that cannot be simplified has to be blocked out, in the manner of one of his role models – “Sherlock Holmes, had in a very remarkable degree, the power of detaching his mind at will.”

The deeper narrative that ebbs and flows underneath, often turbulent and volcanic at times, is about Chirstopher's family and the relationship of the parents with Christopher and between themselves. The challenges that parents face when bringing up a child with special needs are many. The worst is the challenge to their own self-esteem, their social image, and their resilience and to redeem their lives and build a life which allows them to be what they are. The gulf between duty and guilt is to be bridged with white lies and compromise – a conundrum of small victories and daily setbacks which when thrown together in the cauldron of daily life is indeed a very curious incident by itself. Suffice to say, trust wins over fear, honesty over lies and the sunshine is to be found in the daily ritual called life.

The Curious Incident is a book to be read not just because its protagonist has special needs or a form of autism but because it is a saga of human emotions, and how that plays out in our relationships, our choices, our loves, and our betrayals. It helps us understand how each of us is different in so many ways, how difficult it is for us to understand others and how it is most essential for us to be accepted for who we are and not who we can be.

P. S.: A favorite quote of Christopher is Occam's razor which states “No more things should be presumed to exist than are absolutely necessary.” How true!


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