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The Heart of a Dog – Mikhail Bulgakov

by Venky


Mikhail Bulgakov proves in a searing and stark manner that more creativity is repressed and stifled, the more it will unshackle itself to transform into a medium that is powerful and picturesque. “The Heart of a Dog”, penned by the Russian author-cum morphine addicted doctor, bears ample testimony to this fact. Full of rambunctious nonsense and reeking of boisterousness, this work of fiction is one which is at once endearing as well as profound.

This weird story features a maverick professor in Moscow, Philip Philipovich who as part of a weird and one-of-a-kind experimentation transplants the pituitary glands and testicles of a dying man into a stray dog. The hitherto neglected and nondescript canine, after this unique scientific attempt, undergoes a hideous transformation both physiological and physiognomic.  Acquiring a human voice and the all the attendant characteristic traits of a human being, the dog begins to experience a huge gamut of emotions. Christening itself as Polygraph Polygraphovich, this latest and inadvertent addition to mankind begins to assert its superiority in ways unimaginable and with consequences undesirable. Polygraph Polygraphovich even complains about his own master to the Secretary of the apartment in which Philip Philipovich resides about the seemingly atrocious treatment meted out to him. The scientist realized with despair and desperation results of his morbid creation and clearly understands the need to stop Polygraph in his tracks before he proceeds to wreak both physical and mental havoc upon him and other fellow country-men. When at some point in time, the man-dog or the dog-man (as may be appropriate) gets a revolver and points the same at the able assistant of the Professor, Dr. Bormenthal, Professor Philip Philipovich realizes that the time has indeed arrived to attempts to remedy his wrong, and for such purpose recourse has to be taken to the same medicinal and scientific path which resulted in the creation of the hideous creature in the first place.

This splendid work, whilst engaging the reader in a great amount of dry and castigating hunour also doubles up as one of the most artful work in the genre of satire. Aimed at the establishment of the pre-revolutionary and erstwhile Soviet Union, it serves to mirror the unhealthy consequences which insensible and blanket sensor can have, if imposed upon the literary and creative arts. The book also takes a dig at the practice of crony capitalism which as per the author creates a huge chasm between various segments of the society. For example, during an altercation between him and Philip Philipovoich, Polygraph nonchalantly remarks “I must be a worker – I am not a capitalist”

The book also portrays in a succinct and delectable manner the rules regarding compulsory conscription into the armed forces/military which every citizen had to undergo even if the same were to have been against his/her wish. For example when Polygraph (since he has adopted a human form literally) is asked to register his services for the military he refuses by pointing to his head and whining “I was badly wounded during the operation. Look they cut me right open”.  The authority in charge of the recruitment responds to this by asking whether Polygraph is an “anarchist individualist”. Maybe this is the author’s personal manner of rebuking and remonstrating against the rule of compulsory conscription for even he had undertaken a vehement, albeit futile attempt to avoid fighting in the civil war of 1918 to 1920. He was conscripted as a doctor for the army of the temporarily independent Ukrainian Republic. He even ran away to the Caucasus, only to be mobilized as a doctor for the White Guard. He eventually ended up serving the Red Army in his medical capacity.

This small but seminal work contains many memorable passages of profundity and pain. At times almost elegiac in its narrative, it portrays in vivid and characteristic detail the many desirable and undesirable facets of the human mind and emotions. At once soul stirring and spiritedly comic, “The Heart of a Dog” makes for one convulsive reading.

“The Heart of a Dog” – A curiously funny and knowing wag of the tail!”

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