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Letter From India

January 2008
Letter From India

Our family dog, Brandy, passed away. She would have been ten years old in a few months. Like her we had sensed the end was near but we couldn’t bring ourselves to make any preparations—emotional or otherwise. When it came time to put Brandy’s seventy-pound body to rest, we were at a loss.

I Googled ‘Mumbai+dead+dog+cremation’, my husband made a few phone calls. Fortunately an animal hospital and crematorium was in the vicinity. As we rolled up our sleeves to haul Brandy’s petrous remains assistance came in way of helping hands and kind words from people in our apartment building. I was surprised to see compassion for a dead animal, a jaanwar. Perhaps because I’ve grown up in India watching street dogs being pelted, poisoned even. A fender bender with a ‘sacred’ cow on our bovine-rich streets causes a riotous stampede while malnutritioned animals lie suffering right outside our homes.

I didn’t accompany my husband when he took Brandy to the crematorium. I pictured it to be a neglected facility where I would invariably lock horns with rude heartless attendants. Fortunately my husband’s experience at the charity hospital was not quite as unpleasant as I had imagined.

In the face of the government’s half-hearted attempts at animal welfare, numerous non-profit organizations have come to the rescue—they strive relentlessly to alleviate the plight of animals in cities. The task is overwhelming. Diseased, injured cats, dogs, buffalos and birds continue to be a part of the landscape along with countless pavement dwellers. We have become immune to the sights of human misery; empathy for animals is minimal. Animals that are especially decreed to be cared for by the government are not much better off. If you are an animal lover, do not visit the zoo. You will be appalled at the pathetic conditions—‘natural habitat’ cages are prison cells. Apparently the zoo is well funded, but as per tradition politicians and government employees receive the lion’s share.

It is then heartwarming to see the destitute break bread with their ‘pets.’ I see beggars and street vendors with emaciated mongrels in tow. Meet Good Samaritan V. V. Narayan. A retired government employee of scarce means, Narayan feeds strays roaming the gullys around Regal cinema in Mumbai. In a nook between the bus depot and a bank, he offers treats to his family of pets. Early in the morning he buys fresh seafood for over a hundred rupees. He tears into the fish with his bare hands, serving chunks to his thirty odd feline friends. In the evenings he gathers lamb and chicken scraps from a few neighborhood restaurants. About twenty dogs await his arrival at the nook.

For the most part Narayan is not harassed by the police or the street sweepers. Perhaps years of association have earned him enough goodwill. Narayan is however careful to clean up after every meal service least passers by or the “Brahmin bank officers” raise a stink. On occasion people applaud his generosity and offer him money. Those repulsed by the animal feed call him names. Others attempt to disperse the pack with sticks and stones. Narayan continues to nourish himself and his friends along the busy streets of Mumbai. The city has heart after all.

I took my grieving son to Build-a-Bear where we made “Brandy”. We stuffed it with cotton and gave it a shinny red heart.

By Reetika Khanna Nijhawan

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