I spotted her again, on the cross roads of Lokhandwala at Andheri, frantically chasing away the crows that pecked at the wounds of the whining puppy. Yesterday she was there, at the same place bandaging the wounds of this little brown furry creature and trying to force a medicine down its gullet. Like most of us Mumbaikars, I drove on. The lecture would start in a half hour, I couldn’t afford to get late and the students would run away if I dallied. Besides, who wants to get involved with crazy folks that stop to waste time on stray puppies.
Life as a lecturer meant hours of teaching, corrections and attendance, and my neck was deep in work most days. But evenings were meant for outdoor jogging and that’s when I ran into her a third time. This time it was a bleeding cat that she had scooped up in her arms and was trying to rush her to a vet. No auto stopped by and I feared she would give up. I offered to drop her and the mauled cat in my car. “Your car will get messed but I’ll clean up,” she said. Waving aside her worry , I signalled to her to get in.
That was when my heart began to undergo a change. Her name was Shirley and she worked at a call centre, and took care of stray animals on a meagre salary. She had a few friends who doled out their services and money in return for a few stray wags and a friendly lick.
As days rolled by my husband and I climbed up the social ladder and acquired material comforts for which we all strive in our young days. Unable to bear the monotony of my job, I opted to take voluntary retirement. But a life without work is a life of sin, and I found myself drawn towards Shirley’s cause. By now she had set up an NGO ( Save Our Strays- SOS) and was greatly in need of a vehicle that could treat and transfer stray animals to a hospital. I offered a Maruti Cargo that they could use as an ambulance. Since then there has been no looking back.
While SOS busied itself with calls from animal lovers to treat strays from all over the suburbs , there was a dire need to set up a structure that could sterilise these animals to limit their growing numbers. In April 2008, I established Association for the Service and Healing of Animals – (ASHA), an Andheri based NGO that treated strays in the western suburbs through a mobile clinic with the help of Maria, a kind of self styled animal healer with magical hands. SOS took over sterilizations and ASHA has been treating the ‘Kalloos’ and ‘Sherus’ who are the loving pets of the roadside and pavement dwellers that make Mumbai a mighty hearted city .
The lessons that came along with this noble venture have been plenty. The first and foremost is a reinforcement of what the Bhagwad Geeta says- “Do your duty without expecting rewards”. Our team did what was right for the moment and as we progressed, we learnt that animals have a very special way of rewarding us. They don’t praise nor offer money, but when a happy ‘Moti’ comes tearing down, holding up a paw that is now healed- its more than what money can buy. It also taught us the deep vagaries of human nature which helps us understand that all people are not tolerant or even kind towards this cause. We discovered that real affluence is seen among the pavement dwellers who inhabit the city like the street beggar would never go to sleep till his bread was shared by the shaggy Rani or the green eyed Tom Cat who was his fur ball of warmth in the chilly December nights.
Six years down the line, we have treated thousands of dogs and cats and are grateful to be able to save and improve on some of their lives. Ensuring that stray animals are healthy and sociable is also service to society, as most of these are looked after by local people who feed and pet them regularly.
As an academician, I hold workshops with schools, sensitizing students towards protecting nature and caring for the needs and rights of all animals on land, water and sky. Animals are after all, our siblings on Mother Earth and it is for her benefit that we have to work consciously to save and conserve our environment.
- By Brinda Upadhyaya – President, Association for Service & healing of Animals (ASHA)
A resident of Mumbai for over three decades, Brinda Upadhyaya took VRS from her post as a senior Lecturer in History at The L.S.Raheja College Of Arts and Commerce in Santacruz west. While she was rated as one of the best teachers by a Students’ poll, her post retirement life was more like a second birth that opened her heart to a unique kind of social service. She established her own NGO for the welfare of stray animals in Mumbai- Association for the Service and Healing of Animals – (ASHA) which treats dogs and cats locally through a mobile clinic on a charitable basis. She also holds awareness workshops sensitizing school children on protecting the environment and highlights the needs and rights of animals. As a mother, the safety of children has also been a very important priority in her work and she has been conducting workshops in schools, making parents, teachers and school staff aware about the rise in cases of child sexual abuse( CSA) and how to prevent it.
Having a good knowledge of Urdu, Hindi and English, Brinda has put her writing skills to good use by volunteering with National Association for the Blind (NAB) to translate textbooks from English into Hindi, that train sighted teachers to teach students with blindness, deafblindness and other multi disabilities . An avid follower of Swami Parthasarthy’s Vedanta treatise, she tries to live her life by the tenets of The Bhagwad Geeta and spends her free time in learning Hindustani Classical vocal music and travelling.
Brinda you are a true Mumbai Hero! Thank you for sharing your work with us and our OCOW readers!