Animal instincts | mumbai | Hindustan Times
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Animal instincts

It’s a rainy Tuesday evening. Amidst the din of traffic at Dadar TT circle, Marimuttu (24) scurries across the roundabout, two stray dogs in tow.

mumbai Updated: Sep 27, 2009 01:34 IST
Alex Fernandes

It’s a rainy Tuesday evening. Amidst the din of traffic at Dadar TT circle, Marimuttu (24) scurries across the roundabout, two stray dogs in tow. Once under the flyover, the LPG gas cylinder deliveryman lets out a soft whistle. Soon, a few cats crawl out lazily from beneath the maze of parked vehicles and a few dogs trot out of the woodwork, as it were.

“Raja, come here. Miaou, you go there,” Marimuttu barks orders in Hindi laced with a heavy Tamilian accent. Pulling out sheets of newspaper from a huge white bag, he lays out food from the containers he’s carrying.

As the canines and felines lap up the repast, he gently pets them, enquiring with one dog why it had not turned up for many days for the evening feed, murmuring softly to another.

For Marimuttu, who makes barely Rs 4,000 a month, feeding stray animals is a daily commitment. A benevolent woman from Dadar cooks the food that Marimuttu feeds the grateful strays.

This resident of Matunga Labour Camp was thrown out of his former job because of his affinity for animals. And he has been hauled to the police station on four occasions after neighbours complained of the “nuisance” the animals in the locality caused.

“But nothing can stop me from loving my kutta billi log (dog and cat family),” Marimuttu smiles.

Vakola resident Dilip Lotankar (55), who has been feeding stray animals in his locality every day after sundown for over a decade, knows the feeling.

“Several people have hurled abuses at me, accusing me of messing up the streets by feeding animals,” says Lotankar, who is now associated with Karuna, an animal welfare organisation. “While Karuna provides me its share, I throw in my bit too.” Others help as well. Says Lotankar, “Alka, a fishmonger in Kalina who is also fond of animals, gives me fish at a generous discount.”

“If humans are hungry, they can tell someone, these mute animals cannot,” says Lotankar, adding that he’s developed a bond with the animals he feeds.

A former resident of Malabar Hill, senior citizen Bakul Khatau now shuttles between the city and her new home in Lonavala. Whether in the city or the hills, she makes sure that the strays she feeds don’t miss their meal. Khatau has a group of people working with her who go around Mumbai feeding over 150 stray dogs. In Lonavala, she has a pack of over 50 dogs whom she indulges similarly. “I make weekly visits to the city to supervise the cooking and the distribution of the food,” says Khatau.

“People often wrongly think that if you love animals, you hate human beings. This often leads to tiffs,” she says. “If an animal lover sees a human being in distress, it’s not as if he will leave him to die just because he loves animals.”

Byculla resident Thrity Gazdar (63) has a more logical argument: “What people do not realise is that if an animal remains hungry, it tends to get angry. It’s better to feed a hungry dog rather than having an angry dog around you,” she says. An animal welfare officer at the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Parel, Gazdar makes little packets of food at home and feeds strays in her colony and in the vicinity. “I do what I do simply because I love animals,” she says.

A feeling shared by Sitaram Gayadin, a cobbler who sits on the pavement outside Masina Hospital in Byculla, surrounded by a slew of stray dogs.

“A Parsi lady who lives close by gives me the food to feed the animals,” he says. “My family has always been away in my hometown in Uttar Pradesh,” says the frail old man. “These dogs and cats who keep me company are as good as family to me.”

A stray dog sitting beside Gayadin wags its tail. Perhaps it agrees.

This weekly column examines the diversity of urban communities