When you ride 9,000 kms across the country, you’re bound to meet an interesting mix of people. But these are not the encounters Sushant Ajnikar was looking forward to when he decided to set forth on his expedition. He was keener on canine companions.
Sushant Ajnikar at Khardung La, Leh, one of the highest routes he rode during the cross-country expedition he undertook for the cause of the stray dogs
Back in Bangalore now, where the designer lives with his wife and an adopted pariah, Ajnikar spent 31 days on the road on his Royal Enfield. Although he’s been on long-distance solo rides before, this time he wanted to dedicate it to the country’s large pariah population. “Every time I stopped for a break I’d go say hello to the stray dogs. The trick is to tempt them with biscuits. That way they know I’m not out to harm them and the initial aggression they may show dies down,” says Ajnikar, who created Facebook page Paws of India to document his journey from Bangalore all the way to Leh and back.
The canine cause
About six months ago, when he first began planning his trip, Ajnikar met Achala Paani, the founder of Bangalore-based NGO Let’s Live Together. “I explained to her that I wanted to do something to help dogs, but rather than monetary support I needed information that I could impart to people I came across. And so she donated a large number of pamphlets, which I handed out to every English-speaking person I met. The pamphlets had information about feeding and adopting strays, the importance of neutering them and so on,” he adds.
The most horrible atrocities he has witnessed against stray dogs have been right here in Mumbai, where he was born and brought. “When people notice an increase in the population of strays in their lane, instead of notifying the BMC, they take matters into their own hands and poison them,” rues Ajnikar, who observed a similar incident in Srinagar during his trip.
The biker, who visited about 15 cities and rode through countless little villages, would spot at least five to six dogs brutally run over by vehicles whizzing by on the highway every day. “One image I will never be able to forget is that of three dogs mourning the loss of their pack-mate. They were baffled by what had happened and just kept staring at his lifeless body,” he recalls.
Meeting the like-minded
Although much of his journey was unplanned, Ajnikar considers himself lucky that he managed to meet some extraordinary people who were working with pariahs. “I ended up chatting with a lot of like-minded people while I’d feed the strays.
I learnt so much from them,” says Ajnikar. In Delhi, he was invited into the house of a ragpicker who has been feeding about 70 dogs every day for the past 30 years. “She lived in a tiny shanty and there were dogs sleeping all over the place. There were probably 15 dogs in there! She barely had any money to feed herself, but made sure to feed the dogs. I was truly inspired by her. I realised that you don’t need a fat wallet, just a big heart,” says Ajnikar, who believes he managed to inspire at least 20 people himself. “You don’t have to adopt the strays, just feed them regularly,” he appeals.
Did you know
In the year 2013, the Romanian Parliament had passed a law, which allowed the killing of stray dogs to control the canine population. However, 30 members of the Parliament complained against the law to the Constitutional Court