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Station samaritans

Everyday, local train commute in Mumbai is literally all out on a limb. But what about the many stray animals who daily survive on such platforms irrespective of lack of food and love? Kanika Sharma found four samaritans along Western Railway stations who have dedicated their lives to them and in turn, have been changed by miracles owing to these creations of God

Doggiewali Aunty of Borivali: Kasturben Santilal Chheda, a 52-year-old woman and a widow,never wants to look back. Popularly called the Doggiewali Aunty, the tail of her tale, actually started with a kitty. It’s been more than 12 years, since, a yelping bunch of litter caught her attention. “I didn’t care in the beginning actually. But once I saw a crow about to pick on them. Hearing their “chau chau”, I could hardly resist bringing them in and their mother,” informs Chheda who feeds nearly 300 dogs and innumerable other animals everyday. “I never even thought I would be doing something like this,” exclaims Chheda who used to cook in people’s homes for a living. Yet, destiny and good karma routed her to taking care of animals that are neglected in the maddening rush of the city. Once, she narrates, “on Borivali Station, there were five kittens. One day, I discovered one of them was on tracks and surrounded by onlookers at about 11 pm. Nobody was willing to pick him up. Finally, I got down and swung the kitten to the platform and then people hoisted me in the nick of time as the train was hardly a second away.”

 People who help stray dogs at Mumbai's railway stations

In the last twelve years, her work has intensified to the extent where she hasn’t returned home for three days in a row, takingthe New Year’s Eve as the recent instance. She buys 40 litres of milk daily (half on loan), pedigree food for kittens and is supplied with cartons of biscuits by the other do-gooder Kishore Gala.

So, the next time if you see a lone figure between midnight to five or six in the morning, you know who to hug and if you can, give support too.

The quiet life-changer of Mahalaxmi: “My life changed on December 4 2010,” shares Bharat Puria, the 54-year-old shopkeeper who retails dry fruits, sweets and snacks at his shop on Pedder Road. “In June (2010) I saw a dog whose one leg was only bones at Elphinstone Road Station. I offered him a few biscuits thinking he’d be hungry. From then onwards, it became my routine to feed six to seven dogs daily,” continues the do-gooder who is shy of praise, “In December then, I fell down the tracks at Mahalaxmi Station of which I have no recollection. The next thing I knew that a train was passing above me. At that time, I stayed put in order to let it pass,” recounts Puria.

 People who help stray dogs at Mumbai's railway stations

The Elphinstone Road resident recalls that he got up and rose to the platform while everybody including him guessed that he was dead. “I went to the doctor who exclaimed, ‘Why are you lying that you were under a train, bhai. Nothing is wrong with you’. It was then that I knew that because of the handful of the dogs that I fed, this miracle had happened,” says the father of two daughters.

Every day, he feeds 40 to 50 dogs, and other animals with cooked rice, soya chunks mixed with cream along with milk and biscuits. Speaking of harassment, he relates that 10% of stationmasters and some animal hospitals play the sourpuss. “Many policemen and railway personnel ask for a Rs 1,000 fine. In hospitals, once you transport the injured animal, they ask for Rs 500 to Rs 1,000,” says Puria.

Still, the lone crusader doesn’t ask for help and states that if “the pain of all street animals is reduced, grief in the world will radically decrease.” Touche.

Couple of charity: Anna and Craig D’Souza literally live their lives for animals. Voluntarily retired from VIP Luggage and a former Gulf Air employee, Anna has been feeding animals, since her childhood. Now in her 40s, and married to her cousin Craig, both routinely board the Western line trains, and feed station dogs. The couple is dedicated towards providing treatment as well account for 100 dogs and nearly 80 cats.

 People who help stray dogs at Mumbai railway stations

Anna has had her share of miracles, “In 1993, on the day and place where the blast happened; minutes before, I had reached the place to feed a dog who was taken care of by a boot polish boy called Raju. But as both of us couldn’t find him, we went in different directions to search for him.” After realising that the blasts had happened, Raju and Anna realised how the dog had saved their life.

“Again, during the 2006 train blasts, we had boarded the local from Churchgate and had received a call to treat a dog in Bandra. But we alighted at Matunga Road as we spotted a maggot-ridden dog. It’s so weird as we were right next to the First Classcompartment that blew up later,” recalls Anna.

Living solely on charity while Craig pursues World Religion, an organisation, they wear what their friends offer and eat only once a day. Anna signs off, “We do get some food from the NGO, World for All; it would be nice if people could reach out to us.”

Man of steel of Lower Parel: “I live in Borivali (E). I have 10 to 12 friends who get together to feed over 100 dogs and other animals,” tells Kishore Gala whose main mission is to get more people in the city to take care of animals around them. Raising Rs 60,000 every month is no mean task but for Gala it is just the beginning. Looking back, the BMC’s attempt to pick a fresh litter, eight years ago in his home compound was a one-off incident in his life.

 People who help stray dogs at Mumbai railway stations

As the BMC failed to track the smart pups, Gala’s son brought one home. So, from one -- he now supports -- 400 dogs daily, including Kasturben’s. The resourceful businessman who deals in garment exports in Lalbaug, has gone out of his way to get stone bowls manufactured. “It’s like mortar in your kitchens -- too heavy to be moved; but the water stays cool and any animal can have a sip,” explains Gala who highlights that the chances for animals to be fed is not as bad as getting one drink of clean water.

“This wouldn’t have been possible had my wife not understood my dedication. We haven’t travelled anywhere since we’ve undertaken this mission. In fact, I believe that if every home in Mumbai makes one roti, it will be no bother to the people, but the dogs will fall short in number as the rotis will be far more.”

How you can lend a helping hand

Kasturben Santilal Chheda
Call: 9820977834

Kishore Gala
Call: 9833755165

Anna and Craig D'Souza
Call: 9867496195

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