Mumbai Memoir- Chasing the Stray Canines of Mumbai!
A classic popular Bollywood song ‘Yeh Hai Bombay Meri Jaan’ from the Hindi movie C.I.D, expresses the ups and downs of living in Mumbai. Here’s the link to the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HlAOZrst6fQ The male protagonist featured in the song sarcastically sings about all the dark aspect of the city where he mentions burglary, corruption, gambling, materialism, poverty, unemployment, insensitivity and fading human values that prevails in the city. But the song concludes with the female protagonist ending on a positive note.
Having born and brought up in Mumbai I have closely witness the city’s dark and the bright side. Like any other world megalopolis, Mumbai is full of news of crime, cut-throat competition, insensitive, apathetic & mean approach by many, but I have also personally sensed and heard of stories of ‘Good Samaritans’ which still keep the city’s ‘Social Quotient’ in the positive quadrants.
One such ‘Good Samaritan’ tale is that of Muneera Shaikh. Muneera, a woman in her 30s, sets out at night with loads of food to feed the stray dogs on the streets of Mumbai! Collecting left over food from elite & middle-class families, who live near her home near Bandra slums, Muneera sets out solo, with a stick in hand and a huge food container or bag filled with chicken pieces, biscuits or anything eatable by the dogs which she regularly feeds. Stray dogs wait for her arrival every night, just like hungry children, wait for their mom to serve food. Come rain or sunshine, every night till dawn, Muneera’s animal care is a common sight on Mumbai’s Western Express Highway route. Besides feeding them, she also nurses the dogs if they are ill or infested by maggots or flees. She promptly takes the ill dog to animal hospitals around, so that the animal can get medical help at the earliest.
I got to know about Muneera after I watched a documentary film ‘Chasing Tails’ directed by Tangella Madhavi. The documentary film produced by Govt. of India’s -Films Division, Mumbai, features Muneera’s passion towards animal welfare activism. Here’s the link for the film’s trailer- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Of0cr-gfoDo
In the movie, she remarks, ‘Though a Muslim (traditionally possessing a dog as a pet is a taboo in Islamic Culture), I have no reservations about serving the canines’ Rather she reminds the masses of Hindu mythological references of Lord Kandoba & Lord Dattatreya, who promoted dog care. After hearing her words, which are cultured into values of ‘national integration’ & compassion, I could sense that the only religion that she seems to know and follows is ‘Humanity’.
She hails from the lower socio-economic strata of Mumbai, but is definately rich about possessing good human values. She is extremely focussed & determined on her vision to commit her time & efforts in caring for the stray dogs that move around in Mumbai. It was extremely inspiring to know the way she deals with eve-teasing & seduction attempts from ‘sex craving Romeos’ moving on streets at night. Once while feeding the stray dogs at wee hours of dawn, she was attacked by 3 men in a parking lot. She retaliated and whacked one of them with all her might. Looking at her undaunting spirit the 3 men ran away and disappeared in to the dark. She quotes, ‘I don’t want to play the victim and ask myself ‘Why me?’ Rather I want to challenge the trouble makers to ‘Try me’! She believes what she is doing is noble work and nothing and no one can stop her from pursuing it.
Its clear that Muneera has internalized Mumbai and the stray dogs as being part of her family. As she feeds them, she talks to them, pampers them and feels sorry and disappointed when the Municipal Animal Hospital doesn’t admit the ill stray dogs, which she rescues. Whatever little she can afford, she sponsors, but on many occasions major lack of funds to treat these stray canines leaves her helpless. Like the female actor concludes in the song ‘Yeh Hai Bombay Meri Jaan’, that its all about ‘Karma’ (actions) and about choosing to see the positive in every negative. Similarly, inspite of the adversities that one notices in Mumbai, there are people like Muneera, who are making a positive difference to the city’s ‘Humanity Quotient’!
Photo courtesy: Asian Age, The Hindu & Shraddha C Sankulkar