By the time the volunteers come back after feeding all the dogs for the day, the preparations for next day’s meal has already begun in Sulakshmi’s kitchen.
When I ask her about her routine, she says that every morning around 5:30 a.m., she sends the first lot of food out for the dogs in the surrounding localities like Chittaranjan Park, Kalkaji, G.K-I and G.K-II. The final lot goes out at 1:30 p.m. for far off areas like Govindpuri and Okhla. By the time, the final lot is out, she is busy with the next day’s preparation. On an average day, she prepares about 90-95 kgs of rice and 50 kgs of chicken and mutton. It takes about 7-8 hours to prepare the meals and the day generally starts with mixing, packing and sending out the first lot of food.
Giving food to the streeties is not the only responsibility she has taken upon herself, she also keeps a check on the sick dogs and the weak dogs regularly to ensure that they get their share of meals and medicines. Then there are accident cases – which are to be reported, taken to the veterinarians, fostered till they are healthy enough to live an independent life.
When I ask her, how does she manage so much in a day? “I am always behind my schedule.” she replies with such sincerity and modesty that makes me embarrassed about the endless complains that I make in a day when my 2 dogs fight or misbehave.
There is not much of a support system that she has. “It’s a constant struggle.”, she says when asked about how she makes the humongous task possible every day. There are unhelpful and angry neighbors because they think she is encouraging the ‘dangerous’ stray dogs in the area. Then, there is a constant struggle to find regular volunteers. She has hired some people for help and pays them from her on own pocket. “There can’t be a day in the whole year that the dogs can go hungry. Be it a bandh or a public holiday, the dogs have to get their share of meals.”, she says with a sincerity in the tone.
When she tells me that she has been feeding these dogs for the last 15 years, I can’t stop myself from asking what keeps her going (I am sure she has been asked these question umpteen number of times. But I can’t hold back my curiosity.). “Ek Junoon hai bus. Call it “Passion” – though I know it is a hackneyed, commonplace, overworked, banal, stock phrase.”, she says without a hint of tiredness or irritation in her voice.
In the last 15 years, there has not been much support from the local authorities as well. “One out 100 local authorities might come for any kind of help. People mostly have complaints even when we diligently clean up the area every day after feeding the dogs.”, she says and this is the first time in the entire conversation that I sense despair in her tone.
Sulakshmi takes care of the vaccination and neutering with the help and guidance from certified veterinarians. “I am 66 years old and it’s getting difficult for me. I have sold off my jewelry, ancestral property and, financially, it’s becoming challenging.”, she continues in a tone of despair. She has started a crowdfunding campaign on www.desiredwings.com/feedstrays to get some funds to manage the ever-growing needs.
Sulakshmi also facilitates adoption of dogs. She says adoption depends on the luck of the puppy. Sometimes some people are taken in by the unconditional love and attention that a stray puppy has to offer; however, people mostly prefer buying pedigrees. “But we keep trying”, she says and I can sense the optimism back in the conversation.
When I ask her if there is any particular dog that she loves the most, she quotes her mother to make a point about a mother’s unconditional love, “See all these fingers. None of them are same. But they all are equally important. Mother’s love is equal for all.”, she signs off on a note which makes me wonder if one single day in a calendar is good enough to celebrate a mother’s unconditional love.
About Swargasaathi Charitable Trust (Regd.): The Swargasaathi Charitable Trust (Regd.) has been set up by Sulakshmi Dasgupta to support and take care of multiple stray dogs in New Delhi.
The trust is now open to charities, and cheques can be drawn out in the above mentioned name. For more information, one can write an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or contact them at +91-9910576883.