By Malaika Mathew Chawla, 13
We know her as Padma Aunty. Every day I see her giving food to the strays in our area – once in the morning and once in the evening. I have spoken to her many times, sometimes to tell her about an injured stray I had seen, sometimes to ask her what to do about a dog with fleas in my housing colony. Jalebi Ink had asked us to choose some people in our neighbourhood who we see every day but know very little about. I decided to get to know Padma Aunty better. Here’s what I found out.
Her name is Padma Chandansingh Disorya. She lives in Dadar (west). She was born in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. Padma works with In Defence of Animals (IDA), a company that looks after strays in Mumbai and fights for their rights. Her boss’s office is in ONGC Complex, behind my housing colony in Bandra. She has been working with animals for five years. Before this, she used to work in an STD booth. She also took a course in nursing. “But all this remained incomplete,” she says. Her husband is dead and she stays with her parents and has a daughter and son.
When I asked her how and when she began working with animals, this is what she said: “A few days after my husband died, I heard a dog howling in the street. In our family we have a tradition – widows are not allowed to step out of the house for some days. But I was worried. So I asked my father. He allowed me to go see what the problem was. He also gave me 100-rupee note in case it was needed. I found the dog – one of the bones in its vertebral column was broken and the dog was in agony. I took the dog to the animal hospital in Parel where it was treated by Dr Sangeeta Vengsarkar [a well-known vet in Mumbai] free of charge. Soon the dog became okay and I saw it was a very lively dog. I still hadn’t thought of taking up animal relief work. Some days later, I rescued a girl who was being harassed by some people. I took her to the police and helped file a complaint. After coming back home, I felt scared that the same people harassing her could harm me too. I used to barely step out of the house. I wouldn’t even go to the terrace to hang clothes to dry. I was working in an STD booth – something that requires you to be in full public view. I had stopped going to work. One day I received a call from Dr Sangeeta and I told her about my problem. She told me she knew someone who had an animal relief association who was looking for someone. I went and I got the job.”
Padma Aunty knows the names of all the strays – cats and dogs – in the area and they all love her. She feeds 26 dogs and 20 cats every day. I asked her how the animals in the area reacted when they saw her: “Tipsy jumps on me and gets very excited. Brownie comes running with great speed. And starts doing strange somersaults in the air. The cats keep walking around my legs, brushing against me.
In what language does she speak to them? “When they start barking unnecessarily sometimes I say ‘Kathee kidhar hai?’ (Where’s the stick?). I speak to them in Hindi. They understand me.”
I asked Padma Aunty to share some stories of how some of the strays came to her. “Babli was found in a garage dump. Rhea was attacked when she had puppies and we rescued her. I found Winny with swollen red marks all over her as if a hot iron had been pressed on her. It’s strange how nasty humans can be.”
There are many cars on the roads around us and they keep increasing. A couple of years back a car rental service set up its office here. Padma Aunty says she has had to rescue many injured dogs who were harmed by cars.
She has had to deal with many complaints over the years from residents who wanted her to stop taking care of the dogs. “But I have a lot of support too. Nobody has harmed me or my strays till now.”
What makers her sad? “Sometimes a child calls me and asks me to rescue some animal in distress. I call the ambulance but sometimes they do not react on time and it’s too late. This makes me very sad.”