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Compassion and care: Two faces of the same coin

When a rag-picker in Delhi and an animal-lover in Gurgaon made a real difference in their own ways, suggesting that empathy is still the strongest human emotion

Compassion, one of the noblest of human emotions, and caring, frequently its manifestation, cut across social strata. Two recent events in Delhi once again underlined this perennial truth. The first had at its centre Pratima Devi, a rag-picker who cares for 400 dogs in the region of PVR Anupam in Saket. The other occurred at the high-end residential complex of World Spa in Gurugram. In the first instance, the shack in which Pratima Devi lived, and from which she cared for her canines, was demolished by South Delhi Municipal Corporation on October 30. She, however, continues to live there, in a make-shift apology of a shelter, as she would not leave them.

Winter is approaching and she is worried. The flimsy shelter will not keep the knife-edged winds out. Nor will it help when heavy rains are blown in by the winds. Adversity, however, is not new to her. Married at the age of seven to a man more than 10 years older, and who often returned home drunk and beat her, life was not happy. Finally, she left him and moved away from Nandigram in Midnapore in West Bengal where they lived. After many vicissitudes, she landed in Delhi in the early 1980s with her two sons. Settling down in the PVR Anupam complex, building a new life and continuing to look after dogs as she did in Nandigram. Slowly, their numbers grew to the present strength of 400.

While many people in the neighbourhood have helped her in her noble mission, some, animal haters, and those who view most poor as actual or potential criminals, have been harassing her. One of them is suspected to have got her shack set on fire in 2003 causing her burn injuries and killing several of her dogs. No action was taken against anyone.

She, however, stayed on and continued to care for her dogs. She is doing so now. All who value compassion and caring, must give her every assistance they can. And they must also congratulate all involved in the providential rescue of a two-month old puppy — brought home from the streets with a broken leg — which fell from the 17th to the 14th floor of Tower B6 at World Spa West. A little after 8:30 pm on November 3, the puppy, Bernie, apparently, in an adventurous and celebratory mood after dinner and the removal of the plaster on her leg following the healing of the fracture, decided to have a peek down the hole leading to a shaft in the building going down to the ground floor.

Curiosity cost her dear. While what she did is unknown, the end result was that she fell into the shaft and went down. Her disappearance was first noticed by Zoha, a passionate animal lover, who frantically called her parents, Anju and Arjun Srivastava who lived in the flat and whog, besides Bernie, had three other local canines and two beagles as pets. After running through several possibilities, they concluded that she must have gone down the shaft. Arjun, his son, Viramaditya and nephew Armaan, rushed downstairs to the guards’ room to seek help. The guards, in turn, alerted the maintenance staff who swung into action. Figuring out that the base of the shaft was in the ground floor lobby, they made a hole in the wall to reach it only to find that there was no puppy.

They then went up to the 17th floor balcony form where Bernie had fallen and broke stone slabs to reach the shaft. That done, they flashed a torch and, fortunately, could see her below. Lowering a string tied to a stone to measure, they found that it was 35 feet to where she was, which meant it was the 14th floor and by the balcony of the flat in which Deepa and Sunil Mohindra lived.

They were out at dinner at another flat which, as luck could have it, was also in World Spa West. Receiving a call from the guards’ room that a dog had fallen down the shaft and that they needed to return to their flat for it to be recovered, they rushed back. Members of the maintenance staff who were waiting, said they would have to break a part of the wall to reach the shaft. They agreed immediately. But it was, as Sunil Mohindra put it, “a tricky job”, as they had to locate the precise spot where Bernie was. The maintenance staff went up again and lowered a line attached to a stone and found that it was, indeed, 35 feet.

To reach her, they had to remove a stone slab measuring three feet by two feet to get at the tower’s cement and concrete wall and make an opening through it. In all this, they had to be very careful — and also very lucky — to ensure that no part of the wall or the plaster fell on Bernie, killing her. Proceeding with extreme caution, they removed the stone slab and began hammering on the wall. After a while, when the wall had thinned somewhat, they could hear Bernie whimpering. She was alive! Now the task was to bring her out alive!

A hole was made through which a hand could go in and light from a torch showed were she was. The hole, however, was not big enough for her to be taken out. One member of the maintenance stuff held on to the puppy when the hammering resumed — both to reassure her and ensure that she did not slide further down if the wires and rubber pipes she stood on, began subsiding under the impact of the hammer blows! Finally, the puppy was out and, to everyone’s relief, it looked all right except being in a state of shock.

What happened was a miracle. But it could happen because people cared. Arjun Srivastava, Vikramaditya and Armaan were on their toes until around midnight when the puppy was rescued. Deepa and Sunil Mohindra did not think twice before agreeing to have their wall broken. And the maintenance staff did much more than travel that proverbial extra mile. Concern for the puppy, this writer was told, was writ large on their faces as they worked feverishly; so were joy and relief after taking her out alive. More, while they hammered in relay in Mohindras’ apartment, one held his hand on the other side of the wall, taking the full shock of each impact, to prevent pieces of plaster, that might be broken, falling on Bernie.

All of them — Raju Sah (supervisor-technical), Sandeep (electrician), Sukul Das (electrician), Anwar Hussain (lift operator), Netra Pal and Manoj (both plumbers), Brijesh (fire technician), Surendar (supervisor-security) and Madal Lal (security officer) — deserve a huge round of cheers, as does the Board of Management, headed by Siddharth Gupta, president, and represented on the spot by Vineesh, without whose support none of all this would have been possible.

(The writer is Consultant Editor, The Pioneer, and an author)