I was sixteen when I fell in love. He was willing to wait for me while I chased my dream of collecting a police officer.
But back then, you couldn’t simply date someone – you had to get married. My father pressured me to make a choice – him or the uniform. I chose love, and believe me, it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. He pushed me to be more than just a home-maker, to do exactly what I wanted to do.
Life was blissful and I was truly happy. I was studying criminology, which allowed me to interact with the police. It was like a balm for my ego, because I had managed to dip my feet into both worlds; I was not only playing my part in maintaining law and order, but also becoming a mom.
I clearly remember, in January 1987, I was watching a parade on TV with my baby in my lap, when the “all-women” march came on the screen. It was a stinging reminder of my forgotten dreams – I couldn’t help but get emotional. Times had finally changed and women were now allowed in the paramilitary – I couldn’t let this opportunity pass me by. With the support of my husband and my family, I decided to apply.
I went on to become the first and only woman that qualified from South India. One of the physical tests is still burned into my memory – I had already sprained my ankle before the final 100 meter race. I chose to run with the guys, and despite my injury, I ran the race of my life! I gained the respect of every single person on that field.
I was the first woman in the Special Protection Group. I’ve had the honour of serving seven Prime Ministers of our country. A part of my job description was to be ready to take a bullet to protect the Prime Minister, but I never feared for my life because I knew my husband would take care of our sons. He had taken on the role of raising them, while I was chasing my dreams.
We’d finally settled into our lives – work was good, the kids were doing well, but there was still one piece missing from the puzzle. One morning, my husband suddenly brought home a forty-day old German Shepherd puppy!
We’d never really discussed having a pet, especially a dog, since I was more of a cat lady. But soon enough, Sheeba became the daughter I never had, and by the time Scooby came into our lives, I became a hard-core dog lover.
Unfortunately, around this time, my husband began to get very sick. He went on a pilgrimage for a few days...but never came back home to me. He passed away suddenly, and for the first time in my life, I was completely alone; left with two beautiful children. I only cried when I was alone with my puppies – I attempted to fill the void my husband had left behind.
I voluntarily retired from the military, and took up a corporate job instead. Because Sheeba and Scooby were instrumental in my own healing, I decided to adopt more dogs – I wanted to do something for them. People began to pick up on the fact that I was willing to rescue and foster dogs, and started showing up at my door with strays – I couldn’t bring myself to turn away any of them.
By the time my children brought me back to Delhi from Chennai, we had thirty-five dogs under our care. In fact, the only way my sons managed to get me to move, was moving the dogs first – they knew mom would follow her babies wherever they went.
Finding an appropriate home to house our dogs was not an easy task. After multiple rejections, we took up a property on rent from someone I knew from my days in the army.
People just leave dogs they find on the streets at my home. In fact, the most recent addition was literally thrown over our gate just yesterday. We’ve actually run out of names for them now, and have resorted to giving them numbers – Alien 1 and Alien 2 are pretty much inseparable now.
Each and every abandoned dog that is placed in our home is first medically examined and then neutered. I have five employees and along with them we make over 300 rotis and 110 eggs every single day, and every dog is placed on a schedule for their baths. One of my sons stays with me, while my other son rescues his own dogs. Together, we take care of our family.
Unfortunately, we’ve made enemies out of our neighbours and quite often, the police come over and try to claim that we’re running a breeding business. There is a lot of noise, and the space is beginning to become too small. The hospitals are too far away, and we lose so many of our dogs because there’s no way to get them the medical attention they require. While neither my son nor I care about luxuries for ourselves, we cannot compromise on the quality of life we give them.
So we’ve taken matters into our own hands. I’ve just sold my last property, and we’ve bought thirty-five thousand sq ft of remote and open land that we’ll be dedicating solely to our dogs. We’ll have enough space to have an on-site medical team, a clinic, and anything else that could be required.
Some people think I’m crazy, but it really doesn’t matter to me – they can say whatever they like. My dogs have helped me grieve, and now, I thank my husband every day for bringing Sheeba home. He, unintentionally, put me on this path. I only had twenty-two years with him...and I couldn’t save him. But what I can do, is save these dogs – from hunger, from cruelty, from death.
I’ve been a protector all my life – this is what I was born to do. It’s almost second nature for me to aid in the protection of India, whether it be protecting our Prime Ministers, our citizens or these abandoned dogs. I’ve served this country all my life and I will continue to do so till my last breath.
Excerpted with permission from Humans of Bombay: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Stories, Karishma Mehta, HarperCollins India.
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