Cityscapes

This old woman in Delhi hasn’t given up on her 400 strays, even after the civic body razed her home

Amma is determined not to disrupt the lives of her ‘children’. But winter is coming and it is hard for her to make ends meet.

It is difficult to have an uninterrupted conversation with Pratima Devi. Every two minutes, she is distracted by a dog demanding food, affection or to be tucked into bed. A resident of the PVR Anupam Complex in New Delhi’s Saket District Centre, Pratima Devi (known as Amma) is the caretaker of the area’s stray dogs

Her canine charges are fat, well-fed and happy. Most of them nap on beds she has made, and others – the sick and the mischievous – are made to sit apart. Even though there are occasional territorial spats between the dogs, they show no sign of leaving her side.

On October 30, Amma’s house, a shack she built for herself with the help of her son, was razed by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi.

“A woman came to us and told Amma that she couldn’t be here,” said Pawan, a young man who lives with Amma. “When she protested, the woman came back with trucks, destroyed the house and took away our gas cylinders.”

He added, “She has a legal license for her shop, and a registered Aadhar for this address. This is her home.”

A shelter for all

Photo credit: Jai Arjun Singh
Photo credit: Jai Arjun Singh

The MCD had posed threats to Amma and her neighbours for months. She was accused of selling drugs to teenagers, making the neighbourhood dirty because of the dogs. But as writer Jai Arjun Singh, who lives in the neighbourhood, pointed out, the teenagers were homeless young men who found shelter on Amma’s floor, and every dog in Amma’s house is treated and sterilised.

“Those kids were away from home because of a fight, or some sort of domestic violence,” said Singh. “All she did was shelter them, like she does the dogs.”

Amma has lived in the PVR Anupam Complex for 35 years and is a veteran caretaker of strays. Before this, she said she was married at the age of seven to a much older man in Nandigram, West Bengal. She had no one to spend time with and took solace in feeding and playing with the dogs outside her house, while her husband was at work. Soon, they became like her children, depending on her for everything.

“When I had to leave my village, I made sure they would be looked after,” she said. “Here too, I had to take care of these children.”

Bholu, Amma’s oldest dog, is over 15.

“He was with me when the MCD came the first time” she said. “He was very angry.”

This is not the first time that Amma has faced problems. In 2003, she said, an arsonist set fire to the hut in which she lived with her dogs. Some of the dogs died and Amma suffered burns to her arms and stomach. This didn’t scare her off. After she mourned the death of her dogs, she was back to where she lived, treating yet more dogs with as much love.

“When I first met Amma six years ago, I had just lost my dog,” Singh recalled. “When I saw her, an old woman taking care of so many dogs in the neighbourhood, my heart warmed to her.”

Singh’s pet dog now is the sibling of one of Amma’s dogs. “What she does is extraordinary,” he added.

Photo credit: Jai Arjun Singh
Photo credit: Jai Arjun Singh

Dog days

Amma does not live with many possessions, but living outside the precarious structure her son built is a hindrance all the same. Winter is approaching and she is worried about how she will feed her dogs and keep them warm. Even though she gets adequate help from local residents, Amma said she mostly had to make do on her own.

“Sometimes I get money, but it’s not something I can rely on,” she said. “I pick and sell junk for my dogs – I make sure whatever happens, they are fed and vaccinated.”

She has tied up with local organisations like Friendicoes, an animal shelter in Delhi, to make sure that the dogs remain healthy. Whenever she can, she medicates them herself, but otherwise takes them to the clinic.

“None of these dogs ever skips a vaccination,” said Singh. “She’s very particular that when it comes to them, nothing ever goes amiss.”

Photo credit: Jai Arjun Singh
Photo credit: Jai Arjun Singh

Surviving on love

Residents in Delhi are known for their love of dogs – many neighbourhoods feed strays, buy them jackets for winter and encourage shelters to vaccinate the dogs and return them to their neighbourhood. But Amma is no well-heeled Samaritan.

“I take care of 40 dogs in my colony” said Gauri Dayal, a resident of Malaviya Nagar and a self-described fan of Amma. “She takes care of 400. It’s commendable.”

Since Amma’s home was torn down without warning, the hundreds of dogs that depend on her for food and shelter could lose their lease on a safe and happy life. As passers-by sat down by her to express remorse over the events of last week, she moved about with urgency – shouting orders at her son, making sure the dogs were getting fed.

“Till I am alive, nothing will happen to these ones,” she said with the proud air of a matriarch. “I won’t let it.”

Photo credit: Jai Arjun Singh
Photo credit: Jai Arjun Singh
Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Tracing the formation of Al Qaeda and its path to 9/11

A new show looks at some of the crucial moments leading up to the attack.

“The end of the world war had bought America victory but not security” - this quote from Lawrence Wright’s Pulitzer-Prize winning book, ‘The Looming Tower’, gives a sense of the growing threat to America from Al Qaeda and the series of events that led to 9/11. Based on extensive interviews, including with Bin Laden’s best friend in college and the former White House counterterrorism chief, ‘The Looming Tower’ provides an intimate perspective of the 9/11 attack.

Lawrence Wright chronicles the formative years of Al Qaeda, giving an insight in to Bin Laden’s war against America. The book covers in detail, the radicalisation of Osama Bin Laden and his association with Ayman Al Zawahri, an Egyptian doctor who preached that only violence could change history. In an interview with Amazon, Wright shared, “I talked to 600-something people, but many of those people I talked to again and again for a period of five years, some of them dozens of times.” Wright’s book was selected by TIME as one of the all-time 100 best nonfiction books for its “thoroughly researched and incisively written” account of the road to 9/11 and is considered an essential read for understanding Islam’s war on the West as it developed in the Middle East.

‘The Looming Tower’ also dwells on the response of key US officials to the rising Al Qaeda threat, particularly exploring the turf wars between the FBI and the CIA. This has now been dramatized in a 10-part mini-series of the same name. Adapted by Dan Futterman (of Foxcatcher fame), the series mainly focuses on the hostilities between the FBI and the CIA. Some major characters are based on real people - such as John O’ Neill (FBI’s foul-mouthed counterterrorism chief played by Jeff Daniels) and Ali Soufan (O’ Neill’s Arabic-speaking mentee who successfully interrogated captured Islamic terrorists after 9/11, played by Tahar Rahim). Some are composite characters, such as Martin Schmidt (O’Neill’s CIA counterpart, played by Peter Sarsgaard).

The series, most crucially, captures just how close US intelligence agencies had come to foiling Al Qaeda’s plans, just to come up short due to internal turf wars. It follows the FBI and the CIA as they independently follow intelligence leads in the crises leading up to 9/11 – the US Embassy bombings in East Africa and the attack on US warship USS Cole in Yemen – but fail to update each other. The most glaring example is of how the CIA withheld critical information – Al Qaeda operatives being hunted by the FBI had entered the United States - under the misguided notion that the CIA was the only government agency authorised to deal with terrorism threats.

The depth of information in the book has translated into a realistic recreation of the pre-9/11 years on screen. The drama is even interspersed with actual footage from the 9/11 conspiracy, attack and the 2004 Commission Hearing, linking together the myriad developments leading up to 9/11 with chilling hindsight. Watch the trailer of this gripping show below.

Play

The Looming Tower is available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video, along with a host of Amazon originals and popular movies and TV shows. To enjoy unlimited ad free streaming anytime, anywhere, subscribe to Amazon Prime Video.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Amazon Prime Video and not by the Scroll editorial team.