About Joyatri

Avid thrifter and vintage clothes wearer. Love 1960s and early 1970s styles. Partial to Art Nouveau, Pre-Raphaelite, Victorian, Renaissance and Medieval art. Former art historian. Current packrat. On a continual quest for good-looking, comfortable vegan shoes. Bhangra dancer since 2002. Fascinated by all things Indian. Vegan and animal advocate. 

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This is an account of a trip made a while ago, but I'm leaving it up as an archive.

India, January 4 - 26, 2007

On January 4, 2007, I left Boston for India for the fourth time. I flew into Chennai, where I attended the Asia for Animals 2007 conference. Three hundred participants from India, the rest of Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the U.S. came together to discuss animal welfare issues. I then spent 3 weeks traveling to Visakhapatnam (Vizag), Bangalore, Delhi, Agra, and Mumbai, visiting animals shelters, sanctuaries, and rescue centers and buying handicrafts. Below are some highlights of the trip.


Click on thumbnail photos to view enlargements.


Thursday, January 26, 2007

VT Station, Mumbai
Today was my last day in India. But, it was a very long day as my flight to London left at nearly 3 a.m.

Did a bit of shopping and emailing in the morning. As I passed the Central Railway Station, I noticed this rather rotund dog zonked out a couple feet from where there were thousands of people streaming out of the station. I don’t know how the street dogs of Mumbai do this. After I came back from India, I emailed a photo of the dog outside the railway station to Abodh, who informed me that the dog’s name is “Motu.”

Motu ("Fatso")
Later on I met Abodh, who took me to a crafts exhibition in Bandra. Since we headed out at rush hour, it took an over an hour to get there by walking, commuter train, and auto-rickshaw. At the station in Bandra, Abodh saw three dogs he knew, who greeted him with wagging tails. I really think he knows every single street dog in Mumbai. And not just by name, but by personality (his characterization of most every dog he mentioned to me is that he or she is “damn sweet.”). He told me that dogs recognize his scent even before they see him. Not all are happy to see him. Some don’t like the medications he dispenses and run for the hills when they sense that he’s coming.

At the craft sale, I made some very last minute purchases, then we headed back to his house for a yummy home-cooked meal.

My last few hours in Mumbai brought together all the best things about India: animals, delicious food, beautiful crafts, and warm hospitality.


Wednesday, January 25, 2007

Today I went to the Mumbai Press Club, to a press conference given by my friend Jonathan Balcombe. He was touring India speaking at medical and veterinary colleges on animal sentience. I skipped out a bit early to go meet Abodh and purchase some The Welfare of Stray Dogs (WSD) products. The make some really neat tote bags with whimsical line drawings of dogs. (Buy them here.)

Since Abodh was a volunteer for WSD for six years before he started work there, he has spent a lot of time on the streets of Mumbai getting to know the dogs. It seemed to me that he knows all of them by name. When he found out that I was headed back to the Mumbai Press Club, he told me to look for Choti, a dog who lives on the pavement just outside the Club with a woman who also lives on the pavement just outside the club.

I went back to the press conference, which was just wrapping up. Jonathan and I waited for his taxi outside the gate of the club and, sure enough, just to the right of the gate was a woman and a sleek white, brown and black dog. I asked the woman, “Iska naam kya hai?” (“What is his/her name?”) And she replied, “Choti.”

Choti showing off her WSD tattoo
I took a couple photos of Choti (with her human companion’s permission). In one, she is looking all sweet and cute and, in the other, she has her back legs sprawled apart. After I came home, I emailed both to Adodh and referred to the second one as “Choti in a rather undignified pose.” Abodh wrote back that, in fact, Choti was showing off the WSD tattoo inside her thigh that indicates the date that she was sterilized. What a smart dog!

After meeting Choti, I attended a talk Jonathan gave at K.C. College nearby.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Ajit, kennel supervisor, gives treats to Kalu and Tommy
I arrived in Mumbai in the early afternoon. A couple of hours after getting off the plane, I was meeting Abodh Aras, CEO of The Welfare of Stray Dogs (WSD), at the organization’s sterilization center. The center is in the middle of a slum, in the city-owned former dog pound—where street dogs were killed. WSD’s intention is that dogs just come here for sterilization and recovery before being put back on the street. But, there are some strays living there. WSD manages to take good care of the dogs in spite of the lack of financial and administrative support from the Municipal Corporation (although it is obligated to provide both).

WSD runs an Animal Birth Control/Anti-Rabies program, bringing in approximately 180 dogs a month. Under the creative leadership of Abodh and with a cadre of volunteers—I think he said that there are 90 active volunteers—it runs a variety of other programs. One of the most critical activities undertaken by volunteers in on-site first aid for dogs. This type of care treats small medical problems before they become serious enough to bring the dog into a clinic or life threatening. They also place dogs in permanent homes and go into schools and talk to schoolchildren about dog bite prevention, among other things.

Abandoned Pomeranian
One of the dogs I saw at the sterilization center was Tommy, who doesn’t like women, so he and I didn’t become well acquainted. Tommy loves Abodh, however, and loves running around and playing with him. There was also Kalu, who used to live at the zoo, until zoo officials evicted him. And a pretty Pomeranian, who had been abandoned on the street but was adopted the day after I visited.

That evening I went with Adodh and some of the WSD volunteers to an informal talk by John Rogerson, a dog trainer from the U.K., who spoke about how shelters can increase the chances that a dog will be adopted. Only a few of his remarks were applicable to WSD’s operation, but it was interesting nonetheless.


Sunday, January 21, 2007

469369-691306-thumbnail.jpgFatehpuri SikriAnother day of sightseeing in Agra as my train back to Delhi wasn’t leaving until 8:30pm. First to Fatehpuri Sikri, which was the capital of the Mughal empire in the 16th century. It consists of red sandstone palaces, pavilions, and various other types of other structures. The intricacy and design of the stone carving is phenomenal. The tenaciousness of the guides and those who 469369-691314-thumbnail.jpgFatehpuri Sikriprofessed not to be guides (“I work for the mosque”) is also phenomenal. A ghost town like this really requires peace and quiet to appreciate it; I couldn’t imagine anything worse than having a guide talking at me and deciding what I should see and when.

There were two dogs at Fatehpuri Sikri, a brown male and a white female, who had recently had puppies. I gave the male some cookies and he became my guide for a while, following me around. But he didn’t try to spout made-up histories about the buildings, so his company wasn’t unwanted.

Mom and puppies
Later I saw the puppies I suspected existed in the garden with the gardener. Eventually the mother came running over to see who was photographing her puppies.

Nearby is the Jama Masjid, a still-used mosque. In the center is a tomb with curving brackets and latticework screens.

Unofficial guide
Along the road on the way back from Fatehpuri Sikri, which is about a 45-minute drive, I saw a dead donkey or pony as well as dead dogs. Sad.

In the afternoon I visited Agra Fort, by far the most peaceful (in spite of the crowds) monument in Agra I had been to so far. 469369-691336-thumbnail.jpg
Three dogs lie in wait for family to finish their picnic
There were plenty of benches where I could sit and write while listening to the parrots chirping away in the trees. There were 3 scrawny dogs scavenging for food, but all too fearful to approach me when I offered a cookie.

Wacky brackets
From the terrace overlooking the Yamuna River, you could see the Taj Mahal off in the distance. There were some wild ornamental brackets in a few of the structures. I hung out there for several hours before heading to the train station to wait for several more hours.


Afternoon, Saturday, January 20, 2007

In the afternoon I visited the Agra Bear Sanctuary, run by Wildlife SOS. There are four bear sanctuaries in India taking care of 363 bears. I was shown around by Dr. Raja. The 13-acre sanctuary was set up to offer the bears a peaceful existence—in contrast to their former lives being made to perform for tourists in the street. Now they are kept in groups ranging in size from 7 to 16 in enclosures surrounded by electric fences. The blind bears are kept together in one enclosure. Visitors aren’t even allowed to get too close to the fence so as not to bother the bears too much.

Dev and Chintu playing on "enrichment devices"
From a distance, the bears look like big (like Newfoundland-big) shaggy dogs. Many of them love to play with the “enrichment devices,” branches and tree trunks set up for them like playground equipment. And when they really get playing, they make noises that sound like dogs barking. As I went by each enclosure, the bears made kind of a huffing noise as they got a whiff of me, a new visitor.

Because the bears’ “masters” had knocked their teeth out when they were a year-old, the bears are fed semi-solid food: mashed up fruit, eggs, honey, and rotis and wheat porridge and milk. The fruit is scattered about or put inside trees or a bamboo stick hanging up high so that the bears can use their natural foraging behaviors to find it. Dr. Raja said that the bears play on the enrichment devices and break them, so they have to be rebuilt. I asked how often the little structures are rebuilt, and he replied, “Everyday.” The bears are fed in a segregated part of the enclosure and while they are eating, workmen go in and remake their playground.

A bear and his log
Dr. Raja explained that many of the bears came to the sanctuary malnourished, so are much smaller than they would be if they had remained in the wild. The 12 bears that were rescued as cubs are kept together and are noticeably larger than most of the other bears. They still have their teeth and there is a chance that they can be released into the wild.

In addition to bears, the sanctuary is home to nilagri and hog deer, which have been rescued after being attacked by feral dogs. Some of them seem quite tame and followed us around.

Go to Wildlife SOS’s website to learn more about the rescue and rehabilitation of India’s dancing bears. Seeing all the happy, frolicking bears at the sanctuary was a nice antidote to the sad conditions of animals I had witnessed in the morning.


Morning, Saturday, January 20, 2007

469369-684339-thumbnail.jpgToday I took the 6am train from Delhi to Agra. Wildlife SOS had kindly arranged train tickets and taxis for me before my arrival in Delhi. First stop in Agra was the Taj Mahal. This was my fourth trip to India and my first time to the Taj Mahal.

The foreigners’ fee for admission is nearly $17, the money supposedly to be used for the conservation and management of the building and grounds. At the ticket gate, there is a metal detector and security staff checking bags and frisking visitors. I got turned away for having a banana in my bag. Turns out no food is allowed on the grounds. After eating the banana, I went through the admission gate.

Buddhist monks at the Taj Mahal
The first view through the gate is the most amazing; this is where you get the full sense of the design and symmetry of the Taj Mahal. After that the teeming hordes of visitors kind of wreck the view.

There was a good number of security staff at the ticket gate. And there was one security guard directing traffic into the mausoleum (below the mausoleum are the actual tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, for whom he built the monument). This guard also enforced the “no photography” rule in the mausoleum.

Sadhus at the Taj Mahal
I had read about all kind of conservation surveys and plans related to the Taj, but was mystified as to why there was no security staff to keep people from damaging the main building and the two buildings flanking it. The buildings have exquisite inlays of agate, carnelian, and other semi-precious stones. Or, at least, had. Three million visitors come each year and it looks as though at least some take little bits of the building as souvenirs. There is graffiti on the buildings and even carved into the trees in the garden. There is a little museum with some manuscript leaves and pieces of ceramic. Again, not much thought has been given to the conservation of these objects. I was there for two hours and I never saw more than the one security guard on the premises. As a former museum curator, it was baffling to me that this UNESCO World Heritage Site could be so unprotected. I couldn’t take in a banana, but I could have walked out with a chunk of the building if I’d wanted to. Go figure.

Yeah! No more dancing bears in Agra.
After I left the Taj, I walked around the Taj Ganj, the bazaar area nearby. On the way back to the parking lot where my taxi was waiting, I saw a billboard for the Agra Bear Sanctuary, where I was headed next. Dancing bears used to be part of the Agra tourist experience, but now all of these bears have been rescued and live in the sanctuary.

Although there were no bears on the streets, there were plenty of dogs. And puppies. I saw more dogs in Agra than anywhere else I’ve been in India. And I saw lots and lots of puppies, something I have rarely seen elsewhere. And, the dogs didn’t look fat and healthy as they do in cities with aggressive sterilization programs. The presence of so many puppies and the poor health of the working donkeys, bullocks, camels, and ponies around the Taj Mahal depressed me. I won't even go into the aggressiveness of the guides and vendors.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Dog at the entrance of CUPA's shelter
We were off again today with our hosts, Suparna and Sandhya of CUPA, the largest and most active animal welfare organization in Bangalore. They do everything: run an Animal Birth Control/Anti-Rabies program for street dogs; conduct free large animal camps to provide vet services to working equines and cattle; run a canine therapy program for special needs children and adults; police animal welfare conditions; offer vet services to small animals at their shelter and clinic; and adopt out companion animals.

First off, we visited the shelter, which is open 24 hours and has an ambulance service. It was the model of organization. As soon as we walked in, we had to pick our way through the dog-lumps sleeping at the entrance. 469369-679874-thumbnail.jpg
Poster identifying "permanent" animals
We entered the Trustees’ Room, where Charlie joined us. Looking a bit punk with a heart-shape shaved into the fur on his back, Charlie is a tripod and one of CUPA’s therapy dogs. The Trustees’ Room is his turf. Each dog has claimed one of the rooms—Angel hangs out in Accounts; Rowena in the Library; Brownie in the staff kitchen and so on. The rest, like this group, remain underfoot by sleeping in the entrance.

Charlie hopped up on the couch and let everyone pet and kiss him. I had brought some squeaky toys that belonged to my Rudy. Suparna gave one to Charlie, who didn’t quite know what to do with it. He started gnawing on it but never realized that it could be made to squeak.

Puppy, ringleader of the Chase Brigade
Charlie and the dogs at the entrance are some of the “permanent dogs” of about 30 that no one wants to adopt (so sponsorships are requested for them). These dogs can come and go from the shelter building. Of course, they know a cushy deal when they see one, so they don’t go far; the shelter is their home. At night, though, we were told that they form the Chase Brigade, headed by Puppy and the 3-legged dogs. The Chase Brigade likes to go out at night and chase and bark at vehicles driving past the building.

Charlie tries to figure out what to do with a squeaky toy
We toured the facility and saw the operating rooms, the ICU unit, and the medical supply room. We were also taken to a room with a few puppies. Soon, a puppy exercise area will be built, so they can run around without getting too dirty.

Besides the permanent dogs there are about 100 dogs at the shelter at any one time. These are abandoned pets who are up for adoption and street dogs that come in temporarily for medical care or sterilization. That day Suparna had just learned that 6 469369-679883-thumbnail.jpg
Dog with "prepare-for-take-off" ears
dogs, including a lovely blind German Shepherd named Cesar, were going to a home together. Pretty amazing considering the shelter averages about 10 dog adoptions a month.

After touring the kitchen area—the dogs are fed a home-cooked vegetarian diet of raggi (a type of millet) porridge, chapattis, rice, eggs, milk, yogurt, cooked vegetables and dal—Wing Commander Lingaraj, the shelter manager introduced us to a fat black and white dog, named “Hero” by the staff. He was the victim of extreme cruelty and came to the shelter 4 years ago. Below is the story of this rescue and recover from the CUPA website.

Hero and Wing Commander Lingaraj
Hero, as we came to name him, was owned by Mr.Balachandra. On Christmas Day, 25th Dec. 2002, imagine the horror of the residents of Whitefield, a suburb of Bangalore City! Mr Balachandra tied the dog to his Matador Van and drove the vehicle a good 5km dragging the screaming dog behind him. The owner justified his action saying the dog was a biter. Mr.Roop Singh, a local resident, saw the ghastly scene and chased the van and managed to loosen the rope. The dog was left for dead until further investigation by Mr.Roop Singh revealed that his heart was still beating. He bundled the dog into a taxi and filed a First Information Report at the nearest Police station. The first sight of the completely bloody and wounded animal at CUPA, still leave some staff members shuddering in horror, at the memory! The able veterinarians of CUPA immediately provided medical aid and emergency services. Hero was critical for 3 days fighting between life and death and was in the Intensive Care Unit.

Two months later, Hero made a good recovery and contrary to his owner's statement, he is one of the friendliest dogs at the shelter. Once he is stroked and petted, he will continue to rub his head and body against the person, craving for affection. Rather overweight, he is adored by the CUPA staff.

Dogs at the shelter temporarily
Although this account and the accompanying photos are rather dog-centric, there are other kind of animals at the CUPA shelter. There is a cattery (about 10 cats are adopted out a month) and a handful of large animals, including Baby, an adolescent bull, who was rescued from a butcher shop when he was 5-days-old.

After visiting the shelters at VSPCA and CUPA, I had the idea that someone should do a television cartoon show based on the life of shelter dogs in India. There would be the “core” group of permanent dogs, a motley assortment of “differently abled” dogs, each with his or her own quirky personality. Then there would be an ever-rotating cast of temporary dogs who pass through the shelter. It might help individualize Indian street dogs, making them appealing to people who might otherwise go out and buy a purebred dog. It could be a funnier, 469369-679898-thumbnail.jpg
Rude Dog and the Dweebs
more heart-warming version of Rude Dog and the Dweebs, a short-lived cartoon on television in the 1980s. It featured a bunch of badly drawn dogs who worked at an auto-body shop and was the inspiration for naming my dog “Rude Dog” (Rudy, for short).

Later in the day, we visited CUPA’s clinic in town, which is where people can bring their companion animals for medical care (that they pay for) and grooming. Plus, there is a shop selling pet supplies.

Knowing that I was in the market for handicrafts, Suparna directed me to a craft exhibition being held in town for a few days. There, I was able to buy bags from the URMAL cooperative in Rajasthan (buy them here) and jewelry from Nrusingha Barik, the very same jewelry-maker from Orissa whose products I have been buying for the past two years through one of the Crafts Councils (buy this jewelry here). I was looking at his wares and recognized his hand-writing on the tags. Small world!

That evening, I met Ramesh, a talented wildlife artist. I will eventually be offering prints of his drawings and watercolors on this website.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

We arrived in Bangalore yesterday. I was here 5 years ago, but only for a couple of days. I wanted to come back again because I knew that this time I’d have excellent hosts—Suparna Ganguly and Sandhya Madappa of Compassion Unlimited Plus Action (CUPA), an animal welfare organization in Bangalore.

Today, Suparna took us to the Bannerghatta Biological Park, which is home to several elephants. Although the elephants are restricted to a small area where they are on view to the public for a couple hours a day, the rest of the time they are free to roam and forage on two hundred square miles of national forest land. Sort of. Unfortunately, their mahouts don’t always let the elephants roam as far as they’d like, as the mahouts don’t want to travel great distances to bring the elephants back to the park for their showing to the public.

Even though their living situation is not completely ideal, these elephants—Veda, her little brother, her mother Vanita and grandmother Suvarna, and Veda’s two aunts and step-father—are much better off than they would be in a zoo or circus. In fact, Veda was recently at the center of an international campaign to prevent her from being presented as a state gift to the Yerevan Zoo in Armenia. Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh not only decreed that Veda stay with her family in Bannerghatta, but also banned animals as diplomatic gifts.

Most importantly, since elephants are highly social animals, these at Bannerghatta are living with their families. As with the lions and tigers at the rescue center in Vizag, I don’t think I have spent much time looking at elephants up close. They are really quite odd-looking creatures and their trunks are so versatile. The elephants were in close physical contact, huddled up and touching, the entire time we were there.

Saleem Hameed
After the Biological Park, we headed to the Bannerghatta Rehabilitation Centre. As we drove up to the gate, we were greeted by a very handsome, barking dog, Tension. His pal Sunjan (who I later put into a doggie trance by rubbing her belly) was also happy to have visitors. Then we met Saleem Hameed, who is at the Centre every hour of every day and who has devoted his life to rescuing and caring for orphaned and injured wild animals.

We visited some of the animals in his care. First a snake (I don’t know what kind) who lived in the room next to Saleem’s bedroom, along with an injured cobra. Saleem took the snake (not the cobra) out of his enclosure and let me pet him. I don’t think I had ever petted a snake before.

Macaques rescued from a laboratory
Outside, we visited the primate enclosure, which held macaques that had been rescued from labs. Like Auschwitz victims, they had their lab numbers tattooed onto their chests. Saleem told us that a very young monkey was just introduced into the primate cage and, luckily, she had bonded with the older monkeys and they with her.

We took a walk beyond the Centre enclosure, where Saleem said that he sees a small herd of wild elephants from time to time. Later, as we were leaving, Saieem was up on the roof of one of the buildings, hand-feeding a Brahminy kite and other raptors. These were birds that he had rehabilitated and released, but they still came back to visit him and mooch some food.


Monday, January 15, 2007

Caged lion
Today Swathi Buddhi Raju took us to the rescue center for lions and tigers. It is one of five rescue facilities for lions and tigers in India and houses 61 lions and 12 tigers (or maybe the 61 includes the 12 tigers, not sure). Most of the animals have been confiscated from circuses, where they were abused and tortured in the name of “training.” Most bear electrocution scars on their foreheads and other parts of their bodies.

Tiger in his enclosure
I don’t think I have ever been that close to a lion or tiger; their magnificence is heart-stopping. (Later in the trip, when I first laid eyes on the Taj Mahal—finally seeing it on my 4th trip to India—I was similarly awestruck, but I’d have to say more so seeing a lion up close.)

Tiger with scars on forehead
The lions and tigers are inside part of the day and outside part of the day. While, on one hand, it was sad that they have no where as much space to roam as they would in the wild, those of us touring took some consolation in the fact that these animals are now safe from harm.

Later that day, we went to the temple at Simhachalam. Dedicated to Vishnu in his avatar of Varaha and Narasimha (boar and lion), it has elaborate carvings of Hindu deities and animals. But, according to the VSPCA, the temple has served as middleman in the slaughter of hundreds of calves (cow slaughter is illegal in Andhra Pradesh). Devotees give male calves (which 469369-661631-thumbnail.jpg
Temple carvings
are useless to them as they don’t produce milk) to the temple, which the temple authorities turn around and sell to butchers. VSPCA has saved many of these young animals. Read more about VSPCA’s work to help the Simhachalam calves here.

Dog outside temple
On the steps leading down from the temple to the parking lot, there are lots of little shops selling souveniers to pilgrims and tourists. I snapped the photo to the left of a dog perusing the merchandise.


Sunday, January 14, 2007

Fish market
This morning, we were met at the hotel by Pradeep Nath, founder of Visakha SPCA (VSPCA). After a visit to the fish market, we head to VSPCA’s shelter. There, the staff has made a special kolam (design of ground rice flour) at the entrance to welcome us.

Nani outside the welcome center
The VSPCA shelter is a mini-paradise with facilities for dogs, cats, cows, turtles, monkeys, birds and more amid a jungle-like environment.

In the little “welcome center,” we sat and cooled off after the long drive. There we met some of the 78 dogs that live at the shelter. All came from living on the street. There was Johnny, with his stumpy front legs; pretty Jimbo; feisty Chinny; and many others whose names I can’t remember. We were a group of 7 dog-lovers and the dogs relished all the attention.

The dogs went everywhere we did
Our tour of the shelter began with the dog kennels, where dogs that are brought in for medical care or spaying/neutering are kept temporarily before being put back in their neighborhoods. We also saw the examination and operating rooms and the quarantine areas. From there, we visited the “Poppy” area, as a misspelled sign marked the puppy adoption section. 469369-650315-thumbnail.jpg
This way for mange
Then to the cattery, full of toys, perches, and other enrichment tools to keep any cat happy.

After lunch, we toured the “goshalla,” which houses over 600 cows, bulls, and buffaloes. Their manure is used to create rich compost as well as biogas that supplies energy for electricity and cooking fuel. The compost, which is made on site, is used all over the sanctuary, which is why there is a Jurassic Park-like lushness to the grounds.

Laila on the wall
The other side of the sanctuary houses the wildlife: turtles, primates, birds, and one mongoose. Like the cattery, the aviary was chock-full of enrichment materials.

Cat playing hide 'n seek under a sari
After the long tour, chairs were set up in a circle for everyone to sit and have tea and cookies. This included the dogs; some hopped into the chairs and stole cookies from the low table in the center as though it was their birthright to do so (which, of course, it was). Johnny made it clear to one of our hosts, Mallika Buddiraju, that he be picked up and soon he was fast asleep in her lap. 

Making dog and cat food
The permanent resident dogs are allowed to stay out of the pens at night. Raised platform beds have been made for them, complete with cushions stuffed with hay. At dusk, as the humans were prepared to leave, the dogs, having just eaten their dinner and tuckered out from a full day of being petted and pampered, climbed into their beds and went to sleep.

Lunchtime greeters

Parrots in aviary
469369-650337-thumbnail.jpgSitting down for tea
Raj, Deputy Shelter Manager,  with "lapdog"  Anna469369-650342-thumbnail.jpg

Mallika and Johnny
Blackie looking cute
Sharon St. Joan inteviews Gudi

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Today, the folks from Best Friends and I boarded the Coromandel Express, which, in 13+ hours, took us from Chennai to Visakhapatnam (Vizag). Within an hour, we were out of Tamil Nadu and into Andhra Pradesh. It was nice to get out of the city and see the greenery of the countryside. Patches of color appeared where women spread just-washed saris and lunghis on the ground or over bushes to dry.

Thirteen hours is a long time. It was spent looking out the window, reading, and chatting with Lavanya of Best Friends and with our compartment-mate, Mr. Kumar. Mr. Kumar told me about the 4-day harvest festival of Pongal, as it is known in Tamil Nadu, or Sankranthi, as it is called in Andhra Pradesh. Read my entry about it in Joyatri’s Blog on the Best Friends Network site.


Wednesday-Friday, January 10-12, 2007

I arrived a couple minutes late to the first day of conference. The formalities were about to get underway—an invocation, the welcome address, presentation of awards and a keynote speech by Maneka Gandhi—all introduced by a distinguished-looking gentleman with a deep and melodious voice. I thought, “this guy must be an actor.” And sure ‘nuff, I found out he is P.C. Ramakrishna, known as the “voice of Chennai,” a theater and voice over actor.

Bharatanatyam dancers
Each day of the conference consisted of panel sessions on various topics (i.e., Farm Animals, Animals in Research, Captive Animals, Companion Animals, Ethics) broken up by two tea breaks and a lunch. Most days run over by at least 2 hours. My head was spinning with the amount of information presented. Animal welfare workers in Asia face challenges not even dreamed of by those in the U.S. (bear bile farms, killing of dogs and cats for food, little to no enforcement of animal welfare laws). In spite of their daunting tasks, most speakers were positive, and like the atmosphere of the U.S. animal conferences that I attended last year, there was a “we’re all in this together” spirit.

At the many tea breaks, lunches, and receptions, I meet people from all over the world—469369-649881-thumbnail.jpg
V.P. Dhananjayan as a deer giving birth
Egypt, the U.K., the Philippines, Hong Kong, Thailand, India, Iran, China, and elsewhere. Again, as at the U.S. conferences, it is reassuring to know that there are people everywhere who will spend their last cent or take time they don’t have to help animals.

The last day of the conference ended with a music and Bharatanatyam dance performance by V.P. Dhananjayan and Party. The dances were all based on stories about animal with incredibly complex eye and hand gestures that evoked the emotions and movements of various types of animals.


Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Today I attended the first half of the pre-conference Animal Birth Control/Anti-Rabies (ABC/AR) workshop. The event was kicked-off with a talk by Dr. Chinny Krishna of Blue Cross of India. Dr. Krishna was introduced as a “trailblazer”; in 1964 Blue Cross of India in Chennai (then Madras) introduced ABC/AR concept as the most effective way to reduce the stray dog population and the number of cases of rabies in humans. (see here for statistics showing the success of the ABC/AR program).

Next to speak was Maneka Gandhi, who urged people to get out of the habit of “disposing” of animals and open themselves up to the possibility of positively interacting with animals. She also requested that the Animal Welfare Board of India release funds to allow ABC/AR programs to expand into the smaller cities.

The rest of the morning included various experts offering points as to how to implement successful ABC/AR programs

I cut out after lunch, choosing to skip the talks of spay/neuter protocols and decided to head out to shop and check email. Later that day, I passed through a “walking and jogging” park. In most Indian cities, walking along city roads—which involves walking in city roads, as there are no sidewalks or they are filled with vendors, dogs, cows, and parked vehicles—is not a pleasant experience. So, it appears that this park is where one can go to do laps in a grassy, tree-filled environment.

I stopped to watch a middle-class, middle-aged man clad in bright white sneakers striding briskly along the path inside the park. Two dogs trotted alongside him. They were not on leashes, and they were not purebred dogs. They looked like typical Indian street dogs. I got the sense that they lived in the park and this man was a regular visitor, who perhaps gave them treats or attention. As they passed me, I moved my hands to get my camera out of my bag, attracting the attention of one of the dogs. He slowed down and looked at me with that typical expectant dog expression that says, “Do you have food for me?” When he saw that I didn’t, he ran to catch up with his friends.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Headed back to DakshinaChitra today, where I put together a sizable lot—of kalamkari bedspreads, napkins and scarves; block-printed scarves, appliquéd wall hangings; wooden toys; silver jewelry; and bag of various types—to be shipped home. For this visit I hired a car and was accompanied by Sharon and Amy of Best Friends. For both, it was the first time in India. Since this was my fourth trip, I had forgotten how scary traveling by car is the first time. I advised both to look out the side windows at the scenery. One risks a heart attack by looking at the road and oncoming traffic.


Sunday, January 7, 2007

Pretty pooch on Khader Nawaz Khan Road
I’ve learned that the auto-rickshaw drivers of Chennai are tenacious hagglers. Unlike rickshaw- and taxi-wallahs in Mumbai, these guys don’t use the fare meters and quote exorbitant fares. However, the haggling is all good-natured and each driver wished me “Happy Pongal” (the upcoming Tamil Hindu holiday) as I disembarked. Unfortunately some of my haggling today was for naught, as two places I tried to go to weren’t even open. Ended up shopping for myself, buying two tops at Fab India.


Saturday, January 6, 2007

Mrs. Bangle maker
Arrived in Chennai in the wee hours of the morning and after a few hours sleep headed out to explore the city. In the afternoon, I went to DakshinaChitra, a crafts village, with its American founder. There are a dozen or so artisans set up in little booths, who are able to sell directly to the public. I bought bangles, kalamkari wall hangings, and grass read fans. A very sweet couple from Rajasthan make lac bangles. I had them 469369-649811-thumbnail.jpg
Mr. Bangle maker
custom make some “large size” ones while I was there as well as bought some already made ones for myself. I then headed to the DakshinaChitra shop. Since DakshinaChitra sources its products from craft cooperatives in Tamil Nadu and neighboring states, this was the place for me. I started stockpiling items to buy, but had to stop when the shop was closing.