Prema arrived in Bengaluru in 1979. Now homeless, she devotes her time to taking care of strays.
She struggles to make ends meet, let alone feed and shelter herself properly, yet this compassionate woman ensures that her 30-plus dependents are always well-fed and medicated whenever they are ill, and buries them at the Shantinagar pet burial ground after they’ve breathe their last.
65-year old Prema is a blessing to nearly 30 community dogs —— some of whom she has taken care of since they were pups — in and around Johnson Market, and near the back gate of Baldwin boys’ high school in Richmond town. Fondly called “Mary” by most residents of the area, Prema has no family or friends in the city, and was forced to fend for herself and began working as a part-time maid. She also began picking up rags and recyclable waste to sell at the market, and with an income of barely 600 rupees per month has managed to feed, love and nurture 30 dogs over the last 36 years.
“No camera, no camera”‘ she says in English, with a shy smile creasing her small wrinkled face. A little hesitant to open up at first, she sheds her inhibitions when three of her “best friends” —–Suresh, Babu and Michael —— come bounding towards her with tails wagging at the sight of a box of biscuits in her hands. She says, “the others are near Johnson Market, where I get scraps of meat to feed them. I sleep in the compound of a nearby bank, but my dogs are not allowed there. I have to leave before the bank opens and can go back only after it closes.”
Prema feeds her pooches twice a day with leftover meat, and occasionally, treats them to bread and biscuits as well. She personally picks out the ticks from their fur and tends to any injuries the dogs may have sustained in fights or accidents. She has christened her other dogs with names like Peter, Jimmy, Giraffe, Zebra and Johnny. “Since she cannot afford collars for the dogs, she uses pieces of coloured thread or ribbon to tie around the dogs’ necks, and many residents know the dogs by their names too,” says Deena Nagesh, “I first met her 5 years ago, while dropping my son off to school. He and I are ardent animal lovers too, so we stop by every Sunday and help Prema however we can. We sometimes give her tick powder and de-worming tablets. At other times we give her biscuits and food for the dogs. Otherwise, we just give her money whenever possible.”
Deena is not the only one. There are numerous other locals who make it a point to do their bit by helping Prema and the dogs. In fact, many children from the nearby school even give her their pocket money on a regular basis, just to help her nurture her pooches.
Deena adds, ” We want people to help however they can. As for Prema, her selflessness despite coming from an underprivileged background is SOMETHING THAT SHOULD NOT GO UNNOTICED.”
——- Praveen Kumar