Set Stories #1: Let’s Talk!

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(TW: Suicide, Mental Health)

A young and talented Indian actor died by suicide two days ago. His unfortunate death has triggered a lot of us and opened the floor to conversations ranging from mental health to nepotism in the film industry, making us all question the idea of “success” we’re all striving for. I, for one, have spent the last two days seething in anger, because, let’s not kid ourselves, mental health on film sets is a joke.

Please note: I am speaking only from my own experiences as an Assistant Director (AD). Some of you may resonate with this and some of you may not. This is not to say that I’ve only had terrible experiences. Like any other job, being on set is exhilarating; it is where you make friends for life, witness a range of myriad emotions on full display and learn to wade through muck to make something worthwhile with every ounce of love you have in your heart. But, it can also be extremely traumatising and someone needs to address this. Also, “You may say that I’m bitter… but I’m not the only one…”

Earlier today, I read a tweet by actor / comedian Vir Das that struck me instantly. Upon sharing it on my social media feed, I got messages from a lot of film crew members who mentioned how much they related to it and moments that triggered their own anxiety in the middle of a production. Film crews are made up of a very unequal hierarchy of people, some of whom have a lot of power and some who don’t. Most often, it is the powerless, who aren’t considered worthy of accolades and aren’t in the spotlight, who continue to go unnoticed when shit hits the fan. So, if we are seriously considering talking about the mental health of members of the industry, then it is these people – the lower rung, the silent workers – who need to be spoken about first. If “tearing your hair out” had a visual translation, it would be the workings of a film set in India.

I respect hierarchy based on experience. I have no qualms in learning from those who have been around longer than me, especially those who are willing to teach from experience. But, that’s not always the case. More times than not, you find yourself caught in a crossfire of egos, wanting to scream but having to swallow it all and move on. Stuck between warring HOD’s, you will find assistants sobbing silently in corners or staring into the dark void that is their future because they know that the blame (for mostly everything) will eventually fall on them. The spilling of anger on set is a domino effect that doesn’t end with the ADs, but unleashes itself even on the most unsuspecting spot dada who happened to walk into the room with “Baby ka juice” at the wrong time. It’s not his fault that Baby refused to do the scene if she didn’t get her juice right away!

I apologise for digressing.

To be honest, the mental health of crew members is rarely a priority on set. Yes, you could get yourself a therapist to deal with your trauma, but only if you can afford it. And while it’s always a good thing to emerge from your experiences stronger, having to constantly question your self-worth can be extremely taxing. Couple that with the recurring thought that all of it is just your imagination and that you’re the only one unhappy, so maybe you’re the problem. If you have a good enough team, you can all cry on each other’s shoulders or drink copious amounts of alcohol to wish away the bad. If not, you face the abuse hurled at you and go cry into your stained hotel pillow every night.

But if we’re really going to start a conversation about mental health, let’s talk about the divisive politics that industry folk indulge in; about the sexual harassment of crew members; about holding in your pee for 12-13 hours at a stretch because segregated toilets are unheard of (more on this in my next post); about the huge pay gap between employees and the lack of opportunities based on their gender; about the pressure on actors, yes, but the pressure on everyone to make a film / series happen. These are just a few examples of topics that can be immensely triggering for crew members that have gone under the scanner long enough. It may be a good idea to tackle these issues before even attempting to combat the invincibility of nepotism. We all need to take responsibility for our actions and we ALL need to do better.

SOS DELHI.

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Hate was just a failure of imagination.

Graham Greene, ‘The Power and the Glory’

They say writing is one way of showing your dissent, your displeasure towards a particular situation, especially if you cannot be physically present. And, while most of my writing channels itself in angry rants directed at fence-sitters and silent spectators, the urge to write to express myself eats me up inside till I finally get down to it. Today is one of those days.

Clashes / Pogrom / Riots / Genocide. Over the last four days, as Delhi (particularly NE Delhi) went up in flames, there’s been a social media war over which word best suits the situation we are in. And while the war wages on, the increasing death toll in Delhi is worrisome.

As a citizen who head-dived into the anti-CAA protests, this violence is horrifying. In India, where the loss of lives is a mere statistic, that something like this would shock me, shocks me even more. We the people of India wake up to discrimination only as per our own convenience, bombard our social media accounts with #SOS calls, gruesome images of brutalities, plaster #Free whoever is the person of the moment on our Facebook walls before promptly going back to sleep or about our daily lives. I’m not judging or pointing fingers at anyone here, I belong to the same category of people and while I’m glad that we are finally ready to act, our collective silence on the crackdown in Kashmir and Assam is proof enough of where our priorities lie, i.e. with ourselves. So, what exactly is our issue? Why does it take so long for us to stand up for or against something? Why do we wait for the calamity to come knocking on our door before we’re consumed by panic or fear or just plain anger?

The image that will haunt us for the rest of our lives. February, 2020. Image: Reuters

India has a plethora of existing problems. You can begin with unemployment and income inequality and trace it back to the vicious caste and class systems that don’t provide the people of this country equal opportunities. Top it up with gender-based discrimination and the alienation of those who don’t identify with either gender. Add to all this a religious twist and you have, quite literally, a recipe for disaster. Murders aren’t just murders in our country anymore. You can be killed for loving someone everyone thinks is wrong to love. You could be raped and murdered, because the idea of just raping a woman or a child doesn’t exist on its own. You unknowingly have the blood of the million sewer cleaners in your locality on your hands. With all this already going on, the fact that a majority of our population thinks it’s okay to kill in the name of religion is altogether more baffling. But it’s real and at our doorstep. These problems I speak of didn’t just appear one day and will not disappear overnight. Simply trying to understand this obsession with hate and violence is what will probably help us find a solution to ending it and unfortunately, the process will take a lifetime and much more.

The struggle for identity is where hate stems from. Every individual person, on either side of the fence, is constantly at war with themselves over whether to help others or themselves. Yes, it comes from a place of privilege that I can choose between fighting the reason for the fire that could cause harm or simply jump into the fire to save someone else. And, it’s hard. One of my observations from participating in the Anti-CAA protests was noting how trivial most of our intentions are. Yes, we are united in fighting against the unconstitutional law that our government passed beneath our very noses, but unlike our opposition that fits perfectly under the umbrella of Hindutva, the rest of us are like siblings; we belong to one family but are constantly bickering with each other over some of the most useless shit sometimes. Our rage manifests itself in online verbal spats, unfriending and unfollowing on social media and sly tweets – all of which our “Hindu Khatre Mein Hain” (Hindu’s are under threat) brethren are watching from a distance and clapping. All it took was a few hateful words from someone to ignite this fire. And while our media continues to please both sides, it is a fact that the ones who have suffered the most, not just their lives but also their livelihood, belong to the Muslim community. In all this, it is also important to note how everyone in our problematic family comes together in the face of tragedy, like in Delhi right now and one can only regret not having stood up when the government decided to cut Kashmir off from the rest of us, blind-siding us completely. Better late than never, right? Too late, buddy, too late.

Delhi. February, 2020. Image: Reuters
Kashmir. August, 2019. Image: Reuters
Kashmir has faced the longest internet shutdown in the world.

I, personally, have been a wreck this past week. The constant updates and SOS messages from those afraid for their lives really shook me up and I found myself weeping uncontrollably at the oddest of hours. It makes you wonder then, if images of atrocities can cut through your very soul, how is it still possible for some to turn a blind eye. And it is then that I realise that by fuelling one’s fear of losing their identity, you can create the kind of monsters our PM and our Home Minister and their crew of sword-wielding ministers have successfully managed to do. They’ve created an army of poor, employed people who will do their dirty work, without them having to lift a finger. It’s difficult to hope that all of us on this side of the fence can band together despite our issues with one another, but there’s no harm in trying.

Until then, Inquilab Zindabad!

Reflections on a Poem

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By: Minna Kabir

Dear BJP Government, into that Heaven of Freedom, let my country awake

          with true Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas Sabka Vishwas

Where  the mind is without fear and the head is held high,
Where knowledge is free.
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls.
Where words come out from the depths of truth,
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection.
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way,
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit.
Where the mind is led forward by Thee into ever widening thought and action.
Into that heaven of freedom my Father, let my country awake.

                                                                 RABINDRANATH TAGORE
                                                                  Gitanjali

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high:

Dear Government can you not feel the fear, the pain, and the sense of rejection, from the people who brought you to power with a huge majority, and who you are supposed to serve and look after so that my country may awake to “sabka saath sabka vikas sabka vishwas?” The mind cannot be without fear and our heads cannot be held high when I open the pages of the newspapers, and watch on TV screens, words spoken by our elected representatives, words like, “those raising anti-government slogans will be buried alive.”, “They will be attacked by sticks, shot at, and put in prison. They will be shot at like dogs.” Is this what my India will have to endure for the next five years of your term in office?

Where knowledge is free:

How can knowledge be free when the people you are supposed to serve, are not heard when they express their dissent? When their cries for sympathy and understanding are met with a ‘lathi-charge’ and even bullets? When their cries for equality of all people are met by putting them behind bars, and then by not providing them access to due justice and the rule of law? When their cries for a hearing are met with stony silence or words of hate? And when the democratic institutions of our dear country, which are meant to protect us and guard our Constitutions and laws, turn a deaf ear to the pleas for protection and justice? Is this Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas Sabka Vishwas?

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls:

Every morning my country, instead of awakening into that heaven of freedom that Rabindranath Tagore spoke of, awakens to the feeling of fragmentation after the CAA has been pushed through Parliament in a hurry. My country fears being broken up into “tukde tukde” with the impending NPR and NRC, because it has broken up our society into the “pro” and the “anti” sloganeering that is generating hate and negativity all over the country. Is this not enough for a government to rethink the legislation?

Where words come out from the depths of truth:

We no longer know what to believe from the mouths of our government. We hear one thing one day, and then something else the next day. We hear different things from different people who are our elected representatives. Words of hope one day, and then words that bring fear and dread another day. Is it not our Constitution that is supposed to provide the boundaries of truth for all? Are we not all taught from childhood to respect above all else our Constitution and the rule of law? Our students, our young people, the women of our country, and our people are looking up to you to look them in the eye and speak in Rabindranath Tagore words “words from the depths of truth.”

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection:

Yes we have to stretch our arms towards perfection, but as frail human beings we have to realize that we are not always perfect in our decisions and actions. Our egos however do not allow us to admit that maybe we are wrong. We do not climb down from our positions, even though all around people seem to be saying you are making a mistake in using a law on the basis of religion, a law that will serve to divide our country, a law that can be misused in the years to come, and a law that is against the basic tenets of our constitution. Do not build walls on the basis of religion, the common people have suffered enough during the partition, when families were partitioned along with our country, because our rulers then wanted to divide and rule. Yes you are the duly elected government, but it is a sign of strength and not of weakness if you allow the opposition to express itself. It is a sign of a healthy democracy if there is a free press, and if there is room for debate in Parliament and in the larger society. And if you say that we were not allowed to do it when we were in the opposition, is that a reason for not doing it now and setting a good precedent?

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way:

Let discourse, open discussion, difference of opinion, dissent, all be allowed to flourish in this great democracy of ours which has stood out in the world because of its famed spirit of tolerance, love and brotherhood. We have been praised all over this world because of the “unity in diversity” we have shown through the ages. A person who travels all over the country from north to south and from east to west, encounters so many different types of cultures, so many languages, so many habits, so many ways of dressing, so many ways of doing things, some contradicting each other, some clashing with each other. But we have endured all the differences through the ages, because we have, in our diversity, had “the clear stream of reason” and unity guiding us through the centuries. Our differences have made us unique through history, so let us make our differences our strength, and be a beacon of hope to this world which is getting so divided.

Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit:

If our country is to travel into that “heaven of freedom”, let us not look back into the mistakes made in our history. Human societies from time eternal have achieved greatness, but have also made mistakes and have been responsible for wrong actions. If we stay in the desert sand of dead habit and try to extort revenge for some deeds of history, how will our country reach that “heaven of freedom”? Let us look forward, let us learn from mistakes made at different times in our history, and let us not try to extract revenge from the common people of our country who just want to live in peace and freedom. Let us strive towards a society where every Indian, regardless of what religion or community he belongs to, can have a roof over his head, food to eat, water to drink, medical help when necessary, a good education for his children, a means to earn a living with dignity, an efficient and honest system of governance, and a future for all coming generations. Let us not waste time and resources, looking back in time and history, at which Raja did something wrong, or which Sultan made a mistake, or which other country is going wrong somewhere, and where we should have revenge, and there will be plenty of space for everyone in that “heaven of freedom to which our great India will awake.”

Where the mind is led forward by Thee, into ever widening thought and action, into that heaven of freedom my Father, let my Country awake:

An atmosphere of negativity, revenge and threats towards neighbouring countries perceived wrongs, changing names of streets and buildings and statues because of a perceived sense of humiliation or grievance, a feeling of ‘us’ and ‘them’, will never lead us forward into ever widening thought and action. India has always been a shining beacon of tolerance, an example of assimilation of diversity, peaceful non-cooperation with unjust currents in history, and if you as our elected government diverted your attention to positivity regardless of what goes on around us, it would not be a sign of weakness, but a sign of the great strength and values that we Indians hold dear. We have our great institutions and we have our brave armed forces, but let us use them as deterrents and guardians, and not as threats, so that we can uphold the values of peace and tolerance in the world. Let us uphold the values of Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore and all the other great people of our country, and let us not have to tell any of our people “go back to where you belong, or go back to where you come from”, because that would be a very negation of all our great Indian cultural traditions and values.        


Minna Kabir has extensive experience working with child rights and human rights movements in Kolkata, Jharkhand and Delhi.

Image courtesy: https://designway4u.blogspot.com/

NO CAA. NO NRC.

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To a former friend, 
The proud ‘Sanghi’,
We always knew,
We wouldn’t agree,
You enjoyed the divide,
I favoured the free
Your rabid hate,
Now a reality,
But, we’ll learn to exist,
You and me.
(No CAA. No NRC)

To my former friend, 
The closet ‘Sanghi’,
You came as a surprise,
A jolt, actually,
You called me out,
On my stupidity,
I call you out,
On your bigotry,
Can we ever be friends? 
You and me?
(No CAA. No NRC)

To my former friend,
The star of the show,
Whose voice is now missing,
Who succumbed to the blow,
But, it’s never too late,
Dear friend, you know,
You will lose a lot, 
But, you’ll gain so much more! 
We can still be friends,
You and I, for sure.

To all my new friends,
Born out of this fight,
I salute your ability,
To chose what is right.
Please don’t lose hope
And don’t lose your might,
It may all seem dismal,
With no end in sight,
‘We won’t go gently,
Into the night’
This is a call to humanity, 
A call to unite! 

The Elephant in the Room

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For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with weight. I have had nicknames like moti (fatso), elephant, saand (bull), hippo hurled at me under the guise of humour. I have been excluded from dance competitions, plays and sports in school because I didn’t ‘look’ like I was up to the task. I was always the girl boys called ‘sister’ because I was ‘SO cute and roly-poly’. And even the year I worked out like a crazy person and lost 30 kilos was a crappy year because it was good, but it wasn’t enough.

If I had a rupee for every time someone came to me with health advice out of ‘concern’, I’d be a f**king millionaire. And, mind you, I don’t doubt your concern. I don’t doubt it at all. I just don’t understand how anyone can gauge anyone’s health (or lack of it) by merely glancing at them. It baffles me how, whenever I’m at my very best in life – living a clean and healthy life, have the full support of my family, a loving relationship, an upward moving career graph – one random, thoughtless and sudden comment about my weight can make all of it come crashing down around me. I am, as I have realised, very sensitive to sticks and stones and words apparently.

However, this is not just my story. There are tons (oops!) of overweight people in the world who are made to feel like monsters in their own body by everyone and everything around them, including their own families! In fact, Julie Murphy’s bestselling book Dumplin’ is a treat to read because it explores the trials and tribulations of Willowdean Dickson, the main protagonist and narrator who, despite being big bodied, decides to participate in the local beauty pageant, run by her own demeaning mother, just to spite her. The book in no way paints Willowdean as a saint. She builds walls around her to defend herself from rejection, brutally jeopardises her first relationship because she genuinely believes that Bo, a boy she likes, deserves better and is a complete shit to her attractive best friend Ellen because the pageant begins to mean something to her and Ellen has the potential to win. Her reactions, though, are way too normal and REAL to sideline.

I remember my first foreign trip as an adult to Vietnam. The country was amazing and the friends I travelled with were the best! But, all of this paled in the face of the complete and utter discomfort I felt at not looking as good as them. Not in a dress and definitely not in my beach shorts. I still regret every minute I spent dwelling on my fat body than on enjoying the trip.

It is common knowledge that everywhere in the world right now, girls (and boys), women (and men) who aren’t conventionally thin are slowly and steadily made to feel like imposters in their own bodies. The first assault comes in the form of glossy magazines, detox teas, diet fads, fashion, films and television series. I mean, as amazing as the sitcom F.R.I.E.N.D.S. was, the representation of ‘Fat Monica’ is just so horribly cringe-worthy! And that’s just one example.

The second assault comes from friends and family who tend only to focus on your weight, no matter what your achievements may be. When you meet a friend after a really long time, you are always first subject to an analysis of your physical form which may or may not gradually gravitate towards enquiries about the rest of your life and work. I have also often come across a group of very thin people who complain excessively about being fat which is just a really shitty thing to do, by the way.

And finally, the third assault comes from the self. Us. Ourselves. Allow me to explain.

A person struggling with weight is always aware of it. We don’t need reminders because we see ourselves in the mirror every single day. I know how hard I have tried to shed the weight till I reached the lowest point of zero f**ks to give. Some bodies miraculously transform from the effort and when I see these transformations, I genuinely feel really happy for the person. I know a lot of my friends and family members who pushed against the tide, day in and day out and emerged victorious. However, there are also people I know, myself included, who have pushed themselves and seen small results and are okay with those results because they make us feel good. Yes, we aren’t stick thin, but the glow on our cheeks makes us happy. But, somehow, people can never believe that we can be happy with ourselves the way we are. Society is conditioned to believe that flab on the body equals an extremely unhealthy person with high cholesterol and high BP and a very sedentary lifestyle. If you argue that you suffer from NONE of the above, they are quick to warn you that it will happen sooner or later. And while this may be true, I personally don’t think it pertains only to people with weight. It is exactly this perception that forced me to look for a quicker, easier option a few years ago. I admit I was attracted to the idea of weight loss pills for a really long time and have even stayed up nights thinking about liposuction. If exercising wasn’t cutting it, surely these options would give me the body I longed for, right?

WRONG! Thank GOD I got over that phase. A lot of people don’t.

British actor, model, activist and founder of the ‘I Weigh’ movement, Jameela Jamil recently released her interview with Sam Smith where they discussed their gruelling experiences with body shaming, especially being in the public eye. The interview was heart-breaking to say the least, but made me realise that even celebrities can be victims of body shaming. Jameela has, in the past year, faced a LOT of flak for calling out celebrities who promote detox teas and weight loss products that are responsible for setting unattainable beauty standards for young people around the world. She has even filed a petition to ban the airbrushing of celebrity photos in magazines, a task no one ever took on before. She has no qualms about flaunting her marks and flabby bits in magazine cover shoots. However, she is just ONE celebrity voice fighting against a system that pushed her to starve herself as a teenager and almost killed her in the process.

But, things are slowly changing. Women are speaking out against all forms of discrimination. Body positivity, as a movement, is gaining momentum and more and more people are fighting to be accepted the way they are. ‘The Mindy Project’, a show produced by and centred around Mindy Kaling (another favourite), was a breath of fresh air when it released because it gave people like me hope. Lena Dunham’s ‘Girls’ was another on my list because it represented her, the chubby friend, as just another normal person with normal people problems. Recently, actors like Amy Schumer and Rebel Wilson are slowly making their way from being the fat, funny side-kick to lead roles in movies. This is, in no way, a small feat even though it’s still restricted to Hollywood. I hope Bollywood sheds its bias against weight someday, too.

Ultimately, it’s about how you can change things individually. As a person who doesn’t have weight problems, you can start by asking about your overweight friends work or relationship instead of commenting on how they look. You can stop giving health tips or advice without fully understanding what their issues are. You can listen to them crib about their weight but tell them they look good anyway. Basically, the next time you see the elephant in the room, as much as you may want to, suppress the urge to address it.

Source: Tomassi

The Dog Lady of Malad

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MIRA DEVI SHETH

I have always marvelled at some people’s ability to devote themselves whole-heartedly to the caring of animals, especially those who take strays under their wing. Naturally, when I heard 85-year-old Mira Devi’s story, I immediately wanted to write about her, document her work so that her efforts are recognised. I began filming her and realised that if there is one firebrand in Malad who is willing to take on anyone who challenges her, it’s definitely Mira Devi Sheth.

Mira Devi Sheth on her evening round.

The first time I saw Mira Devi was during my exploration of Malad when I had just moved here. She was nestled comfortably in an auto-rickshaw, surrounded by buckets of food, supervising the feeding of Evershine Nagar’s stray dogs. The dogs, needless to say, excitedly flocked around her awaiting their evening meal. In her words, she has been doing ‘dog seva’ for 50 years.

Born in 1935, Mira Devi lived with her parents and two sisters at Grant Road. She was an extremely accomplished young girl with a business acumen, trained at the Nashik Bhonsle Military School in swimming, horse riding, shooting and lathi daav (stick fighting). While in college, she enrolled in stitching, typing and telephone operator classes to widen her horizons and secure her future in case of any problems. And, problems she faced.

She was hurriedly married off at the age of 22 through a family arrangement and sent to Orissa. Within 15 days of being wed, her mother-in-law began harassing her for a larger dowry which persisted for two full years. In 1957, when Mira gave birth to a son, the harassment got so bad that she left her husband, took her son and returned to Bombay for good. But, things didn’t get any easier. As a single-mother, she knew she had to work really hard and bring up her son in the best way possible.

Between the years 1963-64, she worked discreetly for two rival cloth mills in Mumbai, without either of them ever finding out. Always on the move, she used her travel time on the local trains to study various subjects, including journalism and business. Apart from taking care of her son and paying for his schooling, MiraDevi spent a lot of her free time taking care of the strays around Grant Road, but with limited medical knowledge and contacts. She also started her own stationary supply and printing business on the side, saving enough money to buy herself a small apartment in Malad.

Mira Devi and her students at the primary school. 

She moved to Malad in 1977 to escape everyone constantly nagging her about her failed marriage and the fact that she was raising her son single-handedly. She and a friend started a private primary school for poor children in her living room which ran for 12 years till her son got married and they had to accommodate his family. It was only when her son gifted her a book about caring for dogs that she began her ritual with the strays of Malad full-swing. Now, 50 years later, if her son disagrees with her activities, she is quick to remind him that it’s all his fault. Her association with the National Association for the Blind for 20 years and the primary school are proof enough of Sheth’s spirit of kindness and love.

An old photograph. 

What began with 5 stray dogs has now grown into a family of 500. Mira Devi has developed an intricate network within the sprawling suburb and is always on call, especially when it comes to abandoned and homeless dogs. She is associated with SPCA Mumbai as well as the neighbouring veterinary hospitals and has admitted a number of sick and injured dogs using her own finances. Over the years, as her commitment to the animals became more serious, she sold all her gold jewellery her mother and sister gifted her to pay for the increasing amounts of food she had to buy.

There has, however, been opposition on all fronts. Be it the local dada of Malad who (according to MiraDevi) went around murdering dogs in order to rob houses minus the ruckus they create with their barking or the BMC who, in 2008, put a fine of Rs.500 on the feeding of stray dogs and birds in public places. But, Mira Devi found a way around all these challenges, continuing to feed the animals to this day. She is afraid of no one and is still, despite her age, willing to fight anyone who tells her she’s wrong. In her case, at the end of the day, the heart wants what the heart wants.

There is a certain spirituality connected with Mira Devi’s dedication to her animals. An ardent follower of Sathya Sai Baba, she bestows a great deal of faith in the love she receives from these animals – an emotion most humans find difficult to express. What others see as a hindrance, she sees as God’s work and this is exactly what motivates her to step out every evening and feed every single stray in the locality.

And, she is not alone. She is accompanied by Raj, her current auto-rickshaw driver who owns 40 cats in the neighbouring slum and whose mother cooks the meat that Mira Devi buys specially for the dogs. Due to religious constrictions, Mira only prepares the vegetarian portions and outsources the meat preparations. Suresh, Raj’s younger brother is a kung-fu trainee and animal lover who joins him in the evenings to help the old lady. There are several little boys and girls from Raj’s slum who join her whenever they can, their fondness for the dogs blatantly apparent. But, as beautiful as this simple act of kindness is, one is acutely aware of the money that goes into this elaborate plan. “It totals up to 60 thousand rupees a month, with the food and auto expenses and the boy’s salaries.” Mira, however, doesn’t believe in hiding away her savings, donating it all to the cause.

Mira Devi with Raj, Suresh and the kids. 

MiraDevi has faced every obstacle with the obstinacy of a determined child. Her only fear at this stage in her life is the fate of her dogs when she passes and this gives her sleepless nights. She is extremely aware of her mortality and doesn’t shy away from it, which is probably why her heart soars when she sees some of the society folk follow in her footsteps. “In my life, I regret nothing,”she says, mirroring a fact I’m absolutely certain of from all the time I’ve spent with her.