CHENNAI: It’s 10 am on a weekday. N Baskar, a 41-year-old autorickshaw driver, receives an SOS call from a city-based animal welfare activist. He swiftly gets into his autorickshaw, checks for all the essentials — rugs, Dettol, phenyl, sanitisers, masks, apron, gloves, a muzzle, some biscuits and water; starts his vehicle and heads to the destination.
A wounded, bleeding and worm-infested street dog bleakly waits for its Khaki-clad saviour. On his arrival, Baskar rushes to the tripawd dog, wraps it in a cloth, places it on a rug in the passenger seat of his autorickshaw and rushes to the hospital.
A few hours later, Baskar steps out of the facility with a seemingly more comfortable-looking, dressed canine. He puts a reflective collar around its neck, bids adieu, hands it over to the activist, cleans his autorickshaw and gears up for the next rescue or a regular savari. For the last three years, Mylapore’s Baskar ‘Anna’ has been aiding in the transportation of pets, and rescuing injured animals.
Voice for voiceless
"I’ve been an autorickshaw driver for seven years now. Three years ago, I got acquainted with Vinodhini madam, a doctor, who is also an animal welfare activist. She used to and still provides rice, dal, Pedigree, biscuits for dogs; feeds them and is involved in pet rescues. It was through her that I learned how to handle injured pets, especially dogs, and tend to them. Soon, she started giving me leads for pet rescues — one that involved transportation. I was moved after seeing the plight of the injured animals. It ignited a spark, and I decided to dedicate a part of my life to be a voice for them," says the autorickshaw driver, who launched an autorickshaw service for pets — Help Voiceless — on June 1, with the help of wellwishers Vinodhini and Manjula Ganesan, another animal welfare activist.
"Most times, regular autorickshaws and cabs don’t take injured, sick animals. So, having one such service was essential in the city. I’ve known Baskar for a few months now, and he has been proactive in helping me and several others during rescues. He puts his heart into what he does," shares Manjula, who believes that this service will be a win-win situation for pet parents, activists and Baskar, who has been reeling under a financial crisis.
With the virus-induced lockdown unleashing an economic crisis on people across sectors, autorickshaw drivers like Baskar have also had to bear the brunt. With no regular savaris, and lack of income, paying dues for the autorickshaw, house rent, school fees for his children and everyday survival have become a struggle.
"I used to earn about Rs 800 to Rs 1,500 per day. Now, because of the lockdown, I haven’t earned anything. My wife works as a cook in two households, and we have been running the family with the income she gets. On June 1, after the announcement of the relaxation, I decided to go by the advice of my wellwishers and started a pet auto service," he says.
While the idea has been well-received by those in the animal-welfare circle, the feasibility of the initiative amid the prolonged-lockdown seems to be riddled with uncertainties. "Since this is a private initiative, I haven’t been able to procure an e-pass to venture out with my auto to rescue pets during the lockdown. I am looking for some guidance on how to get one," says Baskar, who on average receives two rescue calls a day.
In the last three years, he has rescued and transported over 200 animals in and around the city. "I’ve gone as far as Chengalpettu for rescues. I charge only by the meter," shares the good Samaritan, who has also been feeding close to 50 dogs every day at St Mary’s Road, RK Mutt Road and MRC Nagar. "Vinodhini madam provides me with the staples. I cook and feed the dogs," he says.
During his regular savaris, he ensures to talk about the importance of animals and how one can care for them, with his passengers, provided they are keen on learning more. "Some people like being quiet during the journey while some are curious. After learning about the rescues, some passengers have even been kind to give me money to buy biscuits and staples to feed the street dogs. Every contribution counts," he explains, adding that he sanitises his auto after every rescue.
"The condition of the animals I rescue vary. Some don’t have bladder control, some bleed...but they need the same care as humans do. So, I don’t flinch while helping them. Instead, I make sure to clean my auto, sanitise and disinfect it after every pet service. I am mindful of the safety of the passengers who might board after the rescue. I always keep my workspace clean," he says.
A father of two sons, Baskar is currently trying to earn enough to pay their school and college tuition fees. "My eldest son has written his class 12 exams, and my youngest is in class 10. I have to start thinking about college fees for my eldest. He dreams of becoming a police officer. The least I can do is enrol him into a good college. But with the income I get, I am lost," he says bleakly.
Despite the hardships, Baskar has ensured he spends quality time with his children while his wife is away at work. "I exercise with them in the morning. Buy newspapers for them to read and make tiffin. I believe in humanity. I have seen so many people come forth to help the voiceless. So my hope for a better future will always be afloat," he shares.
For details and to contribute, visit Facebook page Help Voiceless or call 09445159587