“India is my country and all Indians are my brothers and sisters,” says the pledge of allegiance that we recite in primary school. Despite our everyday cynicism and lack of time for one another, some people interpret “all Indians” to include four-legged, furry and feathered Indians. Yesterday, we experienced how Mumbai Fire Brigade quietly, and with humility, brings succor to birds in distress; we had but to ask, and they responded within minutes.
It was around 10 O’clock yesterday morning. I was having a typical Sunday morning, reading the agenda for my building cooperative society meeting, when the watchman rang the bell and told me that a pigeon was in distress. It was hanging from a cable line, stuck in a manja (kite-flying string).
My kind-hearted neighbour, Vasant Kurte, had been standing on the terrace for some time, trying to rescue the bird by throwing a stone tied to a string to pull it loose. After several failed attempts, he called me.
I thought of dialing 101 to call the fire brigade, but I was worried: Would they respond to a call for rescuing a mere pigeon? Would a fire engine and a fire crew come all the way for a mere pigeon? I called up my friend Shakuntala Mazumdar firstname.lastname@example.org, who is an animal activist and asked her. “They are supposed to respond to come to the rescue of all living creatures, no matter how great or small,” she asserted. “That is their mandate.”
Still, I was not convinced. “They are supposed to… but will they actually do it? Or will they speak scornfully or patronizingly to me, and ridicule me for phoning them about a mere pigeon?” Although I am an RTI activist, I am still only an average Indian, and so I really worry about such things.
But I dialed 101 on my mobile anyhow, and was pleasantly surprised. They took my complaint very seriously, and within minutes, called me back and told me to stand by to guide the fire brigade vehicle to the precise destination.
Barely five minutes later, I heard the siren of a fire engine outside my building gate. (Note: My camera’s date stamp, which indicates Saturday afternoon, is incorrect. This happened Sunday morning.)
I showed them the pigeon dangling helplessly from a string.
They quickly drew up a plan of action.
Fireman Shashikant, who was in plain clothes, immediately climbed a nearby tree.
As he neared the treetop, Assistant Station Officer Kamble handed him a long metal pole.
Using the pole, Shashikant quickly got the injured pigeon and lowered it down. Within seconds, he climbed down, and cut the strings entangled around the wings.
My neighbor Vasant Kurte, who had spent the morning trying to rescue the bird, held it in his hand at last. Less than 20 minutes had elapsed after the first call to Mumbai Fire Brigade.
THE RESCUERS: In the picture, left to right, are Fireman Shashikant, ASO Kamble, Leading Fireman Prakash Bhoir and Shiv Krupa building resident Vasant Kurte. The firemen were from Dahisar Fire Station, S V Road.
Their mission accomplished, the firemen lost no time in asking me who would take the bird to a veterinary hospital. I replied that I would. And satisfied with my reply, the firemen quickly departed in a very businesslike way.
I took the bird home and gave it to my son Viraj to hold, so that it wouldn’t flutter about and injure itself further.
I called up Shakuntala Majumdar again to thank her for giving me the confidence to call the Fire Brigade. We discussed our options — whether to take the injured bird to a nearby veterinary hospital (either Ahimsa hospital at Malad West or Thane SPCA at Mira Road), or calling an animal ambulance to collect the bird.
And then, suddenly, the injured bird struggled a bit and went stiff. I took the bird from my son, and discovered that its heart had stopped beating. It had died from its injuries, and God knows how many hours of traumatic experience.
And as I laid the bird on my sitting room table and looked closely at its various injuries, I wondered: Had it been worth all the effort? Should I have just ignored the bird hanging from the cable, and gone about my work? By my actions, hadn’t I just wasted a lot of time and effort – my own and that of the firemen – and that too on a Sunday morning?
Then I thought about it from the firemen’s point of view: What if the firemen thought that way? What if the Mumbai Fire Brigade weighed the ultimate consequences of their actions, and decided whether to attend a call or not? Would we feel safe?
Surely, many fire fights of these brave hearts are futile. Many of the persons they rescue from fires, drowning etc. ultimately die in hospital. So, is it worth their effort?
Suddenly, I feel my Sunday morning was well-spent and fulfilling, even if the bird died in the end. This was a lesson in faith. Although many things in our country don’t work, I discovered for myself that Mumbai Fire Brigade responds to calls for rescuing even small creatures – even something as small as a pigeon. Because all Indians are our brothers and sisters – even the feathered Indians.
THANK YOU MUMBAI FIRE BRIGADE for restoring my faith in the system, and in humanity.
(Krishnaraj Rao is a prominent Right-to-Information activist and journalist based in Mumbai. He can be reached at email@example.com)