When it comes to making giving back to society a way of life, what matters is not the sum written on the donation cheque but the bigness of the heart that wrote it. It is about generosity of spirit and wearing your heart on your sleeve.
Film maker Farah Khan’s 12-year-old daughter, Anya, found herself increasingly upset when news started trickling in about pet owners in Mumbai abandoning their animals on the streets when the COVID pandemic gripped the city. A staunch animal lover, she had already been noticing that the strays in the neighborhood were starving in the initial days of the lockdown and her concern increased when she realised that families were ruthlessly casting their pets away on the streets. Also saddening her were the endless stories of human suffering during the lockdown.
“When I realised how helpless and sad she was, I told her that she could take the initiative to provide a solution to the heart wrenching problem”,
recalls Farah who says she was filled when happiness when her daughter replied saying she would use the money in her piggy bank to buy food for the animals.
With the Rs. 20,000 she had by way of birthday gifts from family, Anya reached out to a clutch of animal feeders, funding them and requesting them to start feeding the hapless strays. Simultaneously, she took her mother’s help to send small sums of money to feed the hungry in slum settlements where daily wage workers and their families struggled to stay alive.
But when the lockdown continued over the weeks, Anya knew she had to do more to keep humans and animals fed and in good health. A passionate artist, the little girl decided she would use her skills to generate funds for her pet mission. Mama Farah, with an enviable 2.2 million followers on Instagram, stepped in with a post where she announced that her daughter would make sketches of pets, in return for nominal donations that would go towards feeding the hungry animals on the streets.
“I had to limit the donors to the entertainment industry and those who had my phone number since Anya is too little to be exposed to strangers.”
Help poured in quickly, with friends sending pictures of their pets and Anya diligently spending hours, even on weekends, sketching quirky, cute images of the dogs and cats and posters that sought to bust the myth that pet animals can spread the dreaded virus.
It helped that school was closed for a few days as the pandemic cast a shadow of uncertainty over everything. While every donation of a thousand or five thousand was cause for much excitement in the household, Farah’s triplets were overjoyed when actor Abhishek Bachchan committed Rs. One lakh to the cause, in return for a quirky picture of a dog for his daughter, Aradhana.
“It was a great morale booster for my girl because she is so passionate about animal welfare.”
Now that school has resumed and Anya is busy with online classes at home, Farah says time is reserved in the evening for her sketching work. In a corner of the triplet’s room stands a pile of her sketches, signed and ready to be dispatched to the donors, as soon as the lockdown is lifted.
“From the beginning her idea was to give the money to small groups who work in neighbourhoods, personally feeding and taking care of animals. These are the folks who find it hard to get any money. The big NGOs have many donors. The pandemic and the lockdown will both be over one day but I know my daughter’s heart will continue to beat for strays and she will soon find another project to ensure they are taken care of."
Farah signs off.