On the road to empathy

No Pausing

On the road to empathy

I want to change one moment in the life of every dog I come across,” says Sushant Ajnikar, whose love for bikes and dogs has come together in his initiative ‘Paws of India’.

 While it might seem crazy to some, Sushant is riding from Bangalore to Ladakh and back with one aim in mind – befriending every dog he meets on the journey.

“I started planning my ride six months ago and wanted to do something different. So I contacted ‘Let’s Live Together’ to collaborate but we realised that giving bibs or collars to dogs along the way wasn’t enough. I decided to stick to featuring the dogs I met, giving them a name, feeding them biscuits and water and playing with them,” shares Sushant, who has already met over 50 dogs en route. “I’ve always loved dogs but couldn’t keep them as pets because my parents wouldn’t allow it. I’m happy because my wife and I finally adopted two strays,” he adds. 

Speak to Sushant and you can tell that this is a genuine effort, given that he refers to dogs as people. “I connect with whoever I can. Each dog has a particular way of communicating. Based on their body language, I know if they’re comfortable with me or hostile. I’ve had dogs trying to bite me and overfriendly ones who love the attention,” he says, adding that some of the names he has picked so far include Sherlock Holmes, Sheru, Kalu, Milky Bar and Gundu.

It’s also a way of interacting with people, he notes. “Seeing me on the Royal Enfield makes people even more curious about who I am, what I’m doing and where I’m travelling to. When I tell them about ‘Paws of India’, they appreciate the gesture. I’ve had many dhaba owners offering me free chai and food. And on seeing the Facebook page where I put up the photographs, many have also offered to put me up, feed me or help with bike servicing,” says the man who always has an emergency biscuit pack in his bag. 

“I’m not a writer or photographer. I don’t want the photographs to look stylised because this is reality we’re talking about,” he clarifies.

Through the many dogs and people he has met, Sushant also feels like he’s learning life’s lessons. “The people I meet may not remember me tomorrow but they’re inspiring me along the way. For instance, in the smallest of villages, the dogs may not be well-groomed but they’re provided food, water and shelter. People go out of their way and beyond their financial situations to help them. I’ve met a rag-picker in Delhi who feeds 70 dogs a day and an old couple who have 37 dogs in their Farakhpur house and have looked after strays for 50 years!” he recalls. 

But does he feel that he’s doing enough? “At this point, I can’t do more for them. It’s a personal choice to connect for at least a moment and enjoy their company. I’d love to start an animal shelter some time in my life but that’ll happen when I have the means,” he concludes.

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