If you aren’t looking for it, you’d probably miss it. Tucked somewhere in the by-lanes of the crowded Bhuleshwar bazaar is the Bombay Panjrapole, a 176-year-old infirmary that primarily looks after 350 cows and other stray animals like donkeys, hens, birds, dogs, goats, parrots and ducks.
The shelter, painted bright blue, spreads across a sprawling two acres within the congested market; it is airy and calm. The only sounds you hear are those of fluttering pigeons at the courtyard kabutarkhana, or cows mooing in the sheds.
The Panjrapole was founded by two businessmen, Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy and Amichand Shah, in 1834, initially to look after stray dogs and pigs. They were helped by another Parsi philanthropist Cowasjee Patel, after whom the area, CP tank, gets its name. “The British had ordered a shoot-at-sight to control the nuisance of stray dogs and pigs on Bombay roads,” says Adi Mogralia, secretary, Bombay Panjrapole. The shelter, currently being run by a Parsi trust, has expanded to include branches in Kalyan, Chembur and Bhiwandi, and one in Bhilad, Gujarat.
The aim of the Panjrapole is to nurture and care for animals in distress and protect these strays from ending up at slaughter houses or being tranquilised. “We are here to look after sick animals, not kill them. To us, they are like orphan kids. We provide for them till they die,” he says.
What started as a shelter to protect the strays has today acquired a religious significance. The dominance of cows here, coupled with a plenty of temples in the vicinity, has lent a sacred air to this shelter. It now draws pious residents and shopkeepers from in and around. “Every amavasya (new moon), people descend in huge numbers to feed the gavmata and the birds,” says the owner of a small imitation jewellery shop adjacent to the shelter.
Another interesting fact is that the presence of cows here is more incidental than intended. The Panjrapole, says Mogralia, is not a typical gavshala (cow shelter). The cows were brought in to feed cow milk to strays. “Over time, the number of cows increased. Today, out of the 1,800 animals in all seven branches, 1,300 are cows,” says Mogralia. The Bhuleshwar shelter alone yields 800 to 1,000 litres of milk daily, which is not sold to dairies but to local residents. The money is used for the shelter’s upkeep. “We don’t use artificial ways to produce more milk. Our cows are healthy. We look after them like our babies,” he says.
Each cow here is ear-tagged and they all have names.
Jeejeebhoy also built a complex housing 200 shops and 450 tenants in the area, the revenue from which was intended for upkeep of the animals. “Today the rent is not even sufficient to run the Panjrapole,” says Mogralia. Meanwhile, with generous donations and the goodwill of pious locals, the Panjrapole continues to stand tall, even after a century.