Amala Akkineni and Vasanthi Vadi on their pet issues and pet peeves

For the anniversary issue we reopen our popular column, Take Two to feature two women whose life revolves beyond theirs. While Amala connected with our readers through her Animal Talk column in MetroPlus, Vasanthi Vadi of the People For Animals (PFA), who followed the column and is quite appreciative of it, continues to be an inspiration for Amala. “She was into animal welfare much before I came into the scene,” says Amala fondly. On a nippy morning at the Blue Cross facility in Banjara Hills, Amala and Vasanthi go down memory lane of Hyderabad, to share their observations, concerns and feelings for the city and its people. We listen in...

Amala: It was in 1992 and I was in Chennai when I heard about you…a woman called Vasanthi Vadi who was into animal welfare. I told myself I have to meet her. I found you out and your band of dedicated workers.

Vasanthi: Yes, I remember. You had signed just ‘Amala' in the letter. And it turned out to be THE Amala. Any apprehension about you being a star disappeared after we met up and I saw your dedication.

Amala: You came full force to support me when I started Blue Cross.

Vasanthi: You put together things much better than we were able to do. It's not like, “I've quit films, so what now?” your dedication was total. (She turns to us and says) I've seen her so often doing things like cleaning the kennel herself when she finds it dirty. Where as, I would be calling out for the workers to clean up.

Amala: (laughs heartily) Comes from my Irish background.

Vasanthi: I've seen that kind of dedication in very few people.

Amala: We've been together in this till GHMC thing happened and the city became big and we had to set up so many groups.

Vasanthi: Unless both of us share our knowledge and information there won't be any growth. Animal welfare is a social issue.

Amala: People's insensitivity still remains a big challenge. The truth is unless you make that connection with an animal, the darkness surrounding cruelty to animals will not go… Apartments have become so insensitive; people are not allowed to keep pets.

Vasanthi: Levels of intolerance is increasing in the cities.

Amala: Hyderabad used to be this sweet laid back town, everything was accepted. Coming from Chennai I thought it was a town.

Vasanthi: Because of its single lanes?

Amala: May be. Every one knew everyone. The furthest you could go was Secunderabad. Everybody dressed up in jackets and suits in winter because it was cold. Children could play cricket on the road and ride bicycles.

Vasanthi: I've been in Hyderabad much longer than you. Yes, we've seen it grow suddenly so huge. Though people are much better off now, the space remains a constraint.

Amala: The cost of the land has gone up so much that people are putting up only economically viable buildings. They are not concerned of animal shelters, children libraries, activity centres. Children don't have anywhere to go except cinema halls, malls and restaurants. All three aren't ideal places for kids to grow up in.

Vasanthi: Unfortunately space is not available in Hyderabad.

Amala: Even if it is available it is given away for development.

Vasanthi: This space constraint forces us to live in frustration and as a result we adapt to an undignified way of doing things like drive badly, getting impatient and intolerant on road…

Amala: Hyderabad is in an adolescent stage; still not mature. In Mumbai and Chennai there is method in the madness. Despite its large crowds there is a ‘live and let live' spirit and a connection with good. Hyderabad has still to wake up to that goodness for animals.

Vasanthi: Or for each other.

Amala: If you had that kind of concern for humans naturally you'll have concern for animals. What to do? Should we give them little more time (she asks Vasanthi in all seriousness) I am not a complainer. May be our motivational talk to school and college students on global issues will hopefully bring in some change.

Vasanthi: Women and children too. They are always open to ideas and ready to give it a try. Is it because they have time?

Amala: I think it comes naturally to them

Vasanthi: Students are our biggest hope. They know what to do.

Amala: Writing ‘Animal Talk' column in MetroPlus gave me immense satisfaction. I quite enjoyed writing the column. I've learnt to express myself better. But, there was a baseline of understanding of animals missing. People were expecting animal welfare to take over individual problems. You can't expect a centralised solution to individual problems.

Vasanthi: You were able to bring up a lot of issues through the column. There was nobody else in Hyderabad who were writing about animal welfare issues. The column had a major impact. We realise how we are dependant on media to highlight so many issues.

Amala: You must give it to the Hindu for being pro-environmental and pro-animal.

Vasanthi: (Veering from the subject) Do you miss your dance and acting?

Amala: I do admire the classical arts, but at some point I couldn't go on doing a Gopika pining for Krishna. It did not resonate with the need inside that was yearning to do something different. And when the harsh realities of life made me doubt humanity, the spiritual side came up. I started doing meditation and yoga and I was comfortable with where I was and whom I was with, not being judgemental of people and accepting people as they are. But I can never let go of the acting phase. When I go and give those talks, I draw on the strength of my acting skills.

How about you?

Vasanthi: My interests are limited. I have my animals and I have my work and if I can use your words, I am not a complainer either. When there is a problem we must be among the doers rather than complainers.

Amala: In you I saw a kindred soul.

Vasanthi: (Laughs)

Amala: Do you realise most of our conversation starts with ‘can we do this…can we do that..'

Vasanthi: True, we have so much information and inputs and getting work done is fulfilling.

Amala: (turning to us) You should see Vasanthi's face when she rescues a dog from the cruel owner, she'll call and say ‘I took him away..let's go celebrate…' it's great fun.

Vasanthi: And we go for these luncheon meetings, where we eat and you talk.

Amala: How are your children doing?

Vasanthi: Very well. Siddharth will finish his law course in one year and Manasa is training to be a pilot. Both my children share my concern for animals. A society can be judged by how it treats its vulnerable section.

Amala: There is a misconception that people like us who care for animals are not concerned of people, but the point is our concern goes beyond human levels. And we have problems with not just insensitive human beings but eccentric animal lovers who are always telling us what we should do and how we should do.

Vasanthi: It's a common phenomenon Amala, when people who are doing something, others will always come and tell you how to improve.

Amala: Anyway, without our respective families' support it would have been miserable for us. But the best part is, loving animals is infectious.

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