It is true that most superheroes don’t wear capes. A lot of them wear a rundown grey t-shirt with tattered jeans. Instead of a sharp jawline and flawless mane, they have a sheepish grin and messy hair.
But everyone can agree that all superheroes have one common goal—to protect what matters the most to them.
Vignesh Vijayalakshmi, a 22-year-old rescue worker with the Blue Cross of India (BCI), an animal welfare charity based in Chennai, certainly qualifies as a superhero.
The youngest member of the Blue Cross team, he has individually rescued over 77 animals in a year. Shy and awkward, he admits that he deals better with animals than his fellow humans.
Snug in a Blue Cross ambulance, Vignesh opens up about his life. “I am an engineering graduate and would sometimes leave classes for animal rescues. Dogs get stuck in wells, or are injured and need medical attention. Abandoned cats and rabbits are found mostly on the roads, and we shelter them until they are adopted.”
Enroute Tambaram, he receives an emergency call about a dog who is stuck in a closed lane between two houses. Fearing that the animal might die of hunger or worse, some individuals in the area contacted Blue Cross. Without a word, Vignesh reaches the stop, puts on his orange jacket and jumps into the lane. He knows what he is doing.
He coaxes and comforts the frightened dog who bares his teeth at him in response. Vicky then asks for his blue net. The only way for the dog to be rescued is to scoop him inside the net and release him outside.
Unfortunately, the cornered animal goes berserk upon sighting the net and begins to snarl and howl.
“The poor animal thinks that he’s getting caught for a slaughterhouse,” says Dawn solemnly. Indeed the sight was pitiful. The heart-wrenching howls of the dog made people pause on the streets.
Undeterred, Vignesh moves forward with slow, steady steps and nudges the dog’s backside, encouraging it to enter the net. Once the dog is in, he scoops up the net in one fluid motion and transfers the rescued dog to another worker.
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“Sometimes the animal doesn’t want to be friendly because they’re too scared. So they have to be carried in the net. A few minutes of discomfort means a lifetime of freedom,” explains Vignesh.
The net is lowered and untangled, and the dog tastes freedom once again. He runs down the road, without looking back even once.
Another animal rescued; another mission successful. The workers pack up and drive back to the shelter. There’s an atmosphere of ease, and Vignesh opens up, “This was a fairly easy mission. Once I had to rescue a dog whose face was blown up during Diwali, and he had crawled away to die.”
Looking away, he recalls, “Maggots were eating away the skin on his face, and you could smell the odour from a 100 meters away.”
Showing a video of the dog, he continues, “Maggots were falling on my lap, and the smell was almost unbearable, but I was determined to save it and carried him on a bike for 40 km so he could be treated. Today, he has completely healed and is living in the shelter.”
Why is it so crucial for him to go through such discomfort to rescue an animal? Why is each mission, no matter how life-threatening, given equal priority?
“Everyone must respect the life of another being,” he says, lost in thought.
As the sun sets, he reaches the shelter and greets Sunface, a rescued dog who lost his upper jaw due to a fireworks explosion. Wagging his tail, he circles Vignesh. With a similar twinkle in both their eyes, they take a few moments to greet each other after a long day.
“I am determined to save every animal that I possibly can. There are a lot of other people better than I am, but I want to improve with every mission.”
He reveals how secretly he cannot calm down until an animal is rescued and treated. Other rescue workers would only find out about his difficult missions through Dawn, who is exceptionally proud of his work.
Although quiet about his personal life, he considers his mother and sister to be his role models and inspiration.
Taking a walk around the shelter, he remembers the name of every buffalo, pig and dog and recounts the harrowing experience that each animal was subjected to. Cows and bulls cultivated only for their semen and milk are abandoned when they are infertile, dogs are mercilessly beaten and left to die, birds with snapped necks—such is the plight of helpless animals that don’t have a voice of their own.
Running his hand through his hair, he says, “I don’t want to be acknowledged as a hero among anyone. I’m happy just being who I am. I’m no superhero.”
(Written by Mohini Chandola and edited by Gayatri Mishra)