Last year, an increase in stray dog-bite incidents in Kerala had lead to vigilante groups killing or targeting strays, rather than wait for the government machinery to step in to deal with the problem.
In such a backdrop, when one comes across the Uddannan Memorial Bus Shelter at the Pallipuram village in Kozhikode, it is sure to warm the hearts of even die-hard opponents of strays.
This is not just any memorial set up in the name of a deceased political leader or any other well-known local personage.
This is a tribute by an entire village to its very own beloved stray that had sauntered into their hearts a decade ago. A flex on display near the bus-stop reads: â€śIn memory of Pallipuramâ€™s watchman who will never fade from our hearts.â€ť
Uddannan is what they named him. He had the right to enter every house and shop in the village, which offered him food and shelter. He was loved by one and all.
â€śBut his favorite spot was the place where the bus-stop now stands. During the day, you would invariably find him there. In the evening, he used to do the usual rounds of the village, accept food from some place or the other, and then maybe sleep in any one of the homes. He was such a lovely dog,â€ť recalls Sreejesh K, one of the natives who took the initiative to build the memorial.
According to Sreejesh, whenever the youth club in Pallipuram got together, one could be sure Uddannan would be right there beside them.
The beloved stray died on 24 April 2016. Villagers say he had a few physical ailments. They are also not sure whether it could have been a hit-and-run that did him in.
â€śHe had not been keeping well for some days. His gait had slowed downâ€¦he was not his usual smart self. When it was night, I went in search, so as to give him some food. Almost 50 people later joined me.
That was when we saw him lying prone, some distance from his usual haunt. He was hurt all over. A vehicle may have hit him. Soon after we gave him some water, he died,â€ť recounts Sreejesh to The News Minute.
The dog was buried in his favourite spot. His well-wishers later got together for the religious ritual that is usually observed after 41 days in case of a human death. Animals are not usually accorded such an honour.
Villagers distributed payasam (a traditional Kerala sweet-dish) on 04 June last year. Both the shelter and the bus-stop too were inaugurated the same day in his memory.
With Uddannanâ€™s first death anniversary fast approaching, the locals have made all efforts to maintain his memorial with all respect due to a dear one.
â€śSmoking is not allowed. Everyone ensures the shelter is kept clean,â€ť smiles Sreejesh.