Founder of the Blue Cross of India
It all started one rainy day in 1959 when Captain Sundaram couldn't just walk away from the two pups struggling to stay afloat in the flooded roads of T Nagar. He took them home and that gesture marked the beginning of Blue Cross, the animal shelter in his house which at one stage had 60 cats, dogs, goats, bandicoots and also a pair of baby mongooses!
Captain Sundaram, born on April 22nd, 1916,had always wanted to care for animals. In his own words, "God had given me so much that I thought I ought to do something in return. There are so many charitable institutions for human beings, but so few for animals. "With full-fledged support from his family (his wife Usha and the children built the first few kennels with their own hands), he was soon rescuing and sheltering animals in his T Nagar residence till 1968,when Blue Cross was shifted to its own premises at Adyar.
Captain Sundaram started his career as a pilot, and was an instructor at the Madras Flying Club. After training in England he returned to India and trained British and American pilots during the war before joining Tata Airlines in 1945.During his tenure as the Mysore Maharaja's pilot with his wife Usha as his co-pilot, he had the privilege of flying Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhai Patel from 1945 to 1951.He enjoyed an accident-free flying record in his 35 yrs as a pilot. He and Usha set a world record for flying a De Havilland Dove from London to Madras in 27hrs.This record for piston-engined aircraft remains unbroken till today.
It was a well-known fact amongst the pilots that Captain Sundaram would keep circling around till the stray animals were cleared off the runway. He once saw a magnificent cobra in his path as he was taxiing for takeoff and rather than run over it, he hopped across, whizzed just a few cms. above its hood and continued on his way. This incident made headlines the next day!
As a staunch crusader against cruelty to animals, he has been instrumental in stopping several animal sacrifices, including a horse sacrifice in Colombo in Jan 1986 and one in Harihar in May 1986. He also organised many seminars against vivisection, cruel and crude methods of killing animals and has strived to spread awareness on animal welfare. He was a member of the Executive committee of the Animal Welfare Board of India till the end of 1987.
In recognition of his tireless efforts in championing the cause of animals, he won the Queen Victoria Medal from the RSPCA in 1964, the Watamull Foundation Award from the USA in 1987, Silver medals from the Madras SPCA and the Mylapore Academy, a Distinguished Service Award from the Rotary club of South Madras and was posthumously awarded the Prani Mitra Award recently by Shri Krishan Kant, Vice President of India.
Captain Sundaram insisted on free treatment for all animals so that none of them would be denied medication due to lack of money. He dipped into his own reserves during the early days of running the shelter, using his car as the first ambulance by fixing a cage on top and always rushed to the rescue of injured animals, even in the middle of the night or at the other end of the city. It is only apt that Blue Cross today stands as the largest animal shelter in India, as well as Asia, symbolising the love and care that he showed towards these voiceless animals.
With his passing away on the 31st of May 1997, his four-legged friends suffer an irreparable loss of a true lover and saviour of animals. But the legacy of love and compassion towards animals that Captain Sundaram left behind will go on forever.
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