By Shatabdi Chakrabarti
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Videographer / director: Ishani Kasera
Producer: Shatabdi Chakrabarti, Ruby Coote
Editor: Thom Johnson
Living in a small village in Rajpura, Gujarat in India, Shantaben Prajapati first started to welcome the mammals into her home over 20 years ago.
And now, every day between 500 and 1000 bats come to roost in her house.
Her bat invasion began when Shantaben, now aged 73, noticed a single bat hanging in the ceiling of one of her rooms.
She told Barcroft TV: “All my neighbours had old houses at first. Then all of them upgraded to bungalows made of cement and concrete.
"These bats live in old mud houses. Due to all the new construction, they started coming into my house as mine was the only mud house left."
Initially, she was apprehensive and scared of the bats and even tried to remove them.
She said: “At first, I tried to remove them, but it is considered a sin, so I let them be. I have had them for all these years in my house and I look after them. There was only one bat at first. Then the numbers slowly started to increase."
Shantaben lost her husband at a young age and was a single mother to her four children.
She said: “I used to work in the fields earlier and make blankets. Now I get a token amount from the government every month. My entire day is spent taking care of the bats and doing my chores.”
A devout woman, Shantaben walks to the temple every morning at 6am to pray and sing devotional songs. And then the cleaning starts.
She explained: “After I come back, I have tea and breakfast and then start cleaning the house. I can barely walk but I have to clean the house every day. Even though I find it difficult sometimes, I don’t mind."
Sweeping and swabbing the floors and walls of her house everyday, Shantaben also burns Neem leaves to maintain hygiene.
Despite being affectionally known as ‘the Bat Lady’, villagers do question her devotion to her guests.
“People ask why I keep the bats and say that I will fall sick and my house will stink. But burning the leaves and swabbing the floors and walls takes care of it. And how can I get rid of the bats? They are like family now,” she says.
Keeping two rooms for the bats, Shantaben says that she even gave birth to one of her children in a ‘bat room.’
She said: “There were a few bats at that time. My children and grandchildren are scared of them and don’t enter the rooms anymore. But I am not scared of them. Everyday I pay my respect to them.”
The bats fly in and out as they please. Shantaben says that even though the noise keeps her awake during the day, she tries to catch a nap.
She said: “I like the sound they make - 'Chee Chee Chee!' Sometimes the children come to see them and hear their, ‘Chee chee' noises. I think my nature has also become like the bats."
Ghemati Dalaji has been Shantaben’s neighbour for decades and is full of praise for her kindly neighbor.
She said: “She is doing a noble deed. She takes care of the bats.”
Darshan, a young boy in the village, says, “We all call her the bat lady because she keeps lots of bats and feeds them and looks after them. I like the bats as they don’t bite you.”
Shantaben feeds the bats fruit and some of them even eat from her hands. Calling them a blessing, she says:
”When the time comes, they will go away. Let them live here for as long as they want.
“I really love them.”