Shallow Pockets, Large Hearts…

They aren’t your regular well-heeled citizens or Pg 3 persons who give away a minuscule percentage of their large earnings to charity (preferably when there’s a camera around). Some of these givers earn barely enough to keep their families going, but are incredibly generous with their time and money.

 

Maharashtra (India)

 

Whenever Madhukar Pawar, a clerk working at Nair Hospital in Mumbai, visited his village Vivali in Ratnagiri district, his dismay at the abysmal conditions of its schools and students would exacerbate. After years of stressing about it, Pawar, now 57, finally launched the Lanja Rajapur Sanghameshwar Taluka Utkarsha Mandal (LRSTUM) in 1991 with five friends, who also belonged to the lower middle class. The group adopted schools and students from the three taluka-s (sub-district) of Lanja, Rajapur and Sanghameshwar.

Money, inevitably, was a problem, and Pawar had to take a personal loan of Rs 15,000 to launch the project. But the effort was worth it — LRSTUM, which began with 23 schools, today helps out kids from 105 schools. The group’s membership has gone up to 64, with all members contributing a fixed Rs 130 a month besides scouting for donations like books, cloth, pencils and compass boxes. Last year LRSTUM distributed school-related material worth a staggering Rs 1.8 million.

 

Mumbai’s civic hospitals don’t have a terribly positive image. But a group of ten people in Rajawadi Hospital are a shining example of selflessness. The group, comprising ward boys, nurses, laboratory technicians and clerks, has, for the last decade, been pooling its collective resources to help needy patients who don’t have the money for medicines or lab tests. Mukund M Mujumdar, a pharmacist and group member, says the group runs on an informal basis. There are no rules about the amount to be contributed: each member gives whatever s/he can, although the average works out to around Rs 150 a month a member. A clerk keeps a money register and details of the beneficiaries.

 

Karnataka (India)

 

Eighty-year-old Thimmakka is fondly called the mother of 400. No, not children — the figure refers to the number of banyan trees this poor farm labourer has planted along the Bangalore-Nelamangala road.

Forty-five years ago, Thimakka and her husband, a childless couple, decided to grow trees and treat them like their children. They would cut branches, plant them along the highway, and trudge over three km everyday to water them. The saplings have blossomed into 400 healthy trees dotting the Bangalore-Nelamangala road.

After her husband passed away, life was tough for Thimakka, but she carried on with the work. Recognition did come later in the form of government and NGO awards, but all that remains immaterial for the lady who’s now virtually a brand name in environment.

 

Charmadi Hasanabba gets his name from the majestic mountains he lives near in Dakshina Kannada district. Hasanabba, who runs a small hotel at the foot of the Charmadi Ghat, is better known for the free ambulance service he provides for accident victims on the Bangalore-Mangalore highway, which runs over the accident-prone ghat. Although he himself does not keep count, the Dakshina Kannada district police estimate that the 56-year-old must have saved over 500 lives in the last 23 years. “I have spent a lot of money and time in taking people to hospital. But the kind of satisfaction that this service has given me I could not have got from anywhere else,” he says.

 

Bihar (India)

 

Twenty-eight-year-old Nasima spent her childhood in the dingy lanes of Lalten Tola, Chaturbhujsthan, a red-light area in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur. She is among eight women here who not only refused to join prostitution but also formed an NGO called Parchham (Flag) to create awareness among sex workers and change society’s perception of them. At present, the group runs centres in three red-light areas in Muzaffarpur, Sitamarhi and Bettiah, which educate and help sex workers — last month, two such girls passed their secondary school examination with flying colours. “We want people to know how terrible the lives of sex workers are behind the veil of illusory prosperity,” says Nasima feelingly. “We want to prevent fruitful lives from being lost to others’ lust.”

 

Rajasthan (India)

 

Blood bonding comes first, they say. But for Ram Sahay, a simple villager from Bhanpur Kalan in Jaipur district, this term doesn’t mean only blood relatives: it encompasses all those who are in need of live-saving blood.

Sahay is now sarpanch (village head) of his native village, thanks to the respect he has earned among villagers with his social cause. Nullifying all medical theory and caution, he has donated blood 470 times in the past 46 years. Besides visiting hospitals regularly for this, he helps people get over inhibitions related to blood donation by educating them on the fact that donating blood frequently is not injurious to health. Well, he should know.

 

Uttar Pradesh (India)

 

Kashi, a patient in the psychiatry ward of Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj Medical University, stares into oblivion all day. The only stimulus that makes his eyeballs roll is the touch of Doodhnath Yadav, a non-gazetted employee in the Lucknow Electricity Supply Administration, and Udaibhan Dwivedi, a head constable with the UP police.

Yadav and Dwivedi, who met eight years ago, have nursed 80-odd mentally ill patients back to sanity, and reunited 55 of them with their families. If Yadav plays the father, spending from his meagre salary on their treatment and other needs like clothes and fruit, Dwivedi is the mother: right from identifying persons in need (many of these are destitutes lying by the wayside) to getting the legal formalities done, he stays at the forefront. Daily, he cooks for about a dozen persons like Kashi, travels to the hospital and makes them eat. There are moments when the mentally challenged get hostile and attack him, but such things fail to dampen his spirit.

Where medicines often fail, since mentally ill patients refuse to take them, it is unconditional love that puts them back on the path to recovery. Destitutes, who have no recourse to such love, now have this amazing duo, whose supporters have grown by leaps and bounds from volunteer constables to the doctors at the hospital. Despite all this, they remain unassuming in the extreme. “Am I doing anything great?” Yadav asks Times Review when we go to interview him. “I am just doing my bit as a human being.”

 

No one is insignificant in this world however small one may think oneself to be. Everyone has some purpose in this existence. All of us can contribute and make a positive difference to the society we live in, in our own small ways. That will be our selfless service (nishkaama karmayoga), which is needed to purify our minds for progress on the spiritual path.

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