Two days in Chennai and so many stories of valiance and resilience in the face of great adversity. I am constantly tearing up when I hear these stories. My first thought is "how can I help?!" There is just so much distress from poverty and discrimination. Here's one. Dharman is a young blind man who has completed his M.A. in history. My mother who volunteers as a reader at a Centre for young blind men and women helping them prepare for exams at the undergraduate and graduate levels, first met him several years ago. Dharman has recently married his sweetheart who is also blind. The two of them are unable to find employment and are making a living selling peanut candy on trains. No priest would marry them until a local news channel intervened and made a story of it. Now no one will hire them or rent to them. With much hardship Dharman has been able to locate a place in the outskirts of the city and he called my sister for a loan to pay rental advance. He referred to the Rs. 3000 ($60) he was seeking, as a significant amount. I cannot even imagine what their living conditions will be like, if they will have access to clean water, what the commute will mean for their livelihood, how they will keep body and soul together and what support they will receive if she has a child. Her parents were opposed to the marriage and so the couple has not reached out to them for help. They are so prideful and self reliant that they often go hungry. But they are optimistic and even cheerful.
Then this evening I attended an anniversary concert for a local cancer charity where they honoured a woman M.S. Rajeshwari for her extraordinary service. 57 years of age, educated and of lower class bearings, she has in one year singlehandedly educated 7000 women on breast screening, self examination and detecting the early signs of cancer. Not in the city, but holding camps in remote villages where poor women continue to live in ignorance.
Chennai is a glorified village. It suffers from neglect, and poverty is rampant. I know that the IT parks gleam and employ hundreds of thousands and our rich friends have enviable lives. I also know there are a number of cultural events happening everyday and one can be intellectually stimulated, moved and engaged without spending much - it has a culture of sponsored free events, similar to the one I mention above. And yet all I see and hear about are stories of distress from debt loads, caused by high cost of housing, decent healthcare and education. Then there is the alcoholism epidemic among young lower class men. Without a social safety net, life is precarious for millions. There is so much to do and there are so many unsung heroes doing great deeds. I am inspired by the Dharmans for living with such optimism. And by the Rajeshwaris for their passion and dedication. They and hundreds of others move and inspire. I do a little by way of offering adhoc help whenever I am asked. Now I will formalize it by setting up a fund. However, I do need to stop shamelessly sobbing when I hear stories of hope and distress!