There is an ancient saying that says the left hand should not know what the right hand gives away. There is an ancient Indian thought which asks men to give away 25% of their income towards charity and societal uses. Our ‘Puranas’ have always held people who are benevolent, philanthropic and socially conscious in very high esteem. Today’s pace of existence and the demand for personal growth and achievement leaves very little room for the practices of such thought. Though one sees acts of kindness and generosity, one rarely sees people who ‘give till it hurts’. A recent incident left me contemplating on the greatness of people who are silent and unheard of, but do what they feel will benefit mankind.
A couple of months ago, Mr Varadarajan, one of our first well-wishers and donors, mentioned to me that Ms Sharadamma, a close friend of his mother-in-law was contemplating on donating her house in Bangalore to SVYM. I was taken aback on hearing this and was unsure of how to respond. Knowing how old she was, I suggested that she could sell the house and keep the money for her upkeep and donate some amount of the sale proceeds to us. Some time later, my mother-in-law who was the classmate of Ms Sharadamma’s sister called and reminded me that we had to complete the formality of this donation. I now knew that Ms Sharadamma was very keen and serious about what she wanted to do. She had explicitly asked my mother-in-law to communicate the urgency as her health was failing and her recovery from a stroke was not very encouraging.
I first met Ms Sharadamma in 1990. I was collecting funds for our Kenchanahalli Hospital and Mr Varadarajan was helping me with this. Every evening, he would take me around to meet with his friends and relatives who would offer support. We had also met his in-laws who were very encouraging and supportive. That was when his mother-in-law asked me to meet her friend Sharadamma. She was indeed a wonderful person to meet and interact with. She was not only encouraging me on, but also started talking about our work to her many students who adored and admired her. Soon her students started visiting Brahmagiri and Kenchanahalli. Ms Sandhya, one of her former students was instrumental in organizing the annual summer camp at Hosahalli. Ms Sharadamma was in regular touch with me from then on and invited me to address her students at the Maharani’s college at Bangalore. She would always remember to send in her donation without fail every year. It was indeed special that she thought about SVYM when it came to donating her house.
She was a teacher-educator all her life and was deeply committed to her students and to the cause of education. Being a spinster, she was of the firm conviction that she had to shape and build the destiny of India through the good work of her many students. She had put her life’s savings into building this house in the early 70s in Bangalore and is now living with her sister Ms Lakshmi Narasu, another donor of ours. I met her last Wednesday, when the formal registration of the gift deed was done and felt sad at her frail and shriveled self. Her memory and clarity of thought stood out as always, though I found her emotionally labile. She was keen on this donation, as she wanted her legacy of supporting the cause of education to carry on. She was keen that death would not come in the way of what she believed in and wanted to make sure that she completed all the processes when was still alive. What a remarkable person and what conviction and clarity of thought! She hardly thought about herself and what she would do, but was only keen that we would accept her gift and put it to use immediately.
SVYM is indeed privileged to have such supporters and one feels humbled thinking about the large-heartedness of such noble people. It is indeed our good fortune that we have the blessings of people of the caliber and intent as Ms Sharadamma. It is people like her that give us courage, moral strength and the will to carry on despite all the challenges that we face. Thank you Ms Sharadamma; we assure you that we will not let you down.
My recent visit to Hosahalli not only took me many years into our past but also served to re-enthuse me. I have always considered Hosahalli to be my ‘charging station’ and i feel inspired after each visit. Apart from my feelings about the dairy that I have already written about, I remembered another special person who was a source of great support and strength in our early days. Kumar was showing me around all the new modifications he had made to the buildings and I was wondering how things had changed.
It was 23 years ago, in 1989, that we completed the first two rooms of our Tribal school. When we first got support for this construction from DANIDA (through Ms. Padmasini Asuri, the then adviser of DANIDA, stationed at Bangalore) and from the LOTUS Trust of Mumbai (on the recommendation of Justice D.M.Chandrashekar), I was unsure how to proceed. Swami Sureshananda asked me to request Chandra Shetty, an engineer and a devotee of the Ramakrishna Ashrama who had retired from active engineering responsibilities, for help and guidance. He not only wholeheartedly agreed but continued to support to us till his death. He must have been around 65-70 years when I first met him. With scant regard for his personal health and convenience, he would accompany me each time he was required to oversee the construction work we were undertaking. Whether it was the school construction at Hosahalli or the hospital at Kenchanahalli, he was always there for us. In fact the old school building (which is now the D.Ed college and hostel), the dining hall, the boys hostel, the teachers’ quarters and the kuteera in which I lived for several years in our old campus at Hosahalli were all designed by him. He would draw simple sketches on pieces of paper and give them to me and they would be our blueprints. He was the one who first suggested that we use mud mortar in our construction. His logic was quite simple. Cement was expensive and construction with cement required a lot of water for curing. Moreover, he saw no major structural advantage for cement over the good red soil that we could source locally. He was very practical too. He said the soil mortar could be well covered by cement plastering and that was that. The dining hall was built only with red soil. Many visitors who came when it was under construction commented that it would not even last 5 years. I was worried and anxious that I could possibly be wasting valuable public resources. Sometimes not knowing too much is also a blessing in disguise! Chandra Shetty reassured me that buildings built out of soil and lime mortar have stood the test of time and some of them are centuries old. Having implicit faith in him, I decided to go by his advice and guidance.
As I walked around the dining hall 23 years later, I felt thankful to Chandra Shetty. All my knowledge of building materials, construction, and practical nuances of workmanship came from this extraordinary person who was deeply committed to what we were doing. It was people like him whose faith in us and our vision that helped sustain and grow SVYM into what it is today.
I had been to Hosahalli last week and Kumar, the headmaster took me around the campus to show me the latest developments. He took me to the place which was the school dairy earlier and told me that it had now been converted to a hostel and guest rooms. Seeing the erstwhile dairy evoked a lot of memories in me. The school was just getting established in the early 90s and the tribal children had started showing interest in it. The numbers were steadily rising – from 28 in 1988 to around 100 by 1992. These children never had milk or milk products in their daily diet and found accepting milk or curds difficult. Gradually, due to the nutritional necessity, we had introduced both and the children had started accepting them. Procuring milk for these children was a real challenge and we had to depend on milk powder for our needs. But we felt that this would not work and started exploring different options. This was the time that Swami Bargeshanandaji suggested that we rear cows to address our milk needs. Swami Bargeshanandaji was an unusual monk and was in-charge of the dairy at the Ramakrishna Vidyashala in Mysore. He was a true Karma Yogi who not only spent a lot time on his early morning meditation but also was a 24 x 7 worker. From construction to dairy to vehicle management – he knew it and did it all. They had more than 50 cows and he was an expert in these matters. While I toyed with the idea of commencing a dairy, I was reminded of our unsuccessful attempt in rearing a cow during our early days at Brahmagiri. After some thought, I felt that it would be worth giving a try. To make sure that we were adequately prepared, we first built the building to house around 16 cows and a few calves. Mallesh, one of our staff was sent to the Vidyashala dairy to acquire the required skills. Only after preparing ourselves for 3-4 months, we decided on going ahead with buying the cows.
Buying cows was an adventure in itself. Swami Bargeshanandaji took me along to Ooty, a place that was famous for hybrid cows. We stayed at the Ramakrishna Ashram in Ooty and would venture out each day into the estates, over the hills and into the valleys in search of cows that would suit our location. Swamiji was an expert in identifying these cows and a master negotiator. We would meet middlemen, owners and others and wrangle for hours over the price. Each day would result in finalizing the purchase of 1 or 2 cows. It was a tiring but a great learning exercise. After 4 days of doing this, we had managed to mop up around 7 cows that met Swamiji’s approval. We had to then find a transporter who would bring these cows to Hosahalli. This was also arranged and Mallesh accompanied the cows in the truck that arrived at Hosahalli after 3 days.
This school dairy that began in 1993 slowly expanded and had more than 15 cows at its peak. We not only produced enough milk and curds for our requirement but also had some to sell locally. School holidays were challenging times as we had a large quantity of milk to dispose off. Swami Bargeshanandaji suggested that we make milk khova out of this and sell it to shops making sweets and savouries in Mysore. We did this too for a few years. Managing the health of the cows was possible because of the steadfast support we received from Swami Bargeshanandaji and Dr Kaveriappa, a veterinarian who worked in the Insurance Dept. Prasad, the then Resource Manager at Hosahalli was also very devoted to the dairy and was the main reason for its success. We were also not bereft of our share of problems. The cows would fall sick; they needed to be inseminated and vaccinated at the right times; they needed the attention of Vets, etc. All this took a toll on the system and we soon realized that running a dairy was possibly more difficult than running the school. The economics also did not seem right. Buying milk from the KMF Mysore Dairy seemed cheaper than getting it from ours. The efforts of managing the dairy was also leaving everyone fatigued and the interest was beginning to wane. It was then that we decided on gradually shutting it down. We started to sell the cows and by 2005 had completely shut the dairy down. Today, all that remains are memories and the converted building in the Hosahalli campus.
Politicians today are generally looked down upon. We seem to have a stereotyped opinion of all of them and bracket them all together into one class of people – people whom the masses see as selfish, self-centered, power-hungry, corrupt and not concerned about either the common people or the Nation. We do not see them as fellow human beings with the ordinary failings that accompany us. We also do not see them as someone who would want to do good and participate in the process of Nation Building. I would like to share a few anecdotes of our positive experiences with some of the politicians that I have come in contact with in the course of my SVYM journey. These experiences have now convinced me that our politicians are no different from all of us. They too have their mixture of good and bad, and are capable of surprising us with their desire to do good.
It was 1985 and I had just heard of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). Getting a copy of the application form and filling it was the easy part. After the application, I came to know that things do not move on their own and one needs to keep pushing the files at Delhi. Not knowing anyone, I turned to Ashokananda for guidance. He took me to the office of Srinivas Prasad, the then Member of Parliament representing the area. Meeting him was an experience in itself. There were hundreds of people milling all around his office in Saraswathipuram, Mysore. I also realized that he and Ashok were close friends and the respect and admiration for each other was mutual. Ashok introduced me and I was impressed with the humility, intent of support and open mindedness of this MP. He patiently heard me and then asked me for the copy of all the papers. He promised to personally follow up the application at Delhi and asked me to focus on the organization and its activities and not worry about this anymore. True to his word, he sustainedly followed up on the application till we received the orders a couple of months later.
Another person who impressed me with his decency was Veerappa Moily who was the Chief Minister of Karnataka during 1992-94. He was also the Minister for education, law and youth affairs between 1989 and 1992, during which I came into contact with him. I was interacting with him on issues concerning the youth and how to constructively engage them in nation-building activities. It was then that I saw the intellectual and scholastic side of his character. He would take serious note of all the issues that were being raised and try and understand different perspectives. I also had the privilege of providing inputs for the ‘Social Sector’ chapter that formed part of his report as the Chairman of the Administrative Reforms Commission. He wrote a book titled Kotta in Kannada (and now translated to many other Indian and foreign languages), where I was one of the principal characters working for tribal development under difficult circumstances. He has been one politician who continues to interact and seek inputs on various development issues.
Devegowda had called himself a career politician. I still remember my first meeting with him. It was the year 1994 and elections had just been held to the Karnataka Assembly and his party had won the elections. Veerappa Moily, who was the chief minister till then, had in his final week of office approved the allotment of 18 acres of land for SVYM at Hosahalli. We were awaiting formal orders which never seemed to come. It was then that a well-wisher in the Government told me that the file was being held up at the office of the new CM. It was routine for all key decisions taken by the previous Government to be reviewed by the new Government in power and ours was no exception. Our file had now to be reviewed and re-approved by the Chief Minister. It was then I met him formally for the first time. He not only assured me that he would have the orders issued but also promised to visit our project. True to his word, we received the formal orders within a few weeks.
Within the next few months, I met him again asking his help for the new hostel we were constructing at Hosahalli. He immediately called Mr Meenakshi Sundaram, his Principal Secretary and asked him to help us out. Again, within 3 days of our making the formal request, we were sanctioned Rs 10 lakh to build the hostel and this money was also immediately released through the Zilla Parishad, Mysore (now known as Zilla Panchayath). He visited Hosahalli in 1996 to inaugurate the Ganga Kalyana Yojana and I had gone to receive him at the Beechanahalli helipad. It was here that the local MLA N.Nagaraj (of his own party) was trying to convince him not to visit Hosahalli. Nagaraj was already reputed to be corrupt and we had many a skirmish in this regard. He was pretty upset with me and wanted to throw a spanner in the works. I was surprised at what the Chief Minister told him. He said, “I have come here on the invitation of the doctor and I am aware of his work. I don’t think I need the permission of the local MLA to visit this constituency or SVYM.” Saying this, he got into the official car and proceeded to Hosahalli. At the function, Swami Sureshananda also informed him that we were having problems with this MLA and Devegowda asked me for the details. It is to his credit that he publicly chided the MLA and instructed him to support us instead of creating impediments for the work that we were doing. One cannot imagine the Chief Ministers of today being so firm and stern with their MLAs. Today one finds our CMs dancing to the tunes of the MLAs only to ensure that they can hold on to their office. Subsequently when he was the Prime Minister of India, he personally instructed the Rural Development Secretary of the Government of India to visit our project in HD Kote and interact with us. He also instructed the Planning Commission to consult with me on issues of Rural and Tribal Development.
To be continued…
Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement is undoubtedly what it is today due to the sustained support and encouragement that hundreds of our friends, donors and well-wishers have given us. While I have written about many such friends, I think that one needs to remember some who were not so helpful too. This article is about a few such people and these incidents happened when we were still a small organization desperately trying to survive and stay motivated.
It was 1988 and we had just started our tribal school in the cow shed. Our first batch of 28 students was such a sporty lot and enjoyed the little schooling, food and fun that we could provide. But the dirty and torn clothes that they came to school in each day pained me. Many of them could not have their clothes washed, as they did not have a second set. We did not have the money to buy them new sets and I was constantly looking for some donor who could help us out in this. I met a person who owns a chain of hotels across India and explained my position to him. He was very sympathetic and asked me to go ahead and have the uniforms made. Energized by his pledge, I requested Sri B S Srikantaiah, the then principal of Ramakrishna Vidyashala to help me in getting the cloth and stitching the uniforms. With his help, our children had brand new sets of clothes within a week and it had costed us a total of Rs.3600. I went and met this donor and presented the bill and reminded him about his pledge. He promised to pay this amount the next week and this went on for many such visits. I was not only getting frustrated with these vain attempts but was also being reminded by Srikantaiah about the overdue payments to the cloth shop and the tailor. I had to finally confess that the donor had let me down. Hearing about this, Srikantaiah and Swami Sureshananda came to my rescue and cleared these bills.
I had a similar experience with another rich hotelier in Mysore. One of our mutual friends, Dr MA Shekar had introduced me to him and briefed him about SVYM’s activities. He had promised me a substantial donation and I had even planned on how to spend it. The school’s rudimentary kitchen was falling apart and it needed urgent repairs. I was soon to be disappointed. Despite a dozen visits to this person’s office, no donation was forthcoming. The irony of the situation is both these people are still in touch with me and many a time claim that they have been supporting our work.
In an other instance, a guest at our first anniversary celebration promised us a refrigerator for our rural clinic at Thumnerale. Greatly impressed, I went to her house to collect the money for purchasing it. She very politely told me that she was not planning to give us the money but the fridge itself. She led me to her storeroom where an old rusted fridge stood. It clearly looked more than 20 years old and she had stopped using it many months ago when she had bought herself a new one. I was crestfallen and was unsure of how to react. Fortunately I did not follow through on this pledge and SVYM thankfully did not have to worry about managing this liability.
While these incidents left me demotivated and sad at that point of time, it served to teach me a lot. It helped me understand that there are different kinds of people in this world and one should not stand in judgment of anyone. We need to learn not to look at motives of people and their actions but to just accept things as they come. One needs to maintain equanimity in all situations and learn to accept both disappointment and joy in the same spirit.