By Megha Bajaj June 2007 Meet a bunch of extraordinary ordinary people who, inspired by love, have reached out and helped those around them Heroes live among us. We can see them, hear them, and be inspired by them. In fact, look within, maybe a hero is closer than you ever believed. In all probability, he has brushed an elbow with you on a packed street. Or was she the one you sat next to in the theatre? Wasn’t he just behind you in the supermarket? So ordinary, so commonplace… and yet a hero. The people you will read about below, have never made media flashes – no TV channel extolled their greatness, and yet, in their own right, they are extraordinary. Everyday heroes, I like to call them. For in becoming heroes, they did not lose their ‘everydayness’; they did not become intangible or inaccessible to the common man, but rather while living among them, they crested their ego and touched the lives of others. Did you, like me, dream of making a difference? Did you too look at Gandhiji and Mother Teresa with tremendous awe? If yes, you probably felt the same pangs of frustration. These legends led such idealistic lives that their greatness becomes a hurdle for people like me, bound by weaknesses, and a will-power subject to temptation. I admire these history-makers, but the gap between them and me is too far to be crossed right away. What I need, for now, is a peek into lives of those around me, those seemingly ordinary people who achieve extraordinary feats while jostling with their jobs, bosses, deadlines, families and responsibilities. Their acts seem do-able, their lives live-able. This article is a tribute to those numerous nameless, faceless heroes who show that to make a difference, the desire to help is enough. They need no accolades, yet it’s important to write of them as each tale has a teaching, each incident, an inspiration. Read on to get motivated. “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.” – Helen Keller Age No BarShe was 85, and looked it. With a bent back, a limp in the left leg and a squint in one eye, Jayanti Desai didn’t look, in any way, like a hero. Residing in Mumbai, she spent most of her days praying and caring for her grandchildren. Often, after her puja, she would get up with a feeling of great discontent. She would say, “I feel God is asking me to serve Him. But I do serve Him; I pray all day, is there something else He is trying to say?” She soon found out. Her granddaughter was hospitalized for typhoid. The time when her little patient would be sleeping, Jayanti would hobble around the corridors of the ward, and make friends with patients. She especially enjoyed sharing stories with kids, and her woes with her age group – whether it was about aching joints or the favorite topic, daughters-in-law! Jayanti enjoyed the two weeks in hospital so much that she was sad when it was time to go back. And inspiration dawned. For the next 10 years of her life, Jayanti went to various hospitals for two hours daily. Since she was too weak to volunteer as a nurse; all she would go and do is offer comfort to patients. She had a soft corner for kids having cancer. She would sit with them for several minutes, taking their tiny hands in her own gnarled ones. She would tell them such interesting stories that for those few minutes, the kids would forget the IV tube sticking from their veins or their pain. She seemed to understand the value of touch and would be patting different people for hours, cooing to them that they would be fine. Her favorite line was, “Take a bet you will live longer than me.” At 95, Jayanti left for her heavenly journey. Her immediate family was abroad, but the hall was filled with grateful patients. The most touching of all scenes was a little boy, bald with leukemia, sitting close to her body, patting her limp hand, and saying, “Don’t worry, you will be all right.” Gifting a FutureSister Rosamma George is a member of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary order based in Mumbai. It was just another day, five years ago, when she went to Grant Road station in Mumbai to meet a friend in the suburbs. As she stood in the line for a ticket, a few dirty looking children staring vacantly, caught her eye. Impulsively, she asked them where their parents were and they pointed to a few women. Sister went to them and asked, “Where do you stay?” And they gestured toward the station. She asked, “Which tribe do you belong to?” With an ashamed expression, an older one whispered, “We are the Pardhi people.” They refused to communicate further. That evening, a very confused Sister Rosamma looked up the Pardhi tribes. Why was their own identity a source of such embarrassment to them? She soon found out. The word ‘Pardhi’ originally means ‘hunter’, and that is what they were until the British took over the forests for commercial purposes. Jobless and homeless, the Pardhi men committed petty crimes to survive. The British branded them criminals. Even today, the stigma continues, and they could find no job in their own villages. About 50 Pardhi families have made Grant Road station, their world. Vada pav is their food, the dirty pavement is their bed, and selling knick knacks is their livelihood. Sister Rosamma began by going to the station, and interacting with the women. After days of constant meeting, they began to trust her, and spoke to her openly. Trust, although difficult to win, was only the first of the many challenges. Not a single child from the Pardhi families at Grant Road studied in school. Their days mainly consisted of begging and fighting. Sister Rosamma asked the women, “Do you want your children to lead the same life you have led? If not, you must send them to school.” Initially resistant to this alien concept called education, they gradually relented. It was a momentous day for Sister when a young mother came up reluctantly and asked softly, “My Kiran is a very hardworking girl. Put her in school?” Not wasting a single day, Sister immediately spoke to the principal from St Anthony’s school, Byculla, and got Kiran admission, paying her fees through her own congregation of renunciates. The families suddenly started seeing a change in little Kiran. Among the other unkempt children, she stood apart in her new uniform; while others fought, she sat in a corner going through books, and soon to everyone’s amazement, she was able to recite the entire alphabet! This became too much for the other mothers to bear, and soon, much to Sister’s delight, over 20 mothers wanted their kids to study in school. Kiran’s mother, on her part, wears a huge proud smile, and shares, “Other kids may get educated, but who will forget that it was my little girl who started speaking full English.” Father Michael Gimlet, who is responsible for the German Catholic community in India, met Sister Rosamma at a prayer, and was interested in her work. He shared, “I too wanted to contribute in some way. I ran in the Mumbai Marathon, 2005, and raised Rs1.5 lakhs for this wonderful cause.” With this added support, about 50 more kids were put in school. A few of the kids weren’t able to cope, or were brought home by their parents. However, nothing discourages Sister, who remains enthused by her interactions with the little scholars. Kiran tells her, “I want to become a doctor”; eight-year-old Ravi says with a toothless smile, ‘When I grow up I will become a child, since I never had a childhood.’ More people have joined hands with Sister Rosamma. Next year onwards, certificate courses will be developed for Pardhi adolescents at St Xavier’s College and they will be taught by the college students themselves. These interactions, the principal believes, “will have a positive impact on both groups.” Sister Rosamma is happy. Her gift to the Pardhi people is something that they never ever had before – a future. Get in touch with Sister Rosamma on 9869958370 Touching LivesEyes speak. Twenty-three-year-old Kriti Shah’s (name changed) brown, slightly moist ones say, ‘I care’. She calls them her mother’s eyes. Last year, she lost her mother to cancer, but she is not complaining. Not anymore, at least. Six months ago, a depressed Kriti came home from work, missing her mother more than ever. She realized she needed to do something constructive with her time, to lessen the pain. A search on Google showed her that there was an orphanage/ hospital close to her house, desperately looking out for volunteer help. She called the person in charge, and it was decided that she would invest two hours a week nursing the little ones. The place smelled of spilled milk, soiled nappies and dust. And yet, what brightened it were the sudden smiles of the infants, and their consistent cooing. As Kriti held a little one in her arms, she knew she was experiencing a ‘defining moment’. She shares, “It was just beautiful. Holding that little bundle of life, I realized that that I could not lose myself in the death of someone so close to me, for life was all around me.” She also realized the importance of touch. She grew up listening to her mother’s heartbeats; holding her father’s large, warm hand while walking. So much touch, so much love; yet she had so many insecurities. What about these orphans, who got the nutrition to survive, but not the touch and love to live? She started hugging each kid, a practice she still continues. She lets them hear her heartbeat, allows them to feel the warmth of her body, pull her hair and touch her cheeks. Most of thes
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