My Friend Vishu

I first heard about Vishu a few months before I actually met him.

At the time, I had just started volunteer work at a Mandram (organisation) in Dharavi, a slum area here in Mumbai. The office and library were on the ground floor, and there was a small hall on the first floor where we conducted our activities. I went there most Sunday afternoons.

Vishu had come to live recently in Dharavi, my friends told me. He taught their children at the Mandram hall on weekday evenings. He even taught Maths to students in the 12th standard. And he did not accept any fees.

I was intrigued by this information. It was not usual for anyone who could teach Mathematics to 12th standard students to come to live in that locality.

One Sunday there was a meeting of the Mandram. I attended the meeting, and so did Vishu. He was a slightly built, ordinary-looking young man- perhaps twenty-five or twenty six years old. He already knew about me from my friends in the Mandram, and we chatted as though we had been acquainted for years.

Since it was quite late by the time the meeting ended, he offered to accompany me to the bus stop. And as we walked there, he told me his story.

Vishu’s home was a town near Chennai, where he grew up. After completing his school education, he obtained a degree in engineering from a college in Chennai. Subsequently he completed his MBA there. He was accepted for a post in a firm in Mumbai, so he came here.

Housing being very expensive in Mumbai. he could not afford even paying guest accommodation near his place of work in the City. So it was a choice between living in one of the far-off suburbs and commuting for hours daily, or living in paying guest accommodations in a house in Dharavi where a family from his hometown lived. He chose the latter.

People who had migrated from Tamil Nadu to Mumbai formed a very close community in that area of Dharavi, and supported and helped each other. They never let Vishu feel that he was alone in Mumbai, inviting him to their homes for dinner and sharing whatever little they had.

He, in turn, wanted to do something for them in return. So he started teaching their children for free, a few times a week at the Mandram.

He was applying for a job abroad and hoped to get one soon.

Vishu lived in Dharavi for a couple of years before he got the job that he wanted. While he lived there he continued to teach children in the evenings. At the time the Mandram was not yet registered with the Charity Commissioner’s Office, and Vishu helped them with the paper work for that, too. He helped the children with college applications and advised then on which courses to take.

I noticed that he had a knack of giving advice without sounding patronising, which was greatly appreciated by his friends there.

When he left for his new job, everyone in the community showered him with their good wishes and blessings.

Remembering Vishu and some other young people like him that I have known, I would like to put down some thoughts here.

I know that many of my blogger friends think that such social work by individuals cannot have much impact. And in a way they are right-such work is of very limited scope.

I do agree that lasting change will not be possible in our society unless social and political systems change.

The question is- when will they change? Who will change them? And what should we do until then?

People living in the slum areas have to work long hours just to earn the minimum needed to survive. Their children often have no one to look up to. If these children are to become the ones to change the system they need to have some ideals before them.

They have to learn that every person should do something for the society they live in. They need to learn to be ‘givers’ as well as ‘takers’.

And most important they have to see that there is hope for them to have a better life.

I think that this is the role of someone like Vishu. Not to shine like like a beacon on top of a lighthouse.

But to flicker like the small flame in a दीप (lamp) showing just a bit of the way ahead.

A very small role, but important none the less. And a role that any one can play, if they only have the inclination.

What do you think?



  1. I am just wondering what to write, here, now. Every word will be inadequate, Manju. A person with an MBA degree living in the slum and teaching 12th std. students, is unbelievable. A Great man.

    You seem to be an active and down to earth person. Nice to know you, Manju.

    'Not to shine like like a beacon on top of a lighthouse. But to flicker like the small flame in a दीप (lamp) showing just a bit of the way ahead. A very small role, but important none the less. And a role that any one can play, if they only have the inclination.What do you think?'

    Good question. Need a big heart for this, like you. First I have to step outside the house….let me try, Manju.


  2. Sandhya– Vishu stayed in Dharavi because he had to. However, what he did for the people there- that was because he wanted to. And because he thought he should do something for the society he was a part of.There are many ways that a person can do something for society.

    It is not necessary to go to the slum areas for that. I have mentioned in an earlier post a couple of college students I knew. There was some construction work going on, on the street where they lived. The two girls taught some children of the construction workers for a few months, while they stayed there and could not go to school.

    We can do whatever we feel comfortable doing.


  3. Vishu is the kind of person all of us should aspire to be…

    One doesn't necessarily have to give up one's dreams and lifestyle to help others…As far as the impact of his work goes, even if he helped one person it is enough of an impact…


  4. The last word in the post is the key word : 'inclination'. For people dont refrain from this for want of talent. Or for want of money or time. But for want of inclination.

    Over time, people like Vishu are a dwindling minority. But on the same keel, people like him are so critical to form the whorl of action to flow in this direction !

    Lovely chronicling. It helps to know that you personally know of people like Vasu. who have lived a life of difference ! Splendid to know this..! 🙂


  5. Guys like Vishu are the ones who give joy and and are ideals to others struggling to move ahead in a world without heart. If reading this post has given me joy and hope, I can imagine what impact it must have made on the impressionable minds who came into contact with Vishu.

    I remember that old Rafi song about Bombay where he says that in this city you can get everything but "dil", heart. Vishu and others like him are that heart which many of us cannot see and do not care to either. But to them it does not matter what we do or think; they will do for others what they want to because they are not looking for the kind of reward that most of us are after.

    I have no doubt Vishu will be bringing joy to the less advantaged around him wherever he is now. Would it be possible for you to get some details about his life after Dharavi and tell us that story too?


  6. People like Vishu are the proof that we need to see for ourselves that all is not lost yet and that there is still hope. And as someone has said in an earlier comment, even if a single life is influenced, it is enough of an impact.


  7. Vishu is what greatness is all about . I guess , the example you used , of him being a deep explains it all . True greatness is not about being the Sun , but rather , shining so hard even as a small lamp , that those close enough will be blinded by it .


  8. Sraboney– Exactly what I was trying to say. A person can stay in गृहस्थाश्रम and still do something for society. As long as the will to help others whenever you can is present, there is no need to give up your own ambitions.At least that's what I think.:)

    Kavi– That's true. The most important thing is that the inclination or will to do something for society should be there.

    Pradip– Yes, his teaching did benefit the children there. And the interesting thing is that he didn't seem to consider that he was dong something unusual or special!


  9. Vinodji– I think that he did serve as an ideal to the children there. They all looked up to and respected him. Even most of the adults consulted him on various issues.

    I do not know where he is now- this was 8-9 years ago- but I can make enquiries. I'll write a post if I find out anything.

    Gauri– Yes, it does feel good to read positive stories. Even if Vishu was well-educated, he came from a simple, middle-class family. Perhaps that was why he was inclined to help others.

    Sagarone– Yes, I think so, too. As Sraboney and you have said-even influencing one person is important.

    Kislay– You know, the thing I liked most was that I never heard him complain about staying in Dharavi. He just took the opportunity to help the children by teaching them.


  10. What an inspiring post. And I just have this immense respect for the parents who nurtured Vishu into this outstanding individual, with such a great sense of living in balance, at such a young age.

    Regardless of where he is today, if he has inspired even a few young people to have his kind of attitude to life, the world will be a better place.

    Its not enough to just mentally believe in these things; your heart has to be deeply involved, …मन खूप मोठं असावं लागतं…..I am so glad you posted this..


  11. My dear Manju, I agree that we should do our bit and not wait for the world to change.

    Peace and love,
    – Joe.

    Email: sangatizuzay(at)gmail(dot)comBlog: sangatizuzay(dot)blogspot(dot)com – Against the Tide


  12. a really inspirational post Manju.Its because of individuals like Vishu that one has any hope at all.

    Society and this nation live from one day to the next because of such individuals.

    Vishu can inspire so many and who knows how many he has already inspired?


  13. Truly an inspiring post. In many ways, you are doing your bit for the people too. May there be more like Vishu and you.

    I am not very fluent in the local language and that is a big barrier. But as you mentioned, there are many ways to give back to society. That is a sure way to make life more meaningful especially when some of the family responsibilites are over.


  14. Wonderful to know about both of you, Manju..What he has done may have seen to be a small thing, but it will inspire the kids living there and they will helpo the next set of students.. 🙂

    hats off to him and all the best 🙂

    like to hear more such persons from you Manju, Please write more 🙂


  15. yup..correct..a single individual cannot create a deep impact on the scoiety alone..i totally agree..but i feel that y do v care abt creating a deep impact on society?? i feel that if a single individual can manage to create an impact on even a single child's life, his life is worth something..dere r so many organizations dese days..we can join them and teach kids in slums..

    i know fds who do such things and i respect my those fds a lot..infact they motivated me also to help a kid….we can sponsor a childs will cost just 500 bucks per month..we can spare that money by not watching a mobvie in theatre or watever….

    a single individual cannot creatd a deep impact on society alone but he CAN ctreate an impact on someones life….


  16. Ugich Konitari– You are right, his parents must have been the reason why he became such a fine person!

    Solilo– Yes, Vishu's story is inspiring!

    Joe Pinto– Welcome here!

    Yes, everyone's efforts are important.


  17. Indyeah– Yes, individuals like Vishu give us hope that things are not so bad!

    Radha– I have been associated with some Marathi groups, too. And it is certainly easier working with people of your own language.

    But the group I have written about in this post was of Tamil- speaking people- and I cannot speak Tamil. But still we managed to communicate somehow!:)

    It may be easier to start off helping at a local NGO, so that others there can 'show you the ropes'. And it would probably be possible, at an NGO, to give as much or as little time as you want, taking family responsibilities into account.

    Kanagu– I hope to write a few more posts about individuals I have known, who have done something for society.

    I know you are interested in this type of work- I have read a couple of posts about NGOs doing good work, on your blog.

    Laddu, Keats The Sunshine Girl – Welcome to this blog!
    laddu- Yes, there are many ways we can do our bit for society.


  18. Manju,There are many people who work under sheets. And this are the people who push people from economical lower strata to make a push to aim high. get carried away to wrong side.

    I always pitch in for opportunities, wherever possible and get in act. but, when we (group of 4) tried this at local slums, some cults made us feel miserable to visit kids, and parents later on discouraged kids from for seeing us or any NGO. Now the kids still work at local workshop! with future tied to spinning wheel.It Hurts!

    Kudos to Vishnu,who is surviving and is able to make a difference to many peoples life.


  19. Sunny– Welcome!

    I don't know the details, so cannot comment on your experience. Sometimes the people living in slum areas do not accept outsiders, even if they do all the 'right things'.

    However, it is somewhat easier if you get the support of a local leader like the chairman of the local Ganeshotsav Mandal, etc.


  20. I think people like Vishu are very balanced – they have their own personal ambitions, and while trying to achieve that, he manages to fit it service to others as well.

    Although I deeply admire people who sacrifice their careers for social work, I have long realised that I do not have the same determination and selflessness.

    But what Vishu did was achieveable and inspiring. Thanks for sharing.


  21. Sucharita– As I sais in an earlier comment, this is exactly what I wanted to say through this post. I don't think there is any need to sacrifice much in order to give something back to society.

    After all, the whole point of any social work is to create a society where people can be assured of a reasonably comfortable life.


  22. I am very late in reading this nice write up, but I would like to appreciate what you write.

    It is true , the small work done by people does not change much. But I think , needy people have to be given some kind of solace . By people around them.

    Sometimes, I wonder , big cities like Delhi and Mumbai are better places to carry out social work.The slum people organise better,and appreciate the work done by lay persons.

    In the outskirts of Hyderabad where I live, it is so difficult to make the slum children come to the tuition classes. I have tried and given up many times. I get encouraged by your blog.I will keep on trying.:-)


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