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?