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Service, her way of life

For the past three decades, Savithri Vaithi has been relentlessly working for the cause of the aged. Today, Vishranthi is much more than a old age home and is her past, present and future...


TRY ASKING Savithri Vaithi about her childhood, her hobbies, her interests or even her pet peeve ... the reply is just about a sentence or two before she always returns to her favourite topic, the well known Vishranthi Charitable Trust, a pioneer institution for aged destitutes. All this after her initial apprehension over the phone! ("Hope you will not ask the usual things like when Vishranthi was started ... ") It is obvious that Savithri's life for the past three decades has revolved only around it — so her past, present and future are understandably the old age home and its ever-increasing activities.

When the Monday Charity Club was begun by a group of housewives 33 years ago, the number of women who had enough time on their hands to do their mite for a charitable cause, was considerable. It helped the club, which had Savithri at the helm, to begin Vishranthi, for the poor and uncared-for old women in society.

However with most of today's women going out to work, they hardly find time to think beyond the family and the daily chores. But when social consciousness takes a backseat, the danger of one becoming oblivious to it is also there.

That's exactly why Vishranthi has a "Malarchi" wing, says Savithri. Poor children of single parents, and others who deserve help, are identified and offered assistance — their boarding, lodging and schooling are taken care of. In the evenings these children spend time with the elderly inmates in the home, helping them in small ways. "This way the old women find some solace seeing young faces around them, while the children learn to show concern for the infirm lot around them," says Savithri Vaithi.

Of late, with the average longevity of humans turning into an issue that's looming large, even the governments are in a fix as to the solutions. "The improved life span has resulted in a noticeable increase in the number in the 60 plus age group. . Geriatrics is no ordinary matter — tackling it requires both man and money power. The break-up of the joint family system is one reason for the mushrooming of paid and charitable homes for old people. And the younger generation flying away to far off countries, leaving old parents behind is another. "There is also another side to it," she goes on with a smile. " But old people may not like to hear it. It's not as though all young people are selfish while every aged person is saintly. Wherever you stay adjustments have to be made. Even at Vishranthi we have a regular routine and the inmates have to follow it. Some find it difficult and prefer to leave but others fall in line soon. I ask the women who have come away from their families because they are not able to adjust in their homes, `Everywhere there is bound to be some rules to follow, some adjustments to be made. You do it here without ego, why can you not be so at home with your son, daughter or daughter-in-law?' Most of the time they don't have an answer."

Another disconcerting aspect is that in old age many women become unbelievably selfish and possessive about their things and this leads to petty rows. "So through moral and religious stories we try to instil broadmindedness and maturity. So in the evenings I sit down with them and narrate religious tales in the lingo that they would best understand." Vishranthi is secular too — the place of worship includes all gods. You can only admire the patience and industriousness of this 72-year old for whom service is the only way of life.

For Savithri serving others began even in her 16th year, when she joined Ashok Vihar, a welfare centre in Choolai, as a welfare organiser. Family circumstances made her take up the job which involved working in the slums, teaching the dwellers the importance of hygiene and helping them out in many ways.

For many who think Vishranthi is only a home for old, destitute women, the number of schemes implemented here comes as a surprise.

Vishranthi serves street elders too. Old people with amnesia, dementia or Alzheimer's, found loitering on the roads, are brought to the home and cared for. "Nizhal" is Vishranthi's short stay home for distressed women. Women who come here can stay on for a maximum period of three months. Counselling is offeredAnd if you are looking for a temporary place to leave your elders in, when you have to go out of station for a few days or even a couple of months, Vishranthi's Transit Home provides decent accommodation and food served in their rooms — of course, you are charged for it. "We do have response for this kind of a short stay home. We don't allow sick people to be left here. But sometimes due to old age unforeseen things happen," says Savithri as she recounts the case of a woman who was left in the Transit Home because the family had to go to a remote village for a few days. "The woman had a massive heart attack and died. And reaching the relatives and handing over the body, was quite a task."

"Oondrukol" is another popular scheme. Old and poverty stricken women living with their families are identified and every month a complete set of provisions and a sum of Rs. 30, are given. Through constant monitoring Vishranthi ensures that the provisions are used by the family and not sold away.

And next on the cards is the starting of self-help groups and day care centres for old women. "These should work wonderfully in towns and villages, than in cities," is her assessment.

"Vishranthi is not my achievement alone," she says and adds, "I am only glad that I was able to make housewives understand that besides taking care of the family they could assist others outside also."

But what relaxation does she offer herself amidst all this hectic activity? "Actually ... nothing much. There's no time... " She ponders ... and as an afterthought adds, "I watch "Veetukku Veedu Looty", the comedy soap on TV, and I enjoy it."

MALATHI RANGARAJAN

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