Saturday, March 05, 2005

Marriage, AID ishtyle

Feb 19th – 20th:

On Saturday, Feb 19th, I was supposed to attend a camp organized by AID Chennai in Mahabalipuram for volunteers from the new blocks taken up. But my stomach, fed up with the constant travel and change in food, revolted. With my trip to Palghat also in jeopardy, I dropped the Mahabalipuram plan and concentrated on calming down my stomach and on being entertained by the younger Kapugantis (my friends' children, on a visit from the States). At night, I boarded Alleppey express to Palghat.

Shailja and Suresh, friends and active AIDers have recently gotten married and were having their reception in Palghat, Suresh's hometown. Shailja is from Himachal Pradesh, practically the other end of India (OK, maybe not as far as Assam!) Luckily for their relatives, their marriage was in Nagpur. Suresh's dad Mr. Madhu, like a significant number of Malayalis, worked for a while in the Gulf – incidentally, Suresh is my senior from Indian High School, Dubai. On his return, Mr. Madhu started a senior's home in Palghat. He was already active with the Alzheimer's Foundation and was the one who got Suresh interested in social development issues, eventually leading him to AID (Thanks, Mr. Madhu!).

After rest and refreshment, we headed to the seniors' home, called 'Kaarunya'. A weekly medical camp was in session and atleast 50 seniors seemed to be present. Like everywhere else in India, isolation and neglect of senior citizens seems to be increasing. Perhaps Kerala is leading the way in this – uncle talked about the number of Keralites living abroad, the fact that so many women here work outside the home etc. He told us of a case where a son and daughter-in-law brought their father to the center, unceremoniously dumped him there and took off. The old man was not happy here. Mr. Madhu wants only happy and willing seniors to come and live in his center – unwilling ones will upset the atmosphere. But he agrees that that may not always be the case – some children are even willing to fork out the stiff fees to enroll their parents here.

The center will require a one-time deposit of Rs. 50,000 - Mr. Madhu plans to use the interest from that deposit for the resident and return the principle on his/her death. Even with this, a significant amount of investment is required. One building has come up – the plan is to have a number of buildings with 1-2 residential units, vegetable gardens etc. Mr. Madhu has used some of his savings from the Gulf and his network of friends and acquaintances to get this far – he says his contacts are now exhausted. Now Suresh is stepping up and approaching various organizations. Because the steep entry fee can be seen as restrictive, some might not be willing to contribute, so it will not be easy.

Prof. Nambiar of the Vanvasi Ashram Trust, a group in Wayanad supported by AID Boston, was also present to attend the reception. His group is also having financial troubles. They have a residential school – an ashram - to provide education for tribal boys. The Ministry of Tribal Affairs representatives visited the school and seemed set to support it when the government at the Center changed. Since then, he hasn't heard back. He still is hopeful because no tribal school has had its budget confirmed yet. The group also has a hospital set up through a grant from a family trust. The problem they are facing is getting a doctor to stay there. What they can pay is a small fraction of what doctors earn in urban centers nearby. So they have not been able to retain a doctor for long. They might have to close the hospital, which is the only one for miles around. I did ask about training village health activists etc., but the professor wasn't very optimistic about their ability to sustain a hospital without a doctor. Suresh and Prof. Nambiar spent a significant portion of the afternoon drafting proposals for funding from various organizations including AID.

In the evening, it was time for the festivities. Shailja was resplendent in a sari, and to her relief, relatively mild makeup. Suresh refused to do more than don a kurta. At the Hall, he protested the thrones and stage set up for the newlyweds. Not being in his or Shailja's position, I thoroughly enjoyed myself! Finally they made a simple arrangement in front of the stage – everyone but the photographers were happy, I guess. Wedding photographers! And worse, their floodlight wielding cohorts!!

Towards the end of the reception, I headed out to catch a bus to Coimbatore. My plan was to meet Revathi and gang there. I reached Coimbatore at 10 pm, was picked by RT, Revathi's husband, and brought to Revathi's parents' house for the night.

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