MadrasWeek@Prajnya/ Savithri Vaithi: Service as a way of life

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Savithri Vaithi: Service as a way of life

Beena Parmar

(Based on an interview with Ms. Vaithi, April 8, 2010)

On meeting NGOs for our college project on old age homes in Chennai, we learnt that information shared by the NGOs and homes was minimal in terms of the content we needed. We called the Vishranthi Charitable Trust and expected the same.

However, a 78-year old busy social worker apologizing for being late for a few minutes forced the three of us visiting her to smile. The lady with a smile on her face was attended to by two other people whom she introduced to us as the trust’s lawyers. She requested them to talk to us for some time, and then began the humble talk of a lady who claims service to be a way of life.

We talked straight about our project, and she says, ”Throw the questions, I will answer them” We geared up to ask about the trust; eventually her enthusiasm made us enquire about other old age homes that refused to disclose their ‘secret’ information about its functioning or to allow us to meet residents.

“Why are they not sharing? They should. What is so secret about it? In fact you students should be given all the information,” Savithri Vaithi said.

She gave us a brief introduction to Vishranthi Charitable Trust that was started in 1977 by a few ‘homemakers’ under the Monday Charity Club, which was started in 1970.

We got comfortable and asked further questions. We revealed some horrid conditions in a previous home we visited. Savithri Vaithi, a woman with immense power in her sparkling eyes, said that at least they have provided a roof for them at this age. We looked surprised; she refrained from speaking ill of those homes.  She explained that these homes at least give senior citizens a funeral when they die. They have provided a shelter for those who otherwise would have been on the streets without a meal a day. So such old age homes are doing what they can.

“It is indeed true that today’s generation is too busy to look after their old parents and they too have a life of their own. They cannot take their old parents along with them in their busy traveling schedules, so they need a face to talk to which we can provide here. We allow them to work a little too, to keep them busy and not think about their families all the time.”

MadrasWeek@Prajnya, August 15-22, 2010

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Prajnya was founded with a sense of global citizenship and regional reach. However, we are based in Chennai, that is Madras. Much of our team was born and brought up in this city, and we share in this annual celebration–but in our own way, on our terms.

Last year, we invited our extended community to contribute posts on the women institution-builders of Chennai. This year, we invited our extended team–interns, volunteers and core team members–and they invited their friends.

From August 15, 2010, we celebrate Madras Week, but also the agency, public spirit and enterprise of Chennai’s women. In so doing, we offer you a series of personalised profiles–sometimes profiles, sometimes reminiscences, sometimes tributes–that we hope will inspire confidence in other women who read this blog and reinforce their sense that they are entitled to freedom, justice, agency and choice–in the private and public spheres. Thus, our Madras Week celebration is also a feminist shout-out to the weekend when Pakistan and India celebrate independence!