Onam is about giving and sharing. And who exemplifies this better than 83-year-old M. Radhakrishna Pillai.
He and his friends, members of Matha Vanitha Charitable Society, spread the spirit of Onam by providing a sumptuous Onasadya to patients of Ward No. 9 of General Hospital in the city. This is in adition to the lunch he gives these patients every day.
Like other hassled shoppers, Radhakrishna Pillai and his team are busy buying provisions, vegetables and other items to prepare the feast.
His association with the hospital, especially Ward No. 9, which treats indigent patients, started 13 years ago. The patients in the ward usually don’t have anyone to care for them. Some patients are from other states and there are many who were found abandoned on the streets.
'The condition of the ward was really bad when we started out. It was after a series of media reports that the situation improved. Today, instead of two home nurses, there are nine,' says Pillai. In fact, the Society handed over Onam kits, each containing 24 items, for these home nurses on Wednesday (September 11).
Till date, the Society has been providing free lunch to the patients daily, besides a grand sadya on Thiruvonam day.
'For nearly a decade, the sadya was sponsored by the hospital welfare society. They give the money, we prepare the dishes. The sadya is a sumptuous affair with all the traditional dishes and two payasams. For the last three years we are doing it on our own,' says Pillai, who provides home-cooked lunch to 100-odd patients.
It is always gratifying to see the patients relishing the sadya, say George Joseph and K. Mahadevan, members of the Society. 'I still remember an old lady savouring the inji curry and payasam when we served the sadya last year,' says Mahadevan. Pillai considers himself blessed to have found like-minded individuals like George and Mahadevan who are now the backbone of the Society. He met George, a retired official of Milma and his wife Marykutty, while they were giving away lunch packets in front of the church at Palayam.
Mahadevan, former employee of State Bank of Travancore (SBT) and leader of the Kshema Social Circle of the bank then, was more than happy to lend his support to Pillai when they met. 'At present, SBT sponsors the lunch on the first day of every month, including the first day of the month according to the Malayalam calendar,' Mahadevan says.
R. Jayalekshmi, Pillai’s daughter, is the secretary of the society. Sasikumar, Pillai’s nephew, and Nagammal, Jayalekshmi’s mother-in-law, are also around to help out.
The food is prepared at Pillai’s house, Lekshmi Mandiram at Kabarady Road, near Pettah. The cooking is done by Radhamma, who has been with the society since its beginning, and Usha. They start work by 7 a.m. and a regular meal comprises rice, two curries and a pickle.
Gopalakrishnan is Pillai’s dear ‘sarathy’, who takes the food to the hospital in his autorickshaw. 'He is always on time, and even if I can’t go, he sees to it that the food reaches the hospital,' Pillai says. As for Gopalakrishnan, this service is above everything. 'I come around 12.30 p.m. to take the food and don’t take any other trips during that time,' he says.
When he can’t make it, Krishnakumar, another driver, steps in. When there is a hartal, the food is transported in an ambulance from the hospital. 'We haven’t missed even a single day’s lunch for the patients. Above all, there have been no complaints so far,' George says.
Pillai’s initial capital was his pension. As word about his good deed spread, he started getting donations. 'We are indebted to a lot of people who support us by way of money, vegetables and provisions,' Pillai says. Some people donate money to provide a sadya on occasions such as marriages, birthdays or death anniversaries.
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Matha Vanitha Charitable Society was formed by Radhakrishna Pillai, and his wife, the late N. T. Indiramma, in 2000. Says Pillai, a former employee of the Technical Education Directorate, 'After retirement, I wanted to do something with the money I had got. Initially, I approached the government hospitals at Fort and Thycaud, but the plan didn’t materialise. It was then that somebody suggested Ward 9.'