Balavana10 mins 486 10 mins 486
Sharada and Prasad sat on their favourite stone bench in the park after their routine five rounds. Just then Meera and Savanth arrived.
"Hello Sharada! So, you were early today."
"Yes! We couldn't sleep after hearing about Mahesh's accident over the phone last night. So, we started out earlier than our usual time" replied Sharada.
"Accident? What accident?" asked Meera and Savanth shockingly.
"Last night Mahesh's wife Sonia called at 11.30 and told us that Mahesh had met with a road accident. She said he had fractured his right arm and left ankle. Otherwise, he is okay. How sad that we are unable to go over to them immediately on hearing such things!" Sharada started shedding tears.
"Don't worry so much Madam. After all, he has friends there and Sonia is always with him. It's a minor accident. He'll be all right in no time. You arrange for VISA and visit him as soon as possible" said Savanth.
Mahesh was the only son of Sharada and Prasad and he was a cardiologist in California. Sonia was a software engineer and they had two school-going children. Mahesh left India as soon as he completed his MD 12 years ago. Since then Sharada and Prasad were on their own at Bangalore, in their posh and spacious bungalow. Prasad was an IAS Officer and had retired from his services just a couple of years ago. Sharada retired from her service as a lecturer just last year. They got to see their son and family just once a year or sometimes once every two years. Their life became a boring routine without any salt or spice.
Savanth and Meera were their good friends and neighbours. All their three children had settled in different countries and they were staying in a flat, with a full-time maid to help them. Savanth is still running a small stationery shop near that school, though he had his Government pension and his children's generous contributions. "Why do you struggle at this age Savanth? Can't you take rest?" Prasad would often ask him. "This is not a struggle Prasad. I'm doing this with a selfish reason. I can meet sweet little children here and my time flies. Otherwise, my devil's mind starts thinking of my children and grandchildren and I feel sad", Savanth would reply. Meera was a housewife from the beginning but now, she found it difficult to spend her time at home. She felt lonely. So she had taken up a part-time job as a librarian in a nearby library. She spent the afternoons there.
These were not the only families living like this. Of late most of the old people were lonely. Some were even more unlucky, as they were either alone or suffered from some diseases. It was a pathetic sight to see such old people meeting at the park and exchanging their woes.
Savanth and Prasad formed an association of such senior citizens of that area. They met once a month and discussed their problems and shared their happy moments. Many of them were old classmates or colleagues and the meetings gave them a good break away from their day-to-day problems.
"Prasad, tomorrow is our meeting. This time, the meeting is at Mr. Ali's house. Do not forget. Please attend" said Savanth.
In all, forty-five members turned up for the meeting. Among the forty-five, only thirty-two were lucky to be in couples and the rest of them were single members. "Savanth, Mr. Hari is very ill and is admitted to the nursing home. His son is yet to arrive from Delhi. It is sad to see him lying all-alone in the nursing home. So, I spent the night with him", ``said Kumar. "Bhavani fell off her cot in sleep and has fractured her hip bone. Her daughter Sulekha has come to take care of her. She wants to leave in a week or so. She asked me if I could arrange for a nurse to take care of Bhavani, as she cannot undertake travel with a fractured hip", Usha told Meera.
This was the type of conversation at the meeting normally. But today, Savanth and Prasad had some other plan in their minds. "Hello members. Let us discuss personal problems later. Today, we want to discuss a more important matter. Please listen to me carefully and give your views", Prasad announced.
The members immediately stopped chatting amongst themselves. "As we all know, whether we like it or not, we have to spend the rest of our lives on our own, because our children are well-settled in different places and they cannot afford to leave their jobs for our sake. Neither are we prepared to go and stay with them, for obvious reasons. Now, instead of spending our days just brooding over the past, worrying about the present and getting scared about the future, we thought we could spend our time usefully-useful to society and ourselves. Last week, my maidservant asked me if I could teach her two children. Then I thought why not take up that task on a bigger scale. My house is big and I have a spacious garden too. We all could gather there, call all the street children, the children of the construction workers and the children from the nearby slum and teach them basic hygiene and make them literate. We also could employ four or five assistants to help us in this work and also help us in times of need like when we fall ill. We are forty-five. We can do the job by rotation so that none of us is overloaded with work", Prasad paused.
There was pin-drop silence in the hall and after five minutes one by one, all the members raised their hands and gave their assent. Prasad was thrilled.
The project took off soon. First, there were only five or six children. After a few months, as the news spread to the nearby slums, more and more children came running. Prasad's garden was now full of enthusiastic children. Though the work was allotted in rotation, most of the members preferred to go to the school, as they found peace and satisfaction in that work. The children loved the people there and called them Dada and Dadi affectionately. Sundays were boring for both the organizers and the children. They had to meet every day. The children learnt a lot there and started advising their parents in the slum about cleanliness, hygiene, education, good habits and so on. So the parents, especially the mothers of the children adored the members of 'Balavana' (that's how the place was named). In times of emergency, they came running to help them.
Gradually, the members found out the reasons for the poverty and vices in the slums and started a training centre, appointed tailors, carpenters and such skilled workers to train the womenfolk of the slums, so that they could get self-employed and improve their standard of living.
"Daddy, I've sent the VISA papers for both of you. Please book your tickets for next month and come here” said Mahesh over the phone on that day.
"Beta. How are you now? We do want to come and see you but not next month child. Next month, we have arranged for a five-day trip for the Balavana children. We are taking them to an animal sanctuary, a historical monument and a picnic spot. We will try to visit you in December. Take care", replied Prasad.
Mahesh was disappointed. "Dad, is that trip so important? Cannot the other members take care?" he asked.
"Mahesh, it's not that others cannot manage. The children want us to accompany them and we too do not want to miss the opportunity. This is the first trip you know. Don't feel bad. We will definitely come in December. Love to Sonia and the kids. Bye-bye", Prasad replied.
The trip was fantastic. The children enjoyed to the maximum. Prasad and Sharada lost themselves in the fun. They remembered how they used to go on picnics with Mahesh and his cousins during his childhood and how the kids used to forget their routine and enjoy.
During December, Prasad and Sharada went to California. Mahesh and Sonia were thrilled. The kids were very glad to see their grandparents after almost three years. They had grown a lot.
On the first weekend, Mahesh and Sonia were at home and took Prasad and Sharada out on a small picnic to a waterfall nearby. On the next weekend, they said, "Mummy, would you like to visit the 'Ashram' with us? Today it's our turn to offer our services at the 'Ashram'".
"Ashram? What is it Sonia?" asked Sharada.
"Mummy, it's an old age home and daycare centre for senior citizens. We, the members of the Indian Association started it last year for the senior citizens who are left alone and are sick and also those who stay with their children but need care when their children are away on work. During the week, we have paid assistants who do their work. During the weekends, we go in turns and offer our services and spend our time with the people there. They feel happy", replied Sonia.
"Dada, you know there are so many Dadas and Dadis over there. Some of them are so witty and tell us stories and teach songs. We have fun there", said Akash.
Prasad and Sharada were overwhelmed with joy that their children were doing such good work. They accompanied them to the 'Ashram'. It was a quiet resort with many huge trees around. The buildings were designed in very exclusive styles and peace and cleanliness boasted loudly in the place.
The senior citizens at the 'Ashram' belonged to different countries. They all welcomed Mahesh and his family with love and expectation. They spent the whole day at the 'Ashram' and returned at night.
"Mahesh, we are really happy that you are getting involved in such social activities. This is the only way you can keep your mind and body healthy and cool in this fast world. Continue beta, continue", said Prasad with tears of joy.
Prasad and Sharada returned from the US in February and that day was the most joyful day for them. They were very eager to see the 'Balavana' children. The moment they got out of their car, the children came running to them with whatever flowers they could get and hugged them. Tears rolled down the cheeks of Prasad and Sharada. All the members too were present.
In the evening, a small party was arranged by the members. Meera asked Sharada, "So, are you satisfied with the visit? How are your son, daughter-in-law and the kids? Are you feeling bad to come back?"
"No Meera. I am not feeling bad to come back this time. I am happy they are all fine there. I am happier that they have found a purpose in their life. I am glad to come back as I have a purpose here and there are hearts which wait for me", replied Sharada. Meera was astonished by this reply, because every time Sharada came back from the US, she would be depressed for nearly a month.
"What are you saying Sharada?" asked Meera.
Prasad and Sharada told the members about the 'Ashram' and their son's involvement. Prasad said, "World is becoming a Global Village. So all the people are related to each other. Why expect our own children to take care of us and why serve only our children? We treat these children of 'Balavana' as our own children and they too love us so much. Similarly, our children treat the old people at the 'Ashram' as their parents and shower them with love. It's satisfying that our children have good values in them, wherever they may be. We have done our duty. 'Balavana' is our mission and we will make our life meaningful by making these children also like Mahesh and Sonia".
The members listened with emotion and agreed with Prasad's views. They forgot all their problems such as loneliness, depression, and sickness. They looked at the bubbling children with gleaming eyes and thanked God for showing them the light!