silent types, whereas Aniket and Sheetal are talkative and outgoing. All are well-educated professionals. Digant is a doctor, Kaustubh a chartered accountant and Aniket an engineer. Sheetal first finished medicine, then studied social enterprise management. Like her father, she enjoys doing different things.
The problems the young Amtes face today are, of course, not physically challenging. Even Hemalkasa, once so remote that it would be cut off for months during the monsoon, can now be easily reached by road. It has broadband and satellite TV.
At Anandwan, the main problem is financial. More and more residents are becoming too old to work. This, along with high inflation and insufficient government grants, has resulted in costs exceeding income, and the MSS has launched a fundraising drive.
Last August Sheetal and Kaustubh also began lobbying the government to increase its pitiful 20-year-old allowance for the care of leprosy patients. After some intensive research, Sheetal was able to show that whereas the cost of a person’s meals for one day as recommended by the National Institute of Nutrition was `52, the government’s allowance for food was only `7.50!
Kaustubh and Sheetal presented the President, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, and other key politicians and bureaucrats with such facts. Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan was so shocked that he personally donated `10,000 to Anandwan, and on March 21 this year, the government announced a four-fold hike in the allowance.
Some novel cost-cutting measures are also being contemplated. Because eggs and fish are relatively cheap but very good sources of protein, Sheetal wants to introduce them in the community’s diet—something unthinkable if her conservative grandmother had been alive.
Hemalkasa’s problems are very different from Anandwan’s. In 2008, Prakash and Mandakini won the Ramon Magsaysay Award—Baba had won it 23 years earlier—and the resulting publicity has helped keep the donations coming.
Hemalkasa, however, is caught in the middle of the violent conflict between government forces and the Naxalites in central India. The police have raided the campus looking for Naxalites, and the insurgents have killed suspected police informers in the hospital. It is dangerous to alienate either side, so the Amtes have to continually perform a nerve-racking balancing act.
Shravan Govinda Kaduskar shuffles gingerly forward, a steel bucket balanced in the palm of his fingerless hand. Shravan, now in his 80s, came to Anandwan when he contracted leprosy 55 years ago. He laboured alongside Baba to build Anandwan, then managed a vegetable garden. Now too old to work, he lives with around 400 other elderly inmates in Sneh-Sawli, Anandwan’s overcrowded old-age home.
Shravan, who’s now blind, is about to perform one of his daily chores. Reaching Sneh-Sawli’s dhobi ghat, he feels around for the water tank. Half-filling his bucket, he soaks and soaps some clothes, then starts thwacking them against a white-tiled slab. After another soak, he wraps the clothes around both his arms and squeezes the water out.
Shravan is washing not just his own clothes, but those of two other Sneh-Sawli residents even frailer than him. As I watch him, marvelling at his independence and grit, Sheetal comes up to me. “That’s Baba’s spirit,” she says. “We will never let it down.”
To learn more about the projects, donate, or to help Anandwan in any other way, phone (07176) 282034
The website is: www.anandwan.in
Read the complete story of Baba's achievement, and how his children and grandchildren have taken on the mantle, in the May issue of Reader's Digest, now on stands. You can also read story in our digital version of the magazine, now available at http://www.indi
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