Mr Rajeev Shukla, meet Ms Subhasini Mistry

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Jospephs Gate

While politicians such as yourself ponder poverty in plush surrounds, a grief-stricken housemaid pumps her life savings into creating a hospital for the needy.

A picture was doing rounds on twitter, showing Minister of State for Planning and Parliamentary Affairs Rajeev Shukla sitting in the UN Assembly with his wife seated just behind him, quite at ease, marvelling at the atmosphere. To a lesser mortal like me, whose spouse would gladly rebut her, for even a cuppa on company’s expense, this is absolutely blasphemous. Don’t know if this is a norm in the UN, but it sounds absurd to expect spouses of delegates to accompany them when the UN is deciding the fate of Syria, or releasing a new study on climate change, or discussing role of women.

Seeing the picture, a natural question comes to mind, ‘who is paying for her trip?’ Tax payers’ of course! So, why do we hear the same (and lame) excuse of ‘lack of funds’ from our government, when talking about building hospitals, schools and farmers’ suicide? How many times have we heard govt in developed and developing countries, citing the lack of funds as reason not to do important things, while the number of zeros in the budget can make an ordinary human dizzy?

Be it India, Australia or US, politicians are never short of funds for their round the world trips or fancy election campaigns. However, there are stories galore of individuals defying the ‘lack of funds’ logic reducing it to a mere excuse in its most pathetic from and achieving amazing feat with limited resources. For those brave hearts, their determination can fill in any gap, any deficiency, mostly to do greater good for the society.

Subhasini Mistry exemplifies selflessness and grit, a labourer and a part-time house maid in Hanspukur village in rural West Bengal, has built, and is running a hospital, free, for the poor since 1993. What makes her efforts remarkable is that this is built solely from her own savings (she could save from her earnings as a daily wage earner to build a hospital!) and is run by a small staff of her son, daughter and daughter-in-law.

To make it further shameful for our government, which discusses poverty over a Rs 8000 a plate meal, is that, Subhasini and her family can easily cross the boundary of generations of deprivation and turn the tide towards affluence, by using the services of the hospital and her doctor son but she chooses not to. In today’s day and age, it is too easy to fleece the poor or target the privileged class, demanding decent money for treatment and make decent gains. But it takes more than human will to resist the lure and serve the poor almost free of cost. It is noteworthy that no consultation in Humanity Hospital is more than Rs 5 and no surgery costs more than Rs 5000.

Subhasini Mistry’s story had nothing significant to start with — born to poor parents, married early and four children by the age of 23. Life took an ugly turn, when she lost her husband to a stomach illness. But it was not illness but lack of medical attention that took her husband’s life, leaving her with four children to feed. Grief-stricken and helpless, she made a promise to herself that she would not let this happen to anyone else, and that she would build a hospital, which would never refuse a patient for lack of money. Predictably, her life was hard; she was illiterate, didn’t even know how to read time. She worked as vegetable vendor, took on odd jobs of manual labour and worked as a housemaid, not only to feed the five mouths at home, but to fulfill the secret promise that she had made to herself.

Her determination exhibited in how she conducted her life, willing to sacrifice anything for her, dream and that meant sending two of her four children to an orphanage, as their needs were an impediment in her quest for greater good for community. Not only did she absolve herself of the responsibilities of two children, she resolved to make one of her children a doctor to serve the poor in the hospital. For 30 years, she worked and saved every penny of her and her children’s hard earned wages, not spending even a penny extra than what is required for living.

Subhasini Mistry’s determination to serve the poor in spite of her extraordinarily difficult life certainly dwarfs successive Indian governments, who are expert at finding excuses for doing exactly ‘nothing that is of benefit to anyone except themselves’.

By 1993, Subhasini had saved enough to be able to buy a small piece of land and a temporary dispensary was made operational on the site, so Humanity Foundation came into being. In 1996, with the financial, physical and material donations from the people of the village, a permanent building came into existence. Ironically, the West Bengal governor inaugurated the hospital, the very hospital which stands as a mockery of political system for its failure to provide basics of human life, was held proudly by the same political class. Three doctors from nearby areas agreed to see poor people free of cost, and Subhasini’s dream came into being but still there was a long way to go. Soon after, her son Ajoy Mistry graduated to be a doctor, and joined Humanity Hospital, serving full time.

Today at 70, Subhasini can look back with satisfaction at a two-storeyed, modest, whitewashed building, the realisation of her dream to build a hospital for the poor – all because she couldn’t afford proper medical treatment for her husband. This Mecca for the poor is managed by Subhasini Mistry’s herself, her daughter, son Ajoy and daughter-in-law, who doubles up as a nurse and administration manager, among a small number of dedicated staff members.

The hospital has 12 doctors and over 25 beds and runs on donations and philanthropy of the generous. In this day and age, while we are used to shining hospitals in metros that can put a five-star hotel to shame but for the faceless rural poor, this modest building is nothing short of a temple, and Subhasini, nothing short of God, who saves them from their miseries, without taking pound of flesh, typically demanded by other hospitals and doctors.

In 2009, Subhasini won the prestigious Godfrey Phillips Bravery Award in the mind-of-steel category. But resting on laurels is last thing on her mind, as they say, Miles to go before I sleep, there is lots still to be done, which has hit a roadblock due to a financial crunch. She aims to have state-of-the-art ICU, round the clock availability of doctors and nurses, more beds and all the facilities of modern hospital available to poor.

In the selfish era, we upwardly mobile, upper middle class cannot think beyond upgrading our car, house or next holiday but here is someone who, with a son as a doctor, can easily leave the clutches of poverty, and start dreaming of next car or holiday like us, but instead this illiterate lady has risen beyond the meager existence of educated people like us and shown us real meaning of life. I wonder if I will ever be so fulfilled and content on my death bed as she would be.

To connect with Humanity Hospital or to find out how to donate like their page on facebook https://www.facebook.com/humanityhospital.org
The writer is a Melbourne-based member of AAM AADMI Party and can be contacted on 0426250072 or aap.aussie@gmail.com

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