Around a month after roads turned into rivers, and houses collapsed in rain-battered Kerala, I came across a fervent appeal from renowned journalist AJ Phillip on September 13, 2018 seeking funds to rebuild two government schools that had been damaged in the floods.
In his Facebook post, Phillip had written, “Deepalaya has undertaken the task of rebuilding two government schools in Chendamangalam (Ernakulam), badly damaged by floods. We are appealing for donations from citizens to help.”
An alumnus of a village government school myself, the appeal immediately struck a chord with me. I immediately wrote to Jaswant Kaur of Deepalaya, the NGO Phillip was associated with, on Facebook, saying, “Beta, I can only spare ₹ 3,000 from my pension.”
She sweetly replied, “No amount is small, sir. It is the goodness of the heart that matters.” The same day, I transferred the money to the Deepalaya’s account, and they promptly acknowledged it. Contributing to the flood-relief efforts certainly made me feel good, but I felt better a few days later when Phillip put up a photograph of the water motor that they had installed at the school, using ₹2,500 of the money I had transferred. As it happened, my donation was the first to reach for the project. Seeing the water motor at the school was deeply fulfilling and I realised that the working of the NGO was transparent as they informed donors of the manner in which their money was being utilised, and people like Philip were associated with it who made small people like me feel big. Thus, began my association with Deepalaya.
Motivating NCC cadets
On December 18, Deepalaya took the initiative to raise an NCC boys’ unit in their school at Kalkaji Extension. Phillip invited me to speak to the cadets, and I offered to come on December 17 to motivate the young cadets, and encourage them to hone their ‘communication skills’.
Around 500 neatly dressed and well-behaved students attended my lecture. I spoke to them from my heart, and shared my journey of becoming an orator with them – right from my days at Military School, Belgaum to defeating the former minister of external affairs Sushma Swaraj, a champion debater, during the youth festival at Panjab University, Chandigarh, in 1972.
I encouraged them to inculcate the habit of reading, as reading and writing go hand-in-hand. I told them how I taught myself English in Class 7 by reading the newspaper every day with a dictionary at hand. Later, I met the NCC boys’ unit, and administered the pledge.
Igniting the mind of underprivileged children
Since that day, Deepalaya has been close to my heart. It reminds me of my childhood. I was born to landlords, and had a privileged upbringing, but the village as a whole lacked basic facilities – we had no water or electricity, and our mother would walk 2km to fetch water.
I studied under a lantern and cycled 10km to reach school, before I was admitted to King George’s School, Belgaum (now Military School) in 1964. That school ignited my potential and helped me to become an officer. Similarly, Deepalaya, which was founded in 1979, is igniting the minds and talents of underprivileged children in both rural and urban areas.
Anybody, who helps the needy and deprived, is an apostle of God. Having served in uniform for 38 years, and now looking after the Ambala chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), what greater joy could there be than being a part of the Deepalaya family. It has helped me lead a life of purpose. May the country have more Deepalayas and more Phillips’!
(The writer is an Ambala-based freelance contributor. Views expressed are personal.)