A 27 year old man used to wait on the footpath opposite the Tata Cancer Hospital in Central Mumbai. For hours he kept his eyes glued on to the front door to see many poor parents bringing their cancer touched young for curative efforts. From thenineteen fifties the hospital had earned fame not only in India but also in the developed and underdeveloped world for it provided the best cure and was free of cost for poor families.
The young man Harakhchand Savla was not highly educated nor a multimillionaire. He owned or rather inherited a small restaurant in Dadar. For him to watch poor pouring in with their cancer afflicted young ones to the hospital was an unusual passion. In two years time his heart ached to be in a position to do something for the suffering poor. But it grilled his conscience even more to realize his inability due to lack of resources. He could see the poor from villages running around to find where they had to go to register the name and the direction in which the assigned physician had his or her room.
More painful was the plight of the family after the young patient was admitted. The run about to get their patient admitted did not make them even aware of the fire of hunger burning their inside. Soon they realized they were not left with enough money to buy food for each of them. Usually the old mother and father preferred to forgo their lunch or do with one o two buns, the cheapest and most easily available food in the area.
Finally Harakhchand made up his mind. He realized he can do a little to mitigate the pain of young patients. But he can make the members of the attending family happy by providing them food.
The next day he rented out his restaurant, collected a year’s rent to set up his kitchen on the footpath of Kondaji chawl opposite the main entrance of the hospital. His menu was simple such as only one katori dal, five small rotis and one sabji. Most eaters were surprised to hear at the end that it cost them nothing. There was no shed on the foot path as the Municipal Corporation would not allow him to put up a shed. But the men from civic authority, from licensing division and cleanliness divisions allowed him to stay and serve food.
It did not matter what season it was, every needy could have a free thali at Harakchand’s place. He did not need to advertise his presence. Beneficiaries sent others and in two years, he was serving 700 needy and hungry attendants of patients from outstation. A few beggars or free loaders attempted to take free food but Harakhchand and his volunteer assistants had an uncanny ability to detect and drive them away.
Initially he was worried over the resources to continue his selfless action. In three months he began to get sufficient donations as fame of his work began to spread. With sufficient resources available, he launched one more service of providing free of cost essential medicines to poor patients. Other chemists in the area followed his example and cut out their profits on essential medicines. He then added a toy and play room for young patients or young attendants coming with their mothers. When others heard of his innovation, they sent toys from their homes. Their children came along with their pet toys to donate here.
The experiment showed that there is no dearth of good hearts to extend their helping hand if someone takes such initiatives. Harakhchand had a golden heart. Even at 60, he goes to his free ‘khanaval’ as boarding houses in Mumbai are known, spends two hours, often handing over food with a rare smile. He has run his service for thirty years now. He often laments his lack of millions of rupees for his yearns for research and development of medicines that can cure cancer without hospitalization.
Food is not the only problem for families that come from distances with their patients. In the West, families can return home after a patient is admitted but the poor of India loathe leaving behind their relations lest some emergency comes up.
All India Institute of Medical Sciences is among the three big research hospitals to attract patients from long distance. The patient’s attending families pass the day sitting around but have to use the open space in the compound that is used during the day as car park, to rest in the night. No thought was given to such a need. Their concerns are often justified as they are called to get emergency medicines at night.
This one man’s great gesture has helped so many families with constraints of finance. His selfless service is truly admirable and inspiring.