A Touch of Love and Care

November 29, 2019 at 9:15 AMNov (Activism, Friends, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

The television set is switched on and small videos clips play one after the other. The videos are of an old man spotted near the railways station with urine bag tied, an old women spotted near the power house with a diaper in which she has excreted for several days and gotten infected, a mentally ill lady spotted near the bus stop whose matted hair is being shortened with scissors and lies are dropping in huge numbers, a bearded man spotted in the outskirts of the town, whose leg is rotting and has accumulated worms, an old lady living through the final stage of cancer whose wearing skin is being cleansed after a hospital withdrew itself from treating her, a lady whose hands have been tied as she eats her own excreta in a state of mental imbalance. These video clips which are not easy to watch have two things in common; One, all the people being featured are orphans. Two, they are all being attended to voluntarily by Krishna Reddy.

Resident of a small village named Katnekalava, Krishna Reddy since the ear 2002 has been making trips to the district head-quarters Anantapuramu regularly to attend to the orphans on the street. Some of these street orphans need to be given a hair-cut, some need to be given a bath, some have wounds which need to be cleansed and Krishna Reddy has been devotedly doing all of this and more for the street orphans in Anantapuramu.

To be able to attend to the street orphans Krishna Reddy has to first befriend them and win their trust, which he does in quite an interesting ways. He carries packet of cigarette or beedi in his shirt pocket in ways that it is visible to the person in from of him. When he casually begins a conversation either the cigarette/ beedi helps break the ice or the conversation itself does the necessary. At times the conversation begun by Krishna Reddy is sufficient for the street orphans to demand food from him. In return of the beedi/ cigarette or food Krishna Reddy asks them to do them a favour. The favour he demands is nothing but their cooperation to cleanse them and do the first aid, in case of requirement. This method works if the street orphan is a male. In case of female street orphans Krishna Reddy takes a back seat and his wife Yerragunta Devi takes charge and the husband assists the wife.

This process of breaking the ice and winning the confidence takes just ten minutes, sometimes it takes about an hour and at times it takes nearly a week. Krishna Reddy and Y. Devi are not short of patience to wait till the ice breaks and are dedicated enough to wait and ensure they do the necessary, within their limits.

When Krishna Reddy and Y. Devi got married, the latter was perplexed by this unusual caring side of her agriculturist husband towards street orphans. She says initially she felt the work to be a bit embarrassing. What added to this sense of shame was the comments made by some of her relatives regarding her husband. But it did not take much time for her to realize the greatness and also the significance of the work her husband was doing voluntarily and in no time she joined him in his work and took it up as her work too!

This voluntary work of Krishna Reddy began because of a few experiences in his early life. It is difficult to spot it if not observed closely but Krishna Reddy slightly limps while walking as his left leg is affected by polio. The blood group of Krishna Reddy happens to be B- Negative, a rare group. This was the reason why he would be making regular visits to the hospital to donate bloods. These regular visits made him closely see the state of orphans who would be outside of the hospital as hospitals wouldn’t get them admitted. Slowly the until then invisible street orphans began to become visible to him. Their state of being disturbed him. That is when he decided to do the least he could do; give them a haircut, give them a bath, give them clothes, give them first aid service. He started to carry a first aid kit with him and a pair of clothes also. To enhance his services he joined the then existing course of Registered Medical Practitioner course. The course got abandoned when its ideator Rajashekhara Reddy passed away. But Krishna Reddy did not abandon his work though the abandonment of the course left him with no certificate. He continued to do what he was doing for years. The determination to continue to attend to the orphans only intensified when both his sons were identified with mild mental retardation.

The rapport Krishna Reddy had built with the doctors as a regular blood donor that too of a rare blood group, helped him in his service. The doctors and also pharmacists would give him cotton, gloves etc at cheaper rates which helped him in doing first aid for the street orphans in need.

The long work of Krishna made him have friends in all streets of Anantapuramu. This went to the point of him getting calls from the civilians of town if they spot any new and unwell street orphan. For years now he has been the one who the police call, if any unidentified dead bodies are found on the streets. Krishna Reddy has no count of the orphaned dead bodies he has buried. Every dead body has been bathed before being buried, as a mark of respect and a ritual practiced across all faiths. Apart from this no ritual is practiced by the non-believer Krishna Reddy.

Though a non-believer Krishna Reddy found it a bit difficult to accept the critique of Sai Baba by the rationalist group Jana Vijnaana Vedike of which he was a part of. The service provided by Sai Baba in drought prone areas was immense according to Krishna Reddy. Critiquing a man without considering the lives saved by the person, the service provided appeared unfair and unjust to him and made him quit the Vedike.
Based on his observation and analysis Krishna Reddy says the main reason for people to cut ties from their home and become homeless is domestic violence and abuse. He is also of the opinion that disruption of join family has also contributed to the same with a certain concentration of authority in nuclear families.

Continuously working with the street orphans made him realize that there are orphans who have to be given closely monitored care and some need proper shelter to heal. This realization made him start Aashraya a shelter for the homeless people in his village Katnekalava. To build this he sold a piece of his land and also his house. With additional help by Kotak Mahindra Bank, Grameena Bank etc he constructed the building for Aashraya, ensuring it gets proper light and air circulation, in a land he inherited from his father. Aashraya now has 30 inmates and in its half a decade of existence has seen the death of 30 other inmates.

At Aashraya it is Krishna Reddy, his wife Y. Devi along with their two sons Madhusudan Reddy and Rajashekhara Reddy and Y.Devi’s mother take care of the inmates. An aaya of a nearby anganwaadi voluntarily comes to cook food for the inmates.

The villagers are quite suspicious about Aashraya says Krishna Reddy and adds, “Nobody from the village support or help us. But people from the neighbouring village are extremely supportive, cooperative and helpful.” People of their village were suspecting of Aashraya because of their logo having Mother Theresa in it says Krishna Reddy. This made the villagers believe that there is Christian missionary funding that comes for Aashraya. But for Krishna Reddy the image of Mother Theresa meant nothing more than an inspiration for selfless service. In the same breath he mentions how difficult it is to run Aashraya without much funding. This is what prompted him to make short videos and edit them on his mobile phone and put them out on the web, hoping that would bring Aashraya some financial help.
The experience of working with orphans on the streets did bring Krishna Reddy face to face with street children too. The substance abuse among these children and sexual abuse did trouble him. Though he did consider having them too in the shelter, he finally decided not to. The existence of systems like “ICDS and 109” who work for street children made Krishna Reddy arrive at the decision of not having orphan children at Aashraya, which takes inmates only when the orphans need extra care.

Yet while this interview was being conducted a girl child kept coming to Krishna Reddy, plaing with him and going away only to come back later. The girl is Siri who is two year old. Siri’s mother was spotted near the Anantapuramu railway station. She was nine month pregnant at that point and had lost her mental balance. Krishna Reddy who suspects it to be a case of rape pregnancy, got her to Aashraya and three days after later she delivered Siri. The mother of Siri is originally from Maharashtra and Marathi is her mother tongue. But she seldom speaks to her own daughter because of the state of her mind. Siri speaks Telugu and that is becoming her first language says Krishna Reddy, who playfully converses with Siri like a mother!

(Interviewed: 20 Nov 2018. Special thanks: Sandeep Nayani)

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