The following account was written by Philip Kuruvilla, Secretary of “The Untouchables,” a registered charitable trust in Bengaluru, India that seeks to create a pipeline between “the haves” and the “have nots.”
The year is 1955. In La Martiniere, a school in Calcutta, West Bengal India founded in 1836 by French mercenary Major General Claude Martin, two four-year-old boys become friends. Michael Samuel and Philip Kuruvilla.
Their friendship goes through the usual turbulence of adolescence and comes out stronger as they become young men. They then go different ways— one to study Engineering in Chennai and the other Political Science in Delhi. They lose touch, but reconnect fifty years later, in 2018, at the 50th-anniversary gathering of their graduation from La Martiniere.
Two erstwhile children, now grown men, shyly acknowledging the years that passed in between during the brief time of the reunion and renewing their friendship, now matured over the years. One, a successful businessman, settled in San Bernardino, California, as President of Nobel Systems. The other, who followed a different drummer, left his travel agency business, sports, and social life to seek God, became a priest of the Indian Orthodox Church, and retired in Bengaluru to start an NGO, “The Untouchables.”
Cut to May 2020, and COVID-19 is at its deadly best. The world struggling to come to terms with the virus’ lethal power and science’s seeming inability to deal with it. In Bengaluru, the Silicone Valley of India, nothing is different. All around is hopelessness and fear. Not just of catching the virus but also fear of dying of starvation because of loss of jobs and earnings.
The world struggling to come to terms with the virus’ lethal power and science’s seeming inability to deal with it.
Too many questions, no one seems to know the answers. Daily wage earners are the most hit. Migrants who had left their homes, both in Karnataka and in other states, in search of a “decent life,” suddenly left out in the cold. No jobs, no income, and a COVID-19 lockdown, which has been extended for another two weeks. News of families trekking eight hundred kilometers to reach home, of being stopped at state borders and being asked to make the arduous journey back. Fearful rumors.
In their shanties and slum houses, they live, waiting for good news, getting none. Despair written on their faces. Men who had promised to protect and feed their families and could not. Widows who were eking out a living as domestic help or as coolies at construction sites, now dealing with hungry, crying children. Bengalis and Jharkandis living in shanties and tin sheds, who could only remember the warmth of their homes and families far away — unable to work, unable to go back home. One common denominator bound them all, fear — the fear of contagion, the fear of the loss of income, the fear of an unknown tomorrow.
One common denominator bound them all, fear — the fear of contagion, the fear of the loss of income, the fear of an unknown tomorrow.
Michael and Philip speak with each other on the phone. Nobel Systems is concerned and would like to support the work being done on a small scale by The Untouchables among the have-nots. Plans are made. Volunteers start mapping out three communities in the Maruthi Farms area to locate the needy. Many are asking for help, and questions are asked to find the genuine ones at the bottom of the order. Lists are finalized. Quotations are taken from three stores to get the best prices and quality for the dry rations to be given to the poor.
The store selected is owned by Muslims, and they are happy to give especially low prices as it is the month of Ramadan, where the ‘zakat,’ a kind of almsgiving, a religious obligation, is expected of the Muslim faithful to mitigate the suffering of all humanity. Muslim, Christian, and Hindu, all coming together, a small attempt to stem the tide of hopelessness and fear that stalks the nation. That is India!
On Sunday, May 3, 2020, a team of thirteen volunteers for The Untouchables gather together to finalize plans for the day. A van arrives, and a policeman is deputed by the thana to ensure that there would be a peaceful distribution. The team goes into action by 10.30 am. Within two hours, seventy-one homes have been given hope in the form of a packet containing a week of dry rations for families and for bachelors living together, delivered to their doors.
There would be seventy-one stories that day from each of those homes we visited if we had the time and ability to tell them. Heart-rending stories. Not only those stories told in words by the occupants, but also by those who came from the sights we saw upon entering their homes—the lack of furniture, the innocent children, the squalid surroundings. But that day, faith in their god/s and in humanity infused both the volunteers who delivered and the recipients in their shanty homes.
On that day, hope once more pounded in their hearts. Hope, not just about the food that the package promised, though that was definitely a plus point, from the idea that humanity still prevails; that people can and do come together in the face of difficulties and hardships; that the stronger do step down to help the weaker—the world is not a jungle. Genuine smiles replaced the fear. The world may end, but not before humanity had a say, the wolf was kept at bay, and the recipients found the strength to face another day. For a short time, the sun shone through the despair, and love brought, in its stead, hope, and faith.
In San Bernardino, California, as its citizens prepared for bed that night, unknowing of the miracle Nobel Systems had wrought in the lives of some people in faraway Bengaluru, India, two friends, separated by thousands of miles, sighed and smiled to themselves and wondered who to thank—Major Claude Martin or the teachers who had instilled them with the idea that it was right to protect the weak and downtrodden?
But the overjoyed people in Maruthi Farms communities, Kempapura, Bengaluru, if they knew, would only say, “Thank You, Nobel Systems.”
To learn more about The Untouchable visit the Website: www.theuntouchables.org