Calling for a harthal at the drop of a hat is quite common these days in Kerala, with no thought to the people who suffer during these ordeals. However, quite often the announcement of a harthal is welcomed by the public, unless they have had the bitter experience of being at the receiving end. From children to the working adults, everyone seems to look forward to having an unscheduled holiday and lays out plans at the slightest hint that a harthal is around the corner.
We look forward to them as if they were some kind of a festival or a day to sleep in and rest uninterrupted in the comfort of our homes. Proving this fact is the scene at the Chalai bazaar prior to a harthal day. The streets bustle with people preparing to have a bash at home. But amidst all this, there are people who suffer miserably - those requiring emergency medical help and travellers arriving at railway stations, to name a few.
But not for long proves Prem Kumar, owner of Travancore Wood Arts. The Good Samaritan offered free food on harthal day to all the doctors, hospital staff, inmates and the bystanders at W&C Hospital Thycaud, on 29th April when the ruling Govt. had called for a harthal from dawn to dusk. This is the third time he is sponsoring food at the hospital.
“When we came to know of the harthal we were really worried. For people like us who always depend on public transport, harthals always give a hard time, especially when you have someone admitted in a hospital,” says Sukumari whose daughter has been admitted in the hospital for her delivery. “It was then that we came to know that someone was sponsoring food on harthal day. We don’t know if it’s a group or an individual, but whoever it is, god will bless them. It helped us a lot to rest assured that things were taken well care of. My daughter and I are extremely thankful to that person,” she adds, with tears welling up in her eyes. The hospital authorities were more than happy with Prem Kumar’s gesture and were full of praise for him.
One would wonder at the energy and zeal of Prem Kumar, the happiness he radiates into the lives of others, and the way he treats life. It all started several years back when he saw a mentally challenged person trying to forage food from a junkyard. This scene tugged at his heart and he wanted to do something about it.
“Beggars at least know to differentiate and have more chances of feeding themselves. But the case of mentally challenged people is really pathetic.” Since then he started packing up food for such people. And on one harthal day he thought of the plight of the people in the hospital and supplied food packets to them. However, that was not enough to sustain all at the hospital and from the next harthal, he took the headcount and sponsored food for each of them. “We need to help people when they badly need help. The deserving ones should get the benefit,” says the inspired soul.
Prem Kumar, who has immense faith in God and accounts everything to the Almighty, says modestly that what he does is not a big deal. “It is the work of God. I have no part in it. I’m just the medium. ” Unlike those who crave for publicity via philanthropy, Prem Kumar is someone from whom we can all learn a lesson or two. “The media came in last week, but we didn’t encourage them. This isn’t being done to get attention and as such we prefer it to remain a private affair. I believe that when you give alms, your left hand should not know what your right hand does. I’m just helping them and it gives me immense happiness to bring a smile to their faces.” He wishes that he could have extended this service. “This time I could only help those at the hospital. Those who arrive at the railway stations also suffer a lot. Next time I would like to include them also.”
During times of adversity, it was his ultimate faith in God that kept him going. He has faced dire situations and has had to overcome several constraints; but nothing deterred him from helping others. For someone whose work includes making mementos to appreciate others, this is a service for which he would never get one for himself.
At an age when philanthropy is yet another style mantra and is looked upon as a means to add quotient to your profile, it’s quite unlikely that you would find people like these who refrain from coming into the limelight and prefer to keep a low profile. To convince him to give an interview and allow us to photograph him took an eternity- not surprising for a person who wishes to keep the good work he does to himself.
“More people need to be inspired and render their service to the betterment of the people and society. We can all do our part, however small it might me. Even a school kid can help by sharing his food with the less fortunate. It is all a matter of perspective. We choose to be blind and go about finishing our work and shut other people out of our lives. This attitude needs to change. It is high time that we opened our eyes and had a good look around in our society and do our bit for it,” Prem Kumar says with a smile.
Yes indeed. Finally it boils down to keeping our eyes and ears open and having a heart to feel for others. It is empathy and not sympathy that is the need of the hour and we can all make a difference. It is just a matter of perspective. If each one of us were half as inspired as he is, the world would be a much better place to live in.