The initiatives that truly produce a change in a community are the initiatives started at the grass rootlevel. Those are the things which branch out into multi layered developments that can convert a backward society into a developed and vibrant one. For the people of Trivandrum, Chengalchoola has always been nothing but a slum for those living outside the pale of society; a breeding ground for crime and immoral activities.It is only when you actually visit the place that you realise that there is nothing very different here than in any other community, except for the fact that people here are poor and forced to live in shabby conditions. And these are the very facts that make them easy targets for politicos and anti-social elements looking for personal gains.
Like in any other place, here too we have some good people and some bad people. But it is only the bad that draw attention from the outside world,”explains Rajesh, leading me to where he plans to set up a library for the children of Chengalchoola.
My purpose in meeting this young man was to know more about this library that Rajesh plans to build in memory of his deceased brother whose dream it had been to build a library in Chengalchoola. But the conversation that followed made me realise that Rajesh was hoping and is trying, to achieve much more than just a library.
“My brother died at a young age due to chicken pox. It was his intention to build this library. At that time I was not very enthusiastic about the project, simply because noone in the colony was. But as I grew up and learnt some of the lessons of life, it dawned upon me that there are many things which Icould do for the betterment of his place,” he said, as we walked through the narrow alleys, with several muddy pools of dirty water.
The 'library' that Rajesh was talking about is just a little more than a meager shed under an asbestos roof, which would become crowded if occupied by more than three people at a time. Inside, the mud and stone floor has been leveled out and a bare rack hungrily awaiting books stands to one side.
“Originally the library was set to function from a rented house nearby. Sara and Abraham, a couple from the US, had helped my brother acquire that place. But after my brother's death everything went wrong. Politics and politicians got involved, and the house was snatched away from us. It was after much difficulty that I got this place to set up the library.”
To build that shed alone cost Rajesh around Rs 20,000. Help was given to him from the Sai Trust and the Rotary Club of which he is a member. Despite lacking money, Rajesh is not short on self-respect.
“You can't ask them to help you out all the time. They are doing everything they can. But I am trying my best to get this done by myself.”
Rajesh himself had leveled out the floor of the library with help from one of his friends. The Sai Trust has agreed to donate 2000 books for the library. Once it starts functioning, Rajesh plans to take the next step.
“People here are mostly ignorant of their condition. They have no idea that they are being exploited. Once this library starts functioning, I would start giving memberships to the children. Then, once in a while, classes would be conducted for willing parents to make them aware of their rights, and how their children can be brought up to a better future. We have youngsters, scoring very high marks for the SSLC exams. There are students studying for medicine, engineering and LLB, in this colony. The talent is there;and it is not just about the lack of opportunity, sometimes the parents themselves ask their children to stop learning and start earning, which to me is the saddest part of it all.”
The path which Rajesh has set out for himself is by no means a smooth one. And the root cause for all his troubles could be summed upin one word – politics.
“It is said in the law books that every colony within the city should have a library. But they were never willing to provide us with one. And when we thought of starting one of our own, they have turned against us. Why? Because all the parties want youngsters to march down the street holding their flags, to do their dirty work and to get beaten up by the police. They cannot ask children from VIP families to do that job. The ones readily available are the poor, underprivileged youth of poor colonies like this one. Now, if those young people start to read and learn and become aware of how they are being led around in the name of politics, who is left to do the dirty work?” Rajesh asks rhetorically.
And it is not just from the outside that politics is hindering the progress of the colony.
“Many of the residents too are against setting up this library. People of a certain party want things to be done their way while people of another party want it to be done their way. No one gives a thought to the betterment of their families, their children, or of this colony as a whole.They blindly follow the party’s orders; such is their loyalty!” he smiles helplessly.
And yet, Rajesh remains optimistic about the future. He believes that he can make the change that's required to make the ignorant people see the light. His brother succumbed to chicken pox at the age of thirty and before that he had lost his elder sister to a lung disease when she was just nineteen. And yet, Rajesh manages to smile and hope.
Standing before his unfinished library, Rajesh poses for a photo, with two kids who hold 'Rajesh Chettan' dear. This man is neither a hero, nor a warrior, but just a normal young man who believes in himself and wants to do something for the place where he was born and where he grew up. And for the sake of this,he is prepared to battle against ignorance, unwillingness and above all, the dirty game of politics.
By Mukesh Venu