Meet R.Jalaja and K.Janardhanan, a rare couple, living on a quarter of their income so they can spend the rest in changing lives of others
Inside a two-storey modest house on a narrow congested residential street in Tirunagar, live R.Jalaja, 65, and her husband K.Janardhanan, 72, on their own time and dime now. But they aren't like any other old retired couple. In today's time they stand out because they constantly feel compelled to help others. And both took voluntary retirement from their respective jobs to do so.
"We have what we need, so it makes sense to share with people who don't have," says Jalaja, who was in clerical job in Customs & Central Excise department. She took voluntary retirement in 1994 at the age of 42 because she could not wait till retirement to do social work.
Her husband of four decades, K.Janardhanan, followed suit in 2000. He worked as AGM Telecom in BSNL and still had five years to go. "We have been lucky enough because both of us think similarly about giving," he says.
Both inspired by T.S.Rajam (son of T V Sundaram Iyengar) wanted to be of service to those who need help. "The struggles we experienced in our childhood makes us help those who struggle now,” they say.
She is his eyes. Because Janardhanan suffers from ICE syndrome and has very low vision in one eye only. He is her mind. Because he quickly interprets her social projects and guides and helps her to execute it. Their combined income from pension is Rs.55,000 per month. And they rarely spend more than Rs.10,000 on their needs, saving 75 per cent of their income every month because they view the money they earn as belonging “to whoever needs it most”.
They read the story of struggle of seven young city doctors who quit their corporate jobs to treat free the neglected from a rented building in these very columns of Metroplus (Being a real doctor, published on February 24, 2016). "We were waiting for my check-up at the Aravind Eye Hospital, when Jalaja picked up the paper and read about doctors wanting to set up a permanent hospice but lacking resources," says Janardhanan.
Soon after the couple met the team of Aishwaryam trust and were so impressed by their treatment of a dozen senior citizens in worst health conditions that they immediately decided to donate 27 cents for building the Nethravathy Pain, Palliative Care and Rehabilitation Centre. With his VRS money, Janardhanan had purchased the land in Joseph Nagar near Vilachery in 2000 because it was his wife's desire to build a permanent old age home. Till then, they were running one from their house in Tirunagar.
"At any given time two dozen men and women belonging to poor families and aged between 60 and 95 years stayed with us," says Jalaja, who took care of all their needs like a daughter, till she suffered a minor accident and spinal injury in 2000, the same year when her husband took early retirement to help her. "We both ran the daily affairs of the Home, from cooking to cleaning and ensured a comfortable life for the inmates," says Janardhanan. The old age home -- started in 1995 -- had to be wound up in 2010 given the health of the couple. In those 16 years, they saved and improved more than 150 lives free of cost. Over the years, many reunited with their families after short recuperative stays, few passed away due to old age and several others continued to stay and were later sent to other Homes post-2010.
Since the purchased land was lying unused, the couple had no hesitation in gifting it to Aishwaryam team as they also nurtured a similar dream -- of building a bigger hospice. In March this year, the Janardhanans completed the registration formalities and kickstarted the construction. “We continue to be indirectly involved guiding the young team and helping them to raise donations to complete the construction,” says Janardhanan. Adds Jalaja, "We don't have a child of our own. The young doctors are our children now and the hospice is our new baby we want to see grow fast."
It is not just the hospice the couple has been passionate about. In 1995, the duo registered Vaibhav Seva JJ Foundation to run various activities including their erstwhile old age home. The foundation also takes care of medical bills and funeral rites of financially deprived people. It distributes books, notebooks, uniform and stationery to 900 poor students in four government schools. Besides Rs.One lakh is set aside every year to finance higher education of two poor but bright students.
With age catching up, both are now contemplating to wind up the Foundation as well and fully divert all time and energy to the hospice. "We always dreamt of performing some sort of humanitarian work to benefit larger section of society," says Janardhanan.
"Both of us always feel the calling that inspires to do somethIng for others. We are able to have a comfortable and peaceful life and want to give others the same opportunity," she says.
The couple cut their cost of living and always plan carefully to afford things they really value. "We neither starve nor lead a life of luxury," both echo.
"Just 100 gm of rice, 300 gm of vegetables, two cups of coffee and three chapatis is what both of us share each day," she says and he adds, "every 10-12 years depending on the condition we change some electrical gadgets." Neither do they indulge in wasteful shopping of clothes and jewellery and, in fact, have distributed much of what they had. "Our valuables are ourselves," both assert.
Their distinctly frugal and humble life style allows them more focus on growing the charity. In the last 23 years, they have silently done a wonderful work to engender a sense of community to the old and the orphans, the poor and the needy. They hope the links they have built will last a lifetime.
"God gave us the amazing opportunity to live our dream. The thing that we would want to leave people with is that one life can make a difference. No amount of time is too small or anything you do is too little." -- K.Janardhanan
"Even a smile is charity. That’s what I’d like people to remember. It is very emotional when you make so many others happy. It is the little things we do to help someone that ultimately changes their life." -- R.Jalaja