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In a world, faced with crises, violence and struggles we often wonder why superheroes don’t exist. After reading an article about Padma Shri Subhashini Mistry, I am now sure that superheroes do exist.
It’s just that usually they don’t come with a cape or magic powers. They are born with strong willpower, mental strength, and kindness which are beyond any selfish motives or self-promotion.
The country’s most coveted civilian awards, the Padma awards recognize the highest contribution by the citizens towards the nation. The 2018 Padma awardee Subhashini Mistry, is a living example that superhumans do exist.
This seventy-one-year-old lady belongs to a village called Hanspukur situated about 20km away from Kolkata. At the age of twenty-three, she faced a personal tragedy that gave her a goal – which she carried through her whole life and made a reality.
Married at the age of 16 to a manual labourer, poverty and lack of resources claimed the life of Subhashini Mistry’s husband at the threshold of youth. Suffering from a case of diarrhoea, he was rushed to the hospital, but doctors and nurses refused to pay attention to him, as both the husband and wife were penniless. As a mere 23-year-old widow with five children to be fed and educated, her life was devastated. Her husband died of gastroenteritis in the 70s.
The impact of his death and the crises she faced due to poverty gave her the idea and determination that no one should face the kind of hardship she had to go through after his death.
Despite extreme poverty, she refused to give up, and instead, saved every penny she could for the next twenty years toiling with her sweat and blood as a housemaid, manual labourer, or selling vegetables. During this journey, her elder son was sent to an orphanage so that he could continue his studies. Ajoy didn’t fail her and became a doctor with help from philanthropists.
Subhashini Mistry’s primary work was as a domestic helper. However, in between, she would pick vegetables that grew on the wayside of Dhapa village and sell them. This would, in turn, give her a better profit as compared to the household work. With her children, she moved to Dhapa village where she rented a hut for Rs.5 a month and began selling vegetables. With her persistence, her small start grew up in a business. She took a step forward and headed towards Kolkata. She started a wayside stall on bridge Number Four in Park Circus in central Kolkata and her earnings reached an amount of Rs.500 a day.
This frail, uneducated woman with a powerful spirit, opened a saving account in the post office and deposited whatever she could save. The total amount she could deposit was Rs.20,000, the savings of her whole life. While she could have used it for her own needs, she had promised herself of something bigger and nobler.
With the amount of Rs 20,000 and her son Ajoy’s help, in 1992, she came back to Hanspukur and bought an acre of land. She moved back to her husband’s hut that had been lying vacant all along nearby. Next, she brought together the residents of Hanspukur to pool in more money and established a trust called Humanity Trust. Buying another half acre of land, she established a hospital in a small hut. Her plan was to donate her one-acre land for the hospital, but the villagers would have to donate money to build a thatched shed that could serve as a dispensary for the poor. The public donation totalled Rs.926.
Villagers, who could not contribute in cash, contributed in-kind – providing bamboos, palm leaves, truckloads of earth, and wooden planks. The poorest offered their labour. In 1993, their hard work and efforts resulted in a 20 feet by 20 feet temporary shed to serve as a dispensary. Now the significant question arose – of doctors to be brought in. They took the initiative by moving an auto rickshaw fitted with a loudspeaker that plied the countryside over a 10 km radius, pleading with doctors to offer their free service at the newly opened Hanspukur shed at least once a week for the poor and needy. Villagers went from door to door urging residents to donate their surplus medicines.
The first doctor to respond to the call was Dr. Raghupathy Chatterjee. Five others followed in rapid succession – a general physician, paediatrician, orthopaedic, ophthalmologist, and a homeopath. Thus the hospital was christened Humanity Hospital. The kind Doctors offered free service, ranging from two to four hours a week. On the very first day, 252 patients were treated. Humanity hospital made a new start, never to look back from here. But the Hospital needed more funds and support from the government.
Ajoy knocked at the various doors of authorities and met the then MLA, Malini Bhattacharya. At first, the response was cold and their efforts were not heeded. But Ajoy didn’t give up. He persistently contacted Malini Bhattacharya and made her understand the noble cause and gathered all the support from the government authorities so that the hospital could serve needy people uninterruptedly.
One cannot imagine the humility of this woman, as after completing what she dreamt of, she along with her elder daughter and son went back to do what made all this possible: her vegetable stall at Bridge number 4. She was never hungry for fame and publicity. She silently did her best to serve the people with whatever resources she had, and especially, her dedication and systematic planning. Her youngest daughter has become a nurse at the hospital and her son Ajoy with his wife is running the hospital to serve the poor and needy patients.
When asked how she achieved so much, she says in an interview: “Inner Strength.” She adds with true wisdom, “God in his infinite grace gave me a vision at the darkest moment in my life. From then on, my life had a purpose. I used whatever strength God gave me to make sure other poor people did not lose their loved ones for lack of medical attention.”
She further says, “What’s the use of material things like bangles and saris. We can’t take them with us when we die. But the happy faces of the cured poor people have given me such joy and meaning in this life.”
The amazing story of Subhashini Mistry makes me feel that charity doesn’t need funds. It needs noble thought, attitude, and willpower. Funds and resources are bound to follow. It is not how much you have. The essence is in, how far and how much you are ready to give.
Some people may not even think of sparing a penny when they have crores at their disposal, while pious souls like Subhashini can give everything without expecting any fame, publicity or glamour in return. A grand salute to Subhashiniji!!
Subhashini Mistry’s story has been covered in the book Unsung, by Anita Pratap and Mahesh Bhat.
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