Monday, 20 March 2017

That one phone call

When the phone rings, it could mean many things for a journalist. At best, a story; at worst, a PR pitch. But sometimes, it’s also the beginning of a lifelong relationship.

In May 2013, on the day the Class XII State Board examination results were announced, a doctor friend called asking if the newspaper would be interested in a story about a young girl with cancer who had scored high marks. She felt if someone wrote about the girl, people would be moved to contribute to help with her treatment, as her family could not afford it. At that point, the story was only lukewarm interesting, and the girl’s score was not that high at 81%. I decided to call anyway.

Lakshmi Priya was a revelation. She had heard of her result when she was undergoing chemotherapy, and she asked if it was okay if could we just speak over the phone. She had been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia and could not go to school. Her father Velu interjected with the mild, respectful tone I’ve come to associate with him since: “But she was studying all the time she was in hospital. Even when we would ask her to rest, she’d refuse.”

A Dalit, Velu had struggled to give his daughters Lakshmi Priya and Lavanya the education he had a mere introduction to. The diagnosis came like a bolt from the blue for the family which was trying to keep it together with Velu’s monthly salary of ₹14,000. Gradually funds poured in and the transplantation took place. Velu called from time to time, to share information about her small milestones, the doctor’s remarks, his joy, and to seek reassurance: “All will be well, no Madam? She is everything to me.”

Lakshmi Priya died on August 26, 2013. I knew because Velu called, his voice heavy with tears. He called again later to say there were funds remaining in her account and that he was writing a cheque for a girl with cancer. He’d call every now and then: when Lavanya cleared her Class X examination with flying colours, his wife Sumathi’s sorrow, on Lakshmi Priya’s birthdays, even when he said he could not take it any more. I would listen and sometimes say things that could not matter much. Over one conversation, he said he had saved money for Lavanya’s higher studies, but if she got through admission on merit, he was willing to give that money to some other deserving student or patient. Could I recommend someone?

Lavanya is writing her final school exam and I’m expecting a call from Velu any time saying the same thing he always does: “Madam, are you fine? So happy you picked my call.” No Sir, I’m so glad you called.

(Source: The Hindu)

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