Savithri Vaithi on the Monday Club, raising funds for charity and extending care for the aged

In 1947, SSLC and Intermediate papers were leaked out. Touts hustled them at ‘ten papers for an anna'. When the authorities learnt about the leak, re-exams were ordered. Armed with an SSLC obtained that year, I joined the Corporation's workforce. My job at its Health Centre - run at Ashok Vihar, located behind Moore Market - entailed reaching health care to slum dwellers. Based on the Peckham Model, the programme targeted entire families. As it included psychological wellness, recreation was organised for slum children. It was not an income-oriented model, but the staff received decent salaries.

In 1948, my salary was Rs. 80 a month. After shelling out Rs. 5 for a tram pass, I took home Rs. 75. At that time, we lived in Seetha Vilas, a sprawling bungalow with 46 mango trees at Luz Corner. I used the tram services more often to commute to work. As my work sometimes required going straight to field areas, I also relied on buses. In those days, a bus service called SRVS ran what looked like lorries. These buses with open tops scooped in passengers at point A and dropped them at point B.

After six years of service, I quit my job at Ashok Vihar and settled for life as a home-maker. In 1954, I enrolled for a course at the Government-run catering technology college in Taramani. Aimed at the housewife, the course included cooking, baking and juice making. The students developed strong bonds and kept in touch after graduating from the college.

In 1970, this close-knit group decided to undertake charity work so that they could get together regularly and, at the same time, help the needy. That's how the Monday (Charity) Club was born - well, on a Monday! The Club kicked off with a poor-feeding function at Srinivasa Gandhi Nilayam, established by S. Ambujammal.

Our aim was to perform one good work a month - we called it ‘Maadam Oru Udavi'. With a monthly subscription of Rs. 3 each from 20 members, there was no scope for anything bigger. We made some progress in 1974, when we started a book club after studying the book bank run by the Rajasthani community in Madras. We would scour Moore Market for school and college text books. Poor students were invited to register with us and borrow these books.

Every three months, we organised a speech by an exemplary public figure. During a quarterly talk in 1976, Tara Cherian, then Mayor of Madras, asked us to focus on a charity that addressed a profound need in society. Following a brainstorming session, we reached an agreement to run an old age home. After some time, we took a house in Chrompet for a monthly rent of Rs. 250. The first inmate was 66-year-old Lakshmi, adept at stitching leaves, but homeless and lacking mobility. Lakshmi and the other inmates did not have to stay at this cramped house for long.

In 1978, we requested A.V. Meiyappan for a donation towards purchase of land in Palavakkam. He made a cheque for the entire amount - Rs. 20,000. In his honour, we named the home AVM Rajeshwari Gardens. Around that time, HelpAge India also started an old age home. HelpAge raised funds for us through Sponsor Walk, a novel programme that mobilised the support of school children. In 1979, we received Rs. 1,92,000, all of which was collected by children.

Tamil Nadu Governor Patwari laid the foundation stone for the building, which was opened by the then President of India, Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, in 1980. When we stepped into the new building, we thanked the little hands that had built it.

SAVITHRI VAITHI Born on October 1, 1931 (incidentally World Elders’ Day), she is one of the prime forces behind the ‘home for the aged’ movement in Madras. She is a recipient of the CNN-IBN’s ‘Real Hero’ award and Rotary Club’s ‘For The Sake of Honour’ award. But her work can’t be measured by awards. The true evidence of her contribution to society can be found at Vishranthi Old Age Home in Palavakkam, where women older than her affectionately call her ‘Mother’.