Tracking one man’s journey into the land of giving.

When M.S. Bagai’s first wife Sudhira died in 1980 of cancer, Bagai decided to support the drive for early detection of cancer in slums and urban outbacks. He began the Sudhira Bagai Charitable Trust with just Rs. 500. Bagai has since raised money to educate the children of a paraplegic soldier, provide milk to children living in the shelter of Safdarjang Hospital in New Delhi, buy medicines and milk for sick sadhus, and for a dozen other causes in a list that keeps growing.

A retired bureaucrat who is today 80 years old, Bagai epitomises a life of giving, driven by his conviction that even small sums of money can make a big difference. One of the first things he did when he started was to pool in the family resources to buy a flat on Tolstoy Marg in New Delhi, the rent from which sustained the initiatives of the Sudhira Bagai Trust. Soon, his second wife Malti and their two children started a trust, Charities Associates, to help with funds.

Some years later, Bagai also became the managing trustee of the Bani Jagtiani Trust which began with a corpus of Rs. 45,000 but inherited a two-storeyed residential building in Kailash Colony, the rent from which also went towards philanthropy.

When it became difficult to manage the property, it was sold for Rs 24.75 crore. It is this money that Bagai has been using to fund NGOs and other philanthropists of whose credibility he is convinced.

The number of projects that Bagai’s Trust supports is long. The Ramakrishna Mission got Rs. 8 crore to set up a nursing college and a dialysis unit.

The R.K. Mission in Vrindavan was given Rs. 80 lakh for a Cat Scan machine. Salaam Baalak Trust got Rs. 35 lakh for the rescue and rehabilitation of trafficked girls; Can Support has received Rs. 10 lakh; while another NGO received Rs. 3 crore to start a hospital in Mukteshwar. The Multiple Sclerosis Society as well as a programme for rickshaw drivers received Rs. 10 lakh each. The Dharamshila Cancer Centre, the Cancer Patients Aids Association in Mumbai, and Cancer Roko also received funds for detection work in slums.

The joy of giving, however, loses its sheen when the money is not used well and the supported organisations don’t send back utilisation certificates, audits and annual reports. Though he selects organisations after careful screening, the absence of feedback can be frustrating, says Bagai. He has now started a process of asking beneficiary organisations to sign an agreement to give audited statements of fund utilisation.

Bagai’s greatest satisfaction is in supporting small NGOs and individuals who work with slum children to promote computer literacy or conduct bridge courses before they are admitted to government schools.

All across Delhi and Faridabad, small trusts and ex-servicemen are motivating and helping marginalised families to educate their children. Some work out of parks or in temporary sheds.

Bagai’s Trust gets an annual income of Rs. 1 crore, which it tries to dispense judiciously. Providing funds in a sustained manner to organisations doing good work remains a challenge, admits Bagai. He is, for instance, deeply involved with Prerna Niketan, an NGO started in 1998 by Meenu Saxsena, an MBA who took voluntary retirement to help children, particularly abandoned children, with physical disabilities.

Prerna Niketan houses 42 children in a community centre at Dwarka. All the children are given free medical treatment and are educated in government schools till Class 12. Bagai is helping the NGO buy a 32-seater bus and to build a home at Najafgarh.

The Blind Welfare Society’s hostel is another of Bagai’s pet projects. Housing 20 blind girls, the hostel is run by R.P. Bhola, the retired principal of Government Boys Secondary School in West Delhi. Bhola, himself blind, has three children who are all visually impaired. He has not only educated his own children but has taken on the task of educating blind girls. Four girls in his hostel are studying for a Master’s degree, others are studying to become teachers or to enter clerical services. The hostel gives free board and lodging and the Society pays college fees.

It is initiatives such as these that inspire Bagai. And it is people like Bagai who inspire the art of giving.