B.Velmurugan can’t see and with 52 others like him he faces all odds to share simple joys, writes Soma Basu

On Children’s Day (November 14) and later during the karthigai month, the Ayyappa Temple in Kalavasal will be the venue for an interesting cultural programme. More than 50 visually challenged school and college students will sing bhajans and play an orchestra in the evenings.

The prime motivator behind them is a 25-year-old youth who was born with low vision due to a retinal disorder. With little tolerance for self- pity, when B.Velmurugan grew up he chose to dedicate himself to making the lives of those with bad or failed eyesight a little more meaningful and joyful.

“I always suffered,” says he, “and have also been exploited.” That is why the M.A B.Ed qualified go-getter decided to work for the visually impaired. He attended St.Mary’s Boys Higher Secondary School and completed his Master’s in Tamil Literature with the donations that came his way from time to time. But jobs did not follow and Velmurugan joined a local school where he was forced to do odd jobs despite his qualifications.

“I felt hurt as I did only clerical work and was also made to clean the compound, do a bit of gardening and run all kinds of errands like buying vegetables and groceries,” he recalls.

The injustice meted out to him worked as an impetus to do something for the visually impaired. After quitting the job last December, Velmurugan borrowed some money from his two elder brothers and took a house on rent to accommodate visually challenged girls and boys. “I want to give them a life of dignity by way of a decent place to stay and nutritious food to eat.”

He launched himself on the mission with an idea to house 25 visually challenged needy children. But when he advertised, there were 85 respondents. With great difficulty Velmurugan chose 52 of them. What shocked him during the process of selection was the high number of blind girls who were evicted from their homes. “I wanted to provide them a safe haven,” he says. Eight of his children are also speech and hearing impaired.

He has mostly High School children and five college students with him who stay at the Mahimai Vizhigal Maatruthiranaligal Illam in Azhagusundaram Nagar since June. He does not want to downsize the sheltered care facility for the children. But he does recognise that life is hard. “I spend sleepless nights when I am not able to arrange the monthly house rent of Rs.10,000 and electricity bill of Rs.5,000.”

Velmurugan says there are sponsors and donors for food and grocery, clothes and books. A kind shop owner sends the left over vegetables and fruits every night. But his initial corpus of funds is fast drying up forcing him to apply for jobs again.

“I can not abandon my dream,” he says, “to ensure good quality of life for these chidlren.” “I want to work hard and create a model to better serve those with vision problem,” he adds.

At the Home he combines all his duties with personal care and has become a doting “anna” to all the residents aged between 14 and 22 years.

On days when there is no donor for cooked food, Velmurugan wakes up at 4 a.m. to prepare breakfast and pack lunch. Once all the children leave for school or college, he washes their clothes, sweeps and mops the rooms, cleans the toilets. “No job is menial. I do it as a service to help somebody,” he says.

Some of his friends or volunteers from colleges drop by in the evening to help the children with their studies. And then it is music and fun time. Says Velmurugan, “Some of them sing so well and some play the musical instruments beautifully without any training.” That is how he came up with the idea of an informal musical troupe for small performances. A singer himself, he teaches them to sing bhajans.

Though 40 more visually challenged students are in the waiting to join his Home, Velmurugan is crunched for space. “I will keep the present batch as long as they continue to study,” he says. His selfless service despite financial struggle has already struck a chord as four of the senior residents have told him that like him they also want to help others after completing their college education.

“By talking like this they make me cry,” says Velmurugan. “I want each of them to become self-sufficient.”

Mark Twain said “Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see". Velmurugan has proved it.

(Making a difference is a fortnightly column about ordinary people and events that leave an extraordinary impact on us. E-mail soma.basu@thehindu.co.in to tell her about someone you know who is making a difference)