To meet a person for whom service has been the way of life, is indeed a blessing. To get the bliss, I drove down Chennai's scenic highway, East Coast Road.
In Palavakkam, I swerved the vehicle beyond an arch off the highway. Down the quiet lane I felt tranquillity. Hearing melodious music I stopped in my tracks and realized that I had indeed reached my destination Vishranthi – aptly named so as it exudes peace and warmth.
As I pushed the gates open, chirping of birds and lapping of seawaters greeted me. When I peeped into the small patio, the scene that unfolded was that of a frail but energetic women explaining about the problems of a young girl to someone over the phone.
She is Savithri Vaithi, the one who earnestly deals with the problems of many women, young and old.
Savithri Vaithi will be turning 80 this month and the inmates of Vishranthi have arranged for a grand function at AVM Rajeswari on September 28.
Savithri has been a mother to the inmates of Vishranthi. She has been so for more than three decades when she began the old age home for woman whom she found abandoned in public places. She began serving them very early in life and has eventually dedicated her entire life for their cause.
Surmounting hurdles, Savithri has run Vishranthi all these years successfully. Though she finds the administration a little difficult now due to her age, her strong will and determination keeps her going. Let us turn the leaves of her life to know how it all started.
Savithri was born into a great family of judges and freedom fighters. Rao Sahib C.R. Thiruvenkada Chariar, V. Bashyam Iyengar, her grandfather and great grandfather respectively, were judges. Her father C.T. Krishnaswamy and aunt Ambujammal were social workers in the pre-Independence period.
She grew up in a joint family amidst uncles, aunts and cousins at Mylapore in a palatial home (the present Shanthi Vihar), which had about 36 mango trees and a huge cow shed.
“Me and my cousins used to be taken in a Rolls Royce car by my grandfather for a cup of ice-cream at the Cosmopolitan Club, Mount Road.”
But she had to move out of the house when she was barely 16. She took up a job with a welfare organisation for women. This job created an awareness in her about the various difficulties faced by women in slums.
“I taught women and children about personal hygiene, cleanliness and behaviour. I then took up a course in medical social work, which I liked because it provided a link between the doctor and the patient.”
With her marriage to R. Vaithi, a photographer, life took a turn. She studied catering technology for an year and started taking classes in juice, jam and cake making. In fact, it made her travel throughout the State.
Later, she teamed up with 20 women and decided to start a club for a social cause on a Monday.
Thus was born the Monday Charity Club. Their very first step was to feed poor which was done at Srinivasa Gandhi Nilayam on Ambujammal Street.
Called ‘One act of kindness' they began a number of activities such as a book bank (1974), Vishranthi, (1977), Malarchi (1990) a home for kids with single parents and Nizhal, a short stay home for women in distress.
Her experience with the elderly makes her feel that they need care. “Proper food, timely medicines and appropriate care is what they need.”
According to her, the number of people who are coming to her are increasing. She has many facilities ready for them such as ayurvedic treatment, regular BP and sugar check-ups, cataract surgery and recreational facility.
“Mainly I teach the inmates to face death fearlessly.” She says. In fact, the old women feel death is a honour for them as it is Savithri Vaithi who lights the funeral pyre.
Savithri's untiring service has won her about 35 awards, including the Valuable Age Care Services by HelpAge India, Jawaharlal Nehru Award and Annai Teresa Social Service Award. Savithri says: By 2050, 75 per cent of India's population will comprise of only senior citizens. So, the future of the elderly in our country is a question mark.