Like V.P.Elayapari are hard to come by and believe, till one actually meets and sees them in action, says SOMA BASU
He is a civil engineer turned surgical equipment distributor turned social health worker. The many hats he wears earned him thousands of friends and well-wishers in the last two decades and this 40-year-old youth has become synonymous with 'emergency services' in the city.
He enjoys doing what he does and yet V.P.Elayapari's personal life is in turmoil. Unable to adapt to his working style and unable to fathom his weirdly steadfast willingness to help others anytime, anywhere in any manner, his wife left him five years after marriage.
“She wanted me to do a 9 to 5 salaried job and be around with the family,” he says. Skeptically, I ask him why did he marry at all and he returns an interesting answer. His penchant to help others made him put out a matrimonial ad seeking widowed girls as he wanted to alleviate the pain and suffering of one girl.
“I received three applications of which one had a child. The other two were issueless. So I chose the mother and child thinking I could protect her from double trouble. But it did not work out that way,” he hides nothing.
My next obvious question, what drives him so crazily to social work at the cost of wrecking domestic peace? Without a glitch, he says: “My maternal grandfather, Sethuramachandran was a known freedom fighter from Sivagangai. He was very close to Kakkan. To work for the welfare of the poor and downtrodden was common in our household. My mother, a teacher by profession, too is very service-oriented.”
Elayapari's paternal grandfather, M.Gurusamy, was a government building contractor and is the man behind the construction of the Government Rajaji Hospital, Madurai Medical College and the Collectorate.
“He developed contacts during the job and once the construction was over, he helped more than 500 individuals with appointments as peons, clerks and attenders in these offices. There is no how or why attached to helping others,” he underlines.
He started with B.Sc.Maths from Wakf Board College and ended up with a civil engineering diploma from KLN Polytechnic. After a year with the Railways as a site engineer, he joined the family business of marketing surgical equipment.
The company, ‘Carewell Hospital Supply' had a good presence in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Andamans & Nicobar Islands and a decade's stint earned him many friends in the medical circle.
“During my visits to hospitals I used to come across many poor patients mostly in need of financial support or nutrition or some recommendation somewhere for free consultation or treatment. That is when the idea to liaise between the doctors and these needy patients struck me. I thought I could use my contacts for helping others.”
And thus began Elayapari's journey of ‘medically' helping others. He quit the family business and became a full timer creating awareness about blood and organ donation, HIV/AIDS, conducting special health camps for the marginalised or the under-privileged in rural areas. He claims to hold a record of mobilising the fishermen's community in Rameswaram by staying with them over night and doing some hard talk in order to convince them to donate blood and returned after collecting 112 units in a day. Ever since, it has become an annual feature.
Given his equation with doctors, he arranges to waive off either the surgical fee or the cost of other paraphernalia and medicines for cases he feels are genuine.
“I have developed a special relationship with more than 100 doctors in the city,” he prides, ratting out names. From cardio-thoracic and neurosurgeons to orthopaedic and paediatricians, he claims to have a fantastic network which has not broken down once in these last 20 years.
If not directly, patients approach either through neighbours, acquaintances or a family member who know Elayapari. “I owe it to all those who help me. I am only bringing the two sides together,” he says humbly, not quite showing how much of an effort it takes to coordinate.
His day begins with a fresh list of people (never less than a dozen each morning) seeking his help. Though majority request for medical help, he is now also called for arranging funeral rites, settling family disputes or counselling parents and children.
He leaves home by 7, unsure of his time of return. He tries to meet each family in his list or else gets their work done through telephone calls. Such is his influence in various departments and such is his reputation earned perseveringly over the years.
His ageing mother never complains. She eggs him on to continue the good work. “My mother and music are my strength when I feel low,” shares Elayapari with a smile, sharing scores of incidents when he has been called at odd hours to help others in difficulty. Even as a student of St.Mary's School, he was known as the boy with a big heart ever ready to help others.
He recalls his first memorable episode as college student in 1989 when he received a midnight visitor at his house. A sobbing young woman held her HIV-infected husband like a small child in her arms. The doctor had told her his end was near.
“Those days only a clinic run by Teddy Trust in Thirumangalam was equipped to treat HIV patients. I hired an auto, took them there and immediately started his medication.” Later Elayapari took care of the family's meals, medicines, children's education. The man lived for eight years and Elayapari helped his wife getting a job in FPAI. He visits them 20 years on, and never misses the kids' birthdays.
Such incidents pack his life. In 1994, when the then District Collector recommended his name for the Best Social Worker Award, he wrote back saying he was not interested in awards. Though he is a non-medical man, his medical-oriented service has earned him recognition as “medical miracle man” among thousands of his beneficiaries.
Such is his involvement, that he even gets calls to reach accident sites before the medical team arrives and help with first aid. When his father suffered a heart attack, he even sat through a class on cardiology with medical students and helped the ICU staff later.
“I can check the ECG or put the drip, insert the venflon, check the pulse or heart beat -- these are critical care services which are very important in the first 20 minutes of saving a life.”
Elayapari's networking now spreads to hospitals in neighbouring States too. “When I recommend a patient, the request is mostly heeded to,” he says confidently.
Just last week, he was confronted with a new problem when a school teacher from Anaiyur informed him about two girls whose mother had eloped with somebody and the father refused to take care of them. He is now helping them with food, money, clothes and books.
Where he gets the money from? With equal confidence, he shares that all his friends, well wishers, acquaintances, doctors, lawyers, teachers and even those whom he has helped in the last 20 years, liberally donate.
“I have been managing like this so far and by God's grace things are working out positively,” he says.
(Making a difference is a fortnightly column about ordinary people and events that leave an extraordinary impact on us. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org to tell about someone you know who is making a difference)