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Gandhism lives here

Sister Mythili is the guiding spirit of Madhavi Mandiram Loka Seva Trust. Behind her is a portrait of her mentor, G. Ramachandran. Photo: Saraswathy Nagarajan

Sister Mythili is the guiding spirit of Madhavi Mandiram Loka Seva Trust. Behind her is a portrait of her mentor, G. Ramachandran. Photo: Saraswathy Nagarajan   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Sister Mythili, the guiding light of the Madhavi Mandiram Loka Seva Trust at Ooruttukala, Neyyattinkara, leads from the front in instilling Gandhian values in a new generation. Today is Sarvodaya Day

A few metres away from the perennially busy National Highway 47 at Ooruttukala, near Neyyattinkara, is a modest white-washed, red-roofed building that nestles under the shade of trees. A small brass plaque outside the house bears these words: ‘Mahatma Gandhi stayed a day in this room on 14-1-1937’. That was when Gandhiji was on his way to Kanyakumari after he visited Thiruvananthapuram in 1937, two months after the Temple Entry Proclamation.

Madhavi Mandiram, the house where Gandhiji stayed for a day, is now a museum that is dedicated to the memory of Gandhiji and his disciple, G. Ramachandran. Spotlessly maintained, the spartan room that he used that day is full of memories – of a great humanist and a leader and of his devoted follower. The cot that Gandhiji used that day and a charkha that he must have used to spin yarn have been kept in the room. By its side is a brass urn that contained his ashes before it was immersed in the seas of Kanyakumari.

Gandhiji’s memory remains vibrantly alive here but what keeps his ideals alive – a school and social service units that empower women – are situated outside the house. And the keeper of the flame, working wholeheartedly to keep his ideals alive, is the sprightly 67-year-old Sister Mythili, guardian angel of the Madhavi Mandira Loka Seva Trust.

“I was working with GR [ G. Ramachandran] in Gandhigram, near Madurai, when, in 1980, he rushed to Kerala on being informed about his mother’s demise. I came here when I was 25 and this has been my home since then. GR, whom I used to call mama, began the Trust dedicated to the memory of his mother, Madhavi Thankachi, and under its ambit we began many schemes to empower women from socially and economically disadvantaged families,” says Mythili.

For the socially committed Mythili, it was not merely another stopover on her journey. It turned out to be her destination. “I come from a family of social reformers in Madurai. My grandfather A. Vaidyanatha Iyer was among the freedom fighters who threw open the Madurai Meenakshi temple to Dalits. My parents were also staunch Gandhians who were steeped in social work,” she explains. So that desire to work for a large good must have been innate. Although she was stricken with polio as a child, that was never an impediment for the courageous Mythili.

After completing her post-graduation in mathematics, she went on to do her post-graduation in English literature and education. In the meantime, at the behest of Soundram Ramachandran, GR’s wife, she began working at Sevikashram in Gandhigram. That was where she at met G. Ramachandran, her mentor.

“I knew him as a fellow Gandhian and my grandfather’s friend. One day I heard someone moaning. I stepped inside his house and saw mama burning with fever. From then on, I decided to take care of him.” With a matter of fact smile, she reminisces how many were quick to find fault with her decision.

She was at the forefront of changes that saw Madhavi Mandiram change from a sleepy wooded area to a bustling centre of many social activities. “The trees that you see on the Kovalam bypass were planted and tended by women working here. That was an activity we took up as part of a social forestry project initiated by the Forest Department,” she recalls.

As Neyyattinkara was a well-known weaving centre, the Trust set up units weaving Khadi saris and banana fibre. Over the years, it has evolved into units that are into production and assembling of bio-medical devices.

“Hridaya, a unit here, makes the ring for the TTK-Chitra heart valve that is used all over India and abroad. Thanks to M.S. Valiathan, former director of Sri Chithra Medical Centre, we have a profitable unit, begun in 1995, that helps us continue some of the social work for the women here.” Daya, another group, makes urine bags, blood bags and surgical kits.

In 1990, GR and Mythili set up the Dr. GR Public School that now has 3,500 students on its rolls. She says the school was a need that was felt by the Gandhians to impart values to a new generation. “Many youngsters seem to lack the ethics and values that make us heirs to a rich culture. The school was set up for that and now we have a thriving school that is doing well on all fronts,” she says proudly.

However, Mythili has no plans of resting on her well-deserved laurels. She believes that necessity is the mother of invention and so when she found piles of paper accumulating, she began a paper recycling unit that makes the folders, envelopes and cards that are used by the school and the students.

“I feel mama’s presence is guiding me and so there is no sense of fatigue or disappointment. Each day is meant to give for society. Life is beautiful,” she says with a smile.

Heritage preserved

Madhavi Mandiram, about 30 km away from Thiruvananthapuram, has letters Gandhiji wrote to GR and a rich collection of sepia-tinted pictures that capture moments such as GR’s marriage to Dr. Soundram, his meeting with national and world leaders, and also pictures from his family album. A portrait of Tagore is believed to have been taken by the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Another room, which used to be the dining room, has a shelf full of brass vessels of yore.

Memorable trip

During his trip to the United States last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had gifted President Obama memorabilia from Martin Luther King’s visit to India in 1959. The social reformer and admirer of Gandhiji had visited many places in India that were important to the freedom struggle and Gandhiji. He was in Thiruvananthapuram in February, 1959.

However, not many know that one of the architects of that visit was GR. To mark that visit, when Martin Luther King III visited the city in February 2009 to observe the golden jubilee of his father’s trip in 1959, one of the few places in Thiruvananthapuram he visited was the Dr. GR Public School in Ooruttukala.

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Printable version | Mar 28, 2020 1:15:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/gandhism-lives-here/article6834786.ece

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