Sunshine Story: Shunned by their families, they celebrate life together

A Good Samaritan has been diligently donating to help out 94 leprosy patients, who have been abandoned by their families at the Acworth Leprosy Municipal Hospital in Wadala; he has also been celebrating his birthday with them since the last two decades

For more than 20 years, one man has been brightening up the lives of leprosy-afflicted patients who have been shunned by society and, in most cases, even by their own family.

The man, who asked to remain anonymous, has been ensuring that the 94 leprosy patients at Acworth Leprosy Municipal Hospital, most of whom don’t know their birth dates or even their correct age, get to celebrate all their birthdays together on December 29.

Inmates cut the birthday cake as guests cheer them on. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar
Inmates cut the birthday cake as guests cheer them on. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar

Fondly called Raju Kaka by the patients, the man told mid-day that his birthday falls on the same day and he wanted to ensure that he celebrated it with all the people at the hospital, who are like family to him.

(From left) Parvati Natrajan, Deepak Patnuskar, Vir Bahadur Thappa, and Lata and Ramesh Ahuja
(From left) Parvati Natrajan, Deepak Patnuskar, Vir Bahadur Thappa, and Lata and Ramesh Ahuja

Eating slices of their birthday plum cake which Raju Kaka orders as most of the patients have deformed hands from the leprosy and find it difficult to hold pieces of cakes containing cream the patients and their benefactor shared their stories with mid-day yesterday.

Parvati Natrajan, who has been staying at the hospital for 50 years, said she had been shunned by her family because of her disease, but the hospital staff, the other inmates and people like Raju Kaka ensured that she didn’t end up miserable.

“I am the oldest person here and have seen the hospital campus and its vicinity undergo a major transformation. Earlier, it was all jungle, but now there are good roads and everything. People’s attitudes have also changed.

Those living nearby would never come close to the campus before, but awareness about leprosy not being very contagious has increased and people have started coming here and we feel happy about it.

No one from my family, however, ever comes to meet me.” Deepak Patnuskar has been staying at the hospital since his wife died five-six years ago and he lost his right leg to leprosy two years ago.

He had to entrust his two young daughters to an orphanage and come to live at the hospital because he couldn’t take care of them himself, and society wasn’t accepting him or his children. He said he has not seen his daughters since he came to live in the hospital and that he hoped that they have been adopted into loving families.

“No one comes to meet me. We don’t go out of the hospital campus, as the doctors and the management think it is risky for us. We stay within the campus, but it is not that bad inside as we celebrate festivals and hold events like rangoli competitions, singing competitions etc. At least we know we’ll be accepted since we are with other sufferers inside the hospital,” he said.

Finding love in misery
Vir Bahadur Thappa, who has been staying at the hospital since 1970, said he found love at the institution. “This is home for me now. I work as an office boy to help out the staff members and when any visitors arrive, I take them around the campus and give them information etc.

That, in fact, is how I met my wife. She had come to the hospital for treatment, we fell in love and got married. She got cured and we had a son and I sent them both to Nepal, where I have a small farm,” said Thappa. Also attending the birthday celebrations was a former inmate of the hospital, Ramesh Ahuja, and his wife, Lata.

Ramesh was brought to the hospital by his family but, after he got cured, he decided to earn a living. He sits with a weighing machine near Ghatkopar station and earns money by charging people a rupee or two to use it.

The couple, who live in a hutment in Ghatkopar, say they are a happy family now. Lata, who has always been healthy, said she married Ramesh despite his leprosy as she found him to be a very nice human being.

Kaka says
When mid-day asked Raju Kaka why he donated regularly to the hospital and whether anyone from his family had suffered from leprosy, he said there was nothing of the sort and that he had started to feel for the patients of the hospital when he used to live in Wadala.

Now, apart from organising the birthday celebrations, he makes it a point to visit the hospital nearly twice a week to sit and chat with the patients, who he says are like members of his family to him.

Raju Kaka and a few other people organise the birthday dinner every year for the patients and staff members and also call in guests. Yesterday’s celebrations saw nearly 200 people in attendance and the fare included delicacies like chhole bhature, pav bhaji and gajar halwa. The cake cutting and dinner was followed by singing and dancing.

Regular day
Hospital inmates told mid-day that they get up around 6.30 am and, after breakfast, patients who are doing better go around helping others to get dressed and have their food. Lunch is served at 11.30 am, after which most of the inmates take rest. Tea time is around 3 pm, and dinner is served at 7.30 pm. After dinner, most people take a walk around the campus, and then, either watch television or sing devotional songs before going to sleep.

Dr Shrinanda Bhat, who is in charge of the hospital, said, “There are 94 inmates at the hospital, of which 40 are women. There are three wards for men and two for women. Small moments of happiness, like Monday’s birthday celebrations, are very good for the people here and we just want them to be happy at all times.” “Many of the inmates of the hospital have been cured, but they continue to stay on as they have nowhere else to go,” the doctor added.

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