“through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us. . ."

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A roof over their heads

I have seen it many times, the silent communication between a couple. Sunithakumari glances at her husband, Shaji; he swiftly moves towards her and she passes something from her clenched fist to his. As I say goodbye, Shaji comes closer and says - ' ith irrikkatte sarrae' ( Please keep this, Sir) and grabs my hand and tries to thrust the contents of his fist - before even touching it, I could see what it was - two or three currency notes of Rs.100/-.

I was the innards of Alleppey town, inspecting sites of prospective borrowers for housing loans. The govt had introduced a new scheme for the urban poor - Interest Subsidy Housing scheme for the Urban Poor - a subsidy of 5% less than the normal rate. As most of the applicants are either BPL ( Below Poverty Line) or EWS ( Economically Weaker Sections), the maximum loan that we were giving is Rs.1,60,000/- per applicant. Even though the quantum of amount is small, the work involved in processing a loan application is as same as a big loan. Bankers, understaffed and underpaid, curse under their breaths at the heavy load of work. I, for eg., have to process 57 applications within a month, that too amidst all the other duties I have.

But I enjoy it. It gives me immense pleasure to interact with these poor people, listen to them, discussing with them and be an instrument that provides succour. I tease their children, admire their little things, nod in agreement with their views; I am a tool, a catalyst in the realisation of their dream, their dream of having a roof over their heads. What I give is more than a little financial help; I give them dignity and self-respect.

" You extend your hand again and I am going to tear your application into two, do you understand?'. You offer me that bribe again and I will ensure that you never get a loan from anywhere'. Sunithakumari is aghast. 'Sir', she says, ' but everybody takes it, Sir, please don't be offended'. 'Maybe they do', I said, 'but not me'.

These are ordinary people; autorickshaw drivers, tailors, manual labourers, plumbers, workers in the coir factories, unpaid volunteers in the SHG programmes like Kudumbasree. People we might interact with everyday, casually. We would bicker and fight with them for the extra 5 or 10 rupees they charge, we would mourn how lazy and crafty they are. People whom we would like to forget. Yet, in Kerala, there is at present a silent revolution going on. Individuals and families who eke out a life are now supported by govt sponsored finance. Grass- root level neighbourhood groups are formed ( Kudumba sree / janasree) and involve in income-generating activities. The large majority of the members are women, who were till now mere housewives with no income of their own. These programmes have been very successful in empowering these women and giving them not only an income, but more importantly self-respect. Of course, there might be cheats and frauds among them, but in my experience with the poorer of our economic classes, I have found  more honest people among them than in  the middle classes.

Below are a few pictures of these families. They have built their dream houses till this level using their own funds and also with financial aids from the govt. And I - I am the last brush which would give their houses a coat of colour; and hopefully to their lives too.

Shaji is a manual labourer; Sunitha is a housemaid. A daughter studies for BSc Nursing, and the kid in 6th standard.

Mahesan is a tailor. Shyamala has studied up to Pre-degree and passed with First class but could not study further because her parents could not afford it. She works as a volunteer for SHGs, literacy programmes and in the National Rural Health Mission - unpaid. Their son is studying for BSc Chemistry. Mahesan proudly tells me that his son had a rank of 4000 in the Engg entrance, but they could not afford to pay the capitation fee. He says the boy is trying again, to get a higher rank so that he can get admission in Merit quota.

Anil is an autorickshaw driver. When he says he own his Auto and that he has fully repaid the loan for it, I can sense the quiet pride in his voice. Sandhya is a graceful, pretty woman; she supplements the family income by stitching Churidars and Nighties and blouses. I tell her about Parvati designing sarees and how she makes extra money with that. Sandhya is open-mouthed and asks me the details. That kid is a smart and lovable fellow.

Sarala works in the local coir factory. Sreekumar is a house painter. They have only one son - he is studying for CA. I explain the scheme to the boy and discuss bank auditing with him. The parents look on, proudly, how the 'Big Bank Sir' and their son talk in equal terms.

Rajesh is an artist. He designs and paints hoardings, works part-time in a shop that makes Flexboards. Sandhya - the way she looks at me, I feel her awe and a kind of worshipful admiration. Two kids, very intelligent and well-behaved.

I have met many more of these people. Each is a story of brave survival, a story of courage in adverse economic circumstances and misery. In their eyes I see the hope and dreams of bettering their lives. When I tell them yes, we will sanction the loan next week, I see that sparkle in their eyes and they have the most beautiful smile I have seen.

They have the confidence and the will; all they need is a little support, a few kind words, and concern and respect. Kerala is on the rise!

***************** Balachandran V, Alappuzha, 21.10.2011


  1. Happy to read about all these people. They are the real achievers. And you are doing a wonderful job :)

  2. That's lovely meeting them. Beautiful homes! Houses are nice too. Each one is blessed who has a loving family!

  3. hello .... hopped here from Venu Sir's blog.

    liked this post a lot. Even I've seen that the pooorer class are often honest (but have seen a lot of cases where they are lazy too ... esp the children .. but well ... we are lazy too, arent we ?)

    just a thought .... i take spoken english classes for destitute Tamil children online (through skype) ... i could help the low income fmaily children with their school work if they need. I speak malayalam pretty well ... so, there would be no issues with the language. the only requirement would be they have access to a PC and internet.

  4. Looks like you have begun to love the work at the Bank after a long time!

  5. I wish we have more people like you in this world. In every walks of life, people face red tapes that obstruct or shatter their dreams.
    yes, Balan, I can imagine the gratitude of those poor souls towards you, because you allowed them to cherish their dreams.
    The satisfaction and sense of serenity in your mind, at the end of your day is more than enough for you.
    Balan, thanks for being a light in the darkness.

  6. This post gave me ‘remembrance of things past’. Thanks, Balan.
    Just an aside: Do we really have degrees of honesty? More honest, most honest.... May be you meant, there are more honest people than among the middle class.

  7. To All: Thanks for visiting!

    @Ashok: Yes, I meant there are more honest people among the poorer sections than among the middle class. Thanks again.

  8. the world needs such sincere people like you.

  9. Mr. B - the struggle for the roof above the head, the schemes that has made a flow of money through the hands of the women folk..but what made me grow in stature by an inch is the thing about the kids doing their graduation and studies.. I find it, a gift of our state, Gods own country.. with all the nuisance of politics, the malyali is still by and large, the smartest guy, who believes in making things better for his kids than it ever existed for him..through pain and grit and dirt, he strives for one thing, to get his son and daughter educated, to impart knowledge and wisdom, which he lacks..

  10. I was imagining you in the midst of those real people there.Enjoyed it like seeing some old Sathyan Anthikad movies.The real ones are missing now no ? I am so happy that you got to get to be with such needy.Being needed esp among the struggling lot,is some of valuable pleasures a life can achieve.Like a pleasant morning.Like a blooming flower.So humane a post.Hugs,


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