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Founder's Diary

A Leaf In The Stream

The Story of Prasad's pathway

INTRODUCTION

PATHWAY: THE MIRACLE

I have been asked by the Director of Pathway, Dr. Prasad, to write a short foreword to this book. I am grateful for the invitation to do so. Pathway is, clearly, a miracle. Our Heavenly Father deeply cares about all of His children... but certainly pressing on His mind are the disabled. Pathway’s story is one of love for the disabled - love both from God and from we, mere mortals. My relationship with Pathway began nearly 20 (1988) years ago, when I was in India as General Counsel for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. As a former legal counsel to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, I travelled to New Delhi to meet with the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. After meeting with Gandhi and before leaving Delhi, I co-incidentally met with an Indian lawyer, Mr. R.K. Naroola at the Taj Mahal Hotel. As we were adjourning our meeting, I informed him 1 was off for Madras. Hearing my itinerary, he passed me a piece of paper whereon he had written the name ‘Prasad’ and a telephone number in Madras. I asked: “Who is this?” He informed me ‘Prasad’ was a man living in Madras who operated a small shelter home for disabled children. My inquiry was: “Ok, what does this have to do with me?” Naroola urged me to telephone Prasad when I arrived in (he South. I agreed to do so, but not knowing why. Still I felt a strong prompting. Once in Madras and being free late one evening, I telephoned Prasad. He invited me to come to his home that evening. I agreed to do so, feeling even more prompted. Arriving at his home, I noticed it was a two room, single storey, concrete block residence. Very humble. At that time, Prasad was severely afflicted with psoriasis-an excruciatingly painful skin disease. He introduced me to his wife Chandra, their then 3-year old son Chetan. I observed approximately 10-12 children sleeping on mats on the floor. Prasad began telling me his dreams for Pathway. He explained that his passion was serving the disabled, especially disabled children. He felt an inexplicable affection for them, perhaps rooted in the fact his sister was disabled. Whatever the cause, he felt called to serve this very humble and nearly forgotten segment of society. Prasad’s major and most pressing concern was money. He needed approximately US $ 225 per month to keep afloat. For quite some time he had prayed to God for financial help - from some place. As he related to me his prayers, his dreams and his goals, I felt an undeniable urging. I heard an inner voice tell me I need to help. Since that evening in 1988 when Pathway was housed in two small rooms in downtown Madras with 12 children and a monthly budget of $ 225 1 have seen it grow to a nationally recognized institution serving nearly 750 children from 3 different locations, including a 65 acre farm 80 kms, south of Madras. Pathway’s monthly budget is many thousands of dollars. Pathway has recently been granted enough money from private donors to construct a first- ever facility, which will combine disabled with normal children. The new facility where disabled children and normal children will live together, play together, sleep and eat together will serve as a worldwide model for integrating children. Hopefully normal children will no longer feel the need to ostracize the disabled and the disable will be rid of fear of ridicule. My role in Pathway has been that of fundraiser. It is Prasad and Chandra who are in the trenches day in and day out. We have collaborated on deciding, through prayer, the direction Pathway is to take. We have no doubt that everyone connected with Pathway is inspired by God. We take our direction from Him. The children who come to Pathway are led by the hand of God. We know that and that fact makes Pathway a miracle. As the scriptures say - “In as much as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren ye have done it unto me.”' (Mathew 25:40)

Honourable William Sheffield Formerly Judge of the Superior Court of California

 

 

 

YOUR KIND ATTENTION, PLEASE...

It is now more than three decades that I have been working with children, who are known worldwide as children with special needs. Working with them, living with them and spending a major part of my life with them has taught me many things and has made me a better human being.

When I look back and when I think of Uma, my sister with mental retardation, I now realize that I never understood her. In fact, I took advantage of her innocence and I made fun of her. Only later in life did I understand that I had made a major mistake in not realizing that she needed a great amount of love and affection and above all, care. A lot of water has flown under the bridge since then and many things have changed in India with regard to caring for such children.

All these children need elements such as love, understanding, deep affection and empathy. Working with these lovely children has been a great blessing in my life; it is virtually a fairy land of sin-less beings, so innocent and pure. Living with them, laughing with them, cheering them and teaching them have taught me many things, including humility and even the meaning of life. The care for the disabled which was almost non-existent in India has certainly improved. The story of Pathway is to some extent the story of the growth in the field of the care of the mentally retarded in our country.

When I started Pathway in the 70s things were absolutely unclear, no great interest was shown towards rehabilitating children with these needs. There was no response from the corporate world. It was in charity mode all the while. Response was lukewarm from the government as well as from society. The work has never been a bed or roses, there were great trials and tribulations and there were great challenges. But working with children gave great bliss and a sense of achievement. If I look back now, I marvel how we were able to help so many hundreds of children with so little resources and facilities. Every day and every hour has strengthened my faith in God, and I know it is only because of Him great things have happened.

I have been blessed abundantly since Chandra joined my life almost 25 years ago. She has given her youth, her marvelous abilities and talents, all the love and best part of her life to me, my work and these children. She has been a great gift in my life, has undergone lots of suffering, and has been a true partner in my entire endeavor. I am really indebted to her for this. I also thank my dear son Chetan for his love and learning to accept to share right from his childhood find be a part of this great saga.

The greatest blessing in my life and in the history of Pathway has been the arrival of Judge William Sheffield. But for him, nothing much would have happened. His love for Pathway is phenomenal mid my gratitude is due to him for everything,' always. Whatever has been said is too little to describe his marvelous vision and contribution. He has been truly our loyal friend and advocate.

I am grateful to Sudha who came into my life, who thinks the world of me and is totally dedicated to everything I have taken up. She has really been a blessing. But for her, this book would not have seen the light of day.

This humble story of Pathway and not-so-remarkable outline of my life, like a leaf in the stream will, perhaps leave a tiny imprint on the readers’ mind, telling them that any ordinary person can serve the needy, but all it takes is some effort and willingness to bear suffering. Great things can be achieved if one has patience and perseverance. Achieving small things leads to scaling great heights and achieving bigger things in life. Parents of such children should not lose hope, as there is much to look forward to as we hold hands as partners to serve these angels. I am also grateful to every soul who has touched my life and helped in our efforts.

 Dr. A.D.S.N. Prasad

Honourable William Sheffield

Section I - THE STRUGGLE

Section I - THE STRUGGLE

 

01. SAVIOUR SHEFFIELD

02. THE FIRST STEP

03. MANJULA

04. KANNAN

05. SUJJI

06. SELVI

07. JAYASHREE

08. GAUTHAM

09. CHINNATHAMBI

10. DEVOTION OF AYAHS

 

 

01 SAVIOUR SHEFFIELD

01 - SAVIOUR SHEFFIELD

It was a normal day, the sunrise quite early, promising a bright and warm day like any other day in the season of Chennai. One can taste the sea in the air. The crows of Chennai perhaps are the earliest to rise; it seems the crows never sleep because one can see them in the wee hours trying to catch the early worms near the beach.

It was another great day at Pathway. Kannamma and the mercurial Mottai Ayah were in full form, trying to do all the things that usher a new day in. Kannamma was studiously stooping over and preparing the ground to draw a ‘Kolam’. She was assiduously cleaning the ground with cow dung and water, sanitizing the surface for the traditional work of art. Mottai Ayah (she was known only as N11ittai Ayah, as she had always a clean shaved head and her real mime was never known to anybody) was pumping water from thehandpump that was having a day of non-cooperation, with hardly any water trickling in. Mottai Ayah had the most unenviable task of pumping and collecting water in many buckets so that it could last for the entire day - to bathe, to wash clothes, to mop the floor and above all for cooking and drinking.

 

All the children who were waking up slowly, needed water to wash the faces and brush their teeth. Only after this would they get their milk! Some'of the children were not too happy with these rules, but everyone had to fall in line. Quite soon, the whole of Pathway was abuzz as all the children woke up and got busy with their morning chores...

…Those were very difficult days for Prasad in many ways. His psoriasis was taking a heavy toll on him. He suffered from continuous itching and bleeding from all the sores. In addition to this gnawing pain, Prasad had to do everything to keep Pathway afloat; 14 hours a day was not adequate to deal with all issues and problems. On top of all this, Prasad could not bear any longer the landlord's pressure to pack up and leave the house. Without appreciating the fact that Prasad was already in search of alternative accommodation, the landlord and his men even indulged in issuing threats to him using their political clout. Prasad, however, was used to bullyrag right from his childhood days and was determined not to bother about anything other than listening to his conscience.

It was not always dark and difficult: The presence of children, their games, their attempts to learn, their achievements, their pranks and their smiles were always a source of gratification and light in the lives of everyone at Pathway. In fact, this was the most balancing aspect that kept them going, happy and blessed, recalls Prasad.

Despite the financial assistance from the Government, there was a big deficit between the income and expenditure in view of the, increased number of children. Added to this, Prasad had to meet the challenge posed by various exigencies of the children. At this juncture, an American gentleman appeared on the scene, as a silver lining in the dark cloud.

“I remember very vividly that it was one of very tough days we were going through. Chandra and I faced the entire day bravely counting the few notes and coins that were left in our kitty. We had many challenges that particular day, we had swords hanging over our heads in the form of bills that needed to be settled immediately and we clearly knew that we did not have enough money for all this. Both of us were bone tired. Chandra wanted to take little Chetan back to our little home and prepare some supper. Our greatest pleasure and distraction from all the challenges and misery was Chetan. He was the apple of our eyes. We used to play with him, sing and dance with him all the time. Chetan, too, right from the beginning used to spend considerable time with the children of Pathway playing with them, trying to teach nursery rhymes, and other things. After they left, I continued working on the ancient and rackety old typewriter (my father’s old 1935 Royal typewriter was one more prized procession) applying for grants. Slowly my attention was diverted to the large psoriatic patches that were troubling much more than usual that particular night. I decided to shut shop and leave for the day, and after bidding good night to the children and others I left. After reaching home, I applied a concoction of medicinal coconut oil all over my body. This left my shirt stained with patches of oil. I had taken a couple of antihistamines to counteract the severe discomfort I was in, my eyes were tired with strain and sleep. I wanted to quickly have my supper and retire for the day. I was not bothered then with who would come to see me at that hour, as I was left with very little strength. As I was contemplating and mulling over on my suffering our loyal ayah, Kannamma, rushed in and announced that a white man had come to meet me. I was wondering who could be the unexpected guest at that hour of the day, rather night. With oil all over my body, I went out and greeted him, I was quite apologetic about my appearance.

“He was Judge William Sheffield. As I entered Pathway, my gaze fell on this great man, who had made himself at home with all the children without any hesitation whatsoever. All the children were sitting around him on the mat and he was shaking hands with each one of them finding out their names. He was accompanied by my good friend Mr. Isaiah. (Isaiah, a lawyer and a good friend of Prasad, was practicing in the High Court of Madras, an active member of the Congress Party, had great ambitions. Unfortunately he died quite young due to an unexpected heart attack. Isaiah had great love for Prasad’s work. Isaiah had told Prasad that being without parents, he had grown up in an orphanage. He was brought up and educated by a great couple.) As I approached the Judge, I shook his hand firmly, I was able to see his hazel eyes which were full of warmth, humility, passion and love. He greeted me with a beaming smile that reflected great hope! A handsome man full of compassion who would instantaneously attract any body!

“I did not even dream of such a friendship. William Sheffield was serving as a judge in the Superior Court of California,” says Prasad. Apart from judiciary, Sheffield had interest in the world of films, too. He was a friend of Stephen Spielberg, film director and Oscar Award winner.

One of the countries closest to his heart was India. He was an avid lover of its people, their culture, and appreciated their humane qualities. (Observing this great love for India and Indian children, the former President of India, R. Venkataraman remarked at a function that ‘Judge Sheffield must have been an Indian in his previous birth.)

In the year 1977-78, the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai and his government were determined to comer Mrs. Indira Gandhi in many ways, when she was not in power and registered numerous cases against her and were drawing her to the court. Justice Sheffield was observing all these happenings from the U.S., and desired to offer his legal opinion to Mrs. Gandhi. Indira Gandhi was forced to spend most of her time in discussions with her lawyers. With a brief introduction about himself, he conveyed his idea through a letter to her. Indira Gandhi was prompt in replying to him to come and meet her whenever he visited India.

Justice Sheffield had to visit India in connection with a Law Conference here. Utilizing the opportunity, he met Indira Gandhi. She was much impressed with him at the very first meeting. Sheffield cultivated the friendship of Indira Gandhi and her sons, Sanjay and Rajiv. Indira continued to consult Sheffield in all her court cases.

Once she had to answer a few questions raised in the court. It was a piquant situation for Mrs. Indira Gandhi. If she ventured to reply, it would go against her and if she refused, it would amount to contempt of court. However, her lawyers had advised her not to reply and that they would tackle the situation tactfully. William Sheffield, however, chose to advise her to say 'No comment' to every question put to her. She followed his advice meticulously.

Since 'No comment' was also construed as a reply, she could not be hauled up with the charge of contempt of court. Indira Gandhi was very appreciative of this clever suggestion of defense offered by Sheffield. He revealed all these details when he met Prasad. Prior to this incident, however, Sheffield had visited Pathway when it was functioning in the old bungalow, in the year 1988.

 

“Aren't you Prasad? Ramesh Kumar Naroola is my close friend. He told me he is a good friend of yours, too. He advised me to meet you.”

 

A loyal friend with great love and empathy for the poor and disabled, Ramesh Kumar Naroola was a senior advocate in the Supreme Court and he knew closely about the work done by Pathway. Naroola was associated with Prasad and Pathway right from 1982. He was a brilliant lawyer and an author of many books on banking and law. He was in Chennai in connection with a case of a-prominent industrialist and a landlord of the state, whom Prasad also knew. Naroola’s intention was to assist Prasad and Pathway in whatever way possible.

Prasad speaks with great warmth the services rendered by Naroola in those difficult days and is particularly grateful for bringing Judge Sheffield to Pathway. “I introduced myself to the visitor. When he solicited more information on Pathway, I almost made an introductory speech on Pathway. I mentioned our mission in detail and the problems we faced including the monetary deficit that had put a spanner in the works.

“Justice Sheffield listened to my lecture very patiently and expressed a desire that he would like to see how Pathway practically functions. I responded with the words, ‘Please visit us without any advance intimation. Only then will you have the satisfaction of observing what really goes on here.’

He visited again the next day at 10.30am and spent some time with the children. He watched the way the staff worked there, and cleared his doubts during his talks with Prasad.

 

“What is Pathway's deficit each month?” he inquired.

 

“Rupees Eleven thousand five hundred,” replied Prasad.

 

After listening to Prasad and watching him speak with so much conviction, Judge Sheffield made a powerful statement, which Prasad recalls as ‘truly prophetic’. He said “Prasad, your problems are over from today. I will do everything needed!” Prasad immediately did not understand the gravity of this pregnant statement. But as he realized the true meaning, Prasad looked at him with gratitude and thanks in his heart and conveyed his sincere and grateful thanks for his willingness to help.

“When I least expected funds from Mr. Sheffield, it started coming every month. I had not moved with him so closely, yet he showed his compassion towards the children of Pathway. I was touched by his extraordinary gesture,” recalls Prasad.

Money came from Sheffield every month, as promised. He, along with a couple of his friends from California, joined hands to contribute this money regularly. Apart from sending the money, each communication from Sheffield showered his love and affection on Prasad and his Pathway.

Judge Sheffield knew that Pathway needed plenty of money, he was well able to envision the future and immediate needs. How did Justice Sheffield send so much money every month without default? There is an interesting story behind this funding process.

After making a solid promise to send the money every month, Sheffield left for Hong Kong. It was during a two-year period when he and his wife Leslie were staying in Hong Kong, where he was serving as the legal counsel for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. During an evening walk, Sheffield told his dear wife Leslie about his visit to Pathway and his promise to help. “Good, if it is for a month or two, I could help. It has to be continuous and may be for many years. What are you going to do? You must keep your word,” said Leslie. Sheffield too, did not know how he could fulfill his promise and raise all the monies and he pondered on this seriously.

Prasad recalls Sheffield’s conversation on this matter. The Judge said that as he and Leslie were walking on a shopping street in

In Hong Kong, he had a sudden flash of an idea, a clear-cut revelation. It was rather a concept with a picture very well drawn in his mind. This was a vivid picture of a gadget which hitherto was not found anywhere, a ‘Banana Slicer’. He visualized the instrument as if someone had given him the blueprint for the manufacture of such a tool. Questions of course rose in his mind as to whether anyone would buy the banana slicer when banana could be easily cut with fingers. He, however, drew a picture of the slicer on a piece of paper and showed this to Leslie. She was indeed quite surprised.

He then visited Taiwan and held discussions with a synthetic material manufacturer and explained his idea of producing the banana slicer and concluded a deal with them for producing the instrument. On his return to the U.S., he registered the design of his product under the copyright procedure, as an invention!

How could a judge think of inventing a banana slicer? There was absolutely no relation to his profession and the product he intended to manufacture. This question arose in the minds of both Sheffield and his wife Leslie but they did not know the answer. It was beyond their comprehension and they had left it at that. Since Hill was the first name of Sheffield, the product was named 'Bill Banana Slicer'. Now the important question arose: How to market the product?

Chiquita Brands Inc, a corporate institution, was the exporter of banana on a large scale to the U.S.A. Sheffield met its Chairman. While Sheffield was explaining about his product, the Chairman could not contain his laughter. "Do you think there are people in this world who slice a banana and eat?" Though this question sounded sarcastic, he really meant it. Sheffield understood this. But he was convinced that there was a market for it and said, "You and I may not use a banana slicer. The children, however, would certainly love to use it, I am sure!”

The Chairman of Chiquita Brands Inc. did not want to hurt the sentiments of Sheffield and therefore, said, “Let us see. You may send me a few samples for testing purposes. I will pass them on to my son. If he likes it, let us go ahead with the business.”

The son of the Chairman of Chiquita Brands not only despised bananas, and had never even touched one. He, however, liked the slicer immensely, and he bought bananas, simply for the joy of slicing them, and began eating them setting aside his aversion to the fruit.

“You have won, Mr. Sheffield!” said a beaming Chairman. “He not only liked the slicer but also the banana”. The banana slicer became one of the hot selling instruments all over the U.S. and continues to soar in sales. Sheffield sent the entire money he got from it to Pathway.

Now that he got extra finance to run Pathway, Prasad felt elated that he had overcome the deficit. In his over-enthusiasm, he forgot

I lie fact that the extra funds that reached his hands were only to meet the deficit and began admitting more children in his Pathway.

The net result was, the number of children in Pathway increased, but the deficit continued to mount. For the next one year, flow of money from Sheffield never stopped.

On one fine day Prasad received a phone call from Delhi. It was a call from his good friend Naroola. Naroola informed Prasad that the Judge had sent a Fax and he should go and collect the same from Hotel Chola Sheraton, where Judge Sheffield used to stay regularly whenever he visited Chennai.

Prasad told Chandra that the Judge had sent a fax and he should immediately go over to the hotel to collect it. Prasad had no idea what a fax was, since fax had been introduced Only recently then. He thought it would be something fancy and big. He rushed in his car and towards Hotel Chola Sheraton on this important mission and met the well-dressed and courteous ladies in the front office and told them that there was a fax waiting for him in the hotel in his name. The ladies did not even look up, but directed him to the desk of duty manager. Prasad rushed to the office of the duty manager and asked him about this mysterious thing know as Fax. The duty manager dismissed Prasad quickly and said “Take it, it is lying on that table.” Prasad to his surprise and shock saw a piece of paper.

He picked it up most reverentially and examined it. He saw a single line typed on it, under the name of Judge William Sheffield. The message read: “My dear Prasad: My thoughts are intensifying for you! Tell me what more I can do. Very shortly I will be in Chennai. With love, Bill.”

“You have already done a lot for us, thanks,” wrote Prasad in his reply. He showed Sheffield’s fax message to his wife Chandra and wondered that there could be such nice men are around in the world to help a good cause.

When Sheffield visited Chennai after a fortnight, he came to Pathway. It was his daily routine to visit Pathway, during his stay in Chennai. He learnt the names of each boy and girl and developed his acquaintance with them so much that it was easy for him to identify them by just mentioning their names. Prasad had only the welfare of the children at heart. While Justice Sheffield was in Chennai and mingled with children freely, Prasad briefed him about Senthil.

“Senthil Kumar is a young man with Down Syndrome. He is almost 20 years old. After his admission in Pathway, we have found a lot of improvement in him. -We call him my “Aide-de-Camp” (ADC). Prasad explained that ADCs are appointed to be the personal aides of Governors in the states of India and that they could be officers from the armed forces or from the police. His job is mainly to regulate the visitors. Senthil Kumar would sit as a sentry in front of the entrance of my room. He would usher in the visitors who handed over their visiting cards to call on me. He used to assist me, at times. Hence he was nicknamed 'ADC.' Senthil was good at his job but he became so smart that he demanded money from the visitors! A few who sympathized with him gave the coins, but none had complained about him. Although Prasad came to know about this he was not angry with him. Instead, he was happy that a boy with Down's syndrome could manage to survive independently, like his so called ‘normal’ brethren who did similar jobs in various government offices with similar consideration.

Though Judge Sheffield was living in America, he felt he was part and parcel of Pathway in Chennai. He genuinely believed that Pathway should grow to its fullest potential. He was well aware that the landlord of Pathway was pressurizing Prasad to vacate and the latter was struggling hard to locate an alternate place.

There was a happy turning point to this episode which none anticipated.

Judge William Sheffield with Prime Minister Mrs. indira gandhi
Honourable William Sheffield

 

 

01 SAVIOUR SHEFFIELD

Judge William Sheffield with Prime Minister Mrs. indira gandhi
Honourable William Sheffield

02 THE FIRST STEP

02. THE FIRST STEP

 

Prasad was a practicing speech pathologist in those days. Everything seemed to be going well, until one fine day when everything changed. One of the children he was working with was Lavanya. A child with autism, she had all the features of classical autism.

Autism was first described by Leo Kanner in 1965. (See notes) * Autism is a severe developmental disorder that begins at birth or within the first two and half years of life. Most autistic children are perfectly normal in appearance. Less severe cases may be diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) or with Asperger’s Syndrome- These children have typically normal speech, but they may have many ‘autistic’ social and behavioral problems. Children with autism show a combination of problems, such as inability to speak, inability to understand, poor in social skills, poor in cognitive abilities, learning problems and bizarre behavioral manifestation.

Lavanya, though a very lovely sweet girl, was found to be highly restless and hyperactive. She showed all features and symptoms of classical autism. She was unable to speak or understand, she never made eye-to-eye contact, never mixed or played with her peer group, and exhibited typical pattern of behavior disorders. She had strange food preferences, she showed difficulty in her learning abilities and so on. Prasad used to spend more than an hour working with her every day and he was paid for treating her. One day, Lavanya’s mother invited Prasad to come and grace her birthday celebrations.

I.avanya’s lived at T. Nagar with her sister. When Prasad went to their house to participate in the function, he observed to his surprise that there was no furniture in the house. There was not even a chair to sit on. Next day, he asked Lavanya’s mother about his observation. Lavanya's mother was clearly upset, but told Prasad that they were staying in Chennai with the sole purpose of making her daughter normal. She was willing to do this at any cost - she had already sold many of her valuable things to pay Prasad's fees.

“This plain admission of Lavanya’s mother jolted me”, says Prasad. “I was able to realize that I was fleecing poor parents. I also realized that they had the wrong idea that I could ‘cure’ the problems of their children. I tried to explain to Lavanya’s mother the concept of rehabilitation. I also explained to her in detail about her child’s condition and finally I offered to work with Lavanya free of any payment, while assuring her that her daughter will continue to get best of treatment. This experience with Lavanya made me speak to many other parents who were bringing their children for therapy. To my utter surprise, many others were also really poor, and were to paying my fee with great difficulty. I asked these parents to stop paying me forthwith, and only send their children for free treatment”.

This suddenly brought a great change in Prasad’s life in terms of finance. He was drawn to the poverty of others and slowly he started getting more clients, a majority of whom was poor. They were unable to pay him anything. This significant change laid the foundation for Pathway.

One day, a boy came for treatment, from Nanganallur, a suburb of Chennai, with his aunt. She left the boy there promising to return and take him back in a few minutes. Time passed but the lady did not turn up. And no one else came to claim the boy, Karthick. Luckily, he had the address. Prasad called his cook Chandran and sent him to Nanganallur to find out about the fate of the lady. Chandran returned, only to tell him that the lady had suddenly taken ill, been hospitalized and had passed away. The lady who was alive in the morning was no more in the evening!

Karthick was just nine years old and had become an orphan. The child was not normal in appearance like other children - he was mentally challenged. The medical term for his condition is Down's syndrome. Karthick had no one in this world to care for him. Prasad did not want to leave the boy in the lurch. He decided to give shelter to him. But what he could do with him was a question that arose instantly. However, he was determined to do whatever was possible for the unfortunate boy.

Did he have a natural instinct, as well as, an interest to serve such children? “No. I am a clinician. My work begins and ends in treating patients associated with certain deficiencies.

“I was always thinking only about my family, my father and my mother. I had never dreamt of treating and looking after such mentally challenged children. But Karthick changed my way of thinking and my attitude. I felt sorry for him. When I knew that there was no one to take care of him, I did not want to abandon him. That was the only reason why I kept Karthick with me. Honestly, I did not have any particular interest in such children earlier.”

“I shared my food with Karthick. If I had chappatis for my dinner, he too had them. If I had milk, he too had it. When there was my cook Chandran to help, I found Karthick was not a burden. The news of my having a mentally challenged child with me spread slowly. And the parents of Guru approached me. He was a very lovely child, with a small head. He could neither speak nor understand anything. He was totally dependent. For all practical purposes he was only like a small child.”

His parents wanted Prasad to take Guru under his care and do all that was necessary to help him improve. Prasad took Guru with him and worked with him with great interest and abundant love.

Guru and Karthick became the blue eyed boys of Prasad. He began to realize that changes were taking place not only in his life, but also in his thought process. If the boys did not sleep, Prasad did not sleep, too. If, for any reason, they had not taken food, Prasad could not eat, too. He did not know why.

Prasad’s thinking and actions now revolved around Guru and Karthick without his conscious effort. “I was always contemplating how to treat them for their deficiency and how to maintain them. Although I was busily engaged in my work right from morning till night, both at the hospital and in my private clinic, I was able to apportion time for the boys. I was receiving a good salary and was earning well in my private practice. I had enough money to spend -and I enjoyed a happy life. I had a lot of friends and I used to visit hotels with all of them for lunch and dinner. We went often to see movies. You could say I led a flashy lifestyle.

“After Guru and Karthick came under my care, changes began to take place inn my approach and attitude to life. The time I had spent with my friends lessened considerably. My visits to patients’ homes for treatment also came down.”

Prasad informed his colleagues in Andhra Mahila Sabha about the changes that had taken place within him due to the sudden entry of the two boys in his life. “I told them that I had accepted the change in all good faith and if they also extended a helping hand, I would only be too happy. 1 appealed to my colleagues to give free treatment to the boys and I would take care of them”.

Dr. Thyagarajan and other doctors, who were serving there, came forward to support Prasad in his endeavour. This gave him a lot of motivation. Dr. Prasad knew full well that his life was taking a new turn. At the same time, he was aware of the plight of his family, particularly his father, in Mysore. He spent his weekends with his parents and returned to Chennai on Monday mornings. This became his routine.

He appointed an ayah to look after the boys, when he was busy in the hospital and the clinic. He also appointed two full time servants specially to take care of the boys when he was away from Chennai during the weekends he spent at Mysore. The changes in his attitude became visible.

People from poor families or families without any financial support, started approaching him with mentally retarded and physically challenged children with pleas to take care of them. Thus, within a year or so, there were more than fifteen children under his care. Although he had had a taste of poverty some time in his life, the plight of these poor children moved Prasad.

Thus Pathway was born.

The accommodation he then had was a sprawling bungalow of 3000 square feet. The big house had large rooms. Since he had a roaring practice, he admitted more such children. However, the siblings of Prasad who visited from Mysore, were not pleased and conveyed their anguish. “What are you doing? Are you crazy, Prasad? You have added good-for-nothing people into your household. What is wrong with you? You are earning a handsome salary and have additional income, too. See that you save it and prosper in your life. Experts like you are leaving for foreign countries and are earning a lot. Why don’t you do the same? Why do you try to change your own destiny, you fool?”

Dr. Prasad did not bother about all these accusations and curses. From early childhood he did what he considered right. He, therefore, ignored all these pieces of advice as he did not take them seriously.

The increase in the admission of children, however, posed a problem for Dr. Prasad. The income started declining and there was only the monthly salary from Andhra Mahila Sabha. Since he had discontinued house visits, the income from that source also dried up. But on the other hand, expenses mounted. In the 70s, Dr. Prasad’s need was Rs.4000 a month. The house rent alone came to Rs. 1050 a month. The medical expenses and food for the children, as well as the salary for the servants began to show an upward trend.

He tried several ways to cope. He was not prepared to ask anyone to help him financially. He was left alone to fend for himself. It was a real challenge to meet the mounting expenses.

Apart from working in Andhra Mahila Sabha, he began to attend VHS, Adyar and Public Health Centre, West Mambalam, as consultant for a few hours and mobilized resources. He entered into an agreement with the Cancer Institute, Adyar, to treat the patients afflicted with throat cancer. All this added to his kitty. This helped him to meet different kinds of patients, know more about other kinds of diseases and helped him gain more knowledge in his field of practice. It was true, at one time, he had declared that he did not need any money and that he would offer free treatment. Now that his priority had shifted, he needed funds. No, it was not for him, but for the unfortunate children who came under his wings. I here was, therefore, no feeling of guilt in Prasad’s mind for seeking extra money.

On the other hand, the wealthy patients who sought him for treatment were unhappy. “Doctor, what is all this? You have these mentally retarded children all around you? We just don’t like to visit here. We do not have space to park our vehicles. The whole atmosphere is nauseating,” they complained. Gradually they began to withdraw from his list of patients.

Says Prasad, “My income graph suddenly took a downturn. But though my coffers slowly became empty, my heart was brimming with the joy and happiness of the children. I somehow acquired a kind of attitude to live with them happily. I soon adapted myself to adjust to that atmosphere.

It did not stop with that. I had come to the conclusion that my life in future was going to be intertwined with the treatment and welfare of the children. They were called special children and they were, truly.”

“The experience I gained in the company of the children was colourful and it enriched my thinking.

“For the outsiders they might appear to be mentally retarded. They might even appear as children without any kind of ability to perform or display. However, only we, who moved with them closely, knew what exceptional qualities those innocents had been blessed with.

“It was simply amazing to watch their extraordinary ability in some areas. They might not be able to comprehend what we say or respond to us instantly. But aspects like their memory, ability to think and skill in music were noteworthy. I enjoyed being close to them. I realized it when they reciprocated in their own way. I woke up one day with the realization that it was not possible for me to leave them, and live a life of my own away from them.”

Only when the number of special children grew to sixteen, he began to think of bringing them under an organizational outfit and thus was born ‘Pathway’.

 

What made him christen it ‘Pathway’?

Prasad explains:

“There are several paths in the tiny brain. In medical terms, we use the jargon ‘pathway’. Like ‘cerebral pathway’, there are a number of pathways in that little part of the human body. There is a kind of connection between them and the children, was one reason. The other reason was there is another meaning for pathway, which is footpath. You get almost the same meaning whether it is called path or way. However, when you unite both these independent syllables, you get an extra strength to the word to convey the inner meaning. Since I had chosen to tread the path with these extraordinary children, I decided to name it ‘Pathway’ and I thought it was the appropriate word to describe the motto of the organization.”

 

Dr. Dathu Rao was proud of his son’s social commitment. He could not, however, personally visit the institution due to his deteriorating health. He was immensely pleased when he heard from the friends who had visited ‘Pathway’ at Chennai, eulogizing his son for the mark he had made in the treatment of special children.

Dr. Dathu Rao passed away in April 1979. He had four strokes so far, but the fifth one, was fatal. All the dignitaries in Mysore, attended the funeral and paid glowing tributes to Dr. Dathu Rao. Newspapers carried the obituary references prominently. It was a sorrowful send-off for the mortal remains of the famous doctor of Mysore.

Notes on Autism

It is generally understood that autism is caused due to a brain damage, the exact etiology or cause is still unknown, but is known to have a strong genetic basis. People with autism have social impairments and often lack the intuition about others that many people take for granted. Social impairments become apparent early in childhood and continue through adulthood. Autistic infants show less attention to social stimuli, smile and look at others less often, and respond less to their own name. About one third to a half of individuals with autism do not develop enough natural speech to meet their daily communication needs. They may exhibit considerable behavior problems, such as Stereotypy - which refers to apparently purposeless movement, such as hand-flapping, head rolling, or body rocking. Compulsive behavior is intended and appears to follow rules, like arranging objects in a certain way. Sameness is resistance to change; for example, insisting that the furniture not be moved or refusing to be. Interrupted. Ritualistic behaviour involves the performance of daily activities the same way each time, such as an unvarying menu or dressing ritual. This is closely associated with sameness and an independent validation has suggested combining of these two factors. Restricted behaviour is limited in focus, interest, or activity, such as preoccupation with a single television programme. Self-injury includes movements that injure or can injure the person, such as biting oneself.

03 - MANJULA

03. manjula

It is indisputable that Pathway is one of the best institutions today for treatment and rehabilitation of mentally challenged children. Prasad’s experiences with the special children are varied, from day one. Each child of Pathway is different from another.

In his long period of work in this field, Prasad had seen not only different kinds of mentally retarded children, but also different kinds of parents. It is unfortunate that parents have to bring up these mentally retarded or physically challenged children and the agony of the parents is understandable.

Says Prasad, “Yes, it really is sad and I sympathize with the parents. No mother or father would pray for such a child. If, however, unfortunately one begets such a child, the heavens are not going to fall. If only the parents have the maturity of mind, they would realize that the child also plays its part in the mainstream life.

I have come across many parents in my life. Very few parents of special children behave the way they should. They think that such children are a burden to them and try to find a way out to unload them somewhere. This pains me.”

Although Prasad has a story for each child with whom he has interacted day in and day out, he has something special to say about a few children. One cannot but admire the enormous patience this doctor has displayed and the sacrifices he had made in accomplishing his life’s mission.

Manjula was brought to Pathway, from East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. Her father Venkat Rao was well known in the field of education. He was running a college successfully. He was also a philanthropist. Manjula had suffered from brain damage that had affected her completely. She could neither speak a syllable, nor could she understand a word. She was like a ‘vegetable’. The distraught father was hoping against hope that his daughter would become all right. There was no doctor whom he had not consulted. No temple was spared. He had prayed to every single deity he knew.

When he landed at Pathway, he pleaded with Prasad to oversee her rehabilitation. Prasad checked her IQ and he found it to be below 25, far below the international standard. He concluded that nothing much could be done and conveyed this fact to her father.

 

 

“I am very sorry, sir. Manjula is profoundly affected and nothing can be done. There is no point keeping her here, as it would not perceptibly change her condition. I am sure about it. Please take her back with you.”

Venkat Rao was not willing to accept this and he pleaded with Dr. Prasad to take her into Pathway and put in his best efforts. Even if the improvement were to be insignificant, he would yet consider it as a positive development. He made a fervent appeal to him not to reject her.

Prasad could not resist any further and he admitted her in Pathway, on one condition - that there must be a helper either related or unrelated to the family, to stay with Manjula in Pathway. She must attend to her to answer nature’s call and other physical requirements.

Manjula’s father willingly appointed an elderly lady to help her and left Chennai.

Prasad informed the attendants and his colleagues that Manjula was an extreme case, and that everyone should show her love and affection. Whatever medically possible to help her cure would be tried and all should extend the maximum co-operation. All the doctors who examined Manjula asked Prasad only one question: “Why did you admit her in the first instance?” So bad was her condition.

After about twenty five days a perceptible change was noticed in Manjula. There were symptoms that showed she was improving. They were not significant changes, but yet, with a small twist of her lips she smiled. There was some movement in her physique that gave Prasad hope and joy.

As the days went by, compared to her level at the time of admission, Manjula’s condition had improved very, very slightly, but even that was reassuring to everybody. It seemed she liked the people and children in Pathway. Prasad rang up Manjula’s father and asked him to come over. Before he even finished the sentence, Venkat Rao pleaded from the other end, “Doctor, please do not try to send her back. I do not mind spending any amount. Kindly do not send her back.”

“I am not concerned with money. I am not asking you to come to Pathway for paying money. I only want you to come to Chennai immediately,” replied. Prasad.

When Venkat Rao visited Pathway, he was overwhelmed to see his daughter with minor changes in her behaviour. He was visibly moved and held Prasad’s feet tight. It was a moment of significance for both. From then on, for almost six years, Manjula remained in Pathway getting continuous treatment. When she returned with her father, she could walk with a little help and even speak a few words!

 

Prasad says, “After her departure from Pathway, almost 17 years later, I got in touch with Venkat Rao’s family. I was told Manjula had improved a lot and was taking care of herself in all her personal hygiene. They found this remarkable transformation to their surprise and joy. I was extremely pleased hearing this news.

“On looking at this case from another angle, I wondered whether at all we had examined her thoroughly at the time of her admission or whether we had shown slackness in our duty at that time. She was even examined by several other reputed medical professionals and arrived at the same conclusion that we came to. All of us had found her a ‘profound case’ in medical terms and thus was beyond redemption. Then how did this transformation take place in Manjula? Did we perform only the routine tests and believed them to be final and arrive at our decision? Should we have done some out-of-the box thinking?

“Manjula taught me a lesson. While testing mentally challenged persons, I should not have come to a decisive conclusion with a fifteen-minute examination. I am aware that there are certain I possibilities beyond medical definition. I also realized that according to the advancement in medical technology, the process of diagnosis too, must undergo changes.”

04 - KANNAN

04. kannan

One day in 1984, Dr. Prasad received a telephone call from a certain Natarajan, a senior Government official.

Natarajan talked to Prasad about his son, his only child, who was not normal, and requested Prasad to examine him. Prasad asked him to bring the child over. The boy’s name was Kannan. He was an autistic child, who could not speak, and whose hearing too was impaired. And he was violent. When Natarajan asked Prasad to admit him in Pathway, it was not in the tone of a request or plea, but like a command.

Prasad took some time to think and then replied that he would admit Kannan in the institution, but a personal aide had to be provided, as he was very violent.

It was not an easy task for Prasad to manage Kannan. He had not seen such a violent, autistic boy so far. Kannan would throw whatever he got in his hands. He broke everything that he laid his hands on. He would run fast and bump into people. He would sit on the narrow side of the window. He would remove his clothes and throw them away and remained naked. If caught and dressed, he would tear the clothes into pieces. His front teeth were prominent and they were sharp. He would hit Prasad and would also bite him with his sharp teeth.

Prasad arranged for a checkup for Kannan by all the doctors who were his friends. Dr. Chandrasekaran is a fine psychiatrist and .1 good friend of Prasad. From 1988 to 2003 he served in Pathway. After examining Kannan, he posed a question to Prasad - why had he admitted him in Pathway?

“Many drugs were administered to Kannan to get him to sleep, but they were of no avail. In fact, they were prescribed for me, too. Unless Kannan slept, how could I sleep? No drug could give relief to Kannan. He would roam around throughout the night. I used to keep a close watch on him. Even if he was allowed to get up for a second, he would harass other children. That was my major worry and therefore, there were many nights that I could not sleep at all,” says Prasad.

It was generally believed that not much of an improvement could he seen among children with autism, but Prasad noticed there was a change in Kannan. Whatever the violence shown by him, Prasad did not stop his persuasive methods, but showed extreme kindness to him and showered love and compassion on Kannan. Prasad found that gradually Kannan’s violence came down and his stubborn attitude also changed. The medicines were reduced and in their place, love and affection were the only drugs that Pathway gave him in abundance. Kannan stopped hitting and beating other children. If he was ordered to do anything, he obeyed the command. Kannan disproved the theory that autistic children cannot be controlled. More than medicines, love and compassion were greatly effective in Kannan’s case.

Says Prasad, “I shudder to think of the days when Kannan was admitted in Pathway. The hits and blows I received from him still make me shiver. Many were the sleepless nights I spent keeping a watch on him. I have seen many a child with autism. It is extremely difficult to manage them. It surely is a pain for their parents. Their world is different. We were equally worried about the other children, because although we were watchful of Kannan, we did not know when he would attack the others violently. But since we had already admitted him in Pathway, we could not go back on our word. We were confident that we would get the same successful results in Kannan’s case as we had got from others. But that confidence was not a 100% confidence.

“It was only the kindness that Pathway workers showed to Kannan along with me, that brought about a change in him. He stopped tearing his clothes and did not roam about naked. He managed to attend to attend to his toilet needs to some extent. He obeyed when asked to have food. He responded when we called him and that was a kind of victory we won.

“Kannan’s parents, particularly the father, had considerable love for his son and was very keen that he improve and he was willing to consult anybody in the country to achieve this goal. However, this could not be said about his mother. But as days went by there was a slow change in their attitude. More than the improvement of Kannan, I was happy to notice the change in his parents and I valued it more than anything else. Their stony hearts melted slowly and gave them a hope that their son would be all right one day.

“After twelve years under the care of Pathway, Kannan was sent to his parents, when he was nineteen. Although we cannot take any pride in his case, we felt he would not be a burden to his parents anymore.”

Prasad did not accept any amount for his maintenance in Pathway, from his parents. He considered that their change of attitude was the highest fee he received for treating Kannan.

After nearly a year or so, Prasad received a call saying Kannan passed away. When he approached the body of Kannan, Natarajan hugged Prasad and cried his heart out. “I left my son with you for a long time, but you were gracious enough to cure him to the extent possible. After my retirement, I found Kannan, my son, to be my only companion. Why should I live any longer? For whom should I live, Prasad? Today, his death has liberated him.” Natarajan sobbed uncontrollably.

“Kannan cannot survive for long and as you had said, death has truly liberated him. This must give you some peace of mind. I, however, see a different Natarajan today before me and that gives me solace,” Prasad said.

05 - SUJJI

05. sujji

Twenty six years ago, Sujji was admitted to Pathway as a child of two and a half years. She came from a family belonging to the lower strata of society, living in poverty and sorrow. Her family was real ly shattered to find that she was suffering from Down’s syndrome - the family was hardly in a position to take proper care of her. So when Sujji’s widowed mother, heard about the special institution, she brought Sujji to Pathway. She was a Malayali woman.

To Prasad there was no distinction of caste or creed, rich or poor. If anyone entered Pathway seeking help, the child got preference. Mental retardation and poverty are the two criteria for anyone to get admission in Pathway. Prasad loved challenges and he welcomed them. Success or failure did not matter to him at all. He cared for the children the society ignored and wanted to devote his time and energy to the mentally retarded and disabled children and toiled for their rehabilitation. It was no surprise therefore that he agreed to take Sujji into Pathway.

Down’s syndrome or trisomy 21 is the presence of all or part of an extra 21 st chromosome. It was named after John Langdon Down, the British doctor who described the syndrome as early as 1866. The disorder was identified as a chromosome 21 trisomy by Jerome Lejeune later in 1959. The condition is characterized by a combination of major and minor differences in structure. Often I town’s Syndrome is associated with some impairment of cognitive ability and physical growth as well as facial appearance. Down syndrome can be identified during pregnancy or at birth.

Individuals with Down’s syndrome tend to have a lower than average cognitive ability, often ranging from mild to moderate learning disabilities. A small number have severe to profound mental disability. The incidence of Down’s syndrome is estimated at 1 per 800 to 1,000 births, although these statistics are heavily influenced by the age of the mother. Other factors may also play a role.

Many of the common physical features of Down’s syndrome also appear in people with a standard set of chromosomes. They may include a single transverse palmar crease (a single instead of a double crease across one or both palms, also called the Simian crease), an almond shape to the eyes caused by an epicanthic fold * if the eyelid, up-slanting palpebral fissures, shorter limbs, poor muscle tone, a larger than normal space between the big and second toes, and protruding tongue. Health concerns for individuals with Downs’s Syndrome include a higher risk for congenital heart defects, gastro-esophageal reflux disease, recurrent ear infections, obstructive sleep apnea, and thyroid dysfunction.

Sujji was one in thousand. In many cases it was seen that poverty and disability went hand in hand and Sujji’s family was one of the victims of poverty and the problems associated with it. When she was brought to Pathway, it was just four years since its establishment.

Says Prasad, “I examined Sujji - Mongolian face, flattened nose and forehead, stunted growth and cleft lip, with protruding tongue. This was what Sujji looked like when she came to Pathway. However she was very pretty, highly lovable, affectionate and very innocent.”

Children with Down’s syndrome can vary in their intellectual and cognitive abilities. Fortunately, only a small percentage is profoundly affected and many of them exhibit a moderate degree of mental retardation and related problems. Most of them show restlessness and poor attention span, as they are unable to concentrate on any given task. The word cure is never used in working with them. Such children or their brethren with mental retardation or related dysfunctions can only be ‘Habilitated’ or ‘Rehabilitated’. This could be best understood as ‘Converting a liability in to an asset’ or ‘Putting a vehicle back on the road’. While children with Down’s syndrome with moderate degree of affliction respond very well to therapy, special education and treatment, it is much more challenging in the case of their profound counterparts.

Since Sujji belonged to the moderate category, Prasad did not find it a problem to treat her. Sujji became almost the blue eyed child of the entire institution. Her beautiful and innocent face distinguished her from others. Prasad and his team evinced keen interest in attending to her. Though cure is not attempted in these cases, everyone at Pathway took the challenge of working with her, and soon some visible changes were brought about. Everybody noticed these small changes and enjoyed while observing them. In fact Prasad always counseled parents that they should keep their 'Eyes and Ears Open’ all the time for these small changes, because he said, parents often failed to see these vital changes which were the basic features or signals for the beginning of great changes to follow. Sujji right from day one started showing small changes in her behaviour, not only in her learning ability, but also in her ability to understand and communicate.

Prasad says, “She was found to communicate through gestures combined with one word for many things and it was a pleasure to work with her. Slowly she started to learn to sing, to use her hands, to paint, to write, to colour and so on. This was true not just in Sujji’s case. Our attempt in this direction was to stimulate every kid at Pathway, and all the children With mental retardation received this special attention.

The approach, the treatment and the affection shown to her brought about remarkable changes in her. She showed improvement to the extent that she could use the toilet on her own.  For almost ni’vonteen years we brought her up. Sujji grew up to be a young woman. She excelled in many things, as she was able to look after herself independently and was able to speak quite well. She could read and write and even work on simple additions and subtractions. She loved dressing up well and had a great sense of choice of colours. Sujii also showed great promise in sports. In fact she was chosen to represent India in Special Olympics to participate at Dublin, Ireland. Then arose a problem that they did not anticipate.

Sujji was already a beautiful girl attractive enough to make anyone look at her. The physical growth was conspicuous but the mental growth did not keep pace. At one stage, a sudden change was noticed in her activities. She had come as a child to us, but she was well groomed and looked like any ‘normal’ girl of that age. Sujji was no exception to the psychosexual development normally associated with all humans. She, however, did not know how to express it. She behaved in a way that was not modest. Since there were boys too in Pathway, Prasad became worried and decided not to shelter her in the institution.

Prasad called her mother to Pathway and explained the problem to her with a request to take her home. But the mother’s response was strange and unexpected. She said that once she had left her daughter in Pathway, she was no longer her child, but she was Pathway’s. When her own situation was bad, how she could take Sujji to her home - was her question. There was, however, no other alternative but to send Sujji back to her mother.

 

Prasad says, “Unable to feed or maintain her, I heard later that she had admitted Sujji into another institution. This made me sad and I felt sorry for Sujji. I was helpless in making the mother understand the psychology of such a girl and that left me wondering what to do!”

 

06 - SELVI

06. selvi

As Prasad and his team periodically conducted camps all over tamilnadu, Pathway attracted many people who came, seeking connsultation and treatment. One in particular was Thavaselvi who was brought by her uncle Ganesan from Erode. She had already lost her father and only had her widowed mother who lived alone in Mattur.

T. P. Natesan, a strong man in local politics and a formidable lender of labor union in Salem was instrumental in the admission of Selvi at Pathway, as he was closely associated with her uncle Ganesan. Natesan, though rough on the exterior was a kind man at heart, and had great love for this child. He helped Prasad in his efforts in assisting Pathway. Natesan took great interest in contacting various wealthy members of the Lions and Rotary clubs in Salem, Simkagiri, Erode, Thiruchengode, Coimbatore, and nearby towns in organizing camps for the disabled. He was the man who introduced J.H. Dalmia to Prasad who later on went on to fund Pathway in a generous way. Natesan would take pains to contact ministers in an attempt to gamer assistance. He demonstrated his clout when his father passed away. Natesan called Prasad and informed him of his father’s death, who presumably died due to natural causes, perhaps due to age.

Prasad recalls “Mohan and I decided to attend the funeral service at Thiruchengode, the native town of Natesan. To our utter astonishment it was nothing like we had imagined, there was not an element of solemnity. It was a show of muscle, show of strength, a colorful extravaganza of fireworks that lit the night sky. It resembled a gala party! There were hundreds of people in a procession that was led by Natesan walking with great purpose and with regal gait. There were many cars in the procession. Natesan was mightily pleased with our presence; he made it a point to introduce us to as many prominent people in the crowd mentioning that we had especially come all the way from Chennai to attend the funeral.”

Selvi’s hands and legs were totally paralyzed and there was absolutely no movement. She was a girl with a beautiful face. Prasad examined her and concluded that it was a case of cerebral palsy- quadriplegia - spastic, which meant that all her four limbs were affected to a point that she was in no position to either move her limbs or use them for any useful functional puipose. She was unable to speak a word. Although she was able to understand a few simple commands, she had no control over her bladder or bowel and required assistance to attend the calls of nature. In addition to all this she drooled all the time, and had considerable difficulty in chewing, sucking and swallowing.

Prasad decided to treat Selvi initially for six months. If she showed improvement, she could continue her stay, he decided. Till then, her mother needed to stay with her at Pathway to help her.

Although the outcome appeared bleak with all the problems Selvi exhibited, especially the paralysis, Mohan, Prasad and others started working with Selvi. She exhibited considerable spunk and resolve. She appeared to show considerable ability in comprehending verbal speech. Her mind appeared to be quite sharp. According to Prasad, Selvi had an active and a vibrant mind in a non-cooperative, hostile body. This is a peculiar state. Selvi could understand whatever others did, including simple conversation, small stories and uses of objects. She was quite normal in that sense. She would even know how to react but her body simply would not obey her command. She could notice a serpent approaching her but could not shout and react immediately although she was aware of what scared her - she could not, however, get away!

As Selvi continued to benefit from intensive therapy and special education Prasad observed that Selvi could understand him better. Her eyes were her best assets. She could express her mind through her large liquid eyes which she was not able to express with hands or legs. When Prasad would deliberately scold her to check her reaction, she would show her displeasure through her eyes. Prasad started to understand the language of her eyes. After four years, Selvi could finally “communicate” satisfactorily what she wanted. This was an improvement.

Prasad however wanted something that would motivate Selvi even further to pinpoint her pinpoint her needs. He wondered if any instrument would come to his aid. At that time the only source of Alternate Communication Systems (ACS)” equipment were available in Canada. Deterred by high costs and low availability, Prasad improvised. Using principles that ACS equipment were based on, Prasad devised a few instruments of his own. The equipment developed was simple, readily available, low-cost, and culture specific. Today, the internet can help us find many alternatives for such methods and equipment. However, in those days, when there was nothing of the kind accessible to anyone, Prasad’s design was innovative and would revolutionize the way children with communication needs could be treated in India.

He used a small stick and attached it to a belt and tied it onto Selvi’s forehead. The small stick would indicate her requirement at once. The pictorial board would be kept opposite her and whenever she was thirsty, she showed a cup of water in the picture by bending and touching it with the stick in her head. Continued usage of the picture board/ language board led Selvi to develop a considerable language, and also to learn words and sentences written in Tamil.

After the apparent success with Selvi, Prasad and his associates were full of joy. Whenever she bowed her head to indicate her wants, there was movement for her neck and it served as an exercise. The spastic-tight muscles began to relax slowly and this gradually improved her condition. After twelve years in Pathway, Selvi left with her mother to Mettur.

Prasad noticed her progress. “While she was with us, we could not help her walk, independently. But Selvi showed great strides in speech and language development. She was now able to communicate her needs independently; her life had certainly become more meaningful as she was able to participate in everyday life with zest. Her joy was palpable whenever she was able to understand small stories or incidents without much difficulty. She could be seen enjoying with her peers in various situations.

The progress in using her limbs was rather slow. Despite Continuous and intensive physiotherapy her paralysis was unyielding and stubborn. But her progress through occupational therapy was something to note. Using whatever potential she had, Mohan, the occupational therapist utilized it to gain functional achievement. He devised aids for fingers and wrists that helped Selvi perform very useful functions. Continuous therapy made her muscles supple and relaxed. Her contractures were being ironed out. Orthopedic surgery to relax certain muscles in her heels eventually helped her stand and walk with support. Prasad says, “Later on, we employed such techniques when other children with similar defects were admitted to Pathway. Our experience with Selvi was, therefore, worthwhile as it caused us to think.”

Notes on Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a disorder that affects muscle tone, movement, and motor skills (the ability to move in a coordinated and purposeful way. Cerebral palsy can also lead to other health issues, including vision, hearing, and speech problems, and learning disabilities. CP is usually caused by brain damage that occurs before or during a child’s birth, or during the first 3 to 5 years of a child’s life. Although there is no cure for CP - treatment, therapy, special equipment, and in some cases, surgery at an early stage can help an affected individual.

Cerebral palsy is one of the most common congenital (existing before birth or at birth) disorders of childhood. It is estimated that 1-2% of India’s population suffer from this disability. Among different types, there are two types of cerebral palsy classified by the nature of the problem they exhibit: a) spastic cerebral palsy - causes stiffness and movement difficulties, b) athetoid cerebral palsy -leads to involuntary and uncontrolled movements, ataxic cerebral palsy - causes a disturbed sense of balance and depth perception...

CP affects muscle control and coordination, so even simple movements like standing still is difficult. Other vital functions that also involve motor skills and muscles such as breathing, bladder and bowel control, eating, and learning are also affected when a child has CP. Thankfully, CP does not get worse over time.

The exact causes of most cases of CP are unknown, but many are the result of problems during pregnancy, in which the brain is either damaged or doesn’t 't develop normally. This can be due to infections, maternal health problems, or something else that interferes with oxygen reaching the foetal brain. Problems during labour and delivery can cause CP in some cases.

07 - JAYASHREE

07. jayashree

Call it fate or destiny, the attitude of parents of mentally retarded children plays a big part in the rehabilitation of these children. The thinking processes, actions and reactions of parents determine the success or failure of their wards. Dr. Prasad had great experience in this area.

When Jayashree was admitted to Pathway, she was just five. She had lost her father and she only had her mother to care for her.

Jayashree was a Down’s syndrome child. But it was of a moderate manifestation. Hence there was hope for successful rehabilitation. Jayashree was a cooperative patient, and this resulted in her steady improvement. She even learnt to do elementary mathematics. She became the darling of every one in Pathway, with her beautiful, smiling face.

Dr. Jagadeesan, a close friend of Prasad, belonged to a rich family and lived in a palatial house in the posh Greenways Road. He used to visit Andhra Mahila Sabha often as a consultant at the orthopaedic Department. Prasad requested Dr. Jagadeesan to visit Pathway to examine Jayashree.

On examining Jayashree, Dr. Jagadeesan found that her heartbeat was not normal and that she had a heart problem. He advised Prasad to get her admitted in the Government General hospital. Jayashree’s mother was summoned and Prasad explained Jayashree’s condition to her. Prasad was shocked when she said that she already knew that Jayashree had a heart problem. He was shaken when he realized that the mother did not care to have the child treated, as she was a Down’s syndrome child.

Jayashree, however, liked life in Pathway. She was kept happy with everyone doing what she wanted. Prasad wanted Jayashree to learn Bharatanatyam, one of the South Indian dance forms. But what Prasad could not get was the co-operation of Jayashree’s mother to take her to the General Hospital and treat her for her heart ailment.

Says Prasad with a heavy heart: “I offered all that Pathway could do for Jayashree. However, I knew that was not enough. If only her mother had taken the vital step, we could have made a leap. But her mother did not take even a single step. She perhaps felt that the child should live naturally for as long as she could. I even made all arrangements for a loan to the mother to take Jayashree to General Hospital. But she took Jayashree away from Pathway, and we were all greatly saddened.

“When Jayashree died, her mother did not even inform us. A beautiful flower just did not blossom. I would have gone and paid homage to the lovely little girl. It was heartrending when we got the sad news. And that was the reward we got for treating her in Pathway! It really pained me because I did not expect anything in return while running Pathway. I was, however, hurt when even normal courtesy was not shown to us. Even now I believe that if only the mother had not taken away Jayashree from Pathway, she would not have been snatched away by the cruel hands of death so soon.

08 - GAUTHAM

08. GAUTHAM

Did mothers of mentally retarded children all behave like Jayshree’s mother? Not at all.

There were parents who thought differently. The love and care they showed their children, coupled with Prasad’s treatment and compassion, put the children on the road to recovery. One of these boyswho brought laurels to Pathway, was Gautam.

Prasad had great faith and confidence in mothers, for he believed they could make or break any successful programme. He had anecdote that he loved to share with parents, especially mothers, lie explained that before any disabled child could be sent down from God’s presence to earth; there would be a grand council, where Angels were instructed to make sure of some things before sending a disabled child, especially a mentally handicapped one to earth. God wanted to be sure that He sent them to the most loving and special parents who would do everything in their power to love and look after this child. Heaven was not so concerned when it came to "normal” or “average” children, because they could be sent or placed anywhere or with anybody. When it was the case of sending a disabled child, however, God had to make sure that this special child would be properly cared and loved for. With this story, Prasad would always help parents realize how special they were and how important their purpose was.

One of Prasad’s success stories is Gautam.

There are people with many different ideas to serve society. There are people who spend their money to serve the society single- handedly. Or individuals who have been deprived of pleasure in their own lives, yet serve the cause of the society. Doordarshan TV attempted to find such people for one of its weekly programmes and it produced a profound impact on the viewing public. A particular episode was aired on Prasad of Pathway in April, 1984. The response was remarkable.

“Many got in touch with me after viewing the telecast. One of them was a gentleman from Assam who was the general manager of a tea estate. He travelled many miles to bring his son Gautam, who was eight then, to Pathway. I examined him.

“I found that he had a plethora of concerns. Although he was able to speak to some extent, he was not in tune for his age and sex, in terms of vocabulary, content and information. He also had difficulty in reading and writing. A peculiar problem was that he had difficulty understanding spoken words. Audiological evaluation showed he had normal hearing but exhibited difficulties ‘hearing’ certain words and sounds. He showed positive difficulties in understanding words. If I said BAT, he would hear it as RAT and would write only RAT. I could not blame him, because he heard only RAT. His psychological and psychometric evaluation revealed that he had higher than average intelligence. The medical term for this deficiency is called ‘central auditory deafness’. It is also referred to as ‘auditory agnosia’.”

Agnosia is inability to attach meaning to sensory information. Although the physiological receptor mechanism is intact, it is usually associated with central nervous system disorder. Auditory agnosia In impairment of the ability to comprehend auditory stimuli or disturbance in the interpretation of language or non-language sounds.

Prasad explains, “An interesting aspect is that sufferers of this impairment do not have any problem or inadequacy with their ear. The defect is probably caused by a damage or defect of a particular area of the brain. Of course in most cases this defect in the central nervous system cannot be seen. As far as the affected persons are concerned it is a complicated problem and truly a challenge to work with, because they present difficulty in perceiving similarities and differences in sounds, perceiving a sound within a word, and dividing them in to syllables - an individual so affected cannot learn to read via the alphabet.

“Working with this boy was a saga by itself. It required a commitment of time, focused effort and a deep understanding of his problem. When the nature of their son’s condition was explained to his parents, it was very challenging for them to understand as they felt it to be highly abstract. It was also confusing to them, as they weregiven different opinions and diagnosis by different specialists invarious parts of India. He had been labelled from being plain lazy mid stubborn to mentally retarded. The parents were told that it would take quite some time even to make small progress as the problem was quite tough. To begin with, the parents after giving quiet a listening offered to bring their son every day for therapy and education. The fact that they were from Assam and that they would have to stay for protracted lengths of time in Madras, did not seem to matter, or make them reluctant to perform the necessary tasks. They decided to stay at Hotel New Woodlands for this long haul of time to enable their son to attend Pathway every day. Every morning they would arrive even before we would open our doors. Father and Mother were at hand observing everything we did helping their child, so that they could also continue the exercises in their hotel room. During these long periods of stay in Chennai they seemed to have forgotten about their home or their jobs. For them, everything else was secondary. Therapy and remedial education with Gautam went on for more than two years. The progress he showed was spectacular and miraculous. The complementary work done by the parents and the way the child responded certainly did the magic!”

Gautam Bora overcame his shortcomings remarkably. He currently works in the state civil services. He is “normal” and is now successfully pursuing his career.

It is hardly simple to -overcome the effects of a defect in the region of brain. If Gautam was successful in overcoming the defect, it was due to his parents. They neither lost heart nor did they despair. They did not curse the circumstances that caused them misery, but took positive steps, stayed with their son and showed keen interest in his progress. They gave complete co-operation to the efforts put in by Prasad and his colleagues. These are the facts that made Gautam successful.

When Prasad came (across parents who were not co-operative, he would get satisfaction recalling these wonderful parents.

09 - CHINNATHAMBI

09. CHINNATHAMBI

If some doors closed in the progress of Dr. Prasad’s service to the mentally retarded children, other doors opened to provide opportunities. It is unbelievable but true.

Chinnathambi was one who stood as a proof for this. “It is not me alone who looks after the children of Pathway, but all our colleagues. If any one of us notices an extraordinary talent in a • In Id here, we strive to assist the child to blossom and motivate it to achieve something” said Dr. Prasad.

Everyone knows about Keezhakarai, the cash-rich area of tamilnadu. Since many of the men work in Middle East countries, the foreign exchange earning here is high. The Muslims who live here are generally rich.

 

"When Chinnathambi joined us from Keezhakarai, he was eleven years old. Though he hails from Keezhakarai, he was not from a wealthy family. He was the son of a worker in a wealthy family. A gentleman who gave us substantial funds for Pathway recommended strongly that we admit Chinnathambi, and we obliged him.

“After joining Pathway, he showed remarkable improvement. Although he was mentally challenged, he had great interest in music. He had a good voice and sang well. He could also recite the Koran. It was Begum, who discovered this gift in him. Begum, the Ayah, had sympathy and love for the children of Pathway. In fact, the Ayahs spend more time with the children than us. They are the real ‘links’ between the children and us. As one who had observed Chinnathambi from close quarters, she had found out the inherent ability of Chinnathambi in music. She tutored him to recite Koran. He absorbed it keenly, and it was a surprise for all of us.

It is enough for him to be prompted with the first word. He recites it the same way our Muslim brethren do, with the hands on both the ears.

“I have already mentioned the Doordarshan programme of ‘Face In The Crowd’ in 1980 when television was still new to Chennai. We bought a black & white TV with great difficulty,” Prasad recalls. “During those days, there was only one channel that was being telecast from New Delhi for about 5-6 hours, a couple of hours in the morning and a few hours in the evening. People used to flock around the idiot box with awe. This was the period that Prasad's work was shown all around the country as a 'Face In The Crowd'. In one episode, Chinnathambi’s capability was also telecast. The director of the serial Mirza said, ‘This is unbelievable. It is a miracle’. I cannot say categorically whether this is a miracle or not. It is, however, true that Chinnathambi recited the Koran. One has to internalize the lines, save in one’s memory, and recall whenever necessary to recite them and it is only possible in the case of ordinary humans. However, it was possible in Chinnathambi’s case. This change infused tremendous enthusiasm in me particularly in the effect of music on these children.

“I was treating a middle aged man, Subramaniam, an employee of the State Bank of India, and I wanted to try Music Therapy on him. He had had a stroke on the right side ofhis body. His left side of the body was paralyzed with severe language disorder (Aphasia), lie had no children.

I tried teaching Subramaniam, the seven musical notes, sa-ri-ga- nia-pa-dha-ni. However, he could not learn them. My efforts failed.

 

I learnt the valuable lesson that attempts to try out new things would not succeed all the time,” said Prasad.

10 - DEVOTION OF AYAHS

10. DEVOTION OF AYAHS

Prasad respects the Ayahs who work in Pathway. He provides them all the facilities and holds them in high regard. He has fully understood them. Says. Prasad, “If the accountant did not turn up,

wouldn’t worry. I would myself attend to his work. If the typist did not come, I would manage to postpone her work for a few days. But it is not so in the case of an Ayah. If one fails to come one day, Pathway would be at a standstill. The Ayahs that Pathway has are god’s gift. When I was struggling to run this institution with minimum resources, the sacrifices the Ayahs made are enormous. I shall always remember them."

To ask for a place to run an institution for mentally challenged children is to invite unwanted questions. “Is it so important that we have to give you our house?” was the usual reaction. But Prasad faced them all, single handedly. He managed to acquire a place in Gandhi Nagar, I Main Road in 1975 and has been spending all his earnings on this organization. He kept a room for himself and the rest of the house was given for the use of the children. However, when the owner of the house confronted him one day with the unexpected question of “When will you vacate the premises, doctor?” he was floored.

He now understood the importance of having a building for Pathway.

The children of the owner were keener on getting the house vacated by the occupants of Pathway, than the owner herself. The children were all settled in the U.S. Whenever they come on vacation t0 India, they did not like to see their house filled with mentally retarded children. They found the atmosphere awkward. To them it seemed as if the entire house was polluted.

As far as Dr. Prasad was concerned, he wanted to move to pathway’s own building as fast as possible. He knew it required a lot of money. He had been trying to meet the persons who had the resources to help him. In the meanwhile, the owners suddenly deliberately stopped certain conveniences and facilities available in the building.

“They threw stones on my car and damaged it when I was not there. They broke the water pipelines. Their idea was to stop supply of water. During these difficult times, it was the Ayahs of Pathway who gave moral support to me. One Ayah was Kannamma Ayah mid the other was Mottai Ayah. When the owners disrupted the supply of water, they arranged to bring water from somewhere, in pots carried by bicycles, for cooking, drinking and bathing for nearly twenty people. They were drawing only Rs.30/- per month, then. For this extra work, they did not demand any money and this service mentality of these Ayahs was praise worthy. They were prepared to sacrifice their lives for me. They protected me like an army.

“Once we ran out of provisions like rice and pulses to cook. There was severe paucity of funds. Our first responsibility was to feed the hungry children. One day Kannamma Ayah prepared chappathis and gave them to the children. While she brought the remaining one to me, it fell down in the mud. I dusted the mud from the lone chappathi and ate it. Later I came to know that the Ayahs had not got even that one chappathi and that truth brought tears in my eyes!”

It showed their concern for Prasad and they were prepared to sacrifice their food for the sake of him. Tears welled up in Prasad’s eyes when he narrated the incident.

11 - A KING AMONG DOCTORS

11. A KING AMONG DOCTORS

When one thinks of Mysore, one naturally thinks of the famous palace and the Maharaja of Mysore who lives in it. Royalty and the city of Mysore are synonymous. To those who lived in Mysore in the early 40s, Dr. A. S. Dathu Rao was a household name, just like the Maharaja. Many senior people remember him even today.

Dr. Dathu Rao was a leading medical practitioner and a powerful personality. He was a ‘king maker’ and wielded enormous political clout. He was therefore a highly respected person in the city. He had a roaring practice and was wealthy. He lived with his wife Rathna Bai in a sprawling bungalow with all kinds of comforts. They had been married very early when he was fourteen, and Rathna Bai was only eleven. In those days, child-marriages were common.

The couple had twelve children - eight daughters and four sons. The main character of this biography, Prasad, was the eleventh child of the family. Though Rathna Bai had no college education, she was, very intelligent. The fact that she had authored a book on the British History in those days is proof enough. All her brothers and sisters proved brilliant in their academic studies.

Dr. Dathu Rao’s father, Seshagiri Rao, was also a doctor who served as a surgeon in the Mysore palace. He was decorated with the coveted title of 'Raja Sevasaktha' by the Maharaja. The families of latter day celebrities from different walks of life, such as the well- known writer R K Narayan, used to live very near one another. Dr. Dathu Rao had business interest in other fields, too. He was the authorized distributor of kerosene and other petroleum products for the States of Karnataka and Kerala. This business was lucrative and the profits added to the wealth of the family.

He was a true Congressman and a nationalist to the core. His hero was Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. This background naturally gave him in those days a special social status. In politics, his was the last word. He supported all national causes and was responsible for kindling patriotism among the masses. Police and other government officials respected him.

During the ‘Dussera’ festival in Mysore, the Maharaja would specially invite the most popular fifty families to his ‘durbar’. Among those fifty families, Dr. Dathu Rao’s was one, and this showed the esteem in which the family was held by the king.

 

Over the years, Mysore had become synonymous with the ‘Dussera’ festival. Dussera is the most extravagant festival of Mysore. The festival has been celebrated in Mysore with great pomp and show since centuries. This tradition is still carried on though the scale of the celebrations has been watered down. The 'Dussera' festival is celebrated in the months of September or

October each year. It has become the State festival of Karnataka. During the ten day festivities the normally calm, slow, peaceful city erupts into life and every street and street comer buzzes with activity. Houses, shops and important buildings in the city are decorated and illuminated for the period of the celebrations. It is also celebrated as 'Gombe Habba' - festival of dolls, where houses display an array of dolls in a most attractive way.

The truly world famous 'Dussera' in Mysore is really spectacular and breathtaking marked with gaiety. During the reign of Maharaja, the prime action of the ‘Dussera’ festival took place in the Mysore palace, decorated with millions of bulbs. Once illuminated, the palace would look like heaven on earth. The ten day long festival would witness the Maharaja of Mysore holding court or 'Durbar' in the regal ‘Durbar Hall’ of Mysore palace. The Maharaja would preside over these days sitting on his 200 kg. gold throne, embedded with precious gems and stones, which was the major attraction to everybody from far and near. One would see millions of people watching the rare spectacle of splendour with excitement and awe. The Durbar would be attended by the ‘Who is Who’ of Mysore, with their special dress and headgear. All these festival days would also showcase the best talents in music and fine arts to the Maharaja, who was known as a connoisseur in fine arts. The festivities would end with a splendorous ‘Jambusavari’, the grand procession, when the Maharaja of Mysore would go on his royal caparisoned elephant seated on a golden howdah. The entire route from the palace to the ‘Bannimantap’ would be decorated with illumination and banners. The procession would consist of contingents of Mysore palace army, reserve police, palace band, tableaux of various departments of the State and achievements in various fields. There would be hundreds of colourfully dressed dancers dancing to melodious music. The procession would also consist of horses, camels and other contingents a marvellous feast to the eye. The Maharaja of Mysore who was truly loved and respected by all Mysoreans would acknowledge greetings and flowers from VIPs, stopping his royal elephant. People would lustily cheer the Maharaja with love and wish him long life. Those were the great days of the byegone era.

Whenever there was a function in the doctor’s family, the Maharaja made it a point to attend. Since the royal rule was that the Maharaja should never enter his subjects’ house, his car would stop in front of the doctor’s house and the family members would come out and do the honors to the Maharaja. And as was the custom in force, the Maharaja would bless the family, hand over the gifts to the members and then take leave of the family. Dr. Rao had the privilege of playing horse polo with the Maharaja.

Medical education in the 1920s and 30s at Karnataka was available only up to the level of LMP - Licentiate in Medical Practice and LMS - Licentiate in Medicine and Surgery and there was no higher level of education to obtain an MBBS or a MD Degree in even a large city like Bangalore. Those who had completed LMP and LMS could go to London to qualify for LRCP and LRCS and become members of the Royal College of Medicine and Surgery. Dr. Dathu Rao obtained his degree and after returning to his native soil he had a roaring practice there.

He saw to it that all his twelve children had every need and want fulfilled, and were not made to want for anything. To say that the siblings of the Rao family had a special status in society was no exaggeration.

Not everything, however, was as good as it seemed. One daughter Raja, passed away at a young age. Another daughter, Uma, was mentally retarded. His most loved and handsome son, Jayathirtha Rao, who was sent to do his medicine at the Manipal Medical College, became a drug addict. Jayathirtha Rao was much liked by the Maharaja of Mysore Jayachamaraja Wadeyar, as Jayathirtha shared his date of birth with His Highness the Maharaja. On his first birthday the Maharaja personally made his appearance to bless the young Jayathirtha. This handsome young man did his degrees in science and pharmacy before joining the highly coveted Medical College at Manipal. Here as a student of medicine he developed an addiction to dexedrine and barbiturates, which totally destroyed him. In his otherwise successful life, these three sad realities caused a lot of mental agony to Dr. Rao. His other children had successfully completed their studies and were moving towards occupying high positions in their careers. However, the tragedy with his favourite son had a devastating effect on his life and shattered all his dreams.

The affluent family lived in style. Food was cooked for nearly forty people on a given day. The status symbols of those days, like cars and decorated horse-drawn coaches were the family’s proud possessions. Dr. Rao lived like a Maharaja among medicos. Destiny, however, changed the prosperous life of Dr. Dathu Rao in a single day.

 

12 - THE CHANGED LIFE

12. THE CHANGED LIFE

It is the common belief that a man is at his prime at 40, the age where most men achieve their highest level and reach the pinnacle of success. This was definitely true in the case of Dr Dathu Rao. He had reached the zenith of his achievement, not only in his medical profession, but other walks of life as well. He was a man to be reckoned with - he appeared to have everything - money, success, power, influence and happiness. But fate had a different plan for this successful doctor. Little did he know that soon his life would turn topsy-turvy.

As Dr Dathu Rao was celebrating his 40"' year, he suffered from a crippling condition referred to as a ‘stroke’. Stroke results from a condition known as the cerebro vascular accident, which takes place suddenly due to a blood clot, or hemorrhage in the vascular system in the brain, resulting in devastating results, such as loss of speech, paralysis of the limbs and in many cases even death. When Dr. Dathu Rao was 40, he had a sudden attack of paralytic stroke and his left side was totally paralyzed. By a quirk of fate, everything was snatched away from him overnight.

He had never even dreamt of such a cruel turn in his life. This horrible condition left him absolutely ineffective and paralyzed. He could not move his left hand or his left leg, he was unable to walk, unable to do anything which he had been able to do so easily earlier. He needed help and assistance for everything. Once an independent, powerful and healthy man, Dr Dathu Rao was reduced to a cripple, a weak and dependent individual who needed help even for his basic survival. He was treated by all the well-known top doctors in Mysore. He needed a lengthy rehabilitation programme, which was not available there. He needed to strengthen his weak muscles, he had to fight with nature that had brought about this devastation. He needed continuous physiotherapy which was not available at Mysore. Dr Rao and his wife Rathna Bai left Mysore and went to Pune, to reside with Rathna Bai’s brother Lt Col. YVS Murthy, who was a doctor at the Armed Forces Medical College.

He battled everyday, underwent rigorous therapy for nearly a year and then returned to Mysore. He was now able to walk, though with a changed gait, was able to use his hands quite well, and was even able to drive his car. He regained many of his lost faculties. Although Dr Rao had still considerable weakness on his left side he did not lose heart and continued his medical practice.

But there were different hardships he had to face. It is generally believed that one bad thing follows another, and many times difficulties come in clusters. As if to prove this right, the cruel hand of fate struck Dr. Rao again.

Following the paralytic stroke, his distributorship of petroleum products was totally withdrawn due to the takeover of the petroleum trade at national level by the government. He lost his vital business and he was reduced to nothing almost overnight. A downward trend hegan in Dr. Dathu Rao’s life. The practice slowly came to a halt. The once-popular doctor came to be regarded as a spent force. The public was brainwashed by others in the medical profession (hat they would not get proper treatment if they went to this doctor who was unlucky. The crowd in the clinic thinned gradually.

Prasad rose to the occasion to help his father. He had seen his lather living a healthy life and his present paralyzed condition moved him so much that he decided to be of some help to his father besides pursuing his school education He used to run home during the break to have a quick lunch, carried lunch for his father and fed him in the clinic and rushed back to the school. This became his routine. The income from the clinic dried up, and carrying currency notes daily from the clinic became a thing of the past. The family had never seen poverty till then, but the stark reality showed what it was like. Dr. Rao became a debtor and his debts mounted to a whopping Rs.80,000.

Dr. Rao felt something had to be done to clear the huge debt. He decided to sell his house, but it was not easy. It was not just a house, but a big bungalow. None came forward to buy it because nobody had so much money then. When it was not possible to dispose of the house, Rathna Bai sold her jewels. But for her mangal sutra,

she sold practically all her jewels to tide over the financial crisis in the family. Once like a jewel-bedecked chariot, Rathna Bai now looked bereft of everything.

Dr. Rao could have used his enormous influence to get away from the debtors, but he did not resort to such methods. He was keen to clear all his debts. He made up his mind to mortgage the house and get some money if selling it outright did not come through. He collected the deed and other documents of the house and met a few wealthy men in the town. Nobody was prepared to offer him the money. Finally he approached the Swamiji of the Raghavendra Math. He explained his position and requested the Swamiji to buy the property. There was a time when Dr. Dathu Rao himself had donated thousands of rupees to the same Math. He had a love for them and he had a strong belief that the Swamiji would certainly help him.

The Swamiji, however, did not think of the past and admonished Dr. Dathu Rao haughtily: “You have fallen on bad days. Look, your life has been brought upside down. Now you have fallen at my feet,” said the Swamiji sarcastically with a supercilious smile. Dr. Rao was crestfallen. The young Prasad who was holding his father’s hand felt sad. He despised the Swamiji for being harsh on his father and hurting him. From then on, he despised all holy men. In his anguish, he wanted to have nothing to do with the Math. Dr. Rao was helpless, since he needed the money badly to settle the debts he had incurred. There was no other alternative but to dispose of

the house. Finally the Swainiji came forward to buy the house and offered half the amount then. It is another story that the balance was never paid at all!

The family vacated the house in which they had lived for so long. When they left the sprawling house, Dr. Rao’s eyes became moist and tears rolled down his cheeks. It was the first time that his family saw him crying. They moved to a rented house. It was another, first experience for the doctor’s family. When the landlady came on the first of every month and demanded the rent, it was not only difficult for him to take it in his stride, but also a painful experience.

When one falls from grace, how does society treat one? Dr. Rao’s life was truly an example. Those who had once longed to be closer to him discarded him now. The cars had to be sold. Once, while walking on the road holding his father’s hands, the traffic police admonished him to cross the road fast. “Do you want me to stop the entire traffic for you to cross?” he shouted. However, Dr. Rao was helpless. He could not quarrel with the conductor who blew the whistle when he had barely boarded the bus with one paralyzed leg and hand. They knew who he was and yet they tormented him.

Prasad had to be content with two sets of trousers and shirts now, when he had dozens once. Fellow students made a mark on his shirts to pull his leg if he wore the same shirt the next day. Prasad became immune to all these taunts. But he did not imagine then that this experience was going to be of some help to him in his later day social work.

The scenario was bleak - Father was stricken with a paralytic stroke. One sister was mentally challenged. Abject poverty at home stared at his face. But his father’s patience and resolute determination to face any situation boldly made the young Prasad learn many a lesson.

It was hard to believe that even when his hand and leg were paralyzed, Dr. Rao wrote several books in Kannada. He wrote volumes and volumes in long hand with absolute resolve despite weakness and continuous cramps. All were books with medical background. One book was on family planning. A person who had fathered a dozen children wrote a book on family planning! Strangely, and difficult to believe, the Government of Karnataka showed him a rare gesture. The Minister for Health, K. Puttaswamy was a good friend of Dr. Rao, and the State Government had realized his contribution in the medical profession. The government issued an order that all the libraries in the State must buy the book on family planning by Dr. Dathu Rao. This book sold in thousands.

All these gestures were shown to Dr. Dathu Rao when his family was reduced to penury and deprivation.



13 - EARLY EDUCATION

13. EARLY EDUCATION

Despite the poverty and the problems it posed, Prasad studied well and passed the Pre-University Course examination. The question arose now - what next?

Dr. Dathu Rao had a few close friends and one of them was B. V. Banumiah. He was a member of the Legislative Council and a respected Congressman. Banumiah ran many schools and colleges and Prasad studied in one of them. He was the grandson of ‘Dharmaprakasha’ B. V. Banumiah, who was the founder of a chain of institutions named after him, like Banumiah’s Arts and Commerce College and Banumiah’s Higher Secondary School. He was close to the Maharaja of Mysore, and was one of the respected names in the erstwhile kingdom of Mysore. Prasad vividly remembers Banumiah calling on his father, and his powerful presence. Banumiah had an awe-inspiring personality and as principal of Banumiah’s College, had an iron grip on the institution. He was both respected and feared. Prasad always looked at him with awe and respect, realising that Banumiah was a true friend of his father.

Prasad had dreamed of becoming a doctor like his father. It was only natural. Dr. T.M.A. Pai, the founder of the well-known Medical College and Hospital in Manipal was a friend of Dr. Dathu Rao and he had offered Prasad a seat in his Medical College. Prasad’s family, however, was not in a position to pay the fees and meet other related expenses.

As it was, Prasad was earlier denied the pleasures and joys of a youth. He had, in his student days, spent all his time holding his father’s hands, and helping him to the fullest extent possible. Now it was just his misfortune that he has been denied the medical education that he yearned to pursue.

In those days, a totally new stream in education was being introduced. The All India Institute of Speech and Hearing, a brand new institute came into being. Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, deserved praise for this venture, which began to function as a national institute.

Mrs. Gandhi had a special interest in this institute. She was instrumental in bringing Dr. Martin F. Palmer, the popular specialist in this field, to India and to help establish a national institute for the treatment of speech and hearing disorders. The noted medical administrator-cum-surgeon Dr. J. J. Dharmaraj was appointed as the first director and Dr. N. Rathna, who had come from the U.S.A. was appointed as the special officer.

 

What was important in this whole episode was that although the institute was started and a basic structure provided, there was no proper information regarding the scope and prospects of the profession. No one knew what would be the future of those who studied in this field. Since this was a brand new field of education, stipends were offered to those who wished to join the course. Thanks to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, the All India Institute of Logopaedics (Speech and Hearing) started with a bang, offering quality education leading to undergraduate and graduate programmes in speech pathology and audiology. As an institute of national importance there was no dearth for funds. The Maharaja of Mysore - Jayachamarajendra Wadeyar, donated a vast area of land near the Manasagangothri campus. The entire course was drawn on the lines of degrees that were offered at top American universities and colleges. The institute was very fortunate to have great stalwarts in the field, like Dr N. Rathna, who should be given credit for the solid foundation, growth and development of this field in India. He can undoubtedly be referred to as the father of this profession in India.

Dr. H. V. Suryanarayana Rao, a well-known ENT surgeon and President of the Indian Oto-Rhino-Laryngologists Association of India, and a close friend of Dr. Dathu Rao, advised, “Let your son join this course. It is new. It is going to be the best one in medical education, in fixture. Your son’s future too, would be bright.” Prasad, of course, evinced interest in joining the course, though he never understood the nature of the course at that time. The main reason was that there was no fee and additionally, the incentive of monthly stipend. “If I join the course, I would get the stipend and it would be useful for the family and of course, I do not have to pay any fees,” thought Prasad. That was the main motivation for his opting to join the course.

Prasad applied for the course and was sure that he would get the seat as he had scored 72% in P.U.C. Examination. But his name did not appear in the first list. The suspense did not last long and he was fortunate enough to find his name in the second list. It was an all India selection and there were students from all over India. In Prasad’s batch there were students only from Tamil Nadu and New Delhi apart from a few from Karnataka.

Since it was the first of its kind in India, the situation was very fluid. There was confusion all around in the minds of the students as to the nature of the course. There was no clear information in terms of scope for employment. The faculty consisted of members of high caliber in the field, and the confusion was soon cleared. The teachers took pains to explain to the students the job potential. They explained that the course gave great opportunities to bring about speech and hearing scientists, who could be employed anywhere in India or abroad, as speech pathologists and audiologists. They could be employed in medical colleges, top hospitals, schools and colleges, with a choice to flourish in private practice. Dr Rathna explained to the students that there would be massive demand for these professionals in India as there was nearly 10% of the population that suffered from speech and hearing disorders. The first batch evinced keen interest in the class and hoped that if they studied well and got the degrees at the end, the new field could offer better opportunities to them to prosper and would open new vistas for achievement.

Natesh Mudaliar, father of Dr N. Rathna, the special officer of All India Institute of Speech and Hearing, was with the Directorate General of All India Radio, a wise gentleman and a great orator. Prasad recalls, “Dr. Rathna was in his early 40s when I first saw him; he was the reader and HOD of Speech Pathology at the institute. Dr. Rathna was always in causal clothes, a bundle of energy, easily accessible and always surrounded by students, and playing table tennis and other games with them in his leisure time. He had an impressive personality, an outstanding style of speaking which was very clear, distinct and attractive. His ability to express himself was tremendous and phenomenal. His English was impeccable, laced with spontaneous humor which had his students in splits and made his class interesting. He never believed in hierarchy and truly loved his students.” To Prasad, Dr. Rathna was a hero! Dr. Rathna was a product of Gallaudet College and the University of Hunter, from where he had degrees and doctoral degrees.. He had worked a great deal with deaf and blind people. His knowledge on rehabilitation of the deaf was truly masterly. With all this Dr Rathna was very humble and meek.

Apart from all these scholarly accomplishments, Dr. Rathna was a great actor, director and playwright. He and his friends had formed a drama troupe in Mysore known as ‘Samathanthu’ which was known to present quality plays to the discerning Mysore audience.

Dr. Rathna had infused great skills to many of students in the Institute and Prasad was certainly one of the front liners. Right from day one,

Prasad was attracted to Dr. Rathna and his histrionic abilities and skills. He was thrilled when Dr Rathna selected him to don various roles. Whether it was ‘Yamadharmaraja’, ‘Gatothkacha’, or ‘ Yogar Monk’, Prasad learnt to play the characters with great interest and passion. He even learnt to dance and perform the 'Yakshagana', the traditional folk dance on the stage. Dr Rathna’s wife Latha was always very affectionate and hospitable to the entire drama troupe, so also their two lovely children Kavitha and Ajit.

Being a student of Dr. Rathna, particularly a ‘disciple’ in dramatics gave Prasad a lot of opportunities to come across great personalities in theatre like B.V. Karanth, Girish Kamad, and Prof. U.R. Ananthamurthy. Girish Kamad, a Rhodes scholar, was then directing the film ‘Samskara’, a very controversial film in Kannada. Prof U.R. Ananthamurthy was Professor of English and the author of ‘Samskara’ was later made the Chairman of Central Sahitya Academy. Prof. Ananthamurthy, a great scholar himself had studied in Oxford, and along with his wife Esther used to partake regularly in dramas put together by ‘Samathanthu’. To Prasad, it was a pleasure to be associated with them and watch them from ring side.

In the meanwhile, Prasad left for Delhi in 1973 to get a job as a speech pathologist commensurate with his qualification in the field. He approached the authorities of All India Institute of Medical Sciences and met the Head of the Department of Ear Nose & Throat, Prof. Dr. P.M. Abrol, who was then the advisor to the President of India, and the well-known surgeon, Dr. Kakkar. Prasad was just twenty years old then. Prasad acknowledges the guidance provided by P. S. Srinivas, as well as Dr. Rathna who introduced Dr. B. M. Abrol during one of his trips to New Delhi.

He introduced himself as alumni of the All India Institute of Speech and Hearing. “Well, you are the one of the first few to meet us, after getting a degree in the new stream,” said the two doctors. “Don’t leave Delhi. In our AIIMS we have plans to start the new Rehabilitation Unit of Audiology and Speech Pathology. You are going to be appointed as the audiologist. Join our institution immediately. Initially, it will be an honorary post, as you will not be paid. Later, we shall fix a scale of pay.”

At that point of time, Prasad did not expect any salary and therefore joined AIIMS at once. The rehabilitation unit was started and Prasad began working in this unit.

His passion for acting in plays when he was a student, however, did not die down. Along with his profession, his love for acting also | grew. Those who are familiar with theatre and dramatics would be [ aware of the yeomen service rendered by the National Institute of Drama (NSD). Prasad wished to join the NSD.

Prasad recalls his experience and the happenings at NSD with nostalgia. “I was the only one in the NSD, from the South. I did not | know a word in Hindi. I realized that without knowing the language, I could not manage there. I studied Hindi. Not only to speak, but also to write and read and passed out quite successfully.

 

“Days passed, with my career at the AIIMS along with acting in plays and learning Hindi simultaneously. I had an intuition that I would one day, become a popular theatre director. I always remembered seeing Girish Karnad and other great actors and artists.

I was very glad that my dream was coming true. My father, however, dashed all my hopes. He told me, ‘Prasad, I do not approve of what you are doing. You will end up as a recluse. Try to ensure a steady income first for your living. Then you can choose acting. Or do whatever you want,’ was his advice. I did not want to hurt my father, who was already ill. Ultimately my passion for acting vanished into thin air!”

In the year 1973, Prasad received a telegram from Mysore: ‘Father had another stroke. Please rush’.

He was totally shaken upon seeing the condition of his father. It was the fourth time that his father had the stroke. “Please stay with us, dear” his mother pleaded.. “Your father needs you most here,” she added. Looking after his sick father was his most important duty, felt Prasad. So he quit AIIMS, and also left behind his dreams of directing and acting. At that time, not only in Karnataka, but also in cities like, Varanasi, Chandigarh, and Bombay, there was huge demand for specialists in the field of audiology and speech pathology.

Prasad had applied for a post in a hospital in Chandigarh and he was invited for the interview. He was the youngest among those who appeared for the interview. It was for the post of the person-in-charge of the department.

When the interview was over, the authorities told Prasad, “You have done well in the interview. Congratulations. However, you are very young and only twenty now. We cannot offer you the senior post at this very young age. We would be ridiculed if we do so. Sorry, we are not able to offer you this post of person-in- charge. Jayalakshmi, who is senior to you, is being offered the post. If you wish, you may join as a junior to her.”

Prasad was confused and did not know what decision to take. Jayalakshmi, who was to take up the post in the department, gave a bit of information. “Prasad, do not worry. There are three or four big hospitals in Chennai, which are waiting to appoint qualified persons for this job. Both in the private and public sector, there are job opportunities. Apply right now and do not delay.”

He made enquiries and he found the information given by Jayalakshmi to be true. Particularly in the orthopedic centre run by Andhra Mahila Sabha in Chennai, the post of the Department-in­charge was lying vacant. The salary too, was reasonable at that time.

Prasad discussed the issue with his father. Dr. Dathu Rao had always had an affinity for Chennai. Instead of serving in some other part of the country in the north, he preferred his son to work in Chennai. He gave his consent to Prasad to go to Chennai.

Mid 1973, Prasad landed in Chennai.

14 - LIFE IN CHENNAI

14. LIFE IN CHENNAI

Prasad did not know a word of Tamil. He did not know the topography of Chennai and had never been to the city before. He had no acquaintances in the city. All the same, he landed in Madras (now Chennai) from Mysore, on a sunny morning and located Andhra Mahila Sabha.

He joined the Orthopaedic Centre there as a speech pathologist, and was in charge of the department. He was fortunate enough to get a paying guest accommodation in a house in Kutchery Road, Mylapore. He could stay there only for fifteen days and had to look for an alternative accommodation during that period. He had agreed to this condition. When that period ended, he found a place in Raja Street, Mandaveli, where he started his practice as well. Prasad’s personality, his knowledge of the language, and his proficiency in the chosen field helped him in his practice. Within the next few years, he shifted his residence to Gandhi Nagar, Adyar. He gained friends like Mohan and Jalaludeen in the Orthopaedic Centre. Mohan was working as the Senior Occupational Therapist and Jalaludeen was serving at the OPD. He later found out that Jalaludeen was a special educator. Prasad got the support of top consultants in Neurology, E.N.T. and Pediatrics amongst others, who used to refer plenty of cases to Prasad.

In course of time, Prasad got acclimatized to Chennai life.

He considered the hospital as sacred as a temple. He did not care much for money and served the physically challenged, mentally handicapped and brain damaged children, putting his heart and soul into his profession. He was aware that it was the time to learn and he did not let go any opportunity. The Orthopedic Centre, Andhra Mahila Sabha was founded by V.Hanumantha Rao, ICS and his wife Lakshmiparvathy, ardent devotees of Sathya Sai Baba, in memory of their son Iswari Prasad Dattatreya, a child with cerebral palsy. This facility was run under the umbrella organization of Andhra Mahila Sabha that was founded by the eminent social worker and Gandhian Durga Bai Deshmukh. This lady was one of the legends in the field of social work in India. Mrs. Deshmukh was also the Chaiiperson of the Central Social Welfare Board for some time.

Working in the Orthopedic Centre gave Prasad a great opportunity to work on varied conditions, and to be a part of a' multi-disciplinary team that consisted of top medical consultants, - orthopedic surgeon, neurologist, neuro-surgeon, psychiatrist, pediatrician and rehabilitation specialists like occupational therapists, physiotherapists, psychologists and others. Eminent persons like Prof. M. Natarajan, Professor of Orthopaedics, Madras Medical College, Prof. B Ramamurthi, Head, Institute of Neurology, Prof. V.Balasubramaniam, Prof. of Neuro-Surgery, Prof. Krishnamoorthy Srinivas, Professor of Neurology, Madras Medial College, Prof. S. Kameswaran, Professor of ENT, Madras Medical College were part of the team of consultants. Prasad and his colleagues got a great opportunity to learn by observing such stalwarts from the ringside, listening to them, discussing with them and being a part of clinical meetings with them.

Working in this facility also allowed him to be part of a project that concentrated on the effect of brain surgeries on children with cerebral palsy. It was a part of SRS U.S - India Project of Streotaxic Surgical Procedures - which was tried on hundreds of selected children with cerebral palsy. This bur hole surgery sent a needle through a small hole and would work on certain areas of the brain, aiming to help reduce rigidity, spasticity, etc., and thereby help in improving the condition of children with paralysis. Though streotaxic surgery was discontinued in U.S. and Japan, the project went ahead conducting surgeries on children. There was a mixed response. It was felt that children with better intelligence, with fewer associated problems and less of physical dysfunction would do well with this surgery.

Working in the Centre, and learning from various other allied professions about each and every child examined, gave Prasad considerable depth of knowledge about diagnosis and management of children with various problems. He particularly showed interest in treating children with multi-disabilities. He earned the goodwill of his colleagues in Andhra Mahila Sabha and they liked him. As he started working in this organisation, he was also able to learn the way an NGO works, how a voluntary organization is run, and its difficulties, its pitfalls and strengths. His circle of friends grew larger.

His association with the eminent neurologist Prof. Krishnamoorthy Srinivas and his work at the department of Neurology at the VHS Medical Centre gave Prasad considerable insight and knowledge in working with strokes in children and adults in particular and the field, of neurology in general. Prasad considered himself extremely fortunate to have gained this experience and acquaintance with such senior professionals.

He would often recall his earlier days - his father Dr. Dathu Rao’s heydays, his influence, and then the sudden stroke he had. It was like falling from a height into a deep gorge. Shifting to a small portion of a house with other tenants, after living a maharaja’s life in a palace-like bungalow, the challenges he had to face and the way lie was humiliated, cumulatively haunted Prasad’s memories.

With the support of some of the top medical consultants, Prasad started developing a flourishing practice in speech pathology. There were wealthy and poor who needed his services and they were t specially referred to him. Prasad was able to spend a considerable lime concentrating on his practice by handling many cases. All the patients paid his fees without demur. He also was able to earn I considerable money through home visits of patients who suffered I from strokes. Prasad had always wished to buy a motor cycle and | now he was able to fulfill his wish. First he became the proud I owner of a ‘Lambretta’ scooter. Later on he bought a ‘Bullet’ motor I cycle and a ‘Herald’ car which he loved to drive.

 

14 - LIFE IN CHENNAI

14. LIFE IN CHENNAI

Prasad did not know a word of Tamil. He did not know the topography of Chennai and had never been to the city before. He had no acquaintances in the city. All the same, he landed in Madras (now Chennai) from Mysore, on a sunny morning and located Andhra Mahila Sabha.

He joined the Orthopaedic Centre there as a speech pathologist, and was in charge of the department. He was fortunate enough to get a paying guest accommodation in a house in Kutchery Road, Mylapore. He could stay there only for fifteen days and had to look for an alternative accommodation during that period. He had agreed to this condition. When that period ended, he found a place in Raja Street, Mandaveli, where he started his practice as well. Prasad’s personality, his knowledge of the language, and his proficiency in the chosen field helped him in his practice. Within the next few years, he shifted his residence to Gandhi Nagar, Adyar. He gained friends like Mohan and Jalaludeen in the Orthopaedic Centre. Mohan was working as the Senior Occupational Therapist and Jalaludeen was serving at the OPD. He later found out that Jalaludeen was a special educator. Prasad got the support of top consultants in Neurology, E.N.T. and Pediatrics amongst others, who used to refer plenty of cases to Prasad.

In course of time, Prasad got acclimatized to Chennai life.

He considered the hospital as sacred as a temple. He did not care much for money and served the physically challenged, mentally handicapped and brain damaged children, putting his heart and soul into his profession. He was aware that it was the time to learn and he did not let go any opportunity. The Orthopedic Centre, Andhra Mahila Sabha was founded by V.Hanumantha Rao, ICS and his wife Lakshmiparvathy, ardent devotees of Sathya Sai Baba, in memory of their son Iswari Prasad Dattatreya, a child with cerebral palsy. This facility was run under the umbrella organization of Andhra Mahila Sabha that was founded by the eminent social worker and Gandhian Durga Bai Deshmukh. This lady was one of the legends in the field of social work in India. Mrs. Deshmukh was also the Chaiiperson of the Central Social Welfare Board for some time.

Working in the Orthopedic Centre gave Prasad a great opportunity to work on varied conditions, and to be a part of a' multi-disciplinary team that consisted of top medical consultants, - orthopedic surgeon, neurologist, neuro-surgeon, psychiatrist, pediatrician and rehabilitation specialists like occupational therapists, physiotherapists, psychologists and others. Eminent persons like Prof. M. Natarajan, Professor of Orthopaedics, Madras Medical College, Prof. B Ramamurthi, Head, Institute of Neurology, Prof. V.Balasubramaniam, Prof. of Neuro-Surgery, Prof. Krishnamoorthy Srinivas, Professor of Neurology, Madras Medial College, Prof. S. Kameswaran, Professor of ENT, Madras Medical College were part of the team of consultants. Prasad and his colleagues got a great opportunity to learn by observing such stalwarts from the ringside, listening to them, discussing with them and being a part of clinical meetings with them.

Working in this facility also allowed him to be part of a project that concentrated on the effect of brain surgeries on children with cerebral palsy. It was a part of SRS U.S - India Project of Streotaxic Surgical Procedures - which was tried on hundreds of selected children with cerebral palsy. This bur hole surgery sent a needle through a small hole and would work on certain areas of the brain, aiming to help reduce rigidity, spasticity, etc., and thereby help in improving the condition of children with paralysis. Though streotaxic surgery was discontinued in U.S. and Japan, the project went ahead conducting surgeries on children. There was a mixed response. It was felt that children with better intelligence, with fewer associated problems and less of physical dysfunction would do well with this surgery.

Working in the Centre, and learning from various other allied professions about each and every child examined, gave Prasad considerable depth of knowledge about diagnosis and management of children with various problems. He particularly showed interest in treating children with multi-disabilities. He earned the goodwill of his colleagues in Andhra Mahila Sabha and they liked him. As he started working in this organisation, he was also able to learn the way an NGO works, how a voluntary organization is run, and its difficulties, its pitfalls and strengths. His circle of friends grew larger.

His association with the eminent neurologist Prof. Krishnamoorthy Srinivas and his work at the department of Neurology at the VHS Medical Centre gave Prasad considerable insight and knowledge in working with strokes in children and adults in particular and the field, of neurology in general. Prasad considered himself extremely fortunate to have gained this experience and acquaintance with such senior professionals.

He would often recall his earlier days - his father Dr. Dathu Rao’s heydays, his influence, and then the sudden stroke he had. It was like falling from a height into a deep gorge. Shifting to a small portion of a house with other tenants, after living a maharaja’s life in a palace-like bungalow, the challenges he had to face and the way lie was humiliated, cumulatively haunted Prasad’s memories.

With the support of some of the top medical consultants, Prasad started developing a flourishing practice in speech pathology. There were wealthy and poor who needed his services and they were t specially referred to him. Prasad was able to spend a considerable lime concentrating on his practice by handling many cases. All the patients paid his fees without demur. He also was able to earn I considerable money through home visits of patients who suffered I from strokes. Prasad had always wished to buy a motor cycle and | now he was able to fulfill his wish. First he became the proud I owner of a ‘Lambretta’ scooter. Later on he bought a ‘Bullet’ motor I cycle and a ‘Herald’ car which he loved to drive.

 

15 - CHANDRA ENTERS PRASAD LIFE

15. CHANDRA ENTERS PRASAD'S LIFE

As a father, Dr. Dathu Rao was happy that his son Dr. Prasad had taken upon himself a difficult task that called for many sacrifices. His service to mentally retarded and physically challenged children was something one could not easily undertake. Dr. Rao was proud of the achievements of his son, but as a father he wished that his son would get married. Before his death, he expressed this desire, too.

Prasad was not against marriage, but he had different thoughts.

He wanted ‘Pathway’ to run without any problem. Funds were needed to run it successfully. His current income was not enough for this. Expenses were mounting day by day. Marriage at this juncture would only destroy the expectations of the girl who would join him as his wife. She would only suffer along with him. Was it fair?

Whenever his father asked him whether he had enough funds to manage ‘Pathway’ he had always responded, “Oh, yes, plenty! I have no problem”. He knew it was a lie, but he said it deliberately. He was neither in a mood to give priority to it, nor, to say ‘yes’ to his marriage.

True, he was under compulsion to keep with him a special child accidentally, as none came forward to claim it. He did not at that 1 point of time imagine that a day would come when he would have to shoulder the huge responsibility of maintaining such a large number of children. But as and when the children joined him in ‘Pathway’, his psyche underwent a transformation. ‘Pathway’ began to mean everything to him. He had to keep out the idea of marriage. “I cannot explain in words the relationship I had with the children of ‘Pathway’. It was rather an emotional attachment!” says Dr. Prasad.

His friends however, thought that a brilliant expert was wasting his time. “Enough of your social service. Be serious in your medical profession, we do not object. Earn money. Lead a comfortable life. For the educational background and experience you possess, it is easy to have a prosperous life. Don’t be adamant and please listen i to us!” insisted his friends.

In Bangalore, Prasad had a close childhood friend, Chandrasekar. He showed a keener interest than others that Prasad should get married and settle down in life. “You are living alone. Your attitude is just not all right. You cannot lead a life like this without responsibility,” he complained and began making certain moves on his own. Without getting the consent of Dr. Prasad, he started looking for suitable i bride for his friend.

He inserted an advertisement in the Bangalore-based ‘Deccan Herald’. The advertisement carried the details of. Prasad and it; appeared for some weeks consecutively. One fine morning, Prasad got a call from his friend Chandrasekar. He asked him to come to Bangalore and spend a few days with him.

Prasad, unaware of the attempts by Chandrasekar in connection with his marriage, innocently landed at Bangalore. He came to know the game plan only after he met his friend. Families of many prospective brides had responded to the advertisement in the newspaper. Chandrasekar himself had selected a few and wanted to take Prasad with him to visit them.

Prasad said ‘no’ to his friend and pleaded with him, saying, ‘My lifestyle is different. No'ordinary woman can adjust to it. It is not easy to manage the mentally retarded children, who also have a place in this world. There are insurmountable problems. I do not want to put anyone into these difficulties, believe me! ’ However, Chandrasekar was not one who took ‘No’ for an answer. He insisted that his friend accompany him. But nothing worked.

However, Chandrasekar did not lose heart and in 1982 February, he once again advertised in the papers. Almost simultaneously, there appeared an advertisement from the family of a Chandra, calling for bridegrooms. Chandrasekar himself personally visited the family. He gave a detailed picture of Prasad. It included his attitude toward life, his commitment to social causes and his institution ‘Pathway’. He met the bride Chandra also and concluded that she would be the right partner in life for Prasad. He invited Prasad to Bangalore and took him to Chandra’s house. Prasad liked Chandra and Chandra too was agreeable. Both spoke to each other for some time and exchanged their views on life. Prasad came to know more about Chandra during his meeting with her.

Chandra was from a wealthy Marwari family. As a child she had lived in a world of gold and diamonds. Her house was a palatial one, with all kind of comforts, and servants at her beck and call. But Chandra did not enjoy the kind of life she was leading. She was of the opinion that it was neither gold nor diamond that shaped one’s life. She just disliked the vulgar display of wealth and the comforts. She was against getting married into another Marwari family. In this community men always were dominant and women were relegated to an insignificant position, many times described as ‘Furniture’. This is the community that has the history of‘ Sati’, a very cruel way of killing young widows. In fact, she wanted to run away from the ostentatious lifestyle. Early in life when she was just three years old, she had lost her mother and her father had married again. Chandra was looked after by the step-mother and received the classical ‘Step­motherly treatment’ which was quite harsh. Her father had more love for money rather than for his children. Chandra had acquired a degree in Food and Nutrition. Being a gold medalist and a brilliant student, Chandra had great ambitions to study further. She had opportunities to grow in the field of nutrition or in a chosen area of microbiology. If she had wanted she could have pursued her career in Canada. She liked the attitude of Prasad and appreciated his service to the society.

Prasad talked with his mother about Chandra. A mother would prefer to get her son married to a girl with a similar background of religion and caste. Prasad’s mother was no exception. But. Prasad took Chandra with him and introduced her to his mother. “Amma, here is Chandra. She is from a Marwari family. They are pure vegetarians. She does not know a word of Kannada. I have chosen her as my bride, but I did not fall in love with her. I feel she would be a perfect partner in my life. She is educated. She is kind and sensitive. She is beautiful and honest.”

Prasad’s mother liked Chandra and she gave her consent for the marriage. The marriage was to be conducted in Arya Samaj method.

“We will bear half the expenses and the bride’s side should arrange for only one lunch. The expenditure on clothes, like saris for the marriage will be borne by me. There is no dowry. I will manage the travel expenses myself The marriage should be conducted in a simple manner,” asserted Prasad who was against traditional practices. He then returned to Chennai.

One fine day, Prasad had a telephone call. “I have come with my friend to Chennai, and we are at the bus station. We must see you,” said Chandra. Prasad was nonplussed. Why should Chandra come suddenly? He rushed to the Broadway bus stand in his car and fetched both of them.

The lady who accompanied Chandra was Carol Comer, a German Jew. She was not only Chandra’s close friend, but also ‘godmother’ to her.

Chandra only wanted to see for herself Prasad’s commitment to social service and wanted to know how he was running ‘Pathway’.

That was the reason for her sudden visit, along with her friend. Prasad liked Chandra’s visit for this reason. He showed them his house, that is, ‘Pathway’.

It was a sprawling bungalow with three rooms in a row, with a big hall. From ten in the morning to six in the evening there would be chairs and tables and the place would be used as an office. Exercises for mentally retarded children, treatment for the handicapped would go on there. In the evening, all the furniture would be moved away and from the entrance up to the garden, only rolls of bed linen could be seen. It would turn into the lodging house of the children.

When Chandra and her German friend arrived in the morning, the children were asleep. Just because his fiancée was visiting the place, he did not want to decorate the place to impress her. He only moved the children and cleared the way (Pathway?) for Chandra and her friend to pass through them.

After visiting ‘Pathway’, Chandra only finned up her decision. She was relieved to know that she would indeed have a roof to stay under. She made up her mind to marry Prasad.

In the year 1983, on June 1, Prasad married Chandra, in the Arya-Samaj way, at Bangalore. For the honeymoon they chose Ooty and stayed there for two days.

Then their married life began in Chennai.

 

16 - FACING CHALLENGES

Prasad was really concerned and anxious about marriage. He had never wanted to bring one more soul and push her in to the difficult world that he had created. He knew that it would not be easy for anyone to live within his limited budget and face never - ending problems every day.

But he was happy that he had found Chandra, who was in his (tpininn really an angel. She was extremely intelligent, simple, humble and highly willing to adjust. Despite all this, Prasad had been categorical to his fiancée when she visited him prior to the marriage to find out how her future husband was involved in Pathway. “Listen, this house might be big, but the entire space would be occupied by the children. We will have only one room for us. There would be 110 cooking exclusively for us. What is cooked for the children is meant for us, too. 1 want to add that I do not have huge funds to manage this work. Every month, I need Rs.6,000 to Rs.7,000. 1 wen if 1 spend all the money I get for Pathway, there is still a gap to be filled. 1 manage somehow. You should bear in mind all these problems, for living with me will not be easy for an average young girl who has a lot of dreams.” Chandra responded, “I am not an average girl. I like your involvement in this great work and appreciate your way of life.”

After they were married and settled down in Chennai, Chandra quickly adapted herself to the lifestyle she was aware of already.

As she did not know a word of Tamil, she found it extremely difficult to converse with anyone and that was her major worry. Chandra is very fair and beautiful. The children of Pathway had never seen such a person there earlier. Nobody expected that the children might feel some trepidation to approach her. For some time Chandra felt she was left alone. But as time passed, she developed a kind of attachment toward the children when she started lifting them and playing with them and they began to feel that she was one among them. Gradually, Chandra became friendly with a few children. The bond of friendship between her and the children grew slowly and the special children seemed to reciprocate her love. Prasad recalls, “Chandra’s mother tongue was Hindi, but she could I speak fluently in English; she did not know a word or a syllable of Tamil. It was fun for me to watch her communicate with children in Tamil. Chandra always felt that it was the children who taught her the new language. It appears to me that people whose mother tongue is Hindi, find it hard to learn Tamil, compared to people whose mother tongue is Kannada, Telugu or Malayalam. I guess the south Indian ‘Dravidian’ languages seem to have the same origin that makes it easier for us to learn any of the south Indian languages. It was just fascinating to see Chandra’s gusto in trying to learn the new language. She not only managed to speak but also learnt how to read and write to some extent.”

Prasad did not hesitate to give priority to his newly married wife. Whatever be his attachment towards the children, he was aware of his responsibility toward her. He took time off from his work at Pathway and took her out. They enjoyed the small pleasures of the newly married-life, like going to movies and eating out at hotels.

Prasad was clear in one aspect. He had already explained to her about him and his priorities in life. But he did not want to pressurize her into taking interest in Pathway. She was free to associate herself with Pathway on her own, if she so desired. Chandra, without any hesitation merged with the institution. She pondered on how best she could contribute to the running of Pathway and in what way she could actively share her husband’s burden.

Prasad was caught between two extreme situations: on the one hand, the financial problems posed by Pathway and on the other, the happiness and responsibilities of his newly married life.

In the midst of this background, Prasad received a few invitations that had some impact in his attitude. It was a time when not many speech pathologists were available, not only in India, but also in South East Asian countries. Invitations from Singapore, Malaysia, and Iran were many. At that time the Shah was the emperor of Iran and had established a top class ‘School of Rehabilitation’. This institute was very keen to develop well-organized training programs in the field of speech pathology and audiology. The institute was keen to select talents from India to head this wing. The salaries were very attractive and offers from other countries came to Prasad. They offered jobs at high salary levels in their hospitals.

But Prasad thought differently. “To serve the physically and mentally challenged children is my motto in life. In my efforts to attain this goal, I need funds, but that was not available in plenty. Was it fair to make Chandra to suffer with me?”

“For your talent and experience, you can amass wealth abroad” persuaded his friends and close relatives. “Why don’t you try?” they insisted.

In the meanwhile, some administrators of hospitals in Malaysia came to meet Prasad. “We urgently need a speech pathologist like you in Johar Baru. We would offer a good post and attractive remuneration,” they said and after their return to their country, arranged for his telephonic interview with higher authorities concerned. “I am prepared to come, but would you offer a job to my wife, too?” inquired Prasad. They just gave him a negative response, “Sorry. We can only offer you a job”.

Mohan, Prasad’s friend had just then shifted to the United Kingdom and was preparing to move over to Canada. He informed Prasad about job prospects in those countries and urged that he should follow suit. He wrote to Prasad about employment conditions, salaries and perks that were available in those countries and above all he had written about the quality of life. Prasad certainly felt tempted.

Prasad discussed the offer with Chandra. He asked her, “Don't you think we have done whatever was possible for the children here? Before the financial crunch force us to deviate from our ideal path, why not we change our course and take the right decision at the right time? The offer from Malaysia seems attractive. Shall we go?”

Chandra shook her head, signaling a firm ‘No’. “You should not go. I am aware of the love and affection you have for these hapless children. You continue to do your job in good faith. We do not have to earn the entire money all by ourselves to spend for the children. Let us approach people who may appreciate our good work. Do not worry; I am with you in your mission”

Prasad was really touched with Chandra’s sincere thoughts and advice. He was really grateful to her for her willingness to walk along with him on a road less travelled. Prasad felt elated. What a great encouragement! What a blessing to have such a marvelous better half! Indeed he felt he was very fortunate.

 

17 - JOURNEY TO DELHI

17. JOURNEY TO DELHI

Prasad continued to face a great deal of struggle for want of funds, since all his personal sources had dried up. He had even sold away his prized possession, the gleaming red ‘Bullet’ motorbike that he loved dearly. He was totally at a loss as he had practically no more resources to raise the much needed funds to run Pathway, to feed the children, to pay the few members of the staff who were serving the institution and to meet many other payments. He consulted Chandra and felt that it was time he closed Pathway.

But Chandra had other ideas. She told Prasad that she would rather dispose of her jewellery to meet running expenses. She did not grudge giving them to keep ‘Pathway’ running. The couple tried to mortgage the jewels first so that they could retrieve them later, but that did not fructify. He approached his close friends and requested them to keep the jewels and lend the money. Their reply was ‘dispose of them, if you wish’. No one was prepared to lend money accepting the jewels as security or pledge.

Finally, they approached a pawnbroker near the Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore and sold all the jewels, except her ‘mangal sutra’. The money they got was sufficient to run ‘Pathway’ for about three months.“ I was really ashamed. I regretted what I did. Was it at all right to sell the jewels of my wife, whatever the compulsions? However,

I consoled myself that the jewels were sold not for meeting our personal expenses or for putting it to some illegal use. It was meant for a noble cause and I appreciated my wife for her extraordinary gesture,” recalls Prasad.

The money raised by selling Chandra’s jewellery did not last forever and Prasad became restless again. He wanted a miracle or a saviour to save him from the most difficult situation. Prasad suddenly remembered H. Y. Sharada Prasad, a person close to his family and in a way a distant relative, too. Sharada Prasad was a powerful official in the Central Government, the Information Advisor to the then Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi. He was, therefore, a very influential person among the bureaucrats of the country's top administration.

Even prior to his marriage, Prasad had sent letters to Mr. Sharada Prasad. He had mentioned that he was managing ‘Pathway’ single- handedly and wondered whether the Government would extend help in the form of financial grant. The State Government had forwarded Pathway’s application with its positive notes to the Government of India, Ministry of Social Welfare, recommending for sanction of grant-in-aid. He had no response to the letter. He discussed the matter with Chandra and explained to her that his letters to H. Y. Sharada Prasad would certainly have some effect and convinced her that they should a make a journey to New Delhi and meet him personally.

Prasad and Chandra left for Delhi by train, travelling for almost two days. They never felt the strain as they enjoyed every moment of each other's company. Since Prasad’s sister was in Delhi then, they stayed in her house. They met Sharada Prasad in his office at the South Block. Prasad and Chandra were mesmerized with the security and the majestic ambiance of the Prime Minister’s Office, and felt very small and humble. They were able to see the beautiful Rashtrapathi Bhavan, and India Gate. The entire sight was impressive. Since Sharada Prasad had not seen them personally, he was surprised that the handsome young Prasad and his beautiful wife were running the institution for mentally challenged children. “I did not realize you are so young. Are you running Pathway? Tell me, is this the age to get involved in social service, when people of your age enjoy life?” he exclaimed.

Prasad revealed the purpose of his visit. He showed the pictures of the children and the work done at Pathway. “You must help me to get funds from the Government,” he appealed. Sharada Prasad said firmly that his department had nothing to do with any aid-giving agencies, but assured them that if they wanted to meet any person specifically in this regard, he would most gladly arrange for their meeting. Prasad replied that they would like to meet Narasimhan, Joint Secretary in the Social Welfare Ministry. The meeting was immediately arranged. Prasad has always been grateful to Sharada Prasad for this great help.

Recalls Prasad, “We were told that if the Joint Secretary wished he could help ‘Pathway’ with the sanction of Government grants, but that was not the only reason I wanted to meet Narasimhan. I was told that he was pro-active in the cause of the disabled and particularly so in the service of the mentally handicapped. Narasimhan has been credited largely with starting a number of wonderful projects by the Ministry for the disabled, such as, the establishment of the National Institute for the Mentally Handicapped at Hyderabad, National Institute for Hearing Impaired, Mumbai and District Rehabilitation Centres in several parts of the country. I was also told that Narasimhan was known to be very helpful and was willing to help people who were doing genuine work for society at large.

“Even before meeting Sharada Prasad, I had a meeting with Narasimhan. He just smiled after listening to me and the impression I got at that time was that he would not do anything for me. So I decided to approach him only with some kind of a recommendation from a higher up.

“The next morning, Sharada Prasad sent me a letter through a special messenger, addressed by him to Ved Marwah, IPS, at that time a Joint Secretary in the same Ministry, and later Commissioner of Police, Delhi. We met Ved Marwah as instructed and he escorted us to Narasimhan and introduced us to him. There was a complete change in his attitude, once he knew that Sharada Prasad had referred us and that Marwah had escorted us.

“You could have told me earlier that you were close to the PMO,’ he said. I thought to myself, ‘Why should I have all those recommendations, if the grants were really given to people or institutions genuinely involved in social service’. He asked me how much I needed. I showed him a copy of the recommendation of the State Government for Rs. 1, 20, 000. ‘You may apply to us’, he said. I did all that was required to complete the procedure.

“We were a humble institution engaged in service to the disabled. It was only our sincere work and our attitude to serve the society that got us the Government’s grant for ‘Pathway’. I had a pleasant surprise when the ‘huge’ amount we had applied for was given as grant!

After sometime, it chanced that Narasimhan happened to meet Dr. Rathna, at Delhi. Dr. Rathna was the Director and Professor when Prasad was a student of audiology and speech pathology. He was responsible for Prasad’s interest in theatre. During the course of his conversation, he told Dr. Rathna, “A student of yours had come to meet me with the recommendation of the PMO. Seemed to be a little showy!”

When he said ‘your student’, Dr. Rathna understood that it was Prasad. He then gave him the correct picture of Prasad, his family background and his dedication. Narasimhan was surprised. Because he hailed from Mandya near Mysore and he had taken treatment from Prasad’s father Dr Dathu Rao once.

A few years later, Narasimhan met Prasad at Chennai. Recalling his meeting at Delhi, Narasimhan said, “You could have just mentioned your father’s name to me then.”

 

18 - FINDING RESOURCES

18. FINDING RESOURCES

Although the annual grant was assured, it never reached Pathway in time. As expenses had to be met in time, Prasad could not wait till the receipt of the amount. Hence he had to look for other sources.

Prasad had another problem, too. He was afflicted with a most worrisome disease -psoriasis. Often, the skin would peel off. Even if he rubbed the skin gently when it itched, he would bleed from the sore. He had excruciating pain at those moments. Psoriasis is described as a psychosomatic skin problem, highly turbulent and in certain individuals it is self-limiting, but in the case of Prasad it was severe. He had tried several kinds of treatment. From ultra-violet radiation to Ayurveda, modern medicine to pranic healing, he had tried everything without any success. Despite this, he saw to it that the work at ‘Pathway’ did not suffer.

Seeing his problems some people close to him said, “Why do you suffer like this, Prasad? You should have got into this business of social service only after you have saved enough money or may be after retirement.” However, Prasad thought differently. He believed that once the work was begun, money would flow automatically.

Much before receiving the sanction from the government, Prasad, along with his friend R. I. Mohan, Senior Occupational Therapist, had made several efforts to raise funds. They had organized a dance- drama by the well-known dancing couple Dhananjayans. This dance recital attracted a lot of attention, as this young dancing couple was found to be brilliant. The event was attended by Sadiq Ali, the then Governor of Tamilnadu, Mrs. Shanti Sadiq Ali, Dr N. Rathna, Director, All India Institute of Speech and Hearing, Mysore, amongst many others. They had also organized fund raisers by screening movies, and other such events. It was during this time that Mohan and Prasad came to know of the greatest musician of the country, M. S. Subbulakshmi (MS). Prasad recalls calling on this great lady. “Mohan and I decided that we should go and meet M.S. and request her to consider giving a performance in aid of Pathway. MS was known to sing only for good causes and she was known to be charitable in her disposition. We were told that she was not accepting any recitals on commercial scale. We fixed a time with this great celebrity and our appointment was at 2 pm. MS and her husband Sadasivam were then living in Kilpauk. We reached her house a few minutes before the appointed time. We were really excited. To our utter surprise we saw M S sitting outside the house, like any ordinary housewife and checking the milk account with the milkman. We were really taken aback to see the humility and simplicity of one of the greatest daughters of India, who later on was decorated with Bharath Ratna (Jewel of India) by Government of India.

“As soon as she saw us she gave a dazzling smile. MS was known for her beauty. She got up and welcomed us inside the house and offered us seats. She excused herself only to return with two cups of steaming freshly brewed and aromatic coffee, prepared by herself. We got up from our seats and accepted the brew gratefully. We looked at her with awe, as we realized this was the same frail lady who sang in the presence of Mahatma Gandhi. She was the same eminent singer who moved Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to tears. M.S. had travelled to London, New York, Canada, the Far East, and other places as India's cultural ambassador. Her concerts at Carnegie Hall, New York; the UN General Assembly on UN day in 1966; the Royal Albert Hall, London in 1982; and at the Festival of India in Moscow in 1987 were significant landmarks in her career. She had been singing right from the age of 17 in many Indian languages. MS was happy to hear about our work at Pathway as she listened to everything we said and told us that she would do everything to help us expand our work. We were thrilled to get her approval. But there was one rider. We had to get the approval of her husband Sadasivam, a follower of Rajaji. We explained to him about our work and our lofty ideals and requested that we should be granted a concert in aid of Pathway. He listened to us patiently and said with a smile that he would consider our request, but we could never get his positive nod.”

Though this did not come through, Prasad always remembers this great lady with respect and awe, and considers meeting her as a blessing. Later on Mohan and Prasad had occasions to listen to her great concerts when she sang along with her daughter Radha Viswanathan at the Music Academy.

At this juncture, Prasad was introduced to Jai Hari Dalmia, the managing director of Dalmia Cements. He slowly developed a good relationship with him. Convinced by Prasad’s selfless work, which he found genuine, Jai Hari Dalmia gave an amount as his contribution to Pathway. Besides the Government grant, this was the first donation Prasad got for Pathway.

Recalls Prasad, “In those days, I was running rehabilitation and medical camps not only in the districts of Tamilnadu, but also in the neighboring States. I had never rejected any offer of invitation from the Rotary or Lions. The only condition was that they should provide transport for my team and me, offer us food as well, that day. We as a team would travel and enjoy serving hundreds of children with disabilities. The team consisted of my good friend R. I. Mohan, Senior Occupational Therapist, M. Chandran, Special Educator, Dr. V. M. D. Jagadeesan, some of the staff of Pathway and me.”

Mohan was gifted with a photographic memory. Prasad had to just show him a telephone number or a narration, and Mohan would be able to recall the same without any difficulty, even after many days! Mohan, Prasad and a pediatrician were part of a team that examined hundreds of new born babies to detect congenital or inborn defects. The early diagnosis unit at the Andhra Mahila Sabha could examine babies from its maternity wing (more than a few thousand babies) right after birth. The examination was directed towards detection of birth defects, like cleft palate, hare lip, absence of organs, spina bifida, spinal deformities, cranial malformations, defects in vision, hearing and other tests. The examination also was to rule out or detect the presence or absence of mental retardation, cerebral palsy and related disorders. This work was highly satisfying to this team and the results were published in the International Conference on Mental Handicap (AAMD) 1981 held at Bangalore as well as the National Conference of Occupational Therapists held at CMC Vellore in 1982. The studies showed prevalence rate of 1.2% of congenital defects in new born babies, which coincided with the international findings. Medical and rehabilitation experts from India and abroad greatly appreciated the study.

“In Andhra, I had conducted camps in places like Cuddapah and Karimnagar. Many people from the towns of Salem, Rasipuram, Erode and Coimbatore came to the medical camp and benefited. Mostly they were the very poor. We had opportunity to screen around 300 to 400 children in each camp. It was a good experience and we gave advice as to what kind of treatment would be of help. In a few places, we conducted the camp for even two days. In those days, such camps by voluntary bodies were not common and therefore, I had a very good response to them. I could meet persons from different walks of life. Once I went and met the Managing Director of Dalmia Cements, Jai Hari Dalmia, along with a friend of mine, the President of Employees’ Union of the company belonging to Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the ruling party in Tamilnadu.

“While he got the information about Pathway and its work in the field of care of the mental retardation of children, he shot a question at me: ‘You are an expert serving such children and your work is totally different. How come you have called on me now with a politician by your side?’

“I did not feel embarrassed at this question, because I value my friendship with those I am comfortable with. I answered that I had become good friends with him and there was no politics involved in our friendship. I made it clear to him that politics and I were poles apart.

“Jai Hari Dalmia visited Pathway once and went round the institution. He understood what we were doing for the mentally retarded children. He was visibly moved and I could see his eyes fill up. He then revealed that his own son had ‘Encephalopathy’ and when he was treated at Nanavati Hospital, Mumbai, the doctors had warned him that his brain would be affected. That is a terrible disease and one should consider oneself fortunate to escape from its attack.”

Jai Hari Dalmia knew the management of the mentally retarded children was a challenging job and handed over a cheque for Rs.50,000 as his donation to Pathway. It was a big sum twenty seven years ago.

Prasad maintained good relations with the Governor of Tamilnadu, Prabhudas Patwari and they were ‘True Friends’. There was a background to their friendship. Prasad had invited the Governor to a function at Pathway and he gladly accepted the invitation and participated. Governor Patwari appreciated the kindness and care shown by Prasad in moving with the mentally challenged children, who are normally ignored by others. Prasad felt that it was essential to create awareness among the parents of mentally retarded children. He, therefore formed a Parents Association for Mentally Handicapped for the first time in this part of the country, which was inaugurated by Governor Patwari.

The Governor advised Prasad, “It is surprising that you have been running this institution for the past ten years facing many a challenge. I appreciate it. You cannot, however, run this all alone for many years. No doubt, your service is monumental. But the financial crunch will pose a great problem to you. I would like to recommend to the Tamilnadu Government to give you a grant. Besides this, I know a few businessmen in my hometown in Gujarat. I shall talk to them and see how best they can help you in your service to the society.”

This did not materialize since the Governor was soon shifted from Tamilnadu. He was a person full of compassion and he visited Pathway many times without prior information and had spent time with the children and Prasad. It was bad luck for Prasad and his institution that the acquaintance could not continue. Prasad really felt sorry on this development.

When he started his efforts to collect money for ‘Pathway’, a relative of Chandra from Surat, the place known more for its diamond and zari, suggested that he could send saris from Surat and Chandra and Prasad could sell them here. He was then running a successful business of selling saris all over India. Accordingly, Chandra began selling saris received from Surat. But it was another kind of ordeal for Chandra. The house was always full of women. They would come in droves to see the saris. Only a few would buy. And, after they left, all the saris had to be folded neatly and put back. However, Chandra earned a considerable amount in this new business. The average sale was to the tune of around Rs.28,000 a month. This proved to be very profitable. Chandra was burdened with all this along with her everyday jobs.

Prasad felt bad that his wife had to struggle all alone selling saris. He told her, “I am sorry Chandra, you have to bear the brunt of all this. Stop this sari business, let us try some other alternative. ’

Chandra was interested in the arts, and was a good artist. She concentrated on designing greeting cards. Prasad approached big companies to sell them,. The response was encouraging. They got some funds through the sale of specially designed greeting cards.

Ramesh Kumar Naroola of Delhi was a good friend of Prasad. A practising lawyer in the Supreme Court, he was an excellent communicator and was capable of making friends and influencing people. He invited Prasad to Delhi and introduced him to Narayanaswamy, the highly influential Additional Secretary in the Home Department, who was the chief secretary to the Government of Kerala.

Naroola was confident that Pathway could get funds from foreign countries. If the rules were followed scrupulously, there would not be any problem, he said. To avail of donations from abroad, and get the permanent registration with the Ministry, one has to apply in the prescribed format and obtain the ‘No Objection Certificate’ from the Ministry.

“Do you have the annual report and other papers of Pathway?” inquired Mr. Narayanaswamy. Prasad had carried a brief annual report with him, along with audited accounts and balance sheet for three years and other necessary documents which he handed over. Narayanaswamy immediately called the official concerned to give clearance for his appeal. The official tried to explain that there were further requirements.

Narayanaswamy asserted that it was a deserving case and an exemption had to be made. He suggested that it should be treated as a special case and clearance be released at once. Within fifteen days, clearance was given to Pathway for receiving foreign funds.

In the meanwhile, Prasad had met the Health and Family Welfare Minister ofTamilnadu Government, Dr. H. V. Hande, whom he knew rather well. Prasad had called on him once and since then, Dr. Hande had visited Pathway more than a couple of times. He held Prasad in high esteem. On one of his visits to Dr. Hande’s office, Prasad saw Dr. K. Rajarathnam among the visitors waiting to see the Minister. Prasad requested the Minister to introduce him to Dr.Rajarathnam.

Rajarathnam was the Secretary General of the huge organization Evangelical Lutheran Church of India. If he wished, he could arrange for a big donation to Pathway. After getting introduced, Prasad went and met Mr. Rajarathnam in his office. The meeting was fruitful. Mr. Rajarathnam asked Prasad to prepare a modest project report and bring it to him.

Prasad acted immediately and considerable funds were donated from Geneva through the good offices of Dr Rajarathnam. This was the first donation Pathway received from abroad, and Prasad was thrilled. Through this contribution Pathway acquired a ‘Standard 20’ van, furniture and other necessary equipment. Prasad arranged a special function to thank Dr Rajarathnam for this great help, which was attended by many including R Santhanam, IAS, and his wife Kausalya. Dr Rajarathnam was pleased to see that the funds given by the Lutheran World Federation was very well used.

 

19 - A CHILD OF THEIR OWN

19. A CHILD OF THEIR OWN

A CHILD OF THEIR OWN

Prasad was extremely happy when the sanction of aid in the form of a grant came from the Central Government for the first time. He had taken in many more children to ‘Pathway’ and, expenses had mounted. He would have been happy if only he had had excess funds after meeting the expenses of the children already enrolled. Although admitting more children in ‘Pathway’ showed Prasad’s kind disposition, the increase in expenditure caused a paucity of funds, once again.

Prasad did not understand that receiving the sanction and receiving the actual funds were two different things. That is, the Ministry would send sanction months before the actual funds were disbursed to NGOs. This ensured that the NGO would receive the sanctioned amount during the financial year, that is any time before March 31 of a particular year, and invariably the amount would reach the organization much later. This caused considerable hardship to Pathway. Prasad discussed the matter with Chandra and looked for a way out. They discussed a number of ways to face this situation. They contemplated raising funds through fund raisers and also through various other means.

Prasad felt since the grant from the Government was assured for the future too, he need not suffer much for want of money. But they had to find a way to tide over the present situation, which they did through whatever resources they could muster.

They had started thinking about their personal lives too. Prasad and Chandra loved children, and wanted a child of their own. They felt that would be their biggest blessing. “We see so many beautiful children, why not one of our own?” they felt.

Soon their wish was granted and Chandra conceived. Prasad’s sister Dr Geetha was an accomplished and dedicated doctor working in a well-known Maternity Nursing Home in Mysore. They decided to move to Mysore for the delivery. Chandra was looked after with great love and care by Prasad’s mother and his sisters. Geetha was always available to Chandra and took care of her with the greatest interest and diligence. Prasad’s mother showered her love on Chandra and cared for her as though she were a flower.

Chandra delivered a baby boy, Chetan, in Mysore at the house of Prasad’s mother on September 24, 1984. Prasad flew to Bangalore and rushed from there to Mysore. Prasad was thrilled beyond words to see the new born baby. He and Chandra had tears in their eyes as he embraced the baby. He was relieved to see that Chandra was in good health. The tiny baby was clutching Prasad’s mother, as if he had known her all along. Prasad discussed the baby with Geetha, and she assured him that all was well. Similarly the neonatologist who attended certified that the baby was absolutely well and normal.

After working with children with disabilities, Prasad was apprehensive, wondering whether the child would be normal. For he knew all too well how small reasons and causes could bring about permanent problems in children. He wanted to make sure about everything. He and Chandra conducted various informal tests to test the hearing of the new born baby, they tested his vision, and they examined him from top to toe. Only after all this and only after satisfying themselves that the baby was perfectly normal, were they relieved. Working with children with mental retardation had taught Prasad many lessons, and he knew that the greatest gift from God was not money or material things, but the gift of a normal baby. He and Chandra were grateful for this marvelous gift and thanked God for this great mercy.

What a wonderful thing it was to have a baby! Chandra spent all her time taking care of the baby. Prasad joined her as soon as he could be free from his duties. To the couple this baby was everything. They watched with wonder every small thing the baby did. What a pleasure it was to see him grow and reach various milestones. They still remember every small thing he did, like turning over, sitting, standing, walking, and saying his first words. Everything was pleasurable and joyous. The baby, Chetan grew up to be a beautiful child. Prasad and Chandra enjoyed every minute spent with him - singing, dancing and playing with him. They felt fulfilled. Chetan used to regularly visit Pathway even as a small child and play with all the children. He used to share his small toys with them. As he started growing he became fond of many children.

SECTION III - THE SETTING UP

20. PATHWAY IN ITS OWN PREMISES

21. CRADLE CHILDREN AT PATHWAY

22. GRANT FROM JAPAN

23.VOCATIONAL TRAINING

24. UNDER MEDICAL SUPERVISION

25. COLD NEIGHBOURS

26. DISAPPOINTING EXPERIENCE

27. ACQUISITION AT AGILIA TURN FOR THE WORSE

28. WELCOMING THE CHILDREN

29. A DAY IN AGRO FARM

20 - PATHWAY IN ITS OWN PREMISES

20. PATHWAY IN ITS OWN PREMISES

 

Pathway was making an all-out effort to have a building of its own. Prasad was also independently trying to get land from the Government for his passionate project.

When Tamilnadu was under President's rule, Central Minister M. Arunachalam participated in one of the events at Pathway. A. Padmanabhan, who was the advisor to the Governor of Tamilnadu, also took part in the function. In his speech Prasad appealed for land. The minister acceded to the request and announced that the Government would allot four acres of land for Pathway. He also advised Prasad to meet the Salt Commissioner at Chennai in this connection.

Prasad was on cloud nine. The minister had agreed to donate the land in the presence of the advisor to the State government and also in the presence of hundreds of men and women in the audience. Prasad was very happy about the promise the minister made and thanked him from the bottom of his heart.

Dr. Shantha, Director of Cancer Institute, Mandakini Krishnamurthy, Secretary of Avvai Home and other dignitaries and industrialists were in the audience as special invitees. Mandakini, who came to know about the good work of Pathway, congratulated Prasad. She said, “I can offer you a small plot of land in Timvanmiyur. I am afraid this will be too small for you. However, the minister had promised to give you four acres. That would be ideally suited to you.” Prasad very much wished to have a place in Tiruvanmiyur. Prasad also believed in the adage that a bird in hand was worth many in the bush! He replied, “Madam, even if it is going to be a small plot in Tiruvanmiyur, I would gladly accept it”. Ruby Ponniah and he had met Mandakini Krishnamurthy several times, recalls Prasad. Ruby Ponniah had informed Prasad that Avvai Home had a small piece of land at Timvanmiyur, which was sought by the Lion’s Club to start a medical centre. Since their attempt was not successful for some reason, Ruby Ponniah suggested that they could go and request Mandakini Krishnamurthy to give that piece of land to Pathway. Keeping this in mind, Ruby Ponniah and Prasad had invited Mandakini Krishnamurthy to this event so that she could see how the institution functions.

Though Pathway was able to get the land at Timvanmiyur, Prasad felt that they should not let go of a great opportunity to obtain the four acres of land as promised by the Minister. When Prasad met the Salt Commissioner, the official apologised, saying that all the vacant lands had been assigned to the Housing Board and that there was no land available for Pathway. When she came to know about the disappointment of Prasad, Mandakini Krishnamurthy registered this plot of land in favor of Pathway on a long lease of99 years at a nominal lease payment. This was done after an agreement was reached at Mandakini Krishnamurthy’s residence in the presence C. R. Ranganayaki. The plot of land was set aside for charitable purpose at the behest of Nallamuthu Ramamurthy, former MP and an aunt of Ranganayaki. Vetrivel, husband of Ranganayaki,. Ruby Ponniah and Prasad conveyed their grateful thanks to. Mandakini Krishnamurthy and Ranganayaki for this great help.

Talking about Manadakini Krishnamurthy, Prasad said, “Mandakini was a Maharashtrian married to Dr Krishnamurthy. Dr. Krishnamurthy was the nephew of Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy, considered an icon and the first woman doctor in this part of India and the founder of Cancer Institute. Mandakini selflessly served the Avvai Home and Orphanage as its secretary till her last breath. Avvai Home and Orphanage is an institution dedicated entirely to orphan and destitute girls and women. Mandakini Krishnamurthy had also served as a Member of the Legislative Council, was an active social reformer and was in the forefront in defending women's rights.”

Finally the plot was ready, but where was the money to raise the building? Prasad was in a fix. Fortunately for Prasad, William Sheffield made a visit to Chennai at that time. As usual, he spent some time at Pathway. Prasad told him about the offer of the plot at Tiruvanmiyur and took him to show the place. He was not much impressed because the land was full of wild bushes and in disuse, too. “Oh, this is the plot, is it? Do you want to construct a building here?” he asked.

“Please do not come to a conclusion right now. Any unused land would look like this. We can remove the bushes, clean the area and it will then look fine. You just wait and see,” answered a confident Prasad. Knowing the determination of Prasad, Sheffield did not discourage him but advised him to go ahead. Sheffield wanted to know an estimate for the cost for building. Prasad did not want to appear too ambitious. He therefore gave a modest estimate of Rs. 13 lakhs for construction of about 7000 sq. ft.

“Ok. Give me a quotation for the amount,” said Sheffield. "I will see if any Good Samaritan in the U.S. will come forward to help you build here,” he added. Within a few days, Prasad had a call from Sheffield, back in the U. S. He said, “Sony, Prasad, people are gun shy on this proposal. There is no one here who has shown any interest in the building project. I am sorry.”

Disappointments were not new to Prasad, so he was not worried much, but thanked Sheffield for his sincere effort. Prasad discussed this matter with Chandra and. Ruby Ponniah and decided to place an advertisement in the newspaper. An advertisement was released in ‘The Hindu’ appealing for contributions towards construction of Pathway’s building. There was some response. One was from the Madras Mylapore Round Table No3-MMRTN03. Round Tables are social service organizations like the Rotary or the Lion’s. They are formed by men below 40 years of age. Some of these organizations were known to extend financial help to various causes. They normally raise funds through regular fundraisers. The office bearers of MMRT No3 visited Pathway and met with Ruby Ponniah, Prasad and Chandra. They saw the work carried out by Pathway and decided to assist Pathway in its building project.

Though the intention of the members of the Round Table was good, they had their own limitations, as they could raise only a modest amount of funds through fundraisers. In about a couple of years, they collected some funds, which they spent directly towards pile foundation of the present building of Pathway at Tiruvanmiyur.

Within a few days, Sheffield again spoke to Prasad. He said, “I do not see anybody coming forward to help us. So I have arranged to offer you the funds. You should accept it. I have decided to finance the entire building project on behalf of myself and my wife Leslie. I shall send you the funds in four instalments. You just give me the dates of payment through a letter.” Prasad was virtually moved to tears. He was so happy that Pathway was going to have premises of its own.

Sheffield kept his word. The building came up replacing the disused land and the nearby habitants of the huts looked at the structure with awe and astonishment. In the meanwhile, Prasad kept his landlord informed of the development taking place in the plot at Tiruvanmiyur. “In a way, it was a blessing in disguise,” said Prasad., The landlord of the rented premises had offered through a builder some money to Prasad. Prasad accepted this with reluctance and contributed it towards construction of the second floor and thus extended the building by one more floor. Prasad used the funds for the building with caution and care.

He did not encounter any problems anywhere. He used a portion upstairs for his residence. He was used to living with the children of Pathway and he continued to stay with them, with his wife Chandra and son Chetan. When Prasad conveyed his wish to name the building after Sheffield, he flatly refused to agree to the request. He also asked Prasad not to hang his picture or nameplate anywhere in the building. Prasad recalls, “Judge Sheffield refused to have his name or photograph put up anywhere in the building; on the other hand he wanted pictures of ours to decorate the walls as he felt that we were the ‘People in the Trenches'.” Prasad, however, did hang Sheffield's photo in his chamber. “It is his humility that prevented the display of his photograph in the building, but it is my bounden duty to have it at least in my room” says, Prasad.

 

In the year 1992, Pathway occupied its own premises in the area of Tiruvanmiyur. The children enjoyed every inch of the place, jumping and playing around freely. It was a pleasant sight for Prasad as he saw the children expressing their pleasure in their own way. While in Pathway they were used to premises of few small rooms, they now own this majestic building of three floors. “This building is a milestone in the annals of Pathway's history,” says Prasad proudly.

Furniture was made ready for the children to suit their requirement. Computers were installed to avail of the modem facilities for administration. When all this was going on, Kannamma, one of the ayahs, brought to Prasad's notice a significant drawback in the building. “You have provided western closet toilets for the children, all right. But they are used only to our Indian toilet. How do you think the children will manage?” Prasad realized that she was right. He immediately arranged to alter the toilets for the convenience of children and thanked Kannamma Ayah for bringing this important point to his notice.

Prasad and his team now looked forward to a comfortable road ahead for Pathway, and faced the future with confidence.

 

21 - CRADLE CHILDREN AT PATHWAY

21. CRADLE CHILDREN AT PATHWAY

Pathway has been fortunate in coming across bureaucrats in the government of Tamil Nadu, who have been great well-wishers of Pathway, and who have associated themselves with the cause of serving the mentally handicapped. Mr. R Kirubhakann was certainly- one of them. He was most unassuming, humble and easily accessible. A man of great integrity, an abiding interest in literature, and above all gifted with a fine sense of humor.

Pathway’s new building at Tiruvanmiyur got completed in 1992. Judge William Sheffield and Prasad were considering a grand inauguration of the building, and were in correspondence discussing whom to invite to do the honours as chief guest. Judge Sheffield suggested that he would speak to the then Prime Minister of India P. V. Narasimha Rao and invite him. It was decided that the Judge would call on him personally, and Prasad addressed a letter to the Hon’ble Prime Minister requesting him to grace the occasion as the chief guest.

Prasad recalls that Judge Sheffield visited India in April 1992, and visited Pathway. He was able to see that Pathway’s new building would be ready for occupation at the end of the year. They discussed the possible ‘Guest list’ and the way the event could be conducted. During this visit, the Judge left for New Delhi and called on the Prime Minister to invite him to inaugurate Pathway’s brand new building.

At this time the Secretary, Social Welfare Department of the Government of Tamilnadu was R Kirubhakaran, IAS. The Department of Social Welfare has administrative control over all welfare organizations in Tamil Nadu, which also included government organizations and non-government organizations such as Pathway. After Judge Sheffield’s request to the PM followed by an invitation by Pathway, the PMO sent a letter to the Government of Tamil Nadu requesting for details of Pathway inquiring about its background and its work. This inquiry and the report presumably caught the attention of Kirubhakaran. This was how this kind-hearted bureaucrat came to know about Pathway’s existence.

The inauguration of Pathway’s building took place in June, 1994 in a glittering function. Among those present were the former President of India, R. Venkataraman, and K.V.Thangkabalu, Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India. Representatives from Madras Mylapore Round Table 3, who donated funds towards the pile foundation of the building, John K. Carmack, President, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Hong Kong/ Asia Area, Judge William Sheffield, Stephen B. Oveson, C. R. Ranganayaki, the donor of the land, were present amongst others.

The way Pathway functioned in the field of rehabilitation of mentally retarded children pleased the Secretary. Apart from his literary and intellectual pursuits, he evinced interest in the welfare of children. The burden of his official duties did not deter him from visiting the children of Pathway often and he made it a practice to take a few children along with him in the evening, to the beach, in his car. He would entertain them on the beach for some time and leave them at Pathway. He and his wife Sakti Kirubhakaran would even receive them in their house and offer them a grand feast. He had practically made it a routine in his busy lifestyle. Prasad and Chandra were really touched by this gentleman’s love for these children.

Whenever there were opportunities, he discussed with his friends about the institution and its service to mentally challenged children and induced them to visit Pathway. When Pathway began to publish a newsletter for private circulation, he contributed articles to it. His skill in the language and the style of presentation was amazing. No wonder the articles added special status and readability to the Newsletter.

To put a stop to the female infanticide, rampant in rural parts of the state, the then Chief Minister of Tamilnadu, J.Jayalalithaa had introduced a scheme called “Cradle for Girl Children, abandoned by the parents”. This scheme attracted worldwide attention. The success of the implementation of the scheme was mainly due to the serious efforts put in by the Social Welfare Secretary Kirubhakaran and his department. Even Mother Teresa commended this laudable scheme and hailed it as a most needed one. Female infanticide, the deliberate killing of girl babies due to the preference for male babies, is as old as many cultures, and has likely accounted for millions of gender-selective deaths throughout history. In all cases, female infanticide reflects the low status accorded to women in most parts of the world. It is arguably the most brutal and destructive manifestation of the anti-female bias that pervades the "patriarchal" societies.

In rural India, the centuries-old practice of female infanticide unfortunately is still considered a wise course of action. According to census statistics, “From 972 females for every 1,000 males in 1901 the gender imbalance has tilted to 929 females per 1,000 males. In the nearly 300 poor hamlets of the Usilampatti area of Tamil Nadu, as many as 196 girls died under suspicious circumstances [in 1993]. Some were fed dry, un-husked rice grains that punctured their windpipes, or were made to swallow poisonous powdered fertilizer. Others were smothered with a wet towel, strangled or allowed to starve to death”.

The bias against females in India is related to the fact that ‘sons are called upon to provide the income’. With this perspective, it is clear that the value given to males is higher than the value given to females. The problem is also related to the institution of system of dowry, in which the family of a prospective bride must pay enormous sums of money to the family into which the woman was being married.

Governments of Indian States have sometimes taken measures to bring down the killing of infant girls and abortions of female fetuses. The state government took it upon itself to educate the rural people about this horrible menace. The Tamil Nadu government also announced various gifts and monetary considerations to encourage parents to discontinue this heinous practice.

Those who did not want to possess the girl child could drop the infant in the cradle maintained at the entrance of the Government Hospital, so that it was not killed mercilessly by the parents themselves. Among those unfortunate children, mentally and physically challenged children were sent to Pathway. There were infants of two months to eight months that came to the Pathway from the cradle of recognized organisations and Government-run hospitals in Tamilnadu.

A separate room was organised in Pathway for such children. The Pathway staff loved the children and pampered them with special treatment. Parents, who were not blessed with children, came forward to adopt them and so rules had to be laid down to facilitate the process. Adoption agencies like the ones approved by the government of Tamil Nadu, such as the Guild of Service, worked closely with Pathway.

Many of the children thus brought up at Pathway were given in adoption to parents in countries such as the U.S. as per rules and regulations governing the adoption policy. (Pathway is not an adoption agency, but works with other recognized agencies), Foster parents of these children continue to be in touch with Pathway conveying their gratitude and happiness. It is a testimony to the fact that ‘Early diagnosis brings better prognoses and early intervention brings marvels in the life of young disabled children.’

Though the story of‘ Cradle Babies’ sounds rather tragic, there is a silver lining in the cloud in the story of these ‘unwanted’ mentally and physically challenged babies. Because of the early intervention programme blended with love, carried out on a sound scientific basis comprising various therapies, such as neuro-developmental therapy, speech and language therapy, physiotherapy and occupational therapy, the progress seen in these children were phenomenal. Gayathri, who had sensory hearing loss in both the ears, learnt to verbalize and speak. In the case of Alka, a cerebral palsy child improved her ability to communicate and walk without any support. A recent e-mail from Indira, a child who had delayed milestones, said that she is now going to a school for average children in Washington State, United States. She has asked Prasad how everything was at Pathway and how she can help. The progress and development of all these children and many others who came early to Pathway has only strengthened the fact that early intervention brings great blessings in children with special needs. Pathway is happy about this marvelous experience.

“It was heartrending to know that it is the parents who dispose of their children; it shocked me no end, and this female infanticide appeared very cruel to me. It is impossible to imagine a mother who gives birth to a child can carry out such an abhorrent act,” Thomas S. Monson, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints commented on mothers: “Since the Lord cannot be everywhere at the same time He has sent mothers to do what He would do to love and take care of the young ones.” Mothers are always compared to God, the creator. The ‘Cradle Baby Scheme’ brought about by the Government came as a boon to these unfortunate children. Pathway was only too happy to participate in this noble scheme in a humble way. “I must appreciate the services rendered by Mr. Kirubhakaran in this connection and for the interest he showed in the rehabilitation of these thrown-away children,” says Prasad gratefully.

22 - GRANT FROM JAPAN

22. grant from japan

 One fine day in February, 1994, Prasad visited the Secretariat at Fort St. George and called on Mr. kirubhakaran, Secretary to govt. of Tamilnadu, Social Welfare Department. After speaking to Prasad, Mr. Kirubhakaran mentioned that he had a luncheon meeting with the consul General of Japan at Hotel Taj Coromandel. “I am going to meet a Japanese delegation this afternoon. Why don’t you join me?” asked kirubhakaran. It was high-level delegation, which had come for discussions with the government before making an official grant for execution of social projects. Kirubhakaran was to meet this delegation on behalf of the Government. Accepting his invitation, prasad accompanied him. After completing his talks with the Japanese delegation, Kirubhakaran introduced them to prasad. Prasad availed the opportunity to brief them about the work of pathway in the rehabilitation of mentally retarded and challenged children. He also requested the consul general of japan for an appointment. On the appointed day, prasad met the consul General at his office in chetpet. He was courteous and listened to prasad patiently. The consul general gave him some papers, asked him to study it, and then apply to the consulate. The papers referred to ‘Japan’s Small-Scale Grant Assistance’ (JSSGA). The papers described the nature of the one-time grant the Japanese government would offer to well established NGOs in developmental activities. It described all the conditions of the grant, which was primarily a one-time grant. The JSSGA was being distributed in the developing countries like India, Africa, Bangladesh, etc. to well organized NGOs to improve their infrastructure thus expand their services to assist more number of beneficiaries in the areas of health, education, rural development, water resources and sanitation. Prasad was excited to read the entire brochure and immediately submitted a proposal to construct a small building to house mentally retarded adults and offer them special education and vocational training at Koothavakkam. The proposal also listed Pathway’s requirements for a desk top computer, a printer and an offset printing press and some furniture. The authorities of the Consulate General accepted the project proposal and evaluated the request. They also sought the opinion of the Department of Disabled Welfare, Govt. of Tamilnadu regarding Pathway's work and contribution. After considerable evaluation, the Consulate General of Japan issued letter of sanction to Pathway. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the Consulate General of Japan and Pathway. The MoU detailed conditions of the grant as well as the amount sanctioned to Pathway towards construction of a building as well as towards purchase of equipment and furniture. “We are indeed happy that the funds we have offered you will he meaningfully spent by you for the betterment of children of Pathway,” said the Japanese. “The donation that came from Japan was a real windfall for our work. I bought a 486 processor speed desk top computer, the in thing then, and the most necessary furniture items for Pathway with the money they so graciously gave us. We built a 4000 sq. ft. building at Koothuvakkam for mentally retarded adults. And we ordered a single color offset printing equipment to offer vocational training. I could attend to a few other technical requirements that had been waiting for long. Whatever facilities I had dreamt of in providing to Pathway could be completed with the funds within six months. It really was a dream come true,” recalls Prasad. Chandra and Prasad enjoyed observing and learning the art of Japanese kite making. They also had opportunities to learn more on their fine arts and printing, as the Consulate arranged exhibitions in Lalit Kala Academy. Similarly, the dolls of Japan were really breathtaking and attractive. Prasad, as he procured some of the items, organized many functions to convey his gratitude to the Japanese Consulate General for this great help. These events were attended by the former President of India, Mr. R. Venkatraman, Hon'ble William Sheffield and the Consul General of Japan. The Governor of Tamilnadu Mrs. Fatima Beevi, the Revenue Minister of Government of Tamilnadu, Mr. Aranganayagam and many others. Following this a happy relationship developed between the Consulate and Pathway, and Prasad and Chandra were invited to many events at the Consulate. At one such event Prasad met an old acquaintance, C. K. Ranganathan. He was the Founder President of ABK AOTS Dosakai, a pioneering institute to teach and train Indian youth in the Japanese language. A boy related to him had been treated at Pathway, and he had become a good friend of Prasad. He appreciated the silent work of Pathway. One day when he met Prasad he said, “I feel you must get donations and grants from many quarters in recognition of the way you run Pathway. I read in the papers that a donation from Japan was given to your institution. I was really happy about it. I know another source which also functions from Japan. Please send the relevant papers. Prepare a project report for around Rs. 30 to 35 lakhs.” ‘Sasakava Foundation’, referred to by Ranganathan, functioned from Japan. It was founded by Rayochi Sasakava, a leading industrialist of Japan. The Foundation was giving enormous amount of money for charitable causes. So far they had not given any donation to any institution in India. They had even extended financial help to American institutions, like the 'Black Ghettos' project of the former American President, for the uplift of the blacks in the United States of America. Acting upon Ranganathan’s suggestion, Prasad sent a detailed project report to Sasakava Foundation (now called Nippon Foundation). It had immediate effect and Pathway was richer by Rs.24 lakhs. With this money in hand, Prasad expanded the work of Pathway in a significant way.

23 - VOCATIONAL TRAINING

23. VOCATIONAL TRAINING

 

As the children of Pathway grew up, and started showing signs of maturity, Prasad and Chandra began to think of the next step. They wanted to harness their latent energies and channelize them in the right direction. Prasad had been nurturing the idea of providing vocational training to the mentally challenged children so that they would become employable. As long as the institution was functioning in rented premises, Prasad could not transform this into action. But he was desperate to implement the scheme.

To open a training center, funds were needed and Prasad discussed this issue with Ruby Ponnaiah

Ruby Ponniah, was well known in church circles. She had also served as an Honorary Magistrate, entrusted to preside over petty civil cases. Her late father was an influential lawyer and a legal counsel for the Catholic Church. Lawyer Dorairaj’s name was a sure passport in the corridors of the church. In their efforts to find a solution, they met the Archbishop of Madras - Mylapore, Dr. Casmere Gnanadikkam. A former professor of Chemistry, at St. Joseph College, Trichy, he was held in high esteem among Catholic Christians. Ruby Ponniah and Prasad invited the Archbishop to visit Pathway and see how it functioned.

The Archbishop was the guest of honour at a seminar presided by Prof. Douglas Dunlap, Professor of Psychology and Rehabilitation, University of Maine at Famington. He visited Pathway at the instance of World Rehabilitation Fund, NY, and spent a considerable time there, studying the work of Pathway.

When Prasad and Ruby Ponniah explained the needs of Pathway at that juncture, the Archbishop gave a patient hearing and said, “I will certainly help you, provided you submit a proposal through Missario, an organization functioning from Germany, I will arrange for the funds to reach you. The liaison man is Mr. Santiago in Chennai, and you should go and meet him.” As for the requirement of land, he directed them to Father Lawrence, who was in charge of the church’s estates.

Father Lawrence was known to Ruby Ponniah, and when they met him, he listened to their requirements, and suggested that they should meet S. Santiago, the consultant to B. H. Miseroer e.v. a German funding agency based in Aachen, Germany. They learnt that he resided in Delhi, and visited Chennai only when necessary, but that his relations could be contacted in Chennai. Their sustained efforts resulted in meeting Santiago at Chennai. It was a pleasant surprise when they found out that Ruby Ponnaiah was distantly related to him.

The very first meeting established a bond between Pathway and Santiago. He visited Pathway and witnessed its work for the disabled. He reviewed the project report. The project consisted of setting up a vocational centre for intellectually disabled adults, and included a large dormitory, a couple of private rooms, kitchen, bathrooms and toilets. The submission included a list of equipment and machinery to establish a small manufacturing unit for plastic injection and blow moulding. Also included was the need for a woodwork unit with necessary equipment and machinery. He dispatched the report submitted by Prasad to his organization in Germany. Within the next three months, Santiago conveyed the happy news that the project has been approved by his headquarters. Prasad was sure the promised funds could be expected. There was, however, a hitch.

They had to identify the vacant land where the project was to come up. This condition had to be met if the funds were to be released. Ruby Ponnaiah and Prasad met the Archbishop again to solve this problem. “I am sorry,” confessed Dr. Gnanadikkam. “I do not have any vacant land at present to offer you”. He however, got in touch with Fr. Lawrence in this connection. Fr. Lawrence finally agreed to arrange to donate a few acres of land to start the vocational training centre. This land was in Koothavakkam and belonged to the Church. Fr. Lawrence arranged to give it on long lease. “Please go and have a look at it!” said Fr. Lawrence.

Prasad got the land for Pathway and it was duly registered. Once it was acquired in the name of Pathway, there was no further hurdle in getting funds from Missario. But there was no approach road to reach the land locked piece of property, only an opening at the corner. They had to buy an additional 25-cent land to lay the approach road to the vacant plot. Money was raised to buy the land.

A bigger plan for a 5000 sq. ft. building was prepared to establish two separate units, one for training in woodwork and the other for plastic injection and blow moulding. Necessary pieces of equipment were purchased to run the training centres.

They planned to the minutest details to give training to the children. Punctuality, good conduct and co-ordination among them were stressed from day one. Safety equipment was also fitted wherever necessary. The trainees were provided with gloves, safety glasses and mufflers for the ear to guard against noise pollution.

Children from Pathway who would later become promising carpenters were selected. These children attained proficiency in producing furniture of all kinds and proved they were capable of achieving standards to bring honour and recognition.

Today, the Koothavakkam units are buzzing with activities. Any visitor to these units would wonder whether these children of Pathway who produced all these beautiful furniture.

 

STRIDES IN VOCATIONAL TRAINING:

Over two decades, Pathway has attempted to offer pre- vocational training and vocational rehabilitation to scores of children. While special education prepares them with basic skills, such as doing simple counting, simple reading and writing, measuring of weights and lengths, to use a telephone, identifying different words, handling money to some extent, telling time, etc. the training also contributes to the children's social skills, such as, expression, sociability, work independence, appearance, team work, and also improve other aspects like pace of performance, attendance and punctuality, ability to perform more than one activity. Therapy along with special education contributes towards improving dexterity, co-ordination and body functioning. Pathway has opened various avenues in offering training to these children like ball-pen refill making, screen printing and greeting card operations, book binding, production of phenyle, candle and soap. Presentation and artifact items - jewellery making, horticulture, food-making, bakery products, wood working, black and white TV assembly and weaving. The organization has great success stories at varied levels, which has opened avenues to scores of boys to achieve gainful employment.

Chandra has been trying to teach cooking skills to children for many years. Boys and girls were offered training in preparation of coffee, tea and various juices; they were also taught to make cookies and biscuits in a small way. It was always the intention of the institution to teach these skills as many of the children showed great promise. With this idea in mind, it was decided to start a full-fledged bakery. Prasad made a project report and presented to the Latter-Days Saints Charities at Salt Lake City, Utah. The proposal was given the required push by Judge Sheffield. The proposal consisted of a request for a gas charged oven that was capable of baking hundreds of loaves of bread, cookies, and buns at a time. It also included dough kneader, cake mixer, bread slicer, refrigerator and many other necessary equipment. Chandra being a nutrition expert, spent a lot of time in the study of making many of the bakery products. The proposal from Prasad was approved by the LDSC. The Charities also decided to send a couple of volunteers, Mr. and Mrs. Beus, to help set up the project. Armed with funds and with the assistance of the Beus couple, Prasad and Chandra scouted for good bakery equipment in Chennai and Bangalore.

For over seven years, Path way has consistently worked hard to offer training in the field of bakery, thanks to the Latter-Day Saints Charities who donated this unit. This gas-charged oven with all accessories underwent certain modifications to make it friendlier to our children. Batches of eligible children wen- trained right on the job on various aspects of the functioning of the equipment. Great stress and importance was laid on the

I caution of wearing gloves during working with the oven. Care was also taken to instruct them in the use of LPG as well as the electricity. However, the entire operation did take place under the watchful eye of the trained staff

Pathway has been working hard to train and teach baking skills to boys and girls. This is perhaps the first of its kind, where the entire operation is totally managed by special adults without any supervision. The bakery produces hundreds of mouth-watering loaves of bread, buns, puffs, cakes, cookies and pastries. The organization has tried various permutations and combinations, has utilized various methods of task analysis, breaking of every job into bits, has redesigned jobs and has conducted trial and error in perfecting recipes for scores of products. Great efforts have gone into offering training to the children who have been taught with great degree of love, patience and diligence. All through the training, hygiene and caution have received highest priority. Great care has been taken to produce products without flaws. These products are marketed as ‘Special Touch’.

 

24 - UNDER MEDICAL SUPERVISION

24. UNDER MEDICAL SUPERVISION

Even before occupying the newly constructed building in the changed atmosphere and new ambience, Prasad began dreaming about further expansion. Despite shortage of funds, whenever he was offered donations, he only thought of adding new facilities and extending more assistance, but did not seem to consider bridging the gap between income and expenditure. The balance sheet always showed less income and more expenses.

The new building was almost four times bigger than the old rental premises, and Prasad added more children both in the residential rehabilitation programme, as well as in the day care. It was his intention to increase the number to 100 in the residential program and over 200 in the day care. Slowly, Pathway did attract some donations from the public in a modest way, like sponsorship fee for the children's education, breakfast, lunch, purchase of equipment and furniture, and so on. Little drops do make the mighty ocean. This was not the case with Pathway, because the little drops collected dried up fast. Prasad therefore did not stop dreaming of more funds

After acquiring the land at Tiruvanmiyur, Prasad thought he should do something for the poor people who were living in the urban slums. He could see rows of shanty huts and poorly built houses that housed hundreds of men, women and children who needed support. All these people lacked many basic facilities, such as proper sanitation, good water source and medical facilities. The entire street had just one water source - a single outlet connected to a bore well that poured water when pumped. People lined up in long queues to fetch a bucket of water. As Prasad was pondering over their problems to find a solution, Dr. V. Sankaran entered the scene.

Dr. Sankaran, a retired professor of surgery from the famous Government Stanley Medical College and Hospital in Chennai, had a great reputation among the medical community. He was known for his working standards and his surgical expertise. Above all he was known for his uncompromising attitude and integrity with a genuine desire to serve the poor. A true devotee of Mahatma Gandhi, who was just not ‘Father of the Nation’ to him, but a God. He was always clad in ‘khadi (hand woven Indian cotton). For all his accomplishments Dr. Sankaran was absolutely humble and gentle and was an embodiment of patience. After he retired from the Government Medical College and hospital, Dr Sankaran volunteered his time, talent, and energy to head a large charitable hospital in Andhra Pradesh that was run with the assistance of the Swiss EMMAUS. After his tenure there, he decided to stay and work at Chennai. And this was when he called on Prasad at Pathway in Adyar.

Prasad recalls meeting Dr Sankaran for the first time. “I was really impressed with this highly motivated, unassuming, simple and soft-spoken top-notch surgeon who waited for me till I was free to speak to him. Dr Sankaran expressed his interest and desire to serve the have-nots and the poorest of the poor. It was Dr Sankaran who sowed the seed for the idea to start a small ‘walk-in clinic’.”

Dr. Sankaran told Prasad that S. Mani, the founder-President of EMMAUS Community Welfare Fund (ECOMWEL) had asked him to meet Prasad and discuss with him ways and means to utilize his services. Prasad realized it was a God-sent opportunity to start a useful project to serve the poor at the urban-slum in Thiruvanmiyur. In the following days, a two-room house in the slum was located. Basic equipment and furniture to start a small clinic were bought and in no time ‘The Pathway Mini-Medical Centre' was established.

The EMMAUS Community Welfare Fund (ECOMWEL) provided a modest grant towards the establishment of the clinic. Even today the parent organization in Switzerland (Drawings and Sponsorship EMMAUS) assists Pathway through sizeable sponsorship for a number of children needing support. “Pathway is always grateful for their sustained and continued assistance,” says Prasad.

Although Dr Sankaran was nearly 70 years old and resided some kilometers away from Pathway, he would come walking to the center every day. Many days he would himself open the door and even clean the table and chair. “His kindness to the poor and diagnostic skill won the affection, respect, and admiration of the slum inhabitants,” says Prasad.

When the free medical service began, some doubted the efficacy of the treatment. Dr. Sankaran was confronted with a dilemma - whether to charge for his services or not. If he collected money, it would be against Pathway’s principle as well as his. He wanted it to be maintained as a free service notwithstanding the mounting cost of medicines. It was, therefore, decided to charge a nominal token fee of Rs. 2 from every patient.

Every day, there were nearly 70 to 100 patients waiting to be treated. Dr. Sankaran and he would handle them single-handedly. Diligently, he would hand in the collections from the “Two Rupee a Patient” scheme every Saturday.

A team of doctors from the U.S. visited Pathway, and Prasad introduced Dr. Sankaran to them. They were astonished at the speed with which the elderly doctor examined the patients and diagnosed and were impressed with his calm approach to the patients. Unless it was absolutely essential, Dr. Sankaran would never recommend a scan or even a blood test. According to him, they were not necessary at the initial stage of diagnosis. The American doctors were surprised; at this approach, because they were used to extensive investigation, even before they would start any treatment.

Dr. Sankaran believed that the illiterate patient would not be able to understand medical jargon and terminology, which would only scare and confuse him. Moreover, the doctor was not interested in preliminary tests. Dr. Sankaran felt it was enough if he could correctly diagnose the condition, based on his years of clinical experience and the clinical picture presented by the patient.

Today, the Mini-Medical unit is located in Pathway’s own premises at Thiruvanmiyur, serving many more patients at a nominal fee of Rs.3 to 5 per patient. A permanent small block was constructed with the help of Mr Jean-Luc and Carole Butel of Beckton Dickinson Company. Now the clinic has the services of highly qualified and experienced set of pediatricians and physicians. Dr. Sankaran passed away recently and till his last breath, he had maintained his bond with Pathway. The name that Pathway earned because of the services of Dr. Sankaran was remarkable.

In addition to the medical services, Pathway also established a well-equipped dental clinic that offered quality dental care to the poor. The idea to start a dental clinic was suggested by Dr Richard Wheatfill. Prasad recalls his trip to the US in 1994, where he and his wife were introduced to many distinguished guests at a party that was arranged in honour of their visit and also to celebrate Judge Sheffield’s birthday in his home at San Juan Capistrano, California. Prasad and Chandra met Dr Richard Wheatfill who desired to travel to Chennai and help set up a dental clinic at Pathway. Dr Wheatfill described a recent incident, which had made a terrific impact in his life that had made him think of travelling to India to serve the needy. Dr Wheatfill explained that as he was driving his car on the highway a drunken driver in a stolen vehicle hit his car in a head-on collision, which rendered Dr Wheatfill totally paralyzed. He suffered from a major head injury that left him unable to walk, use his hands or communicate vocally. He was in this condition for more than one year and people, including doctors, had written him off. After intensive rehabilitation programmes, Dr Wheatfill regained all of his lost faculties. He received a new lease of life and he was truly grateful for this. He believed that his strong faith in God had brought about the miracle in his life.

Thanks to Judge William Sheffield, the required funds to set up the dental clinic were raised and were sent to Prasad. Dr Wheatfill and Amanda Kay Sheffield, daughter of Judge Sheffield came down to Pathway to set up the clinic. Dr Wheatfill, Prasad and Chandra shopped for all the surgical equipment and gadgets in leading shops of Chennai. The dental clinic was set up with state-of-the-art equipment all the way from amalgams to an elegant and modem dental chair. N. Ravi, editor of The Hindu, a leading national newspaper of India inaugurated the clinic in a simple but impressive ceremony. He went round Pathway and expressed his appreciation on the work done by the organization. Dr Wheatfill and Amanda stayed with the Prasads for more than two months and rendered selfless service to hundreds of disabled children, their parents and the otherwise needy. Even after their departure many years ago, the clinic continues its campaign in upholding dental hygiene among the poor even today.

 

25 - COLD NEIGHBOURS

25. COLD NEIGHBOURS

A strange situation developed within a few days after Pathway moved to its own premises. The urban slum dwellers in and around Pathway could not be expected to view the plight of the children in the right perspective. They found the inmates to be abnormal, but did not understand their real problem. They believed that some mad boys had come to their area. Young children threw stones at them when they passed by. They stood outside the gate of Pathway and shouted “Mad, mad” without any provocation.

The adults among the slum dwellers thought differently. They said it was the curse carried by them from a previous birth. "What sins their father or mother would have committed in the previous birth that these children are suffering now!" they whispered but did not think beyond this utterance. This approach caused mental agony to Prasad and his colleagues. "We have to change the mentality of these slum dwellers. Only then can we run Pathway smoothly." said Prasad to his associates in Pathway.

How could Prasad convert them as friends of Pathway?

The parents were illiterate. Many of the children were attending schools but they had no inclination to think beyond their world of study and play. There were no men of reason to motivate them to know the realities of the world. Prasad wanted to educate them in the proper way, so that it would bring about a dramatic change in them.

One way was to help them score higher marks in their exams and increase their level of learning. This was arranged by organizing free tuition classes for the children of the slums. The ground floor where the children of Pathway studied in the daytime, became the tuition class for them. During this time, the children of Pathway were sent upstairs. When the parents came to know that the classes are conducted free, they became interested and sent their wards. Pathway appointed expert teachers for handling this special class in the evening. The poor children thus studied in the evenings at the premises of Pathway, free. There were electric fans and lights, and some furniture in the classrooms- this was enough to catch their fancy.

This arrangement paid dividends at once. The children scored more marks than they were scoring earlier. The parents were elated at their children's high marks in the difficult subjects. An important turning point was their change of heart - they stopped referring to Pathway as 'a school for insane', a name they had given it.. Instead, they praised the people who ran Pathway as passionate people

Right now, there are 125 children who avail themselves of the free tuition. When school reopens, they get free stationery - note books, books, pens, pencils, and bag - and during the festival of lights, Deepavali, they even get sweets. Chandra, Prasad's wife, gifts and free clothes for this festival.

The children of the slum have completely intermingled with the children of Pathway today and there exists a bond of friendship among them.

 

Mental Illness vs. Mental Retardation

Mental illnesses are medical conditions that disrupt a person's thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.

Serious mental illnesses include major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline personality disorder.

Mental illness can affect persons of any age, race, religion or income. Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character, or poor upbringing. Mental illnesses are treatable. Mental illnesses usually strike individuals in the prime of their lives, often during adolescence and young adulthood. All ages are susceptible, but the young and the old are especially vulnerable.

The best treatments for serious mental illnesses today are highly effective, between 70 and 90 per cent of individuals have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with a combination of pharmacological and psychological treatments and supports.

With appropriate effective medication and a wide range of services tailored to their needs, most people who live with serious mental illnesses can significantly reduce the impact of their illness and find a satisfying measure of achievement and independence. A key concept is to develop expertise in developing strategies to manage the illness process.

 

MENTAL RETARDATION is a generalized, triarchic disorder, characterized by sub average cognitive functioning and deficits in two or more adaptive behaviours with onset before the age of 18. Children with mental retardation may learn to sit up, to crawl, or to walk later or they may learn to talk later. Both adults and children with mental retardation may also exhibit the following characteristics:

 

  •                       Delays in oral language development
  •                       Deficits in memory skills
  •                       Difficulty in learning social rules
  •                       Difficulty with problem-solving skills
  •                       Delays in the development of adaptive behaviors such as self-help or self-care skills
  •                       Lack of social inhibitions

The limitations of cognitive functioning will cause a child with mental retardation to learn and develop more slowly than a typical child. Children may take longer to learn a language, develop social skills, and take care of their personal needs such as pressing or eating. Learning will take them longer, require more repetition and skills may need to be adapted to their learning level. Nevertheless, virtually every child is able to learn, develop and become participating members of the community.

26 - DISAPPOINTING EXPERIENCE

26. DISAPPOINTING EXPERIENCE

 

While Pathway continued in its march towards rehabilitation of children in its own premises at Tiruvanmiyur, Chennai, Justice William Sheffield, sitting in the U.S., was constantly thinking of the well­being of the children. Whenever he visited Pathway at Tiruvanmiyur, he spent time with the children, closely observing them, and always thinking in terms of improvements that were necessary for the development of the institution.

Sheffield told Prasad once, “It is not enough to have only one Pathway in this corner of the world. We have to serve many more children. Pathway should spread out its wings in other parts of the country.”

The idea gained ground, and to start a branch of Pathway in any one of the metros like Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai or Kolkatta was considered seriously.

Dr. Ravindranath was another person interested in the growth of Pathway. He was associated with Dr. Dathu Rao Memorial Trust as an executive committee member. He introduced his friend Reddy in Whitefield, near Bangalore in Karnataka, to Prasad.

Whitefield, around 20 kilometres away from Bangalore, the abode of Bhagwan Satya Sai Baba, is considered a divine place and it was also considered an IT hub of the city. Reddy had a vast area of land in Whitefield. Prasad met him and explained his objectives in expanding the activities of Pathway in more cities. Reddy was impressed at once. “How many acres do you require,” he asked Prasad.

“About five to ten acres” answered Prasad.

“It's not much, anyway. I will donate the land and you may begin your work for Pathway in Bangalore,” assured Reddy. All his three sons agreed to their father's suggestion.

On an auspicious day, 'Bhoomi Puja' was performed there. The Social Welfare Minister of Karnataka was invited to the function. The VIPs of the city attended in large numbers. The media too gave prominence by deputing their scribes and photographers to cover the function. 'Bhoomi Puja' was duly performed

Prasad and Sheffield wanted to go round the land given to Pathway to have a feel of the area. They walked around with elation.

News slowly reached that there was some dispute in the Reddy Family. It also came to light that he had not donated five or ten acres as promised, but only half an acre. What could be done in half an acre?

“No, nothing can be done with the land. Let us return it to Reddy,” felt both of them strongly.

Bhoomi Puja had been done, involving a lot of publicity. Prasad, however, was used to disappointments. Though it appeared as a setback, it really paved the way for better things. Prasad took the incident as a lesson and became stronger in his resolve to achieve his target. The experience helped both the Judge and Prasad to intensify their efforts to move closer to their goal.

 

27 - ACQUISITION AT AGILI

27. ACQUISITION AT AGILI

 

Even if the land was denied to Pathway in Bangalore, Prasad and Sheffield decided to buy land and continue the good work for the children. The slight setback in Bangalore (now Bengaluru) did not deter Dr. Prasad from searching for the right location. In fact it only strengthened his resolve to pitch upon the right place. He and Chandra arrived at a benchmark in choosing the right piece of land. The criteria were simple - the land should not be far from Pathway at Tiruvanmiyur, should be accessible to people from Chennai within two hours, the cost should be affordable, the land should be good for agriculture and horticulture, should have abundant water resources, should be fairly close to a good hospital and educational institutions, and last but not the least, should have very clear legal title. A very tall order for the budget they were working under.

Sheffield returned to California and within a few days Prasad received a parcel containing a videocassette. It was titled ‘Boys’ Town’. It was a film that depicted a Catholic priest’s successful attempts in Papua New Guinea in turning over a new leaf in the lives of orphaned children in the area.

After viewing the film, Chandra and Prasad were moved to tears. Prasad could not forget the scene in which the priest organized the children as a choir after teaching them to sing. “Prasad, my friend, I see you in the priest,” wrote Justice Sheffield. It showed the regard Sheffield had for Prasad.

Whenever Sheffield visited Chennai, the discussion between Prasad and Sheffield centered only on the development of Pathway. The Martinez couple, Pamela and Alex, too evinced keen interest in the service of Pathway. At one of the meetings, Alex opined that it would be better to have the resources first and then search for the land later. Prasad smiled, saying, “In the history of Pathway, we had never had money in our hands before involving ourselves in any project.”

“Funds somehow always come to us. Because I believe these are children of God. Only He has been sending these hapless children to Pathway. God therefore is duty-bound to meet the expenses on this count. I am positive He will come to our help as He has been helping us so far!” said Prasad.

Sheffield once said to Prasad during one of their many talks, “We should take up the cause of not only mentally and physically challenged children, but also orphans and destitute children. We must work for them, too. They should never entertain the idea of having been left out. They should be brought to the mainstream as good citizens. This was the message that I got viewing 'Boys' Town'.”

Prasad was touched by the sentiments expressed by Sheffield. As far as Sheffield knew, Prasad was neither religious nor spiritual in the beginning of their relationship. The Judge began to realize that Prasad’s religion was to work and serve the children he came across - and this was the reason that influenced Sheffield to go to the rescue of Prasad.

Sheffield truly loved the children of Pathway. He became so close to the children that he called them by their first names. He was convinced that service to these unfortunate children was service to God. Next to Prasad, Sheffield became the prime supporter for Pathway.

It was decided to start a center for orphaned children. Prasad was clear in his thoughts and he did not wish to move Pathway from Tiruvanmiyur for the time being. Taking future expansions into consideration, he decided that the land to be bought should be large enough for other activities. It should not be more than a couple of hours' drive from Tiruvanmiyur. With this end in view Chandra and Prasad set out to locate the ideal land. It became a daily routine to travel by car southwards and northwards for two hours and inquire on the way whether any land is available for sale. The attempt was worth the while.

Near Melmaruvathur in Chingleput District, sixty acres of land in the village Agili was bought for a reasonable price. The land was exactly what Prasad had imagined earlier as an ideal one. Pamela and Alex Martinez financed $ 120,000 as donation for the purchase of the land.

After acquiring this vast property, Chandra and Prasad visited it regularly. Carrying a couple of portable chairs with them, they would sit under a banyan tree and spend hours planning. Most of the property was undeveloped and bare but for a few coconut palms, yielding sweet coconut water, a favorite with them. They started planting avenue trees like to dot the entire periphery of the property. They also planted fruit bearing trees like mango, guava, lime and many others. They wanted the children to grow up in a green eco- friendly, environment with flowers and fruits. They even allotted 20 acres to develop as paddy fields.

The next step was to construct the buildings. 1 f Pathway served the needs of mentally challenged children, this new centre would accommodate orphaned and destitute children whose future was bleak, and educate them sufficiently so that they could stand on their own feet. Prasad prepared an ambitious project profile that included services to orphans and destitutes, both boys and girls; it also included children who were emotionally disturbed or had congenital disabilities.

 

Chandra, who had an artistic bent of mind, prepared the plans, from the minute details, right from the height of the class room furniture. Airy rooms* good water, electricity, rows of beds, fans - every comfort was planned in the interest of the children who had never dreamt such facilities in their lives. Sheffield was in agreement with all these provisions in the new buildings. He even went to the extent of suggesting providing air-conditioners for the children! Since this idea did not find favour with Prasad, as that would be too much in terms of running cost, Prasad agreed to construct a swimming pool as suggested by Sheffield. Accordingly, after deliberations among Chandra and the architect Dhala Kuppuswamy Rebello, a clover-shaped swimming pool was designed and constructed.

Sheffield visited the place when the buildings and the swimming pool were ready. With child-like glee, he said, "We should admit five hundred needy and orphan children now and our future goal should be five thousand."

Sheffield was not living in India, yet he was concerned for the less fortunate children. This showed his humane quality. Clearly keeping aside the comforts of his American life, the care and concern he showed during his frequent visits for these Indian children and the encouragement he gave to Chandra and Prasad was commendable.

Sheffield had often told Prasad, "I am overwhelmed by your work, which I have observed closely. It is my responsibility to find the resources you require, and it is your duty to see the lives of the children blossom."

The new facility was named ‘Pamela Martinez Pathway Agro Farm For Children’ after the generous benefactor. On January 2, 2001 the opening ceremony was performed with much fanfare. Those who were connected with Pathway in one way or the other, donors and Sheffield, his daughter Jessie, Pamela Martinez, Alex Martinez, Jean Lucy Carole, as well as Mr. Shivodkar, top executive of Johnson and Johnson, participated in the function. In the audience of nearly one thousand people, Mr. R. Venkataraman, former President of India and an admirer of Pathway, spoke appreciatively. He had come from Delhi for this ceremony, despite his advanced age.

The work was not completed yet in full, but dormitories for children's stay, kitchen and other sections were getting ready. After completion of all these work, the admission of children was to begin in the end of the year 2001.

At this juncture, there was sudden set back in the health of Prasad.

28 - A TURN FOR THE WORSE

28. A TURN FOR THE WORSE

 

Prasad's psoriasis had become worse. The functioning of his kidneys too was causing anxiety. Chandra felt helpless with no support from anyone; family did not even enquire about Prasad’s condition. Chandra sent an SOS to Geetha, Prasad’s sister in Mumbai, who immediately flew down to Chennai. A doctor, she was shocked at the condition of her brother and decided to shift him to Mumbai for medical treatment immediately.

Prasad overheard his sister talking to the other doctors about his condition - that if he could survive the next 72 hours, he could escape fatal consequences. But anything could happen in between.

Prasad's body was bloated. Four bones were broken in the back. This was the result of his taking strong steroid medicines but nothing could be done at that stage. (See Notes) He could not walk even a step. He called his wife Chandra and whispered to her, "My days are numbered. Be prepared for any eventuality!" With moist eyes she just listened to him, shattered. Prasad easily contracted the diseases of his co-patients due to cross-infection. With the aggressive condition of psoriasis, his skin was peeling off and the pain was unbearable. Blood oozed out even with the least scratch

The hemoglobin level in his blood had gone down. Prasad heard the doctors advising his sister to get blood transfusion for him immediately.

He beckoned his sister to his side and said, "Geetha, please do not arrange for blood transfusion. I don’t know whether the blood from outside would do me good or not, but I do not want to end up with AIDS from the blood transfusion." Prasad had decided to sneak from the hospital and run away, in case his sister was organizing the blood transfusion!

His temperature kept rising, and. the mercury crossed even the maximum. Ice bars were heaped on Prasad to bring down the heat.

After 72 hours, the miracle happened. Prasad was alive. Neo-Xexrite, the wonder drug given for his skin disease brought about the miracle. The skin was completely changed making everyone wonder whether it was the same Prasad. They could not, however, stop one side effect. His weight rose to 100 kilos from 65 kilos.

He was made to walk, and his legs gained strength. After two months of uninterrupted treatment at Mumbai, Prasad returned to Chennai. During his absence, Ruby Ponnaiah looked after the functions of Pathway. “She treated me like her son. Her date of birth and my mom's date of birth are same and perhaps that may be one of the reasons,’’ recalls Prasad.

Ruby Ponnaiah had been connected with Pathway for the past twenty years. She was with Prasad when Pathway had faced difficult times. As president of Dr. Dathu Rao Trust, her work was praiseworthy. “Her love for Pathway and her dedication to the organization are remarkable,” says Prasad. Today, all the members of Dr. Dathu Rao Trust who manage Pathway are social workers. Pathway was fortunate in having such men and women behind it.

Ruby Ponnaiah was President, while C.R. Ranganayaki was Vice-President. Prasad was General Secretary, with Raman as the treasurer. P. Ravindranath, Sudha Subramaniam, Chandra Prasad, Y.V.R. Rao and Shanth Jain were members. Among the five members, Chandra Prasad was chosen as Director (Technical), and Sudha Subramaniam to look after special projects as Director. Justice William Sheffield headed the Board of Pathway as the Chairman.

The moment Prasad landed in Chennai he plunged right away into his work at Pathway. Along with Pathway in Tiruvanmiyur, the responsibilities of Agili Agro Farm also added to his workload.

NOTES ON PSORIASIS:

Psoriasis is a non-contagious, lifelong skin disease. It is characterized by raised, inflamed, red lesions, covered by a silvery white scale. It is typically found on elbows, knees, lower back. It is not an infection, and its cause is unknown.

In Prasad s case allforms of treatment were tried, including alternate method like herbal remedies, meditation, magnets. But as the condition only aggravated, his dermatologist recommended injections ofDexamethazone. “The first injection

of this potent steroid had a dramatic effect, and I was able to feel instant relief. The patches started disappearing, and I was able to walk without pain in the joints. ” But regular and increased dosages over the years had a lethal effect on Prasad. It was a pity that the dermatologist did not caution or warn Prasad about the side-effects of the double-edged weapon. Prasad began developing many side effects like stomach cramps, weight gain caused by increased appetite, diabetes mellitus, osteoporosis, and vertebral fractures. There were terrible changes in his personality, and he began showing signs of irritability and depression. His body bloated due to retention of fluid and sodium, bring about hypertension. He developed bilateral cataract, requiring emergency surgery. In all, psoriasis left a heavy toll on his life.

29 - WELCOMING CHILDREN

29. WELCOMING CHILDREN

 

The Agro Farm for Children at Agili village, named after the generous benefactress Pamela Martinez, was ready now to welcome children. Prasad and Chandra discussed the criteria for admission of children. They recollected their experience of visiting several shelters for street children in Mumbai, which had been an eye-opener for them, for it made them aware of the magnitude of the problem of street children in India. The caregivers and managements told them that many of these children were from villages of many states, hoping to reach the city and dreaming of striking it rich. ‘Kubernagari’ is the name they use for the city - capital of riches. Prasad and Chandra met many of the persons who were managing the homes and offered to help through Agro Farm. They explained that none of these children were interested in education or progress in their lives. But they did ask if Pathway would admit any mentally handicapped children. Prasad and Chandra agreed, and that is how they took in Zahir and Prakash from one of the shelters, and admitted them in Pathway.

In Chennai, they were relieved to find that the problem of street children was nowhere near that found in Mumbai. .

When finally it was decided to admit orphan children in Agro Farm, there was really no one waiting in queue to join it' Children are orphaned mainly owing to war, and natural calamities like floods, earthquakes. Since this part of India has been relatively free of this, the presence of orphans was in lesser numbers. Prasad anyway prepared the guidelines to admission to the unit.

One category was of children who had lost both father and mother and are therefore 'total orphans'. The other category was partial orphans, where the child had lost its father, either due to death or due to desertion by him. These were the yardsticks applied for selection of orphans. Initially there were some hurdles in identifying such children.

Prasad spoke to officials of the government, volunteers working in different social welfare centres, those who worked in the area of social development and women's welfare organizations and briefed them about the concept of 'Agro Farm' where orphan children could be admitted.

It was not easy to identify orphaned children. Many parents who approached Prasad only wanted to dump their children and be free from the burden of bringing them up. Says Prasad: “One child was brought to us claiming that the child had lost its father and that the family was in abject poverty. When I made inquiries I found out it was not true. The mother had a lover, and she found the child a stumbling block to her affair. She just wanted to unload the child here, citing poverty as the reason. It hurt me so much because I never expected a mother to tell a lie.” Adds Prasad: “There are other kinds of rich parents, who do not want to bring up their physically disabled children. They somehow want to get away from these unfortunate children and lead a happy life for themselves.”

Prasad explains lucidly the difference between mentally retarded and physically challenged children and orphans, or uncared for children: “Many would have noticed this difference if they happen to be in my field of work. Give a doll or some eatable item to a mentally retarded child. Its face would blossom with a glow. We would understand their smile. In the case of normal children, they never react so happily. They behave as if they were entitled to the gifts. Do not take me amiss when I comment like this on normal children. This difference is natural. All the same, I agree we have to show them compassion and kindness.”

Within six months, as word spread, there were nearly a hundred children in Agro Farm. Prasad said this was enough to begin with. It is not easy to run an orphanage. A number of 'No Objection Certificates' had to be obtained before venturing on this project. People like Prasad, who were interested in imparting education to these children, have to face more problems from the education department in terms of recognition. However, when he tried to run a school in Agro Farm, recognition was accorded for the matriculation stream. An English medium school began to function there. Pathway did not believe that food and shelter were enough for the orphan children. Promoters of Path way really wanted these children to face challenges in future with their knowledge and skills.

The school came up fast, and neither caste nor creed stood in the way of orphan children getting admitted. The school was like any other private educational institution or even better. There were neat class rooms with rows of tables and chairs for the students, who were also given text books, uniforms and shoes free. Above all, a swimming pool was also provided in the campus.

Prasad and his wife Chandra visit Agili thrice a week. They stay there the whole day, take the food cooked at the canteen for the children and stay overnight or return late in the night.

 

30 - A DAY IN AGRO FARM

30. A DAY IN AGRO FARM

 

Agili village is about an hour and a half’s drive from Chennai. The signboard ’Pamela Martinez Agro Farm' welcomes you at the entrance. One certainly would not feel that one is visiting a school for orphans or an orphanage.

What was once barren land had now turned out to be a lovely garden of greenery, and swaying trees all around. One can see rows and rows of different kinds of trees giving a green environment to the entire campus. It was a mystery even to the Prasads how so many trees had lined up so soon. Says Prasad, “When we bought the land of 60 acres, it was barren land, with just a tree here and there. When Chandra and I visited the place, we normally reached here in the morning with our lunch packed in a carrier. Chandra would draw the building plans according to her imagination. We were serious about one thing and that was we should grow trees first before we build the buildings. What you see now are those first trees planted by us. Now there are nearly a few thousand trees here.”

The classrooms are spick and span and the children look like little dolls in their uniforms. They are seated comfortably in the chairs and keenly listening what the teachers are saying. When they come out of the classroom, it is in an orderly manner. The moment they notice a guest, they automatically greet him.

If you stop one of the children and ask her what her name is, she would, without any hesitation, reply, “Sarala.” Ask them what they like most in the Agro Farm, they all would say in chorus, “Everything.” You ask them, “What would you do after the classes are over? And they say, “I’ll play ‘kabadi’ and go for a swim. There are a lot of games. Then I will sit down to study.” Finally, before taking leave of them when you ask Sarala what is her aim in life, pal comes the reply, “I want to become a doctor.”

The food is being cooked in the kitchen and what a kitchen it is, It has the most modem steam cooking with the latest state-of-the- art equipment. The dining hall looks like the one we would come across in a premium guesthouse. Chandra is particular that the children get good food prepared in a hygienic way. Milk is served in the morning followed by breakfast, a sumptuous lunch and a dinner at night. “Right from their birth till they reached here, they have not tasted any good food. We thought that it is our duty to correct that deficiency first. That is why we have given importance to food here,” says Prasad.

 

We meet one of the teachers, Mohanavalli. She stays with her son in the quarters meant for teachers. Says Mohanavalli, “My son likes this place. Everything is so peaceful here; I am able to move with the children without any difficulty.”

Valarmathi, the warden of the girls’ hostel says, “There are 105 girls here. We have 85 boys. We wake them up at 5.30 in the morning, and ask them to go jogging. We regulate their routines till they go to their classes.”

These children were born in different families and brought up in totally different backgrounds - the one thing common to them is poverty. Poverty would prompt some to tread a path that is dangerous. Prasad says: “It is not possible to get the students with the same mind-set. Some could be unmanageable.”

“What do you do then with such children?”

“Yes, we had one boy, Srinivasan. He came with his brother Vinod. Vinod was a quiet boy, unlike Srinivasan. He was highly sensitive, but intelligent. He was haughty and tough to handle. We could not manage him and at one stage we even thought of sending him out. Everybody, including his teachers and the warden, however, showed him extraordinary kindness. Soon we noticed a remarkable change in him. His gift in studies, his behaviour, and his marks in the examinations showed his mettle. A guest who came here recently asked him what he wanted to be, and he replied ‘A Marine engineer’.

I won't be surprised if he becomes one.”

There was another story, the story of a brother and sister, Jayaraman and Kavitha. “Kavitha was an intelligent girl and scored high marks. She had high ideals in life. We are sure she will be successful. Jayaraman, however, was not like his sister. He was an average student. We were worried. Every week, at the teachers' meet, the teachers discussed Jayaraman. He was a real challenge to us. We pulled him up but we were also kind toward him. The teachers tried hard to change him. The challenge to teachers in improving the standard of the average boy and getting him to score higher marks was greater than making intelligent boys get a higher percentage of marks. True enough, he passed out with flying colours and made us all proud.”

It is no exaggeration that both in Pathway and in Agro Farm, the teaching method of the faculty and the attitude of the authorities have worked wonders in the lives of the children. Chandra takes a lot of time specially to spend with the children.

SECTION IV - THE PRESENT

Section IV - THE PRESENT

 

31. SUPPORT FROM SUDHA

32. THE POSITIVE SIDE

33. MARKETING DIFFICULTIES

34. SPECIAL SHOWROOMS

35. WHAT JOURNEYS TAUGHT PRASAD

36. LESLIE SHEFFIELD

37. UNFORGETTABLE HINCKLEY

38. A SAD NEWS

39. TOUCHING MANY LIVES

40. THE FUTURE

 

31 - SUPPORT FROM SUDHA

31. SUPPORT FROM SUDHA

 

Teaching fine arts to children is always a pleasure. Pathway understood the power of fine arts to refine young minds, and wanted to teach them to the hundreds of young intelligent minds in its care. Prasad and Chandra located teachers to teach classical dance, Bharata natyam and folk lore to the children of Pathway.

Judge Williams and Prasad were often engaged in discussions via email on how to develop the skills of the mentally challenged children of Pathway, as well as the orphan boys and girls of Agro Farm. They spent a considerable amount of time discussing the ways to bring out the inherent talents of these children to the fore. Their dream was to bring out a great team of musicians with knowledge of both Western and Indian music.

On one such discussion, William Sheffield referred to the videocassette of ‘Boys Town’ sent by him to Prasad. Like the Youth Choir organized by the Father in Boys' Town, why not form a Pathway Youth Choir, asked Prasad. Sheffield mentioned the success of Zubin Mehta, and indicated that Pathway might well be hiding a Zubin Mehta or a Pandit Ravi Shankar, and it was up to them to bring these children to light.

“I will send a trained music teacher to teach these children group singing in a choir.” Accepting the responsibility, Justice William Sheffield looked for a volunteer who would come to India to teach music to the children of Agro farm. He came across send Kaycee Huelet, a woman trained to teach music. She was an accomplished musician, with great flair for western music and mastery over the violin. She showed great interest in coming to India and staying for a year to teach children. Along with her came another assistant and both were accommodated in the campus of Agro Farm and they began training the children. Prasad and his staff were astonished at the way the lady taught the children.

The children did not know a word of English when they came to Pathway. It was really surprising how they sang the songs with perfect English pronunciation. The Pathway Choir was formed shortly. Prasad desired to showcase the talents of these children in a grand maiden performance.

It is here that Sudha, a financial investment advisor who coordinated with large corporate bodies like the Life Insurance Corporation of India in introducing new projects to the general public, stepped in. She is a good conversationalist and was earning a good income. She was eager to devote her time to some ideal that served the cause of the society in general and the poor in particular.

She heard about Pathway and came to meet Prasad. Much impressed by the work of Prasad at Pathway she decided to join the institution that very moment. Sudha devoted much of her time in the development of Agro Farm, a wing of Pathway.

“She is capable of convincing anybody. She is an expert in getting a complete job done in all respects,” says Prasad about Sudha. She was very interested in giving shape to fresh ideas and implementing them. She thought seriously to bring the talents of the children of youth choir to light. She approached the head of Radisson Hotel and discussed her wish.

Vikram Cotah, the liberal and kind Vice President of Radisson GRT Hotel listened to Sudha. GRT stands for G. Rajendran Thangamaligai, (house of gold) - one of the largest jewellery houses in India. The hotel usually presented a choir programme to celebrate Christmas. After much deliberation, Radisson Hotel decided to give - Pathway Youth Choir a chance to perform there on Christmas Eve. There was great curiosity as the staff and guests watched the young children, smartly dressed for the occasion, arrive. Kaycee led the group and once they started singing, they held the audience spellbound as they sang song after song with professional ease and melody. Such was the success that the children were invited to sing in the theatre on Christmas Day!

The idea conveyed by Justice William Sheffield through the video cassette had taken a form and brought laurels to the children of Agro Farm.

When the time came for the music teacher and her assistant to leave for the U.S., Agro Farm sent them off with warmth and goodwill.

After this successful attempt, Prasad, his wife Chandra and Sudha discussed ways and means to bring out the talents of the children in acting and fine arts. They invited a NGO specialized in this field to tutor the children. The artistes stayed in Agro Farm for a fortnight and taught the children acting, expressions, making masks and other theatre accessories. Later, based on the experience they had gained, the children began staging social and historical plays.

Prasad was also particular about the health needs of every child. Dr. Susan Hilton took charge of the health of children of Agro Farm. Her presence at the farm and her dedication went beyond the call of duty. She not only took care of their health needs, but provided emotional support with the required counselling. Being versatile, she also taught them music and a couple of foreign languages. But Dr. Susan was always on the alert as nobody knows when the children would fall ill.

Every child at the orphanage at the Agro Farm is under constant medical supervision. And those who need it are given medical support every day. A full-fledged hospital is run efficiently by the Sri Adi Parasakthi Group of Institutions in Melmaruvathur, a small town about 2.5 km away from the Agro Farm. The hospital and the doctors tend to the children of Pathway with great care and love.

Sandhya was an eleven-year-old girl in Agro Farm. When Dr. Susan conducted certain tests on her, the doctor felt that the girl needed further clinical tests. These tests revealed that Sandhya had cardiac problems. She was suffering from Ventricular Septral Defect (VSD) or as is commonly known, a hole in the heart. Children with this condition find life very restrictive and not much fun.

She was taken to the Government General Hospital, for surgery. She was, however, told that she had to wait for six months from the date of registration. Prasad did not want to wait that long for Sandhya's surgery.

Sudha took up her cause and met chiefs of several private hospitals and succeeded in getting a positive response to her appeal. The now famous hospital in Chennai, Harvey Super Specialties Hospital's humane chief, Dr. Naresh Kumar came forward to help the girl with the surgery. The surgery would normally cosUaround Rs. 2 lakhs. Dr. Naresh Kumar, however, waived all the charges and took only the minimum expenses which Sudha managed to collect from a few large hearted donors.

During the four-hour long operation on Sandhya, Sudha, Prasad and others waited in the hospital to take care of any emergency. Now, Sandhya is happily doing her daily chores in Agro Farm, without any problem. It was only due to Sudha's untiring efforts that the child could overcome her cardiac problem and survive!

In India, if anyone happens to witness a road accident the reaction is to quickly move away from the scene. The reason is simple. People are afraid of the harassment from the police as well as consequent legal formalities they might have to face. Sudha is different. She rushes to the aid of persons known or unknown.

“She is one in a million,” says Prasad with great pride.

Why did Sudha join Pathway in the service of children?

“I had an excellent career. I earned a 5-digit salary, too. I have a son, Visesh. I thank the Almighty daily for having given me such a wonderful child. He is now in the U.S.A. My husband stands by me. Why I chose to serve Pathway? Well, my answer is simple: my motherly instinct,” says Sudha Subramaniam. “Children are always special to me. Next to children, I am concerned about the women in villages. I always have a soft corner for these two segments of mankind. Pathway served as an outlet for showing my motherly affection. The decision to leave my job was taken on a single day. My husband did not object to this. 'If that is your desire, go ahead Amma,' said my son. Today, I am happy that I chose Pathway to serve, where I can be like a mother to these children. I show the same affection and concern to these children, as I show to my child. Tell me, what more I could ask for in this life?" smiles Sudha Subramaniam.

32 - THE POSITIVE SIDE

32. THE POSITIVE SIDE

 

The problem of finding resources for running Pathway had started haunting Prasad right from 1980s. There were times when Prasad had difficulty in paying rent of the premises, salary for staff and other contingencies. Prasad, however, managed to overcome the difficulties.

From the point of view of society in general, mentally challenged persons may be subjects of ridicule. But nature gives them a kind of ability which is special to them. These abilities are latent in them and many fail to spot the abilities. There is an adage that if one door closes another opens. It was true in the case of these children.

Prasad felt if only he could harness their energy and ability and utilize their special skills, they could make many products that could be sold in the market, which would fetch some money. This extra income could be used for meeting additional expenses. He began to move in this direction. He tried to make them concentrate on making things that would be worthwhile.

The children made candles. They made refills for ballpoint pens. Chandra used her artistic skills to make greeting cards, which were then produced in large numbers, using the screen printing method

However, to sell these products in the market was not easy. Establishments like Life Insurance Corporation of India came forward to buy greeting cards initially. During the festival seasons, Chandra worked late into the night to create more designs for greeting cards. This was how vocational training in Pathway began. With the help of a Japanese grant, they bought a small offset printing machine, but it was not a successful venture. There were other attempts to augment funds for Pathway. From the U.S.A. came Bill and Tim, two young men, who stayed in Pathway for three months and laid a roof garden.

Even after ten years, the garden gave a lot of vegetables and flowers. Plenty of brinjals, greens and lady's finger grew in the garden. The children of Pathway got physically involved in the garden work, like sowing the seeds, planting and watering, and this was a kind of exercise for their hands and fingers in particular.

It was Prasad’s dream to get employment for the trained children in places where they would not be looked down upon. A list was prepared of what jobs the children could accomplish and another list was drawn up of companies that could be approached.

Prasad prepared a project report and dispatched it to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in New Delhi. The headquarters of the institution was in America. They approved the project and sent a few men from the U.S.A. to help implement the project. They trained the Pathway children to prepare bakery products. Bakery equipment was installed when they arrived from Bangalore. Although it took some time for the children to bake the bread, the quality of (lie product was found to be good. This pleased everyone. Then they added cookies and bun in the list of bakery products for manufacture.

Pathway Bakery Unit is indeed thankful to Dhuli Patnaik, a member of the Board, for spending time with the children of Pathway in the manufacture of bakery products. Products ranging from garlands of different types, greeting cards, wall-hangers and other artistic materials were also lined up for sale in the market.

33 - MARKETING DIFFICULTIES

33. MARKETING DIFFICULTIES

It was not so easy to sell the products of Pathway. Although the ideals and the work of Pathway were very highly spoken of outside, when it came to buying products manufactured by them, the question always was: Will the quality of the products manufactured by mentally challenged children be good enough?

“It is natural for the public to have such a view,” says Prasad. “I quite understand. When the products manufactured by normal workers are found to be sub-standard, they are bound to have doubts about the quality of products made by our children. We cleared their misgivings by explaining in detail,” adds Prasad.

When Sudha planned to extend the market for the bakery products of Pathway children, she thought of getting the children directly trained by experts in the field. She met the officials of Taj Coromandel and explained about Pathway, its work in rehabilitating mentally challenged children with special focus on their bakery making skills.

“If only you could co-operate with us, it would be not only easier for honing the skills of the children but also marketing the products they manufacture. Please help us in our efforts,” pleaded Sudha.

This resulted in the visit of a team from Taj Coromandel Hotel to Pathway. For the first time in the country, nearly 120 varieties of bakery products manufactured by the children were displayed in an exhibition. The media, both print and visual, covered the event.

Renowned culinary experts of Chennai, including Chandri Bhatt of Taj Coromandel visited the venue. Authors on cookery, like Mallika Badrinath, and famous bakery man of the city, 'Hot Bread' Mahadevan, South India Culinary Association Chef Soundararajan, chef from Taj Coromandel Chandrasekar and other experts in the field assessed the quality of the products. Their verdict was that the bakery products of Pathway were much better than those manufactured by star hotels in the city.

This resulted in the birth of a co-operative venture between Pathway and Taj. To Sudha goes the credit of making it possible, and without spending a penny from Pathway. It was only apt that the brand name 'Special Touch' was given to the products of Pathway. With the untiring efforts of Sudha and her team, Slash Support, the BPO, increased its order of bread per day from less than hundred to more than five hundred. The greeting cards are sold in thousands.

 

 

Though it cannot be said that Pathway broke the monopoly of some products in the market, it definitely had made a breakthrough. It was certainly a success considering that the items were produced by mentally challenged children.

“Companies like GRT, Slash, Orchid Pharmaceuticals. Taj Coromandel, State Bank of India, Indian Oil Company, Ogilvy & Mather encouraged us by buying our products, and we are grateful to them,” says Prasad.

He never fails to support any of Sudha’s ideas for the betterment of Pathway's children. One of the suggestions that came from her was to conduct a competition for exhibiting the skills of mentally challenged children. The winners would be given the best prizes instead of the usual lunch box, shoulder bag and such ordinary prizes. “The children are going to come from all over India. They may be mentally challenged. We should welcome them with warmth and give away valuable prizes.”

Prasad liked this approach. They prepared a list of institutions that are engaged in the rehabilitation and welfare of mentally challenged. They selected two hundred from them and wrote to the heads of those institutions:

“If you have exceptionally skilled children in your institution for the proposed competition for vocational excellence award please send them. All the expenses will be borne by us."

Says Prasad, “The sad truth was that we got very poor response from the two hundred centres to whom we had addressed our letter. We did not stop with writing the letter. We even sent our representatives to these institutions to locate the best talent among the children. Only forty institutions responded to our letter and we selected just 22 children for the contest. I must compliment Sudha in this respect. She not only succeeded in her effort, but also got GRT Hotel group to host the event in their three big halls. They provided free lunch too, to the children on the occasion.”

Pathway took care of the to-and-fro passage, hospitality in Chennai, as well as a sightseeing trip for the 22 children.

Those who came first, second and third in the competition were given cash prizes of Rs.20, 000, 15,000 and 10,000 respectively, this was besides prizes for all the participants in the competition.

Philanthropists and those who knew about the good work of Pathway came forward to donate the prizes. The senior lawyer Mr. Gandhi got the consent of the Union Minster of State,. Subbulakshmi Jagadeesan to preside over the event. Agricultural scientist Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, T.T. Srinivasaraghavan, M.D., Sundaram Finance Ltd., Mayor of Chennai, M. Subramanian, and Social Welfare Minister Poongodhai took part in the gala function. Apart from the prizes for the winners in the competition, they were given DVD players, radio, camera and other gifts.

The glow on the faces of the children showed their sheer joy and that was unforgettable. Everyone who attended the event said with one voice that they had not seen anyone treating these children so lovingly.

34 - SPECIAL SHOWROOMS

34. SPECIAL SHOWROOMS

 

It was decided to have a separate branded showroom for all the products produced by Pathway and have an integrated marketing set-up. If all the products were made available under one roof, the public would be able to easily choose and buy the products. As an initial step, efforts were made to sell food and other products made by Pathway, in busy locations, such as offices. Parents were encouraged to sell these products. They were offered attractive remuneration for this. However, the parents did not evince any interest in this project.

“This was a setback to us, certainly. Sudha’s brother-in-law was a prosperous man in Singapore. He had helped us in many ways. Once he bought small artistically made toy elephants in one lot, and gave us Rs 2 lakhs. When he worshipped in a temple during his recent visit to Chennai, he gave them a cheque for a big sum. When Sudha came to know this, she was angry and did not speak to him. Only after he calmed her, she queried whether there could be a bigger temple than Pathway. The cheque that was given to the temple could have been given to Pathway instead, she argued.

“The sentiments of people like Sudha strengthen our aspirations and efforts. The thinking of some parents was not encouraging. We feared whether it would weaken our attempts. We could not appoint salesmen at higher pay. We requested the parents to come and help us in our efforts, whenever they were free. There was no response to our plea. They thought that once they left their children with us, their responsibility was over. However, we have been continuing our endeavour in this direction. Wherever people gather in crowds, in places like the beach, we put up our shop of Pathway. Sometimes,

I also go to these spots and try to sell bread, cake, toys and garlands.

“I have come to the conclusion that we could sell more if we have a shop of our own. Only then can we succeed, without seeking the help of anyone else, in taking the products made by the children to the public. We will shortly open shops exclusively for marketing Pathway products,” avers Prasad.

 

35 - WHAT JOURNEYS TAUGHT PRASAD

35. WHAT JOURNEYS TAUGHT PRASAD

 

It has become very common for Indians these days to visit other countries. Their idea about these countries depends upon their outlook. Prasad also visited several countries. One can easily guess what he could have wished to see during his visits abroad. He was interested only in seeing how mentally retarded children and physically challenged children were treated in those countries. However, a visit to Sweden made a deep impression in his mind.

Dr. Sophian Walujo migrated to Sweden, during the turbulent times when Dictator Suharto dethroned Sukarno in Indonesia. He was a well-known clinical psychologist, and served as the Vice-Chancellor of Jakarta University. After settling down in Stockholm Dr Sophian Walujo had spearheaded ‘Normalization’ movement for the mentally handicapped under his pet project ‘SIVUS’. For many years mentally handicapped and other disabled were ostracized by Swedish society and were thrown in to the wilderness. The disabled were relegated to institutions outside the city so that they could be kept away from the eyes of the so-called civilized society. Dr Sophian Walujo and others formed a powerful lobby and molded the thoughts of the government into a very effective machinery to help the mentally handicapped. The role of Parents’ Association lead by Wolstrom is also laudable in this regard. Dr Sophian Walujo once visited India to study the work that was being done for the mentally handicapped. When he heard about Pathway, he came down to Chennai and saw for himself the functioning of the organisation. He was very happy. When he returned to Sweden, he arranged to invite Prasad and accorded a reception to him. It served as an opportunity to Prasad to study the work done in the process of normalization through SIVUS. The Swedish Government bore all the expenses right from the conveyance expense from his residence. Prasad was happy to undertake the journey.

Prasad was received and treated well in Sweden. He could meet the Vice-Ministers as well as the Directors of Social Welfare Department, Labour Department and other officers of various departments. Says Prasad about his Sweden experience:

“I made it a point to befriend people wherever I went. I requested my hosts to take me wherever there were institutions that took care of mentally and physically challenged children. Dr Sophian Walujo had made an elaborate programme for me to visit many institutions and universities across the country. These visits also worked as training programme in the area of SIVUS, as I studied the evolution and development of the normalization process. I was able to spend considerable time at centres working in several areas, such as paediatric rehabilitation, working with young cerebral palsy children through neuro developmental techniques. I was able to witness the working of schools for young disabled children with mental retardation, cerebral palsy, deafness and children with blindness. The visit gave a clear insight regarding the great blessing the country had due to its wealth as well as proper policy followed by the government. The problems in Sweden is far lesser due to its sparse population, the population of the country was only about 7 million, perhaps equal to the total number mentally handicapped in India! While in India the bulk of work for the disabled is being rendered by NGOs, I did not come across a single NGO in Sweden doing voluntary service. It is the Government that does everything. It is truly a welfare state. It is really interesting to see how powerfully each lobby works. During the general elections in Sweden the prime ministerial candidate not only had to address to the needs the basic requirement of citizens, such as food, clothing, shelter, employment, basic economy, taxes, health and other major issues, but also had to address to the requirements of special groups with special needs, such as needs of disabled, mentally ill, needs of geriatrics and so on.

“Services for the disabled seemed to have followed a particular pattern the world over. Similarly the needs and recognition of their problems also seemed to have followed the same pattern. The disability which is most ‘Visible’ has derived the best support and sympathy from society and the least visible has been accorded the lowest preference. The vibrations created by the orthopaedically handicapped, such as children and adults with poliomyelitis and paraplegics perhaps attracted the maximum attention from the society. Following this, the blind were able to win the sympathy and concern from the society all over the world. Children with deafness or with speech and hearing disability received lesser attention as it was relatively less visible as a disability. Mental handicap perhaps was the least of all the disabilities that received any attention or concern from society till very recently. In the case of persons with orthopaedically handicaps or persons with blindness or deafness, due to their normal functioning of central nervous system they gradually were able to form viable and powerful lobby to fight for their own needs. However, in the case of the mentally handicapped, this was not possible. For many years the mentally retarded have been confused with mentally ill. The society has attributed derogatory tags such as idiots or morons to them. It is only recently from the past couple of decades that some efforts are being made, that too, only in the cities of India where a few well-meaning NGO’s are directing their energies to offer them succor. Even today the situation is very poor in the rural areas for these children. There is a view that mentally challenged are totally useless, not to mention the mentally ill, who are considered a curse on society. Those who have been denied favour by nature or fate are not allowed to join the mainstream public. They were treated with utter contempt and kept away from others.

“This thinking totally changed in western countries, later. As if to atone for their sins for ignoring such unfortunate children, they changed their mindset and began to think of ways and means to take them into the mainstream life. The Swedish Government built homes for the mentally ill and mentally challenged. Gone were the days when they were kept away from the city. They were given a residence in multistoried buildings within the city. Each flat costs one million Swedish Kroner. (One $ is equal to 4-1/2 Kroner) They have not constructed these flats away from the city for the mentally challenged, but allotted one flat for four or five mentally challenged amidst 30 flats meant for mainstream public. The facilities the Government had provided for them are more than what were given to the normal citizens. High quality furniture, dining table, television sets, modern kitchen equipment which cannot be even dreamt of by our middle class public have been provided to the mentally challenged people. This almost amounts to adoption by the Government. So these children live throughout the country amidst normal citizens.

“I must mention another important point here. Many parents of girl children of Pathway approach me and ask me whether they can marry off their daughters once they become mature. They ask me, ‘Are they not much better than before?’ I tell them, ‘I would only say no, if you ask me whether they can be married. They may have improved greatly. You and I notice it. But society has not realized their needs and it never will. Some may come forward to marry your daughter for the sake of money you offer them. It is however, highly doubtful if they would maintain her throughout her life. Please, let us leave her alone'.

“There have been instances where they have ignored my advice and given their daughters in marriage. After some time, the husbands have abandoned the girls, taking away all her money and jewels.

“Physiologically, a girl under the care of Pathway could attain the state or level of maturity of getting married. To tell the parents of these girls not to give those in marriage may be found to be technically wrong advice. However, I have studied both science and the mind of the public.

“But what I observed in Sweden was different, It is a free society, a permissive society. They do not take free sex amiss. They do not worry about any consequences. A mentally challenged girl could live with a mentally challenged boy or even marry. There is nothing wrong.

“I mentioned some mentally challenged people living in a flat, didn’t I? The fact is they live together. They are mentally retarded. Their actions may suddenly change. They may exchange blows, they may fight with each other. They may make mistakes, the consequences of which they may not be aware of. They live in a flat. Who would have any control over them? Or say, supervise them? Who will come to their help in an emergency?

“I raised these questions to the authorities. They said, ‘Opposite to these flats occupied by these children, there are officers and supervisors who work on shifts to oversee them. It is a routine allotment of flat for these officials right opposite the flats of mentally retarded occupants. The flats of these officials, therefore, function like a vigilance office. It is one of the important orders that the windows and doors of flats occupied by mentally challenged should never be closed. The official who observes the goings on in the opposite flat throughout the day would rush once he notices anything abnormal.

“I was stunned. I was overwhelmed how the Government takes these less fortunate children care of. But there was a hitch. These officials could even see their bedroom. I felt it was too much prying, amounting to invasion of one's privacy. Perhaps it was all right in their cultural background. I did not, however, want to make this an issue. All the same, I did not subscribe to this idea. I appreciated the importance given to the mentally challenged in Sweden.

“When I was in Sweden, when I retired to bed in the night, tears would well up in my eyes. Not because I was away from my wife and son, but because I was away from the children of Pathway. I wept more when I came to know how Sweden treated its mentally ill or challenged children. What sin had the Indian children committed? Was it their fault to be born in India with disabilities? Then why does society treat them differently? Why does society refuse to treat them as it treats the normal citizens? What will their be future once they leave Pathway?

“I even went to the extent of thinking that one should be born in Sweden if one is mentally challenged.”

During his stay in Sweden, a Swedish couple invited Prasad for lunch on one occasion. They had one child and it was a small family. The wife had lost control of her legs in an accident. But Prasad was surprised that the husband did not show any feeling of hurt or loss. Her car was re-designed to run with all the controls by her hands, instead of her legs. The house was so designed that once she reaches home in her car, she can easily change over to a wheel chair and move easily to her kitchen. She can reach everything from her wheelchair. The Government had provided all these facilities. They take care that the physically challenged are very comfortable in their day-to-day life. Prasad visited more than 40 rehabilitation homes for the mentally challenged and physically challenged during his stay in Sweden.

 

“I would proclaim that we too offer the same kind of treatment here. I am proud to say this. I noticed that some of the mentally challenged children were unable to close their mouths and they kept drooling. We treat them better here at Pathway and when I told them how we do it here, they were surprised. At the conclusion of my visit, a deputy minister of the Government who appreciated my interest in this area honored me with a dinner. He also said that if ever I decided to join them, he would create a post for me to come and occupy. I was not interested. To me, only Pathway merited my attention. Instead, I invited him to come and visit Pathway and if he was impressed, he could recommend to the Swedish Government to financially help us. Out of the allowance I received during my stay there, I managed to save $2,000 for Pathway's children. I told him this. The deputy minister said that their Government could only help another Government, as per protocol and procedure. They cannot directly offer funds for private institutions.”

Prasad learnt many lessons from his visit to Sweden.

36 - LESLIE SHEFFIELD

36. LESLIE SHEFFIELD

 

Justice William Sheffield and his wife Leslie were just perfect as a made for each other couple. When Prasad and Chandra visited the USA as guests of the couple, Prasad had an opportunity to see how Leslie worked on many projects silently without drawing anyone's notice or attracting publicity.

They lived in a big house about 200 kilometers away from Los Angeles. Leslie would get up early in the morning. She would finish cooking early and carry a small pack of the food, and leave home saying, “Prasad, wait, I'll be back in half an hour”. Prasad found it very mysterious. To whom was she carrying the food packet and where? He was anxious to know the details.

One day as Leslie was leaving the house, Prasad said, “Can I come with you, Leslie? I do nothing here now. Do you mind if I come along?”

“Why not? Come on!” said Leslie.

They started walking. Within a few minutes they reached a smart locality with huge houses. Each house was within a campus of two to three acres Of land. There were only two or three houses in a street.

Leslie entered one of the houses, while Prasad waited outside. When Leslie returned after about an hour, he saw that the box containing food was now empty. The food particles, however, were stuck on her dress here and there. “What happened?” asked Prasad anxiously.

The reply Leslie gave showed her service-oriented nature, and her genuine desire to serve others.

Leslie would carry food daily to this house where a mentally depressed woman lived. Leslie would feed her patiently. No one could predict how the woman would behave. Sometimes she would throw the food. Leslie, however, would be extremely patient and tolerate her tantrums. Leslie would not mind it at all. She would never feel bad or hurt. The important point in this story is that the woman was neither a close friend nor a relative of Leslie. Leslie knew that there was a mentally ill patient residing in the huge house and went to help her voluntarily, on her own, without anybody prompting her.

When Prasad came to know this from Leslie he was overwhelmed. He folded his hands in a gesture of greeting her for her noble service. She was really following the admonition of the Lord, (Mathew 25:3536) “For I was an hungry and Ye gave meat; I was thirsty and Ye gave me drink. I was a stranger and Ye took me in. ... 1 was sick and Ye visited me....” Prasad felt that what he did in Pathway seemed insignificant compared to the service Leslie did. It is no exaggeration that Leslie's kindness motivated Prasad to do more for Pathway.

37 - UNFORGETTABLE HINCKLEY

UNFORGETTABLE HINCKLEY

Prasad was scouting for potential saviours of Pathway from all over the globe. Visiting different countries on his mission and learning a few lessons from them was indeed a great blessing. The travel to several countries undertaken by Prasad, Chandra and Sudha in August 2007 was particularly a significant one.

After constructing the buildings in Agro Fann, they had many ideas to develop it on a large scale. William Sheffield was particular in admitting more orphan children and destitutes to brighten their lives and also by encouraging mentally challenged children to mingle with the normal children, as an experiment. But Prasad and his team knew it was not that easy. Still, they were hopeful of succeeding with their sustained efforts.

Jennifer Peery of Peery Foundation was a strong supporter of Pathway. She had helped through her Foundation in the past and continues to help even now. She introduced Prasad to the former Mayor of Asuncion City of Paraguay in South America, Martin Bert. Bert is a well-known social entrepreneur in his city. He heads a large charitable trust. He was involved in improving the living conditions of poor adolescents to make them really worthy

 

citizens of the country. He was a graduate from the business school of Washington D.C. He had focussed on extending micro finance and micro credit and was popular in this area of financial assistance to the needy. His organization ‘Foundation Paraguay’ was assisting over 23,000 poor people through micro finance. He had visited Pathway and had appreciated its excellent work.

“Please make a visit to our country once and see for yourself what we do here. I shall take care of your travel arrangements”, assured Martin. And he sent the air tickets for Prasad, Chandra and Sudha.

William Sheffield made a suggestion at this juncture. “Why not come via California, so that you could meet other supporters of Pathway.” There were a lot of them, like Pamela Martinez, Alex Martinez, Steve Oveson, Dixy Oveson, Bill Benac Jr. and Sr., Jean- Luc Butel, Jennifer Peery, Mark Oertel.

Since Prasad appreciated this suggestion, the travel plans were accordingly prepared. In the meanwhile, an effort was also made to have an important meeting. President Gordon B. Hinckley was President of the internationally known The Church of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints. He was very close to the meek and the lowly, known to the mighty, such as industrialists, senators and the presidents (lie world over. He was a respected spiritual leader with no political leaning. His mere words were accepted as orders and acted upon al once by the faithful, as he was the Prophet, Seer and Revelator of this worldwide Church.

President Hinckley had come to India a few years ago, as a pari of his whirlwind tour of Asia and Africa. When he was staying in Delhi's Maurya Sheraton Hotel Prasad, Chandra, Sudha and Dhuli attended a meeting that was addressed by him, accompanied by twenty children from Pathway; it was indeed a highly memorable occasion Prasad felt that it would be worth the while if only he could meet President Hinckley and receive his blessings. When Prasad requested for an appointment with him, his ever-helpful executive secretary Don Stehali replied in the positive. Prasad was immensely happy.

Prasad recalls his meeting with President Gordon B. Hinckley. “It was an unforgettable journey in which we could meet all the supporters of Pathway without missing any one. Judge Sheffield received us warmly in Los Angeles. We were very eager to meet President Hinckley at Salt Lake City. We were very much looking forward to this great meeting. During this occasion we were also fortunate to have in our midst the very distinguished couple: Mr. and Mrs. Gary Sabin. Gary Sabin is the Chairman and the CEO of Exceed Realties.com and the Chairman of the Sabin Children’s Foundation. This Foundation has been assisting very many deserving projects in several continents, such as Africa, South America and Asia. They have assisted hundreds of children in cleft palate surgeries, bringing medial relief to scores of people world over. Prasad felt highly fortunate that the Sabin Children’s Foundation was considering assisting Pathway in its immediate project proposal and the presence of Sabins during this meeting with President Hinckley was really God-sent!

“On the August 10, 2007, morning at the appointed time, we were all present at the office of President Hinckley in the Church complex in Salt Lake City. We were shocked at the sight of all the flags flying half- mast. It was because of the sudden death of James E. Faust, the Second Counsellor of the First Presidency of the Church. We were afraid that our appointment might be cancelled in view of the passing away of such an important person in the morning.

At the appointed time, the 97 year old Hinckley walked in with his walking stick in hand majestically. We stood up and greeted him. I introduced Pathway representatives to him. He shook hands with each one of us, he greeted Judge Sheffield, Mr. and Mrs. Gary Sabin, Sudha, Chandra and me. He asked about Pathway's activities. Quickly I gave a short report on the development, growth and the current status of Pathway. I briefly explained to the President our immediate plans to establish a facility to integrate children with disabilities with their able counterparts.

‘What are you going to do for money for all these projects?’ he asked.

‘The children of Pathway are the children of God. He will take care of the funds,’ I said and requested his blessings on this very important work. He was also happy to meet Mr. and Mrs. Gary Sabin and was highly appreciative of their support to Pathway’s endeavor.

“He appreciated the way Pathway functioned. We all took a photograph with him. I thanked the Lord for granting us the opportunity to be in his presence. I also conveyed my grateful thanks for his love for Pathway by helping us all along. Long after coming out of the meeting, we could feel the love and warmth he showed us.

“After this meeting we were hosted a lunch in the 7 star The Grand America. Even when we were dining, the talks centered on Pathway and building new blocks in Agro Farm.

“Gary Sabin was kind enough to pledge half of the total requirement of the entire project, which itself was huge and substantial. He asked us where we were going to raise the remaining.”

Judge and Prasad explained the steps they taken to raise this portion of the funds, and Judge Sheffield requested Gary Sabin to help find a partner who can contribute the matching amount. He said that he would sincerely try.

The next meeting was with another supporter, Bill Benac Jr. at Los Angeles. Bill Benac had come as a student to India along with his friend Tim Fewes, and during his assignment in Pathway they laid the Roof Garden. Bill had driven his car hundreds of miles to make this meeting. It was a very warm and affectionate meeting. Prasad also had a chat with Bill Benac Sr. father of Bill Jr. a great supporter of Pathway for many years. The lunch meeting with Pamela Martinez, Alex Martinez, Stephen B Oveson, Dixie Ovseon, Judge and Mark Oertel was particularly enjoyable.

When they reached Paraguay, Martin Burt came to the airport to receive them. They stayed there for four days and went round the agricultural school run by Martin Burt. It was a 130-acre agricultural marvel. It was said that Roman Catholic Sisters from India had given the entire land with the buildings to Burt. They had, however, laid one condition and that was 'Only the poor should benefit from this place.'

Outside the Agricultural School, there was a roadside restaurant. It was always 'House Full' there. Martin Burt’s Trust earned a considerable income from the food stall. The foundation also ran a ‘Corporate Hotel’ that was being frequented by executives from corporate houses utilized the place to conduct management games and exercises.

Vegetables plants in large areas, organic farming, a big milk dairy with a number of cows, meat stall, pig farms and sheep farms were part of the Agricultural School. It was a unique experience for Prasad, Chandra and Sudha to see all the operations under one roof.

 

38 - A SAD NEWS

38 - A SAD NEWS

 

On a January morning in 2008, William Sheffield called Prasad on the phone. “Sad news, Prasad,”' said Sheffield. “But I have to tell you. President Gordon B. Hinckley passed away a few minutes ago. He died in his sleep.”

Prasad was shocked. He was 97 years old. He had lived a full life, yes. Even then, Prasad felt it was a premature death. It was not a matter of just sorrow, because Pathway had lost a strong supporter.

“He was a terrific person. He was humane.in his approach. He had never publicized his vast influence. But a large number of institutions benefited from his largesse. When he took over as the president of the church, there were 9 million members, which increased to a whopping 13 million during his tenure. He built hundreds of temples during the period of his presidency. He was familiar with many a celebrity -from the Presidents who occupied the White House to the Pope in the Vatican. He had written a number of books in his 40-year period. He had a special affection for the poor and downtrodden. He loved not only Christianity, but also all other religions in the world. An example is his financial assistance to the Muaigan Temple in Chicago. He was a great pillar of support to Pathway. He will always live in our memory!” says Prasad with gratitude.

He arranged for a memorial meeting for Hinckley. All the teachers in Pathway and all the children took part in it. At Agili Agro Farm too, a memorial service was conducted.

While speaking at both the memorial meetings, Prasad spoke about Hinckley with tears in his eyes. He described his meetings with President Hinckley when they were in the US during August- September 2007. During this meeting Hinckley wanted to know the progress Pathway has made over the years. He was pleased to hear the growth and development of each wing of Pathway. He blessed the efforts and wished Pathway the best. At this meeting Prasad had been accompanied by Chandra and Sudha from Chennai, and was joined by Justice Sheffield, Gary and Mrs. Sabin. President Hinckley had then been in good health and excellent spirits

After observing three minutes of silence, they prayed for his soul to rest in peace. Chandra also spoke at these meetings, pointing out the abundant love he had for the children. On behalf of the students, Srinivasan, Meena and Kavitha spoke offering their condolences. It was a heart-rending experience for all and a resolution was also passed to mourn the death of Hinckley.

 

Prasad recalls Hinckley’s words on Justice Sheffield: “Justice Sheffield is your advocate, just as the Saviour is our advocate with His Father in Heaven.” Prasad adds, “Sheffield is truly an advocate for us and for Pathway. For almost twenty years now he is part and parcel of Pathway. I have no words to sufficiently explain the qualities of head and heart of Justice Sheffield. He is so greatly attached to the children of Pathway. His support has been the backbone of our activities at Pathway. His prayer for each and every child in Pathway is something remarkable.”

 

39 - TOUCHING MANY LIVES

39. TOUCHING MANY LIVES

 

If Prasad could be called the heartbeat of Pathway, those who work there with dedi cation form the backbone. They may get their salary. But it is not money alone that brought them there. Their enthusiasm, and motivation to serve the unfortunate children went far beyond mere payment, and were the real reasons for their association with Pathway.

Explains Usha, Occupational Therapist of Pathway: “In Pathway, my major work is to treat children with cerebral palsy. We know that we cannot achieve 100 percent success in this. However, we do our best here. The pleasure we derive is in the happiness of parents who see that their children who could not even understand what we said say, can now obey our commands. What more do we want?”

“So is the case of children with autism. They cannot adjust to the routine atmosphere. They will not look at our eyes while talking. It takes time for them to feel comfortable with us. They cannot stay put in one place. It is impossible to for them to do so. We call it hyper-activity.

“Lokesh is a boy with autism. He would run away when asked to sit. After treatment, he even goes to the bathroom when needed. He does his duties to an extent. It is better if parents bring such children for treatment in early stage.”

Dr. Mohana Venkatraman has been working for the past fourteen years at Pathway. A pediatrician from Madurai, she had worked in the mobile clinic run by Vyjayanthimala. She attends to a minimum of25 children daily in Pathway. “Children with Down’s Syndrome often get attacks of cold. It is due to the position of nose and the formation of their face. Parents who come here believe that the moment the doctor here touches their children, they would become normal. They think that a miracle would happen. I try to educate them also. Generally, medical profession is a noble profession. In these cases, more so, because we work for these less fortunate children. Even if they show a little improvement, we are happy. Their IQ is low. We, therefore, take much care in our treatment.”

Rani, who works here, is not blessed with children. Says she: “However, I have no regrets about that when I work here. All these children are my children. They are of different kinds. Many do not even know how to eat. We train them. We show them how to eat with a spoon. Even if the children take the spoon near their lips, we applaud and appreciate. And in due course, they are able to feed themselves.”

Radha, who supervises the vocational training section, is a special educator. “These children are quite different from ordinary children in different ways. Parents should understand this truth and learn to be patient. We cannot change them by magic. Pathway has all facilities for treatment. The guidance given here by Prasad, Chandra and Sudha, the executive committee member, and their selfless service motivates us. We consider it a boon to be working here.”

Many parents of these children believe that they are cursed. They are dumped here as unwanted waste. But what is remarkable is the work that Pathway does in converting the waste into useful citizens of society.

Chandra married Prasad knowing full well that their life would not be a bed of roses. She gave a hundred percent support to her husband in his career. Today, their son Chethan is studying in the U.S.A. After closely watching the mentally challenged children's rehabilitation for the most part ofher life, has there been a change in her attitude?

“Why should there be a change?” asks Chandra. "I lost my mother when I was three. I then took on the responsibility of looking after my brothers. As I grew older, I found I got more pleasure in giving to others.

It has come naturally to me. I was bom in a rich family. Yet, money did not have any special attraction for me. My father thought that wealth should be added to more wealth. I was different. I thought there should be a merger of hearts, not money. That is why I married Prasad. I was a gold medallist as a student. If I had wanted I could have continued my studies in nutrition and achieved a name, in this field. I have never tasted poverty; I virtually saw poveity only after my marriage. When I looked at the background of the children of Pathway, I realised, my poverty was not poverty at all. I love to be with my husband, who serves these children. I derive pleasure in assisting him. I pray for the children daily."

“Now you have come all the way in life, thus far, hurdles notwithstanding. Everyone would have enjoyed your kindness and realised your selflessness. Do you have any unfulfilled dream, or plans for the future?”

Chandra does not pause for an answer. “I must touch the lives of many more who do not have any opportunity, any facility or even normal life, as much as possible. I must offer these things as much as I can.”

This is enough to reveal the mind of Chandra.

 

40 - THE FUTURE

THE FUTURE

 

If we accomplish one task successfully, we tend to take up the next one, which is natural.

Although Prasad was forced into accepting maintenance of a child, he was compelled to take up rehabilitation of mentally challenged children. But he took it up as his life’s mission and built up Pathway brick by brick. Prasad, naturally, is proud of his institution that has carved a niche in the field of institutions of this kind.

Along with working for the rehabilitation of mentally challenged children, orphans and destitute were also brought under the roof of Pathway and thus was bom Agro Farm. What is next?

Prasad was planning to implement a grand scheme and he discussed this with Judge Sheffield. He described his thoughts, in establishing an ‘Integrated project to assist the able and disabled’ at their Agro Farm for Children at village Agili. The good Judge was highly excited about this project... Prasad explained that we could consider building two blocks, a block to house a dormitory unit and another to establish a rehabilitation centre. The idea was to admit children with mild intellectual disability and other sensory disabilities, such as speech and hearing disorders and offers them education under one roof, along with able children, thereby bringing about physical, educational, social and recreational integration. .Judge liked this idea and he remarked that this would certainly help children with disabilities to be included in the society and also put an end to their being ostracized. With these strong thoughts, Prasad prepared a comprehensive project proposal to establish an ‘Integrated education project for able and disabled’.

The project underlined the great effects of this on hearts and minds of both of the groups of children, more so, on the able or ‘normal’ children, who would learn to empathize with their less normal counterparts. It also described how it would present a ‘win-win situation for both the groups’. Most importantly, it also underscored its uniqueness, that it would be only one of its kinds in India.

But is it possible?

Questions arise as to whether the children mingle with each other or they would join only their own group and continue to be separated. Prasad searched through internet whether any such attempt has been made in the world. He observed that certain studies in the UK showed mixed results. Studies from U S and from many parts of South Africa claimed much success.

“We do not want to copy anybody. We would see whether it suits our culture. We have also known the plus and minus of such an integration. We do not want to commit a mistake. There are some schools in our country, where along with a thousand normal children they had ‘allowed’ two or three mentally challenged children.

This is not true integration at all. We really want to combine both the able and less-able children in a big way.

The integration should be a sincere confluence between these two groups, each benefiting from one another. To bring out a true acceptance by both the groups it is important that we carefully select the children, keeping in mind the severity of disability, nature of the problem, associated conditions, etc. Prasad went through much of literature on this subject and also discussed with many. He along with Chandra and Sudha had discussions on this with representatives of SNDT University at Mumbai who had recently started a teacher’s training course on integrated education. Judge Sheffield also showed considerable interest in this area as he and Prasad regularly discussed on the benefits of such a programme. Internet was a great source of information to them in understanding the present status on this topic world over.

As Prasad was fully satisfied with the effects of integration of these two groups, he prepared a detailed project on this that could be submitted to organizations and donors in the United States as well as in India for their consideration and support.

As thoughts were being crystallized on this project, almost as a divine intervention there was a whirlwind visit of Gary B. Sabin, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of Sabin Children’s Foundation, and Spencer G .Plumb, Director of the Foundation, visited the Agro Fann and discussed with Prasad. They listened to his vision and promised that they would certainly help this worthwhile project. After this meeting, their subsequent meeting with Judge

Sheffield and Prasad at Salt Lake City, United States, cemented the partnership further, between the Sabin Children’s Foundation and Pathway in a very big way to implement this very ambitious project. Prasad conveys his gratitude to the Sabin Children’s Foundation and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for their generous support.

This partnership will witness, construction of two buildings in an area of 20,000 square feet to house a large dormitory and a rehabilitation center block, fully equipped and furnished. Pathway will employ well qualified minds in various professions to make this great vision a wonderful reality. As a part of this project, it has been proposed to start man-power training programs in related fields of disabilities as well as in integrated education. Prasad envisions starting regular undergraduate courses in related fields of education well affiliated to renowned universities. It is also in his plan to start courses in the steps of community colleges to offer education and training to Pathway graduates in various lucrative job oriented courses that would readily offer them a chance to stand on their feet and proceed in their lives without fear and dependency. There is a string of thoughts for the future that only sharpens the minds of children but also provides them a platform and grand opportunities in various fields, Prasad speaks about starting an ‘Executive Resort’ as a business model for income generation as well as a good training ground for children in hospitality related industry. The untiring and dedicated Judge and Prasad continue their discussion of pitching a large vocational training centre at the Farm. As Chandra talks with great conviction about showcasing vocational abilities of the mentally handicapped to the world, Sudha dreams with passion to open vistas for the personal progress and future opportunities for children whom we serve in their education, as well as, in their future placements. Prasad acknowledges that there is plenty to be done and looks towards heaven with gratitude and for guidance and support.

Both the buildings are expected to be ready in the next few months and they are confident that they would not fail in their attempt. “At least the normal children will develop compassion towards the mentally challenged and physically challenged children,” hopes Prasad. Is not hope the strongest weapon?

“We are also growing old and we sincerely hope that after us, the children of Pathway should take up this institution and run it. They should be able to manage it on their own. The mentally and physically challenged children along with the normal children would, one day, join hands. Yes, it is possible. It will happen!” adds Prasad with confidence.

It is certain that in the pages of history of rehabilitation of mentally challenged and physically challenged the name of Prasad would be boldly etched.

Pathway would be a monument and hope for a bright future for the less privileged, orphans, destitute, physically and mentally challenged children of this country.

41 - A LEGACY OF SERVICE

"GENERATIONS TO COME WILL SCARCE BELIEVE THAT SUCH A ONE AS THIS EVER IN FLESH AND BLOOD WALKED UPON THIS EARTH".

It is with deep regret that we announce the passing of A.D.S.N. Prasad, founder of Pathway. He passed away on the 8th of September due to complications arising from treatment he was undergoing for cancer. He was 63 years old. He is survived by his wife Chandra and son Chetan, daughter-in-law Dr.Tessa Salisbury Nicole and grandson Wyatt Rohan Prasad.


"GENERATIONS TO COME WILL SCARCE BELIEVE THAT SUCH A ONE AS THIS EVER IN FLESH AND BLOOD WALKED UPON THIS EARTH".


Prasad’s contribution in the service of the disabled has been many fold. As an young man of 21 years when he started Pathway in a humble circumstances in a rented building he started serving children with mental retardation and cerebral palsy as inmates. Perhaps Pathway was the only centre available at that time apart from another facility that was admitting children through police and courts. Right from that time Prasad was able serve children single handedly with various other problems that included speech and hearing problems, autism besides mental disability. On an average over 100-120 children were being assisted by him directly every day, where he used to spend his time administering therapy and total care. For years from April 1975 till 1985, Pathway was run entirely from his personal contribution. At today’s costs the expenses were anywhere around 2 Lakhs per month. His monetary contribution would be around Rs.2 Crores at today’s costs. In addition to serving children with disabilities in the centre Prasad fanned out to different cities and districts of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh and conducted diagnostic and rehabilitation camps for the disabled, hundreds of children with various disabilities were examined and offered intervention programme. Right from that day till today Prasad has been serving children with poverty and disability free of cost. After 1984-85 Pathway started soliciting support from individuals, organizations and government More than 46000 children have been examined by Pathway over the years and nearly 35,000 children with various disabilities have been assisted. The Centre opened its door in offering primary medical care to the neighboring poor men, women and children, till now over 5.3 Lakh adults and children have been assisted with medical, pediatric and dental care. In addition to this Pathway has also initiated primary literary programme for poor slum children, every year the organization assists over 150 children in their everyday studies offering them free tuition and other support.
Prasad with the aid of munificent support received from highly loyal and committed donors established a large Agro farm for Children in a large agricultural tract of land about 90 Kms from Chennai. This agro farm is one of its kind that offers top notch facilities for the integrated education and rehabilitation of able and disabled children and adults. The organization has constructed large well planned buildings to offer high class education for orphan, destitute and poor children. Disabled friendly buildings have been built to offer services to the disabled, without any bias to their religion caste or any other consideration. This facility is offering support for nearly 300 children and adults every day. In addition to this Pathway has initiated community based rehabilitation programme ( CBR) in several villages serving scores of disabled children and adults with various disorders, right at their door steps.
Prasad right from the beginning has been challenged with health issues, he as a student in the ALL India Institute of Speech and Hearing met with an accident when he suffered considerable injury to his face , jaws and teeth, which caused continuous and chronic issues. He also underwent a surgery to correct an anomaly in his coccyx. When he was 22 years old he was diagnosed to have had Psoriasis and this became a huge and dreaded challenge for him life along. Drugs such as high dosage of steroids used caused irreversible problems all his life, at the age of 43 years Prasad developed bilateral cataract, he developed severe osteoporosis leading to four fractures in his spine, severe endocrinal disorder. He also developed obesity, diabetes and hypertension. His weight from 65 Kgs increased to 110 Kgs. As he was receiving high dosage of steroids he developed severe problems in immunity, leading to constant abscess formation that required repeated surgical intervention. His challenges continued with detection of cancer in vocal chords which required immediate micro laryngeal surgery with radiation. ON top of all this now Prasad has been diagnosed with cancer In his bladder that require immediate major surgery that was being performed at the Cancer Institute.
Prasad has won several state, national and international awards for the services rendered to disabled. He received the Japanese SIVUS Award for Exceptional Services for Mentally Disabled, The Tamil Nadu Government awarded best institution awards for Pathway’s services and Prasad received national award from Prime Minister A B Vajapayee for outstanding services rendered to the disabled. In addition to this he has received many other awards from national and state bodies for the services rendered towards the disabled.
Prasad was a visionary leader who left a legacy of service. He was anxious to find and serve the poorest of the poor in any way he could and inspired those around him to do the same.

Remembering Prasad


When my father most recently came to visit, he held his grandson in his arms and was lost in joy and adoration.
Without word or instruction, that was one more time I saw my father show me how to love another unconditionally.

My father did many things that set him apart. He wanted to help children that were discarded by society and succeeded in helping change many lives for the better. He left a legacy of love and service that people at Pathway and elsewhere can look up to.

Those he interacted met speak of how he made them feel at ease and how he spoke without guile.

I spent more time with him than most. Although I was exposed to his successes and struggles, all I am inspired to remember is his quality to love and care for those around him. 
Though I miss his mortal presence, I can feel his essence the most when I aspire to his ideals.

Chetan Prasad

42 - TRIBUTES

A TRIBUTE TO MY OLD FRIEND

Though taking me 2 months to write this tribute to my old friend ADSN Prasad, I feel able to do so now.

On a Tuesday evening in 1988 Prasad and I met for the first time in his two room, dirt floor, home in Madras (now Chennai).  Prasad was covered in a robustly aggressive case of chronic psoriasis causing him deep pain and continual itching.  He lived with his wife Chandra and their then nearly three year old son Chetan. From that day and time until September 8, 2015, Prasad has been one of my closest and dearest friends.

Though not realizing it at the time, Prasad, like all of us, was a work in progress.  However, unlike many of us, he was more than mortal.  His ability to express Christ-like love to all he met.  Everyone came away from talking to him feeling better!

I can honestly say that I’ve never met anyone quite like Prasad.  For those of us who want to be and try to be like Jesus, Prasad was as close to being Him as any mortal could have been.  He is my exemplar of love, kindness, humility and compassion.  I don’t recall ever hearing him say anything unkind or uncomplimentary, of any person. With all he met his goal was to lift, to help that person become all he or she can be by helping each person uncover the gifts God has given them.

Probably one of the most telling examples of who Prasad was and the depth of his love for me occurred maybe 10 years ago when I was overcome by stomach pain while we were staying at a Calcutta hotel.  The pain was so severe that for three days I was bedridden.  For the entire 3 days, 24x7, Prasad stayed at my bedside, holding my hand!  He slept in a chair beside my bed and then only sleeping when I slept.

I have so many fond memories of our adventures.  I remember standing on barren ground that we had agreed was to be the site of the current farm property.  After looking at several parcels and then discovering this one, we looked at each other and said “this is it.”  Then there was the time, Prasad and all others at the farm contracted swine flu.  Most everyone was infected but Prasad seemed to be the most severely so.  When detailing his condition to me on the telephone he minimized the severity of his infection, not telling he was talking to me from the hospital.  He always downplayed any health condition, not mentioning it even when asked.

I recall the day and time Prasad became a Christian, committing his life to Christ and his desire to be baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  A miracle occurred on this date when Prasad was blessed with a full-on revelation that Jesus is the Christ and the Church is His Kingdom on the earth!
I know Prasad has achieved his dream.  He is now with the Savior.  I’m certain that Prasad and his friend President Hinckley will continue to look after Pathway making certain it will continue to grow and flourish.

I miss you my dear friend.  You will always be like a beautiful diamond to me.  Now, always shining from above. Please hold the Heavenly fort down until I can get there. Don’t worry about Pathway.  With you and President Hinckley looking over it from the other side and Chandra, Chetan and Sudha on this side, it will be fine! It will be all you could wish for.
Know I miss you and love you so much.
Judge

Judge William Sheffield is Chairman of the Pathway Advisory Board.  He and his wife Leslie are currently serving a missionary assignment in Leeds, England for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

From the editors:

As we arrived in India in 2008 to begin our LDS Charities humanitarian mission assignment at the Pathway Farm and met Dr. A.D.S.N. Prasad, he did not appear to be as we expected.  Despite his distinctive appearance and short stature, he proved to be indeed a man above men – precise and exquisite in his language, with a resonant voice, a quick wit, astute in his observations and judgements, generous beyond measure in his time and resources, and compassionate and caring in his outreach to others, particularly to those with disabilities – physical, mental, social or economic.
As we became friends, we realized the depth of Prasad’s wisdom and felt his immense and personal concern for the “poorest of the poor.”  We saw his ever-present desire to rescue and protect as many children as possible, to give them a leg up, and to infuse them with education, ability and ambition for the future.  Coupled with this was his interest in honing their character:  developing within them hope, honesty, self-discipline, and the desire to look out for others.  Near to Prasad’s heart was his love for and reliance on the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his eagerness to share this direction and understanding with the children who chose to partake of it.

Prasad chose to live a meaningful life rather than a comfortable one.  With his able and dear companion Chandra, he had an urgency, a compulsion to do all he could to bless and help others as long and as intensely as he could.  We are grateful for his influence in the lives of countless people, including us.  He will always be an example to us of one who, with a pure heart, labored throughout his life for others and therein faithfully served God. 

Jim and Karen Dosdall, Pathway Newsletter editors

 

TRIBUTES


Friends of Pathway and Prasad have expressed their condolences and support over the last few months. Here are some excerpts of how Prasad was remembered to us - which provided us with courage and strength to carry Pathway's vision forward.


"He was a very dear man and a hero to so many, including me. I am sure his welcoming committee in heaven was very large. Life is fleeting but we know that no one is lost if we know where they are and we are certain where brother Prasad is. I am sure he is even now spreading his good cheer on the other side".
Gary B. Sabin, Sabin Children's Foundation

We are your friends forever and we thank the Lord for you and Prasad.
Eric Ottesen, Sabin Children's Foundation

It is with great sorrow I have learnt the sad demise of Mr Prasad, visionary founder of Pathway.  He was a remarkable human being full of love and compassion for the underprivileged.  Pathway will always remain a symbol of his humanism.  He was always smiling and was full of hope for the future of our planet.
Professor M S Swaminathan, M S Swaminathan Research Foundation

Mr. Prasad's commitment in service of the less privileged has given hope and better living conditions to many vulnerable children. We would like to encourage you in continuing this mission. May your work be successful and fruitful…..Liviana Sommavilla, Children's Care Emmaus

"The lives of so many thousands of people have been touched by the kindness and goodness of Dr Prasad’s heart and by his untiring efforts to serve those that the rest of society seems to have forgotten about." …..Becky Douglas, Rising Star Outreach

For my daughter and me, Dr. Prasad and the Pathway organization changed our lives so very much for the better, while providing us, as father and daughter, the opportunity to experience a most phenomenal spiritual journey that continues to lovingly resonate within us. Much to our good fortune, Dr. Prasad enhanced our souls in a manner that will forever give us reason to smile….Keith D. Wisbaum, ESQ.

"I had the pleasure of knowing Dr ADSN Prasad since 1970 for over 45 years. He had great wisdom and ability to take over any situation under control. His organisational capacity combined with wits were his greatest strength. He adamantly persuaded the cause of persons with intellectual deficiency by establishing 'Pathway'.It was his dream to shape it into an academic institution apart from being a lead service centre"…..Professor R. Rangasayee, Dir. Technical, Dr. S. R. Chandrashekar Inst. of Speech and Hearing

"On behalf of the members of ISHA, EC of ISHA, and on my own behalf, I express our deep sense of sorrow and grief on the sudden demise of Shri A D S N Prasad.  We are shocked and saddened to know of the sudden demise of Shri Prasad. ISHA remembers Shri A D S N Prasad on many fronts – his contribution to the field, society and as a recipient of Prof. R K Oza Oration award and many other awards including President’s award."
Dr. Krishna Y, Hon. Secretary (ISHA)

A realization came to me, Prasad was a true physician because he not only healed the body, he also healed the heart and the spirit of hundreds of children if not thousands, as well as many other people. [He] has given life, joy, health and knowledge to countless children, opportunities that they before could only dream about, you have given them HOPE! What an great contribution to mankind, what a wonderful way to make this world a better place…..Ron & Julie Salisbury

"In [India's] speech language and hearing professional community, no one had individually scaled the heights that Prasad had.  He, during his life time went to great extents to establish, maintain and successfully run an institution which helped thousands of differently abled, physically challenged, orphaned and poor children. I am amazed to ponder at this Herculean feat." 
S. Manoharan, Audiologist and Speech Language Pathologist

"ADSN Prasad led a very fulfilling and faithful life as evidenced by the many talents he magnified and the legacy of service he left behind - not in the least of which the service he rendered through the Pathway Centers for destitute or otherwise disadvantaged children. We are so appreciative of ADSN Prasad's efforts and the sacrifices he made to follow the example of Jesus Christ".
Presiding Bishopric - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Our prayers are with you and all those associated with the great work you and Prasad have done all these years for the children at Pathway. Pathway is truly a testament to the type of man Prasad was in his earthly life and continues to be in spirit but we know you know that as well….Pamela & Alex Martinez

I have said... many times that Prasad must NEVER die as he held up the world for so many. But death is as natural and necessary part of Gods plan as birth, and there are many on the other side who rejoice to greet him even as we mourn his loss…… Bill & Barbara Benac

"The concern he showed towards his fellow human beings... and the less fortunate in particular were examples of how he was a man who gave importance to the values of life."
Ranimaindhan, Author of Prasad's Biography

"I must mention that Prasad has all the home virtues of which we think when we call a man by the emphatic adjective of manly. He was a good husband, a good father, very honest in his dealings with people. He had a sound heart and a very sound mind and of course till recently a sound body. He had boundless energy and affection which he dispensed very generously among all the children of the Centre. His modesty and humility endeared him to everyone. He believed that every person associated with Pathway must devote a reasonable share of his time to doing his duty towards children". 
R. K. Naroola

"We knew Dr. Prasad for more than 30 years. He left an impression on us even with our very first meeting. He was one of the most committed and dedicated human beings we knew. He was totally involved in the cause of providing education and rehabilitation to the less physically and mentally abled and worked tirelessly for this all his life. We saw Pathway grow by leaps and bounds reaching out to hundreds who needed succor and touching innumerable lives. It is an institution that has made a great impact in Chennai as well as on a national level. And we were witness to this stupendous progress." 
Kausalya Santhanam, Deputy Editor (Retd.) The Hindu

Thousands of children have benefitted from this center and the vision of Dr. Prasad. He became a father figure to all these children on account of his endearing and caring nature. We will miss his guiding hand and the inspiration he gave us all to believe in our visions and see them come to fruition.
Y.V.R. & Sathyavathi Rao

"Dr Prasad was always pleasant and positive and even if he had occasional health issues , never showed it. The untimely and sudden death of Dr Prasad has come as a great shock to his admirers and well wishers like me. We have lost a dear friend, a motivational figure and a wonderful human being. Our hearts go out to the children of Pathway who have lost their mentor, friend, philosopher and guide."
R. Santhanam, IAS (Retd.)

Shri. A.D.S.N Prasad was a compassionate and visionary leader whose service and love to humanity and society will continue to inspire many hearts in times to come. The genesis of Pathway was a watershed moment in Prasad's life who embraced the 'largely ignored future' of his times- the Children. Shaping this future was not everyone's preference and responsibility. He chose this path less traveled by others for changing lives of thousands, and thereby shaping the gift of the future.
Machane Daniel Issac