ByÂ Gautam s Kumar:
Narayan Gopalakrishnan, retired Civil Services Officer, has a unique outlook on life that is both beautiful and awe-inspiring. He is single handedly responsible for raising over 10 lakh rupees for Pain and Palliative Care Society, a charitable organization of medical professionals and volunteers dedicated to making the lives of individuals and families coping with life-threatening illnesses better and happier. In 1996, the organization was conferred the title of ‘Demonstration Project‘ and was chosen as the model to the developing nations by WHO. The fact that he single handedly managed to raise such an amount in itself would be commendable, however it is the manner in which he did it that is truly jaw-dropping. Here is an excerpt from the conversation with Narayan Gopalakrishnan.
I’ll just start off with the usual clichÃ©, just who exactly is N. Gopalakrishnan?
I was born in Kottayam, Kerala on 1-2-34. My father Late Sri. A.N. Panikkar was an eminent lawyer and mother is Smt. K. Parukutty Amma. I passed the Civil Service Examination of 1956 and joined the Indian Railway Service in 1957 and have worked in various capacities like Divisional Railway Manager, Financial Adviser etc. I retired in 1994 while working as Member, Railway Claims Tribunal. I have undergone training in various American Universities like Austin Texas, Wisconsin and Boston under UN Fellowship. I have travelled extensively over Europe, Middle East and the Far East on official work and as a tourist.
And what about life after retirement? How have you managed to keep yourself active?
I used to write in English papers mainly on economics and social issues. After retirement I started writing in Malayalam.
Four collections of articles (Vazhvu Enna Peruvazhi, Nammal Vazhum Kalam Peruvazhiyile Nadakangal and Vanna Vazhiyil Kandathum Thonniyathum) have been published. I have translated Mr. P.V. Narasimha Rao’s novel “Insider” into Malayalam and K.P. Ramanunni’s novel into English in association with Prof. R.E. Asher, former Pro-vice Chancellor of the Edinburgh University . The translation of the Oriya classic “Sri Radha” by Ramakantha Rath into Malayalam in association with poet Mr. P.M. Narayanan won the Kendra Sahitya Academy award in 2006. I continue to write columns in Malayalam papers.
What would you describe as a turning point in your life?
I was born and bought up in fairly affluent circumstances. It was only when I was posted to Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar that I saw real poverty. People were dying of starvation. Mothers were selling adult daughters. Ever since I have been feeling guilty about my comfortable life. From that time I devoted a good portion of my time and resources to giving a helping hand to people who have to face a harsh life.
Could you please elaborate on your involvement with the Pain and Palliative Care Society?
For the last ten years or so I have been visiting the Institute of Palliative Medicine in Calicut and spending my time with terminal patients who are just waiting for death. I console them and at the same time prepare them to face death. There are about thirty beds there. I talk to Hindus about Mahabharatam, Ramayanam, the Gita and the Upanishads, I talk to Christians about Christ and the Bible, I talk to Muslims about the Koran and the Prophet. I like to believe that this helps them to reconcile themselves with what is coming to them. Most of them are abjectly poor. So I spend a good part of my pension and income from royalties on them. I also give monthly allowances to the families of people who die, for the education of their children.
What about the whole begging thing? Could you shed some light on that as well?
Over the years my own resources proved to be inadequate in serving the needy. So I started a new venture. Every day for two hours in the morning and one hour in the evening I stand at strategic points on the streets with a bag and beg from passers-by. I deposit the money in a bank account that is operated by the director of the Institute. This account was originally called the Thendifund (Which translates to “Beggar’s fund” in Malayalam). This has been of great help to the poor patients. I started this on the 17th of July 2010. The balance in the fund after payments made to the needy so far has exceeded fifteen lakh rupees. Now a trust has been formed. The trustees are the Director of the Institute, a senior physician, the administrator of the Institute and three eminent citizens. It is a registered society. The accounts are subjected to internal audit as well as formal audit by a Chartered Accountant. I have so far not been accepting any donations. It has now been decided by the trustees to accept donations from a limited number of persons designated as Prime Donors. It is a onetime donation of Rs. 4000. A person can donate Rs. 4000 for himself as well as for each member of his family. I started it off with a donation of 12000 rupees – 4000 each for my wife, my daughter and myself. The fund now has a name that is an Anglicized version of the old name. It is now Thendfund. Cheques can be written in favour of Thendfund and sent to my address: N. Gopalakrishnan, 6-A1, Mycenae, Corporation Office Road, Kozhikode 673 032.
What is your take on the current generation? What is your message to us?
The present generation is bright, hardworking and ambitious. After all evolution is believed to be a forward march. Sometimes I wonder whether we are succumbing the Yankee notion of pursuit of happiness. Happiness is not to be pursued. It is to be generated. People have necessities. If necessities are not satisfied it is difficult to be decent. A mother whose child is starving may steal. Once necessities are satisfied wants take shape – another set of clothes, a place to stay and may be a penny or two to put away for the future. Then comes luxuries. The only way to increase happiness is to have new wants and satisfy them. This is sheer rot. I think once a person’s reasonable wants are satisfied he must attend to his mind and generate happiness for himself. Increasing resources is pursuit of happiness. Limiting wants is generation of happiness. The Yankee feels that going on satisfying wants is right. The Indian who pursues the same path has a slight feeling of guilt because for generations he has been taught that wants have to be controlled. Let me stop. Otherwise I will go on and go on. Don’t conclude that I am one of those old timers who believe that all truth is found in Indian thinking. You see why I give away more than half my income. Quite apart from the Thendfund, I support many families from my current income. There are families whose debts I pay off month by month. This is because my own needs are satisfied and my mind does not generate new wants. I feel I am rich because I have all I want.
One last question; what according to you would be an Ideal Society? Do you think such an idea can ever be realized?
An ideal society is not easy to define except in terms of the mutual relations among its members and the relation of the society to other societies. A society in which the people have the necessary material resources and have good will towards each other can be called ideal. And between societies? What we have discovered about the ancient man consists of pieces of mud pots, and metal tools. We are still developing utilities and arms. The relations between societies are precisely the same as the relations between primitive men. Safety from each other’s enmity, concern for security, and conflicts. This must go. Societies or nations must have civilized relationship among themselves. The conquering white man has diverted human civilization towards consumerism. In practical terms I believe that such a thing is not only possible but inevitable. It may take centuries. But it will happen.