Thursday, September 13, 2007


Maharani of our Park

I know the editor of a magazine, he is the ablest of his breed and probably the highest paid in the country. I admired him, envied his success but did not warm towards him till one of his minions casually mentioned his daily routine.

He works long hours in office and is usually the last to leave. At the gate a dozen street urchins and stray dogs await him. His chaprasi fill pots with milk for the dogs; he hands over a hundred rupee note to the eldest boy to buy sweets or ice-creams.

When I learnt that he does this every evening, my heart melted. It does so towards anyone who makes this kind of activity a part of his daily life. That is the reason of my affection for my next-door neighbour Reeta Devi. While working with Mother Teresa, she married Rajkumar Bhim Varma of Cooch Bihar, nephew of Rajmata Gayatri Devi of Jaipur.

They moved from Kolkata to Sujan Singh Park, New Delhi. Every evening Bhim sets out from his flat, his car loaded with packets of buffalo meat cooked with rice and spends a couple of hours feeding street dogs. He did this without fail till the last day of his life.

His wife took on where her husband had left. And with redoubled zeal. She handed over the running of the hospital she built in Guwahati (she is Assamese) to the Missionaries of charity.

She set up the Ila Trust to render free medical services to the poor. She continued to feed dogs as well as cats in her neighbourhood. Four years ago Kapil Sibal gifted her a mobile clinic. She had two doctors, a nurse, X-Ray and other diagnostic implements to run it. It started going out to distant parts of the city. Kapil hoped she would give priority to his Parliamentary constituency. She bluntly refused to do so. Charity must not be selective or result-oriented. Kapil agreed and let her do things her own way.

The Prime Minister’s wife Gursharan Kaur periodically gives her shirts, sweaters, and mufflers to distribute among the needy.

Last year the famous singer Sir Elton John gifted Reeta Devi with a bigger mobile clinic. Now she operates two of them with a team of doctors and nurses. On average they treat around 300 patients per mobile clinic every morning. Ranbaxy and Cipla have donated medicines in the past. She needs much more: medicines, biscuits, blankets, clothes etc. She is desperately in need of money and medicines. She does not even have space to park her two mobile clinics.

My feelings towards Reeta Devi are a mixture of awe, admiration and affection. She has an imperious temper; everyone in the neighbourhood is scared of her. Everyone knows what she is doing; so everyone admires her. Whenever she steps out of her apartment, cats and dogs gather round her, rubbing their bodies against her legs or licking her hands. She looks like the Queen of Sheba with her retinue of slaves following her.


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