He certainly isn’t the sort whom most folks would define as even remotely ‘successful’. After all, he isn’t rich and famous and doesn’t have a ‘glamorous’ job. But, as far as I am concerned, Ramesh, whom I met on a recent trip to Kerala, is definitely among the most amazingly successful people I’ve ever come across.
Ramesh is an assistant at a centre for mentally retarded people, and that’s where I met him. He’s 38, and has studied till the 8thgrade. He earns a modest salary—six thousand rupees a month—with which he maintains his family. His work—which he’s been doing for the last eleven years—is heavy and extremely demanding. It’s a 24-hour job, seven days a week, with just two days off every month, when he can visit his wife and child, who live in another town. Ramesh’s job at the centre is to take care of an entire family—of six severely mentally retarded men—and that’s about as taxing and challenging a job as one can imagine.
Ramesh’s day begins at 5 in the morning, which is when some of the members of his ‘family’ are already awake and need to relieve themselves. Almost none of them can do that on their own, and so it’s Ramesh who has to clean them—with his bare hands—after they’ve been to the toilet. Then, he has to brush their teeth, give them a bath and change their clothes. After that, he makes tea for them, sweeps and mops their rooms, prepares and serves them breakfast, and helps the men get ready for their day’s work at the workshop. Being severely disabled, mentally as well as physically, the men cannot really do much work there, but being in the workshop for much of the day keeps them occupied. When they are away, Ramesh cleans the cow-shed, milks the cows and works in the vegetable garden. In the evenings, he comes back to the home, changes the men’s clothes, prepares and serves dinner and then gets them ready to sleep. By 10 o’clock the men are in their beds, and that’s when Ramesh can retire but he doesn’t get uninterrupted sleep because, inevitably, one or more of the men gets up during the night and demands attention. Weekends are even more hectic for Ramesh, because then the men are at home all day and need almost constant care.
I spent two days with Ramesh and his ‘family’, and, honestly, I don’t think I could have stayed much longer. I simply don’t have any of Ramesh’sgrit, determination and compassion, which have kept him on in his job for the last eleven years. Those two days I was with him were enough to shatter the delusions I harboured about myself as supposedly being a seriously committed social activist. I don’t think I, or most other folks for that matter (including those generally projected as ‘amazingly successful achievers’), could have managed even a week doing what he does—taking care of six men most of whom cannot speak a word; who live in a house that smells of shit and urine; who need to be washed by someone else after they’ve been to the loo; who urinate and excrete in their clothes and need to be cleaned every time they do so; who sometimes beat and bite and holler at the person who helps them; who dribble and drool and make a terrible mess when they eat, and some of whom are so unaware of themselves that they sometimes even eat their own excrement.
But that’s what Ramesh has been doing for more than a decade, and I didn’t hear even a whimper of a complaint from him about the men he’s adopted as his family. Yes, he did say he wished he had someone to assist him and a few more days off every month, but—and you have to believe me—he had only wonderful things to say about the men he lived with and so lovingly served. ‘They are God’s children, so innocent and trusting and loving, like little, helpless babies,’ he said to me. ‘I see God in them, and, over the years, I’ve come to love them dearly.’
I could see that love in every action of Ramesh’s—whether he was singing a song for the men in the evenings, hugging them and taking them on piggy-back rides, repairing their clothes, washing a lump of excrement that someone had deposited on the drawing room floor, taking one of them by the hand to the nearby clinic, clearing shit stains from the walls or scrubbing the toilets. I’d never ever seen such compassion in action before, such spontaneous concern and care without any expectation of reward.
Meeting Ramesh, I now know that I’m really not even remotely as altruistic as I once fancied I was. And I know, too, that if I now have to make a short list of the most amazingly successful people I’ve met so far, Ramesh would certainly be near about the top.