70-Yr-Old Kerala Writer Donates 10,000 Clay Water Pots To Save Birds In Summer; Planted 50,000 Fruit-Trees Last Year

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With the mercury soaring at an unprecedented rate, Kerala, along with most of Southern India, is gearing up to battle the scorching tropical heat. While air-conditioned rooms can provide respite to people, the situation is quite terrifying for animals and birds. In an urban cityscape, the speechless souls fail to find a shade to rest under or some cold water to quench their thirst.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

In the small town of Muppathadam in Ernakulam, Kerala, a 70-year-old man is determined to protect the birds from the scalding heat. Sreeman Narayanan, an environmental crusader and writer, has distributed 10,000 earthen pots among the residents urging them to keep water for the birds in the unbearable summer months. For this purpose, he spent over 6 lakh rupees entirely from his personal savings. Speaking to Efforts For Good, he informed that he is willing to distribute almost 12,000 to 15,000 pots this year for the birds, probably in the entire expanse of Ernakulam. The project titled ‘Jeevajalathinu Oru Maanpathram’ (translation – an earthen pot for life-saving water) has received recognition and support from Kochi Municipal Corporation as well.

An ordinary citizen, an extraordinary visionary

Narayanan is an ordinary citizen with an extraordinary vision. His hometown Muppathadam is located in the Eloor-Edayar industrial belt, which is often in the news for its aggravating pollution. The septuagenarian social worker is a one-man army, with an aim to preserve the environment. Over the years, he has undertaken diverse initiatives to restore the natural richness of his birthplace – ranging from mass-scale afforestation to turning Muppathadam plastic-free. All of his programmes are entirely self-financed.

He has been donating mud pots every summer

Distributing the water pots for birds is not something new for Narayanan, who has been keeping up the practice since his youth. However, the huge number of pots he has distributed this year has propelled him to the long-deserving limelight.

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“I have consistently donated around 100 to 200 earthen pots every summer. I would ask well-wishers to contact me and hand over the pots to them, going door to door. But, I would find people misusing the pots, keeping it for personal use and depriving the birds. That’s why this year I have asked people to come and collect from me personally,” informs Narayanan. People from as far as Kottayam and Thrissur districts are coming down to collect pots from him.

Sreeman Narayanan Kerala Birds

The programme this year was officially inaugurated at Mar Baselios College of Kottayam, where the principal poured water into an earthen pot as a symbolic gesture. Later, students of the college kept several filled pots for birds across the college premises.

The best way to spend his savings

Narayanan earns from a lottery business and a small-scale restaurant he owns. A staunch believer in the Gandhian way of life, he does not hesitate in spending his savings for the greater good of the world. He believes his life should send out a message to the society.

A widower for the past three decades, Narayanan has brought up all his three daughters completely on his own. He is happy that they are peacefully settled now. Instead of saving more, he considers spending on the environment a better use of his income.

From planting trees to making his hometown plastic-free

However, the distribution of earthen pots is only a small glimpse of Narayanan’s efforts as a true-blue environmentalist. Last year he has distributed over 50,000 saplings of fruit trees throughout Ernakulam district, under the project name ‘Vrikshayaknja’. It had cost him a whopping 15 lakh rupees.

Sreeman Narayanan Kerala Birds

“In Muppathadam, I had personally supervised the planting of over 10,000 mango and jackfruit trees in the compounds of the houses. I took my team of three and visited every family home, convincing them to grow a fruit tree in their courtyard, to feed the birds and monkeys,” he shares.

To eliminate the use of plastic, he once donated over 3,000 cloth bags to families in his village. However, no effort can achieve long-term success unless awareness is raised in a person’s conscience. With that objective in mind, Narayanan donated 5,000 copies of Gandhiji’s celebrated autobiography – The Story of My Experiments with Truth.

Earning multiple accolades as an author

It would not be fair to draw the line at his social endeavours and overlook the illustrious award-winning writer he is. The double Masters’ degree-holder in Malayalam and Economics has authored nine books in various genres. Environmental degradation and its harsh consequences on humanity often feature heavily in his novels and short stories. His latest book Ente Puzha deals with the pollution in the Periyar river.

His poetry for children fetched him the Kerala State Institute for Children’s Literature award in 2016. Kerala Sree Award, Vaikom Muhammed Basheer Award comprise some of his literary honours, and the recent SK Pottekkatt award was given to him for his environmental endeavours.

Efforts For Good take

Recently, the #BirdBathChallenge started in Kochi by a group of techies has gone viral, which urges people to place a bowl of clean water for the parched birds. The group insisted the willing participants to opt for clay vessels which keep the water cooler for a longer duration.

While human beings can find one way out or another to escape the barbaric summer heats, the helpless birds often find no respite. Sreeman Narayanan’s initiative is truly a most necessary step towards a better world.

For helping Sreeman Narayanan in his initiative, contact him at  9995167540 or 7012282098

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- Mother Theresa Quote

MyStory: “Two Months After I Joined IIT For My PhD I Was Diagnosed With TB”

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A person suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) not only battles the ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ bacteria inside his lungs but also from the stigma attached to the disease. It weakens the patients in many different ways in their fight against the dreaded disease.  

My fight with TB was also filled with stigma. I joined IIT Kharagpur for my PhD in January 2015. Two months later, in March 2015, I was diagnosed with TB. I had to take sick leave from March 2015 that eventually lasted till June 2016. Initially, I did not respond well to medication. Further tests revealed that I had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). This meant that the type of TB I had was resistant to two or more of the antitubercular medication I was taking.

About a year after the intensive phase of my treatment, I felt better and applied for readmission to IIT in July 2016. A prerequisite for rejoining was that my faculty members had to verify my application. With the formalities completed, I resumed my education, but I felt that something was amiss. 

My guide indicated that he did not want his work to suffer on account of my illness. I also heard from a senior colleague that my guide had said that I would spread the disease like an ‘infested animal’. I was disheartened at being subjected to this indignity by my supposed mentor.

However, my primary concern was defeating TB, so I didn’t dwell on it. Today, as I reflect on it, I realise the reasons behind the stigma were ignorance as well as fear.

Even among the educated, there are misconceptions about TB. People think all forms of TB are contagious. Others believe the patient is infectious for the entire length of the treatment. Some even believe that TB spreads through touch. This breeds the fear of contracting the illness.

As we know, people stigmatise and discriminate when they fear. I felt the impact of the stigma on two levels – in my professional life and my personal life.

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Professionally, the reluctance of my supervisor to mentor me and his discouragement affected me. I could not decide whether I should wait for the IIT authorities to tell me to leave or drop out. That decision was made for me by luck when I found out that my CSIR grant application was never processed. 

This meant that I would have to pay for my education. Given the expenditure on my treatment, this was unaffordable for me. This was the final nail in the coffin. I was forced to drop out and could not go back to completing my PhD.

What I faced was not technically illegal. I was discouraged from doing my PhD, but it was still a form of stigma. The external stigma I faced led to depression and isolation. 

Eventually, I realised I had to fight. The treatment for TB is difficult, requiring strict compliance and the management of side effects, and these demands resolve. I began motivating myself. I began following a proper diet and completing my treatment to ensure I could recover. I also turned to books as they transported me to other worlds and helped with my isolation. I also focused on reviving my old relationships.

Gradually, things improved. I could not proceed on my desired career path, but I am an educator now. I constantly realise that I have a role to play in shaping young minds. 

Workplace stigma has tangible consequences. It affects an individual’s career, financial opportunities and their right to work with dignity. So what can we do to address this stigma? 

First, we need to sensitise people by educating them about TB, and the impact stigma has on patients.

Another measure is group counselling involving the patient, the employer and the immediate supervisor. Informal versions of these sessions happen in the workplace in the context of illnesses like cancer. Why should it be any different for TB? 

The goal of this session would be to ensure that the patient is in a supportive environment. 

Finally, at a systemic level, there needs to be a workplace policy on stigma mitigation and a mechanism where the patients can anonymously register their concerns about stigma at the workplace.

A person’s career or job is often their calling and a provider of financial security. Workplace stigma creates a hostile work environment, affecting a person’s ability to do their job and their financial security. Financial insecurity and stigma make it harder for the patient to fight TB both in terms of means and motivation. Therefore, addressing stigma in the workplace is critical to patient well-being and recovery but also to their right to work with dignity.

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Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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