The heart of living

Last Updated : 22 February 2019, 18:54 IST

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Alamelu Ammal is known in her hometown in Kerala as the ‘lady of the lamp’. Her husband was the dikshitar or chief priest. When he died, her onerous duties in the kitchen lessened considerably, leaving her with time on her hands. This was when she decided to make oil-wicks and supply them to the temple nearby.

There were hundreds of lamps that lay embedded in the walls along the vestibule. Alamelu decided that she would supply not only the wicks but also the oil to light some of them every evening. The management at the temple acceded to her request and so every evening, come darkness, the temple lay in a pool of soft golden light. This attracted more and more devotees and money came pouring in, contributing greatly to the upkeep of the temple. It was ‘shramdan’ (volunteer service) at its best, creating a win-win situation for all.

This is what a developing country like ours can use to advantage. Ironically though, it is the US, one of the richest countries in the world, that has realised its full potential. No worthwhile enterprise here works without the active support of volunteers. Schools rely greatly on the volunteering efforts of parents. Whether it is the Marching Band, educational tours and treks or the choir, it is the behind-the-scenes effort of parents that make it a success. Year after year, they come forward to offer unstinting help to guide the young on the difficult path of learning.

Even more admirable is the strength of volunteer work in keeping libraries alive and thriving. There is no membership fee and an individual can borrow as many books as he wants. A great part of the funding comes from sale of books that are donated voluntarily. They are delivered in huge crates in one section of the library. Every Thursday, volunteers, many of them senior citizens, sort them by genre. The books are then evaluated and suitably priced. Sales are held every three months with the profits going to the library. I had the opportunity of participating and found the work thoroughly enjoyable. What can be more pleasant than roaming the realm of books and meeting new friends at the same time?

My feelings were echoed by my cousin who settled in the US many years ago. She spent quite a number of years teaching English in a school. She then decided to give up her job and help the disadvantaged. She had the satisfaction of seeing quite a few of them enter college. Her plan now is to read to the blind in hospitals and old-age homes.

What makes volunteering great? It has the capacity to make anybody great! It calls for no special skills. All one needs is a heart full of willingness and compassion. It brings benefits in many ways to both the giver and receiver. Put simply, it is much more than the art of living for this is what lies at very heart of living!

Published 22 February 2019, 18:45 IST

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