The Banyan Story- A Road Less Traveled

Akhilvaani has been silent for a while. But it is apt to restart this journey afresh today- yesterday I was part of unfolding of a fresh chapter of story of a great institution that begs to be told.

And what an evening it was yesterday.

Sun had just set over the Bay of Bengal. And the specter  in the ball-room of yet to be opened Sheraton Grand Resort and Spa,  Chennai was eclectic and electric. Galaxy of luminaries from diverse backgrounds  had descended  for the grand occasion-but they had all one thing in common- “the were part of one of the fastest growing family in the country- “The Banyan” and its younger off shoots”.

How could any friend, family or well wisher could miss the grand celebration of grit, perseverance, pain and ecstasy, hope amid hopelessness and the victory of the vision above desolation, action above inaction and “Daring to Care” for the most marginalized and stigmatized hopelessly ill women and men found abandoned on the street of Chennai and else where.

Yes it was celebration time – the occasion marked the 25th Anniversary of the great institution and ever expanding family that two steely frame giants of human beings – Dr. Vandana Gopikumar, and  Vaishnavi Jayakumar brought to Planet Earth with never before seen courage, conviction and empathy in the country. Rightly so the The Banyan war-cry “I exist, therefore I am”  is melody to ears.

The evening also was witnessing the birth-pangs of their latest offered to world- “The Other Identity Foundation”- passionate brain child of Vandana and her husband Senthil Kumar.

More about the Foundation later.

Before I move forward let me peep into the galaxy that had gathered to mark the occasion- Padmabhushan awardee Narasimhan (N.) Ram legendary Managing Director and Editor in Chief of “The Hindu Group”, Padmashree famous producer director Mani Ratnam with his “Best Actress Awardee” wife Suhasini ( National Film Awards), Dr. Nachiket Mor India CEO of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Dr. Parasuraman gritty long time Director of Tata Insitute of Social Science, hosts of other stalwarts from executive, judiciary, both end of Tamilnadu political stream, academics, professionals and representative of Non-Governmental Organizations and philanthropists.

And what an even it was co-compered by Revathi famous actor of 200 movies and the program had a befitting end in musical extravaganza of Shruti Hassan in Concert.

But – what “The Banyan” is what makes it so special.”

For the initiated two young girls Vandana and Vaishnavi in 1993 found a severely mentally ill woman literally without cloth on a Chennai road, brought her home, washed her, fed her kept her at home and they just started on the never traveled road of daring to care for destitute, homeless mentally ill women and men. Ms. Ravathi and Mr. N. Ram who have been associated with “The Banyan” almost since inception walked the audience through the arduous and the treacherous road traveled by the institution to reach where it is today. More than 14 establishments, two hospitals, work in three states and having made difference on ground to lives of millions severely mentally ill including  ensuring their dignity , social and financial inclusion.

To write the contribution of “The Banyan” even a 1000 page book will not suffice.

But make mistake when Vandana and Vaishnavi started there was no credible institution in the mental health arena in the whole country. And their biggest contribution has been not only to jump start the mental health care movement in the country but under their guidance “The Banyan” has proved the prototype amoeba that has encouraged and influenced setting up of many such institutions in different part of the coutnry.

Well to borrow Mr. Mani Ratnam’s phrase – ” I am a fan of Vandana and Vaishnavi” and follow their foot-prints.

Many people spoke of the Banyan journey so far, but it was visionary Nachiket a self less associate, well wisher and volunteer at the great institution who laid down the vision of where he visualises “The Banyan” to be 25 years from now.

As he rightly said- sky is the limit- and the whole nation will soon be the battle ground for “The Banyan”.

As I said earlier the day also marked the launch of “the Other Identity Foundation” and the “Other Identity Photobook” that celebrates the life and grit of 27 brave hearts.

Yours truly is humbled by the generosity of the “Other Identity Foundation”  for featuring me in the Other Identity Photo Book along with many stalwarts including “many role model” from the “bottom of the pyramid” who are shining success story of the Banyan.

My all type favorite in book are Thiruchelvi ( an amazing success story and my ex co-tutor in annual International Leadership in Mental Health Program, at Goa ) and brave heart journalist Ranjitha ( who broke her story of his own crippling Depression in akhilvaani) but I salute to the spirit of my latest favorite young-turk Shruti Hassan ( Tanmil, Telgu and Hindi actress) who at the tender age of 32 so poetically has expressed her fight with the black-hole the demon of anxiety and mental illness. I hope young Shruti by her bold example will unleash a chain reaction in her generation in the fight to “Own Up, Open UP and Talking Mental Illness “and most importantly to get treated, a path that Shruti has chosen and spoke about loudly yesterday evening.

Long live “The Banyan” spread your wings to the whole nation. I will follow you where ever you go.

Definitely we are going to meet often but I am eagerly looking forward to Golden Anniversary of the “Banyan”

Post-script: It was humbling to core being the first to be felicitated by The Other Identity Foundation” by one and only Mr. Mani Ratnam, the Trustee of The Other Identity Foundation and the stalwart who has given my favorite bollywood movies ( Roja, Bombay, Guru)

 

 

 

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