When I walked into the house of Mumbai-resident Geeta Sridhar, little did I expect to be acquainted with the most selfless story I have ever heard. Geeta, a 47-year-old computer teacher, is also a mother to 28 orphan kids who are fighting for their lives. These kids suffer from various kinds of cancer and while their lives are a daily scuffle between chemo sessions and heavy doses of medication, Geeta ma is the sunshine in their lives.
With a flourishing family life, two little girls to take care of and a full-time job, Geeta was swamped. But something changed when her 8-year-old daughter, Sarada began to demand a promise from her parents. One evening, little Sarada refused to eat her curd-rice meal and demanded that her parents promise to give her what she wants. The young parents were confused and thought it was Sarada’s trick to get her hands on some useless video games. But after putting forward a no-games, no-chocolates condition, they gave in.
Turns out Sarada who had luscious locks that fell back till her knees wanted to go bald. Her parents were shocked and couldn’t figure out what had gotten into their little girl’s head. After a whole lot of arguments and coaxing, they allowed her to do so without any questions, because a promise is a promise. The next day when Geeta went to drop Sarada to school, a parent came to Geeta and hugged her tight with gratitude, praising little Sarada. A clueless Geeta asked the teary-eyed mom to explain and that’s when she heard the most touching story.
A little boy in Sarada’s class had cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy. He was losing hair and had gone bald. The other naïve children began to tease the little boy. He was extremely sensitive and did not want to come to school because of that. He asked his mother to take permission from the principal to study at home and that’s when the mother met Sarada. Little Sarada assured the mother that she would solve the problem, and thus chose to go bald to keep her friend company.
This tale left Geeta in tears. She ran home to call her husband and tell him the story. That’s when she realised that if her eight-year-old could do something for the ones who suffered, she could too.
So after some consultation with her husband, Geeta adopted 30 orphan kids, who have been affected with cancer and took them into her Wadala home, which is now their home.
The house in central Mumbai was bought by Geeta’s Chennai-based parents and Geeta carries the legacy forward, taking care of these ailing kids.
Now a part-time teacher, Geeta ma visits the kids everyday and does various activities with them. The charming woman, with a bright, cheerful smile and a heart of gold, has been single-handedly taking care of these little ones and their needs. Geeta has no sponsors or NGOs coming forward to help her, nor does she publicise her initiative. Her motto is not to gain praises, but to provide for the underprivileged and needy.
The one request she sincerely makes is to not call the children ‘adopted.’ “They are my kids now. I take care of them like my own and after me, my own children have promised to take care of them,” she says.
Geeta, who is also a wonderful chef and has even participated in Master Chef season 4, has a Sunday morning ritual. She spends that time cooking for the kids who wait for a whole week to eat Geeta ma ke haath ka khana.
The kids, she says, are extremely weak, but still full of energy. “Everyday, they wait for me to do all kinds of activities with them. We have game sessions, art and craft classes, dance and music therapy and even television viewing schedules. The kids love watching cartoons and playing games,” she adds.
Geeta, who has a 22-year-old daughter who is an engineer and a 20-year-old who is studying to be a doctor, is so attached to these kids that she’s taken in that she counts them as her own.
“They have now become an integral part of my life and all they want is love. Most of them are in very bad condition because they go through chemo sessions and are on heavy medication. But they still have a zest for life.
When I am there I am at my chirpy best, laughing, singing and dancing with them, but when I come home I spend hours crying because I can’t see their pain. They are suffering and it’s heartbreaking for me to see them through it,” shares Geeta, who comes across as a strong woman with a soft heart.
In the last 10 years, with Geeta’s love and affection, a lot of kids have managed to survive the disease. But there have been demises too. Two of her kids (adopted) succumbed to the big C and even though Geeta knew this day would come, she was heartbroken.
Geeta’s story is incredible not only because of the kind of dedication she has towards kids who are not her own, but also because of the way she has been doing it. She doesn’t get any sponsors or ask around for money. She, along with her husband who has been her biggest pillar of support all through-out, manage it all on their own. They provide for the kids in every way possible and then there are generous friends who pitch in, in cash or kind.
In fact, many of her daughters’ friends have helped her on various occasions. She also has some full-time staff at the house along with 25 volunteers who often help out. Not everyone is allowed to meet the kids as their space needs to sterilised and germ-free but once in a while they do allow visitors for a few hours. Geeta also used to organise field trips for the kids, but that has now stopped as the kids aren’t in the best shape to be taken outside and doctors too have advised against it.
Together, they sail through with only one belief that no matter what life throws at them, they surely can turn it around in their favour.
The simple, homely woman that Geeta is, she doesn’t believe in showing off about her little home away from home, but she does wish that everyone help the underprivileged in some way.
“Running two homes for so many years, I know the value of money and how every penny matters. I save as much as I can. I reuse, recycle and reproduce. I ask friends to give me things they don’t need and it always comes of use in some way or the other. A friend recently gave me old saris that I turned into daris (blankets) for the kids,” she explains.
She accepts donations in kind too. She’s had a friend donate blankets that would be useful for the winter as well, while another gifted her an old computer and yet another has promised to send some desks and chairs. Geeta advises people to send in food items like onions, atta and rice if they really wish to give something instead of money that most people would be skeptical to shell out.
While Geeta is the fairy god mother for these little kids, life for her isn’t easy. She admits that looking after them every single day leads to depression. “There are times when I come home and cry for hours. I have even put on weight because of the stress but I also know that I am their only hope.”
Geeta’s kids too have been her driving force, supporting her through thick and thin. “I have been able to do this only because I had the support of my loving family. Shouldering multiple responsibilities is tough and it’s good to have an encouraging family that tells you to keep up the good work,” Geeta adds.
Geeta who also takes part in Pinkathon, a marathon that’s organised for Cancer Awareness, has just one message for everyone: Save a little for the needy. Think wisely and remember the things that might not be of use to you, might come in handy for others. If you spend thousands on parties, make sure you at least save a few hundreds for those in need. This way we can all co-exist and help each other. Let’s not forget what humanity is!