This is why he sets out every morning to visit a few newspaper vendors in a Mumbai suburb. In return for about 30 years of small talk and odd jobs done for them, he gets to read all the papers free. That he believes this world is a wonderful place, despite reading so many papers daily, is a tribute to this man’s spirit. What he’s searching for isn’t news but tiny boxes carrying appeals from those who need money for treatment. Viswanathan collects their addresses and goes to his typewriter. His day finds purpose. Sadly, that’s all he has. Purpose. The means are with others. His job is to send the needy patients a list of 200 organisations who have the means. Then, he dashes off letters to philanthropists, ministers, charities and newspapers, seeking help. And, the point is, it works.
In the past 14 years, he has plunged into the pathetic world of over 150 patients and collected more than Rs 14 lakh. "I feel I have collected about Rs 20 lakh till now but some people don’t get back to me on how much money they have received, so I don’t have the complete record. I even send self-addressed postcards to them, but they don’t care to reply." But he forgives them all because it’s the easier option. His obsession for being of some use to society, even as an unheralded agent, started 14 years ago when he read a letter of appeal in a paper. It was a plea to send a 4-month-old girl, who couldn’t take food normally, to the US for treatment . From that point, he knew each day had something in store for him, for God’s job, apparently, was only to look.
He survives on a salary of just over Rs 2,000, working for a company called Sunil Transport. "They let me use the office photo-copier. They are wonderful people," he says. He has a family with five children. His eyes droop a little when he explains how his family is not very impressed with his letter-writing skills.
"But I run the house with whatever little I have," he says, adding that his postage expenses are a cause of concern for his family. He sends at least three book-posts daily. And those mails carry old books that he collects for patients to read. Viswanathan looks a round and whispers slyly. "Sometimes, I push letters into the book-post so that I can save money on stamps."
He knows which organisation to approach for a specific disease. He has also picked up a few points on the way. "These film and sports stars don’t seem to be interested in charity though they talk about it." But Viswanathan knows there are exceptions. His files contain a yellowing letter of the wife of one of the best cricketers we have ever had. She has sought anonymity in return for her donation. There are many more in his life. Some are keep-it-up notes from public figures like Mother Teresa, A.B. Vajpayee, Nani Palkhivala and P.C. Alexander. Once he sent letters to Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana. He explains they had good reasons due to which they couldn’t help, but he grins triumphantly while informing that he got their regret letters.
Purely through his letters, once he managed to obtain free return tickets from Air-India for two patients who had to visit New York and London for surgery. "I have not met these people who help. They have not met me. I know their names and they read my letters."
That’s why he believes there is such a thing called goodness in this world. He sounds naive when he says it but this man has evidence. And so, every morning he will walk with a spring in his stride to a newspaper vendor, because it’s a new day, because in a world which is beginning to believe that every silver lining has a touch of grey, he knows a letter of appeal still has hope. If you wish to lend a helping hand, contact K.L. Viswanathan, C\ o Sunil Travels, Neelkant Apartments, opp. Amar Mahal bus stop, Chembur, Mumbai. Ph: 022-5228775/76