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Middle class morality…

In his Pygmalion, George Bernard Shaw refers to middle class morality through his famous character Alfred Doolittle. There are several instances of middle class families with modest means standing for traditional values, reinforcing their commitment to these. I come across 

several such instances and cite one here:

The children of Seshagiri Rao-Jeeva Bai led by the eldest son Krishna Rao (83) celebrated the birth centenary of their mother. Krishna Rao, served LIC with dedication for close to four decades. The felicitation function held at the Maharashtra Nivas was well attended. Two popular women speakers made entertaining speeches on the virtues of mother. However, there was little information on Jeeva Bai. 

I happened to know the family for six decades and had admired the qualities of head and heart of that lady. She graciously accommodated the Social Service Centre (SSC) to operate from her house in the 1950s and 1960s and actively participated in its activities. 

 

CARE milk for Mambalam middle class…

SSC, founded by two young men – Ramachandran and T S Krishnamurthy – started with providing milk for poor children recombining milk powder graciously donated by the American organisation, Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE). SSC attracted a number of young men like Krishna Rao and this writer. Every morning liquid milk was produced from milk powder and distributed to around 1500 children through five centres spread across Mambalam. For the lower middle class population of Mambalam it was the real boon getting around half a litre of milk everyday free. Remember, the 1950s was the pre-Kurien era when Chennai suffered scarcity of milk: There was just one small milk cooperative society at Ayanavaram in west Madras that sold milk to the entire city. 

The caring American...

When CARE shifted the focus of its aid to school children through the mid-day meal programme, it had to terminate the supply of milk powder to SSC. But the head of the organisation, McCloskey, donated from his personal funds, the cost of two sewing machines. SSC set up a tailoring school under the lead of Jeeva Bai who accommodated it at her house and took care of running it for several years. It was yet another service much needed and much appreciated by the predominantly middle class women of Mambalam.

 

Spirit of service...

There were three social organisations in Mambalam then – the Public Health Centre founded by the legendary M C Subrahmanyam for healthcare; Ram Samaj led by K Subramanian engaged in religious activities and SSC focussed on civic, social and cultural activities. SSC’s educated young members (included Ph.Ds, post-graduates and graduates) were actively engaged in civic issues like clean environment, running classes in music, philosophy and other subjects. For the anniversaries, SSC presented political leaders like C N Annadurai and P Jeevanandam, cultural czars like Kothamangalam Subbu and music maestros like Dwaram Venkataswami Naidu and T V Gopalakrishnan.

T S Krishnamurthy helped SSC produce souvenirs for the annual functions that helped raise the needed resources. Then working at the Madras Christian College, I ensured students’ participation in cultural events. We staged a play at Vani Mahal that helped raise handsome resources that were invested in buying two grounds of land in a prominent location at Mambalam. 

For years we ran the SSC, the couple, Jeeva Bai and Seshagiri Rao, lent their whole-hearted support, all in a spirit of service, totally free.

When most of the young members moved out of Mambalam on career pursuits, SSC’s activities waned. The property we acquired was donated  to the Public Health Centre. Its value today should be in the region of Rs 12 crore. 

At the function Krishna Rao and his family made handsome donations to four welfare organisations - PHC, the Sevalaya, Ramji Goshala and Soul-Free - in memory of Jeeva Bai. It was heart-warming and reinforced the faith and commitment of the middle class on quiet service to fellow human beings.  – SV

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